I spent most of the weekend writing, revising and re-writing my current ms. I’m so deep into that mess, when I tried to think up a blog topic my mind went blank. Then my older sister called and we had a conversation we’ve been having in some form or another for three years now. Yes, three. Many things have changed during that time; her tenacity is not one of them.
I hung up and remembered a blog post I wrote about her back then and wondered whether it would still resonate with me today. It does, perhaps even more so. Because when the words won’t flow and you’re convinced they’re the wrong ones anyway and the whole damn thing seems to be taking forever, I think it’s easier to deal with the frustration if you can find humour in the situation. So here it is (with apologies to those who read it three years ago), my irreverent view of this thing called publishing:
The Facts of Life
I have an older sister. I also have two younger sisters, but I’ll probably get around to them another day. They all live in another state. My older sister (I’ll call her Babs because that isn’t her name and, even better, she can’t stop me) has been calling me on the phone quite a bit lately. Maybe once a week. A noticeable increase from the usual once every month or so. Stoic Minnesotans that we are, that seemed quite sufficient, thank you. And during these conversations she invariably asks how the writing is going. Yeah, silly me, I told her I’m writing a book.
I’d reply with something like: Just fine, thanks. And how are the kids?
So the other day I finally asked her about it: Babs, what is with all the recent interest in my writing progress (or lack thereof)?
Babs [in her bossy yet supportive oldest sister voice]: Well, I want you to hurry up and finish it so it can get published.
Me [after a stunned silence]: Okaay, but you’re asking ONCE A WEEK. Just when, exactly, do you think this is going to happen?
Babs [impatient with my inability to see things her way]: I don’t know. Soon. Next spring?
So after I stopped laughing, I shared with her my take on the publishing business. It goes something like this:
Publishers of mass market fiction are a bit like pimps. Unlike the heroes in romance novels of olden days, they are just not interested in virgins. They want writers who have done it a few times. Writers who can do it consistently, time after time, and on schedule. Writers who can make the next time seem as good as the first time and look good doing it, no matter that they have a headache and hungry kids to feed and a dog grown fat and lazy from lack of daily walks.
Babs interrupted at this point to chide me for not walking the dog.
I continued, undaunted: They don’t care that you really want to do it, that you’re sure you’ll be good at it or at least get the hang of it after a few tries. Enthusiasm and good intentions don’t count.
Babs: But I’ve read some of your stuff and it’s pretty good.
Well, thanks. I think. But teasing and flirtation and short excerpts don’t count. They want finesse and polished technique and proof that a writer can make it all the way through to a completion that leaves the customer satisfied and ready to pay for it again next time they’re in town. And most of all, they want writers who can rake in the big bucks from lots and lots of happy repeat customers.
And the truth is, I’m a virgin with no regular customers. Haven’t even done it once yet. And those publishers, they’re going to want to see some proof. Word on the street is that I’ll probably have to do it quite a few times for free before they think I’m good enough to get paid for it.
It’s going to take a while.
And I’m working on it.
Between. Phone. Calls.
OK, so maybe I got a little testy there toward the end of the conversation.
Come to think of it, I haven’t heard from Babs since I explained to her the facts of publishing life as I see them. She’s probably walking her dog and counting her blessings that she doesn’t hear voices.
Either that or she’s devising a way to speed up the whole publishing process. I’m confident she’ll tell me what to do once she figures it out.
Hang on, the phone is ringing…