Please note that this series is written in fun. If you don’t like hints of sarcasm and hyperbole don’t read this series. If you find the title offensive, don’t read this series. However, if you understand that this is a great time to be a writer of fiction and feel like a lone happy person in a tsunami of fear, read on. (special thanks to author/ artist Kimberly Van Meter for creating the cover for me)
I wasn’t going to start this series until September because it’s summer and I didn’t want to commit to this until the weather started to cool and I was forced to stay inside more. Besides, Dean Wesley Smith in his many great series like Killing the Sacred Cow of Publishing and his wife Kris Rusch in her series The Business Rusch have both basically said what I’ve thought on many different topics about the publishing/writing world. Then I read The Wall Street Journal article Kris mentions in a recent blog Slush Pile Truths, which I thought was hilarious until I realized that other authors took it seriously (not serious as in ‘I’m insulted’ but as in ‘He’s right’) that’s when I knew what I’d only suspected: Writers are crazy!
But I still wasn’t ready to put my thoughts out there until I read Dean’s post where he expanded on what his wife said. These words resonated with me: “Writers, be artists…” That’s when I knew I needed to speak up. He’s right. Writers can learn a lot from artists.
I grew up in a house with an artist. My mother painted a mural on the wall in my bedroom, I had handmade dolls, I didn’t just get notes in my lunchboxes I got mini masterpieces with cartoons and pictures. I didn’t need to buy subject dividers for my school binder, my mother created them for me (my friends were envious and wanted them too). My mother, a trained medical illustrator, also did abstract painting, created posters, and greeting cards. She made set design, puppets, dolls and whatever her creative mind thought of. Sometimes she sold her work. Sometimes she gave them away, so creative expression was nothing new to me.
From my earliest recollection I wanted to be a writer. I created a newsletter at age seven and started sending out my stories to New York editors at twelve (with every intention of getting published in two years). My plan failed, but I hung in for the thirteen years of needed apprenticeship before I sold my first book. However, when I finally entered the field as a published author I was amazed by the fear I encountered. I hadn’t experienced it because I’d been on the journey primarily on my own. I hadn’t joined critique groups or attended writing workshops and conferences.
I just wrote, submitted, wrote some more, and submitted some more. And when I say wrote I don’t mean just books or short stories but also poems, plays, essays, articles, ad copy, cards, gags and so on. I did this for years until I reached my goal of getting a novel published. I followed my mother’s example. At an early age she fell in love with art and experimented with different media and styles and created (for years) until she felt comfortable with her craft and expressing herself.
But I soon discovered that writers aren’t like that. Writers followed rules whether they made sense or not (no simultaneous submissions—yea right). Writers followed critiques (change the hero’s career from an accountant to an architect—why?) Writers followed style guides (only use Times New Roman or your work will get rejected—are you serious?). I saw wonderful creative people following arcane rules, constantly seeking validation and confusing art with commerce. I was surprised, but my mother was horrified! That’s when I saw the stark difference between how an artist thinks and how a writer thinks.
Many people think success in publishing is about talent, luck and hard work. While these may contribute to success I’ve found the biggest contributing factor is attitude. Everything else flows from there. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I’m still here because of my attitude. I have the ‘artist mindset’. I know that the only time my career stops is when I stop it. Not when someone else tells me it’s over. When I create my work, I stand behind it. I’m its biggest advocate. I don’t wait for someone else to tell me it’s worthy. I say it’s worthy first then look for people who agree. I’m a professional artist who creates with dignity and pride.
And my goal is for other writers to reclaim their dignity. Once you’ve gone through your growth period (years of writing and rejection until you write publishable work) you’re set. You don’t need anyone to still try to ‘grow’ you. One thing my mother taught me was that after four years of criticism from college professors and with her degree in hand she knew she was a professional artist. Permission granted.
PLEASE NOTE: This is not to say that artists who haven’t gone through a university or art school aren’t professionals. Their training may have come from a correspondence course, night classes or just years of effort. I rarely meet an artist who draws one picture and expects to be deemed a professional. However, I’ve met many writers who’ve written one book and stop writing if that one book is rejected. But that’s another chapter. The point is an apprenticeship is necessary to hone ones craft—no matter what methods or routes you take.
Crazy Lesson #1
Artists create no matter what. They believe in their work. Writer’s look for permission. They wait for someone else to believe in their work before they do.
“Crap is filling the world! Readers won’t be able to know what to read because there are so many crappy books out there that they’ll stop reading in revolt. We need the agents and editors to save us!”
The above quote is an exaggerated statement I’ve heard from different people in the industry and was echoed in the Wall Street Journal article Kris refers to.
Okay some agents and editors can believe this rather ridiculous statement, but the fact that many writers agree is what frightens me. I started indie publishing before it was cool, when I didn’t know how to do epublishing and stuck with offset printing and using a national distributor and warehousing my books. During those years (about six years ago) the same statement was said about small/indie publishers it was believed that we were diluting the pool of quality.
To self-publish was to go around with a scarlet letter S (or V since most people didn’t know the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing—some still don’t). You were a loser. Nobody wanted you. I thought this was silly. I self-published because I liked the freedom of creating my own product. I wanted the creative thrill of turning a manuscript into a marketable book. I’d already gone the traditional publishing route and wanted to combine that experience with being independent of the approval process, which more or less looks like this:
Getting the approval of an agent,
then the approval of an editor,
then approval of a sales team/marketing,
and then distribution into bookstores (which is full of more hidden approval processes).
Most visual artists don’t think they have to go through a third party to create their product in order to reach their audience. They may choose to do so, but for many they can ‘set up shop’ on the side of a road, in a small coffee shop or online and show their work. My mother made great money as a teenager selling greeting cards. She didn’t go to Hallmark or American Greetings and say ‘I’m an aspiring artist with greeting cards, would you please tell me if they’re good enough to go through your line?’ No. She created her products and then sold them. Simple.
I followed her example. I wrote a book, had it professionally produced, then sold it through my company. Simple.
The naysayers disagreed. They said: “Oh no. It’s not so simple. You’re a writer. You must have someone else publish and distribute for you because writers don’t know quality and readers will be duped and then your career will be over.” My response to this myth can be found in Dean’s post New York Works as a Quality Filter.
Readers are smart. They will buy what they want. This filter argument is so old it’s rotting, but unfortunately, it’s brought up every few years as if it’s fresh (sort of like the next new diet “secret”). Elitist are always afraid of people having choices and I’ve discovered that there are many of them in publishing. To me life is like a buffet. There are a lot of choices. Choose what you like best. I’m not a big eater, so when I go to a buffet I don’t eat everything I see. I’m selective. I don’t just select something because it’s there. I may be in the mood to try something new or just go with what I like or go with a friend’s suggestion. I certainly don’t need someone to select what I should eat based on their preferences or limit my choices because they think I’m too feeble minded to chose on my own.
Writers your job is to create. Not to compare yourself to another writer or worry about what’s being put on the market. My mother survived in an industry where an elephant’s art work can sell for five figures. Recently, a four-year-old’s painting sold for six! There’s even an artist who takes cow dung, puts it on a canvas and sells them. My mother just shrugs because it doesn’t matter. All that matters is what she creates because that’s all she can control.
As a writer, your career is based on what you create and the pleasure and information you give. Create, learn, submit, and/or publish. Choose your own path. It’s one golden link to sanity.
Copyright © 2011 Dara Girard