From the Editor's Desk

If Writing Career Advice Doesn’t Work For You…

…then you might not be a one-book writer. Kristine Rusch’s post on the difference between career writers and those without a bigger plan made me say, “Yes! This, this, this!”

(For interest’s sake, compare Kris’s perspective against this one and use your native intuition to interpret.)

You will hear me complain about unhelpful internet advice from writers who haven’t necessarily been at this for very long. But of even more concern is the way they go at it.

Almost all of the business advice for writers on the web is from the perspective of the one-book writer. Most agents write their blogs to the one-book writer—because the bulk of the writers that modern agents work with are one-book writers. Publishers and editors give advice in conferences to the one-book writer for three reasons.

First, most of the attendees at conferences are either wannabe writers or one-book writers. The career writers generally attend only if they are speakers and they get paid for their attendance. Most career writers don’t have time to attend conferences, any more than those of you with day jobs have the time to attend more than one or two events a year. And since most conferences are geared toward the one-book writer, career writers get little out of a conference.

Kris Rusch

Much as I enjoy the actual work part of attending a conference, I emphatically do not enjoy the non-work part, which, as Kris points out, can easily be most or all of it. In the style of Julie Andrews, here are a few of my least-favourite things:

* Getting earfuls of uninformed speculation and misconceptions during social times. Needs no explanation.

* “Pitch practice.” I will explain in a moment.

* Teen camp syndrome (“let’s do everything together all week”), otherwise known as subgenre clique syndrome. This hampers the chance to meet a wider range of working professionals (if you’re at the right kind of event, that is) and tends to create an echo chamber full of misguided ideas.

I love the people, but I can’t meet the social expectation that I’ll join them in these things, because there’s a better way.

And because I love the people, I encourage you, writer, to take yourself more seriously than may have been suggested to you thus far in your journey.

Doing Business Through Conversation

Second, most writers seeking advice are beginners.

I only attend events that allow me to work, like the one I attended two weeks ago. Here are a few of my favourite things:

* Gaining information and contacts, and opening up selling opportunities.

This was one of those conferences where one can still make sales connections, not precisely like what Kris’s post describes. If I can only make it to one event, I choose this one. The networking is on a par I haven’t often heard of.

* Having as many different dinner conversations as possible in order to build relationships and knowledge base.

For instance, the indie bookstore distributor rep I sat with by chance. So naturally, I asked him why he was there. It became a discussion about networking opportunities between his company, the indie bookstores he deals with, and individual writers. He invited me to a conference and an online community.

A valuable person was sitting there bored and ignored. I’d rather create a direct connection like that than rely solely on a publisher’s in-house sales rep, who is probably overworked and also required to focus on established sellers.

* Focusing on business-related conversations.

Discussing the nuances and angles of positive marketing relationships with traditional publishers under current market conditions. Brainstorming sessions for upcoming books. Hallway talks with acquisitions people.

What is This Pitch Dark Hell?

Thanks to my beloved editorial clients, I’ve had lots of experience explaining features, benefits, and the things I’ve learned to do with certain required levels of skill. I am a career contractor. Being a magazine writer, an independent editor, or a novelist is just the same thing from a different angle.

In fact, I hold that playing at sales pitching only makes the experience more painful. The writer ends up relying on a magical incantation instead of providing the needful business information or fostering a professional relationship.

And the platitudes heard when bouncing a pitch off other unpublished writers are exactly zero measure of professionals’ response. People generally try to be polite and encouraging to each other when the stakes are not our own.

If you don’t have the gut confidence in your work (yet) to advocate for it effectively, it’s okay to let yourself learn some more first. It’s okay to do live trials and field experiments in early work. And it’s okay to tank a pitch. There is always another chance.

Just keep listening to people who have greater (authentic) knowledge than you do. That’s the #1 secret to life, the universe and everything.

OR, option #2:

Ignore whatever advice, mythology and/or rumour is making you feel uncertain. Maybe you’ve been listening to information aimed at the kind of writer you aren’t. If that’s what’s throwing you off, throw it off.

Let’s talk about a popular truism that is not necessarily a Law of the Universe, because as Twain said, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

If it’s true that 1-2% of everybody pre-published has a competitive portfolio, and a networking event has 700 attendees, plus 15 agents and 15 editors, that’s 30 acquisitions people competing for 7-14 writers. Even if every editor in the room will only accept the actual submission through an agent, the writers are still looking at a one-to-one ratio at worst.

Which is why I don’t need to practice pitching. Saying the right magic formula is not even relevant to the situation. Knowing my business is.

So find the right business relationships, not the wrong ones. Don’t consign yourself to slushing it randomly. Play it smart.

For the Concept or For the Career?

I have a thirty-year career plan. Insofar as long fiction, I’ve worked behind a curtain and waited this long because it hasn’t been right for my young family till now. Because I live in the Canadian middle of nowhere, not New York or Nashville, I have to consider the extra time and cost of making my own personal connections. I can’t leave that to other people. Their work is their work; my work is mine.

The intervening time hasn’t been wasted. In the music world, I learned to believe in and pursue top-level creative work. In the writing world, I’ve learned to believe in not settling for poor business compromises. At this point, with much feedback, I’ve trained my writing to open its own doors, not just bark at the gatekeeper on the other side.

Once the door is open, what happens next is ultimately subject to my decision-making quality.

Will the novelist angle work out for me? I do not have access to that crystal ball. If it doesn’t, that’s okay. I’m already published in print magazines, poetry, and lifestyle columnist work. The worst advice I ever heard was that writing in many fields is not a “targeted” enough way to build a career.

As Kris says:

The reason I write a business blog for writers is that business, not craft, destroys a writer’s career.

The best advice I ever heard was: Choose what you want from this gig. Do that. Never give up the ability to make it worthwhile.

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2 replies »

  1. This is gold. There is an art to giving sound, realistic advice while remaining encouraging. I keep coming back to your blog because you are so very accomplished in that art.

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