Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Reality of Publishing

I'm a realistic person. Despite my dream of being a career novelist, which seems to be the opposite of realism, I have a fairly practical mindset. So when I graduated from Columbia, my completely useless degree in hand, I told myself that I would give it a year. I would give myself a year to become a published novelist and if I didn't get anywhere with it, I would go out and get a real job.

So within the year, I got an agent, and besides the jumping up and down for joy because someone wanted my book, it was also a huge relief that I wouldn't have to buy a business suit, type up my resume and go out into the real world. I could continue to work in my pajamas, sit in smokey coffee houses, and while I would still have to eat Ramen Noodles and dodge my student loan officer, I could call myself a writer.

It's been six months, which from what I hear is no time at all, but my book is still on the desks of publishers and I am still in my pajamas, waiting. My insecurities force me to think about the next year deadline, what will happen if it doesn't sell, if I don't have what it takes to become the career novelist that I always dreamed of being. The realist in me is already preparing my resume and looking for journalism jobs.

But today, I read a post on Tess Gerritsen's blog. She says:

If you really want to be a published novelist, you’ll stick with it. You won’t say “I’ll give it a year, maybe two.” You’ll say “I’ll keep at it, I’ll keep improving my craft, year after year. Even if it never happens.”

I thought about this for a while, reminded of my self-imposed career deadline. Even if I got a real job, did the nine-to-five, would that stop me from writing? Would it stop me from attempting to get published? Of course not. All it would do is give me less time, which would mean less sleep, not less writing. Her comment made me think of all the musicians, artists, and actors who are in the same boat as I am. They all dream of hitting it big, of preforming on Broadway or having an exhibition at the Art Institute, just as I dream of seeing my name on the New York Times Bestseller list? They all do what they have to do to pay the rent, but it doesn't stop them from auditioning, from playing, from making art. They don't say, "I'll give it a year."

I'm a realistic person, and it's unrealistic for me to think that I could ever stop writing, no matter where I work, no matter where my income comes from. Even if this novel doesn't sell, even if the next five I write don't sell. I'll keep at it, and churn out novel number six, because publishing ain't easy. It's not going on interviews or responding to classified ads. It's an occupation that you have to make happen for yourself. And sometimes, that takes a little time. Okay, a lot of time. That is the reality.


Quinn said...

I think you've really hit on the secret of artistic success here (as it appears to me this early in life, anyway): stop worrying about "success" and just create. I spent a pretty painful year learning that lesson while working with a startup film company. There was so much focus on bursting out of the gates and taking the world by storm, and so much fear of being just another group that "died trying," that we never actually accomplished anything. Seriously, we had nothing to show for all that time we spent in "development." We died and we weren't even trying; now there's a lousy story to be a part of. But maybe that was the only way I could learn the lesson. It's certainly an important one.

Picks By Pat said...

Good Point. Konrath wrote six novels before he was published. Six! Imagine the dedication that took. You can do it (and I suspect it won't take you six novels to get published).

By the way, it took me 1 year and ten months before I finally got that letter...we want to buy your novel. It was another 9 months before they sent me the revisions they wanted. Think glacially when you think publishing!