History: This post was written after my second book, PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ (the one I wrote about in WMF #1) had sold at auction...and during the most grueling copy edits I ever had the pleasure of working on. Those CEs were insane. I have the manuscript here to prove it. The CE tried to change my characters' names, street names in a fictional town, and she really believed that food in dented cans would (not could, but would) kill you stone dead.
Anyway, the business had changed me. I'd been agent-less for about two months that summer, then signed with a new agent. We were trying to sell the next book to my editor. That didn't work out all that well, but I didn't know it when I was writing this post.
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First published Nov 13, 2009
The Writer’s Middle Finger: Part Three
(Dealing With the Business of Publishing a Book While Remembering What Really Matters.)
By now, you know how I feel about writing advice. If you don’t, here’s the gist: what works for others may not work for you. What works for you may not work for others. In many ways this mirrors the kind of thinking you will need to get through the business side of this journey, as well.
But I want to make this clear. Your writer’s middle finger is for when you’re writing. You have to save it for the important stuff. Save it for the days when you doubt your own vision or gut or read advice that makes you feel confined. Once you publish a book, you will feel the urge to raise that finger in all sorts of directions, but say it with me, reader, “Books are like snowflakes. I want to make a blizzard.” (If this seems obtuse, read The Writer’s Middle Finger Part One.)
If you use your writer’s middle finger to flip off things you can’t control, it will lose its magical powers. Sometimes it’s easy to forget why we started this journey. Which is why today’s blog is about a few things that might suck, because they come along with being a published writer, but do not deserve our valuable middle finger.
Dealing with negative reviews and commentary
Everyone has a different way of dealing with bad reviews and commentary. If you must look, try to have a sense of humor. When I got my first snarky review, I was pretty bummed out for a few days. I wanted to say stuff about it. I felt defensive and angry. But what could I do about that review? Nothing. Reviews are like haircuts. Of course, if you get a bad haircut, it will grow out. Unfortunately, bad reviews do not grow out. But tell me: is a bad haircut a reflection of you? Or the hairdresser?
If you try to please every complainer who writes you a letter, you will make very boring books. (If I was to remove what some people complained about from The Dust of 100 Dogs, I think there might be two pages left.) If you’ve published a book, there’s a decent chance someone will think it should be set alight. If these people approach you in person, smile and nod.
Remember this: "What other people think of you is none of your business." –Unknown
You have an even more powerful tool than your writer’s middle finger to deal with this stuff, if it tends to bug you. Break Up With Google. Stop Looking at Reviews. Stop Caring About Negativity. Then, Write More Books.
Dealing with the publishing business
Editors and agents move or quit or get fired. Publicists get you a gig at an empty warehouse with rats for an audience. Your local Barnes and Noble treats you like month-old garbage. Contracts fall through. Books don’t get stocked. Co-op gets pulled. Promoting gets tiring. The list of hurdles is long.
Set your own goals and adjust accordingly. If you don’t like online promotion, or touring or school visits, that’s fine. I like bookmarks, but some people swear by postcards. You set out to write children’s books, but you found yourself writing a memoir or a science fiction novel? That’s fine. Keep at it. Adjust your sights. There is no wasted time when you’re writing. Everything you write will be practice for the next time around. And there is no doubt about this—the publishing business is not in a hurry.
A successful author friend said to me recently, “Remember when you used to think that when you reached a certain point, it'd all be gravy?” What a smart guy. It’s never gravy. It’s a job. It requires work and involves stuff that might piss you off some days. But it’s good—with all its weirdness and uncertainty and its knack for moving at the pace of a stoned tortoise. Without the publishing business, we wouldn’t meet editors who make our work sparkle, or publicists or booksellers or librarians or fans. Without the publishing business, we would not have an outlet for what we love to do most. You are responsible for juggling the love and the bullshit. Only you can dictate just how many balls you have up in the air at once. (For the record, I try to only juggle the love, man.)
The separation of writing and business
I keep the writing and the business in different mental rooms. That way, it’s easier to remember what my number one job is. I wrote for fifteen years without being paid a penny. You probably did, too. So when you finally make a buck off this? Remember what the most important thing is. Writing. Snowflakes. Blizzard. Block out the uncontrollable bullshit. You may think that because you’re getting paid money, that it makes the business more important than the writing. But you did this long before you got money for it. You did it for free.
Here’s my theory: The uncontrollable bullshit is what the money is for--eating the toasted craptart that is getting a bad review and licking the melting poopsicle that is getting unsolicited criticism from your child’s teacher or a guy who knew you in grade school. The money is for dealing with covers you might not like, or a new editor who can’t remember your name.
Here’s my cure: Each time something negative happens to you in this business, write yourself an imaginary $100 check as compensation. Then, go back to the desk, stretch your middle finger, and write for free.