Today’s world is controlled by economists and accountants.
So unfortunately, the reality is that a great deal of modern book publishing is more about making money than making a difference.
It doesn’t matter how lyrical your lines or how moving your monologues, the publisher’s decision about whether to publish your book will be based on how much money they think it will make.
Fortunately, these days there are other options open to storytellers and creators who want their work to be read by others.
There are smaller presses and there’s the opportunity to independently/self-publish your work. (Although as I warned in last week’s post there are pitfalls to avoid here as well.)
Last weekend I went to a fabulous Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) workshop run by the very talented and inspiring Simmone Howell.
During the breaks I had a number of discussions with other authors about the current market. We are all in the same boat. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been published or not, it’s very difficult at the moment, particularly in Australia to get your work published through traditional channels.
So here are my tips to keep you optimistic in the face of publishing adversity.
At the SCBWI meeting I was surprised to discover how many of my children’s writing colleagues had entered the Scarlett Stiletto Women’s Crime & Mystery Short Story Competition.
It’s hard to slave over a novel for a number of years only to find that nobody seems to want to publish it at this time, in its current form. So it can be quite satisfying to work on shorter pieces like short stories (or paintings) and have the satisfaction of completing something you can feel good about in a much shorter space of time.
E-zines like Buzz Words and PIO provide information about publishing opportunities for shorter works, particularly in the fields of Children’s and YA writing. Your writer’s centre may also produce a magazine/e-zine which lists publishing opportunities in these markets.
BE PREPARED TO ADAPT YOUR WORK FOR A DIFFERENT MARKET
If you’ve tried a particular market for your book, for instance Australia, and there has been no interest in it, consider overseas markets like the US, UK and Europe.
Sometimes you won’t have to change much about your book to make it more relevant to these markets. For instance, my book Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training had a lot of interest in Australia but in the end, wasn’t taken up by a publisher.
I’m now rewriting the manuscript to adapt it for an international market. Instead of setting it in Australia, I’m having my main character Eddy, an Australian boy move to Chicago. This will not only make the story more relatable for the US market, but it has also added a whole new dimension to the plot.
DON’T GIVE UP – YOU ARE NEVER TOO OLD TO HAVE YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED
It’s not about how old you are or where you’re from, it’s about the book you create and whether the publisher determines that people will want to read it.
Dorothea Tanning‘s first book Chasm: A Weekend was published in 2004 by Overlook Press, New York in 2004 when she was in her nineties.
Harriet Doerr published her first book Stones for Ibarra to critical acclaim when she was in her seventies.
Helen Hooven Santmyer published the bestselling And Ladies of the Club at age 88.
It was published originally in 1982 by Ohio State University Press and sold only a few hundred copies. Thanks to the efforts of several enthusiastic and well-connected readers, the novel was chosen by the Book-of-the- Month Club and given a 150,000-copy first printing. It was adapted as a television miniseries, and its author was compared with Jane Austen, Thornton Wilder and – yes, even Tolstoy.
The book that made Helen Hoover Santmyer a celebrity was in the works for more than 50 years. (And I thought that taking 10 years to write Letters to Leonardo was a long time :)
ADJUST YOUR GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS
It’s great to have goals. I’m a big goal setter – it’s how I get things done.
But most of what happens in publishing is beyond your control.
You might have written a great book, but publishers have one on their list already that’s similar. Or marketing might have decided no more horse books, or a bestselling author might have been commissioned to write a book on the same topic/theme already.
There is so much happening inside a publisher’s office that you don’t know about. So try not to take it personally.
Their decision not to publish is not about you. It’s not about your writing. It’s not about how you look or where you come from.
It’s about whether the publisher thinks that your book will earn its keep and hopefully make a profit for them.
Try to be realistic about your goals and expectations.
Even if a publisher has expressed strong interest in my work, I always have a backup plan – someone to send the manuscript to if the deal falls through.
I ALWAYS have a plan for where I’ll send my manuscript to next if it is rejected.
Even though a rejection is disappointing, sending it out again means there is still hope and the possibility of acceptance.
And you never know when something might come back into vogue. Sometimes you need to put that manuscript aside for now.
I wrote a play in 2009 that was rejected. That same play has just been accepted by an educational publisher.
DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS
There will always be someone who seems to get the lucky breaks with publishers and there will always be someone with more bad luck stories than you.
Try to ignore what’s going on around you and focus just on you, on what you’re writing, on your goals, on making your own luck.
With social media constantly bombarding us with other people’s successes, it can be easy to lose sight of our own achievements. Sitting down to write is an achievement. Completing a manuscript is an achievement. Editing a manuscript is an achievement. Sending it out is an achievement. These should all be celebrated. They are not things that just anyone can do. Celebrate these achievements.
Remember that social media is a promotion tool. People never post on Facebook when they had a pitch with a publisher who said, “That story’s not for me.” But they post in big headlines when they pitch and a publisher asks to see their work.
People never post pictures of themselves being photographed with a waiter at a conference dinner – it’s more likely to be a photo of them with a celebrity author or publisher. It’s all about keeping positive, but it’s also about exuding an aura of success.
Be happy for the achievements of others, but most of all be happy for what you achieve. And remember that social media always makes things look glossier than they really are. For all you know, the food was terrible, the conference speaker put everyone to sleep and the accommodation had a rat in it. It’s just that people don’t tend to post these things on social media. They’ve spent all that money going to a conference, they want to believe that it was worth it. And honestly, most of the time it is.
I only mention this because social media gives a distorted reality. Try and keep things in perspective. If the conference looked great and you wished you were there – try and put $10 away every week so you can go to the next one and see for yourself.
Remember why you write. You write because you love it. You write because you have something to say. So keep writing and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Write for you, write for the people who will one day read your words. Don’t give up.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Feel free to share your tips on how you stay optimistic in the face of adversity.