Thursday, August 14, 2008

My publishing myths

Last week I spoke to a group of writers as part of a course organised by Shaun Levin. The brief was to talk about being published, and I spoke about ten things I had thought were true before I signed my first contract and am now not so sure about. Here they are - I'd love to know other people's views or other myths they might have had about being published.

1. I will automatically LOVE my work now that someone else wants to publish it.

Hahahahahaha... the trouble is if you talk too much about how you'd like to win the lottery and therefore buy up every copy of your new book that's just about to be reviewed, published, etc etc so it can't be read by anyone, then unpublished people want to spit - rightly - in your face. No one who hasn't been through the publishing business can quite understand how panicky it can be. And the guilt of that strange sense of anti-climax too. On the whole I think it's better to be prepared for those moments of 'hey, this is shit' while proof reading. Luckily, there also comes a moment later onwhen you think 'actually this isn't so bad.' The problem is that dark night of the soul bit in between when you wonder just who you thought you were to imagine you could write a 'proper' book.

2. Once the book deal is signed, then I am a writer and my life will have changed.

This is what I thought. it was a bit of a shock to realise how much work I still had to do. Editing, and of course publicising as much as I could. And then of course you wake up the morning after the book is published and, what do you know, you're exactly the same person and the children are still waiting for breakfast. They don't care if it's served by a writer or not - hey, they're hungry and there's no one else to feed them.

3. Being a writer means I can be as scatty as I like, and therefore in no way a business person.

Hmmm... while not necessarily 'business people', many writers I respect are incredibly professional about their work. It's all we've got. There's also the need to promote ourselves and our books. Having been brought up on stories of hermit-like hard drinking writers, I was secretly a little bit disappointed to find that isn't really how it's done nowadays.

4. I am lucky to be published ....
and related to this .... It is impossible to be published.

I did think this. And of course I am. Butbutbut ... if publishers didn't have books, then they wouldn't have anything to publish.
And so it goes on.

5. Your editor is for life.

Oh, how I wish. I've had lovely editors who I felt real friendship and passion for but all have moved on. Luckily another lovely editor appears, but it's like first love. You hanker for the dream of happily ever after and, although you know it's the real world, you don't quite like the hardness that creeps in to the next relationships.

6. If an agent says she doesn't LOVE my work, then it is unpublishable.

More than anything, you want an agent who LOVES your work. If she doesnt, you've had a lucky escape. Keep trying.

7. If an editor says she doesn't want my work, then it is unpublishable.

To be honest, I had thought this but then I edited a magazine and realised how much good work I had to turn down. Many stories could have been published in that issue, but I needed a mix of first-person, different styles etc.

8. I have written something everyone everyone will take as a work of fiction.

Yep, that's what I thought. Because it was. But I'll always remember an interview with Lynne Reid Banks, when she talked about how her friends quizzed her after about the baby she'd had. She was confused until she realised they were confusing her with the book. Now I'm prepared, and although it can be threatening, I've decided to be flattered that something I've written can feel so real.

9. The only way to be a writer is to get a book published by a big publisher.

Have I mentioned on this blog before I'm off to join the circus arts project. OK, just a few times, but if that's not being a writer, I don't know what is. And what's more, there's no publication involved. We get too tied in to publishing. What is it about writer that makes it so difficult to say we're writers? Why is it inevitable the next question will be 'so what have you published?'. When was the last time you quizzed an accountant about his tax returns? Surely the process of writing is what is more important? It's what makes us writers after all.

10. It is a nasty 'dog eat dog' world out there and all other writers are out to get other writers.

There's a strange myth that writers are competing constantly against each other. In fact, most are amazingly supportive - after writing my first novel, I knew I'd respect with total abandon anybody who managed to finish their manuscript right up to the last word, published or not. I've been gobsmacked by how more successful writers have helped me - with no benefit to themselves. It's made me determined to do the same. It seems to be the way it's done and hoorah for that.


Douglas Bruton said...

I love it that you have aligned yourself with the rank of generous writers, willing to help the writing of others... don't worry, I wouldn't presume to throw my work your way. I just wanted to say that it is great to be a member of a community where people are givers rather than dog-eat-doggers. This should be a virtue that is held up for others to admire.

best of luck

Douglas Bruton

Sarah Salway said...

Thanks Douglas. Nice to see you here. I think it's more the norm than otherwise though - probably because most writers are readers too.

Tania Hershman said...

Sarah, that all rings so true with me, and I am sure I will feel just as you described the morning my book is published, although in our case it's the cats who don't care who feeds them! Well done for exploding those myths, very important to be said.

jem said...

Great to read through these. Point 9 especially hit home for me as someone who writes, loves writing, lives to write, but hasn't published and doesnt particularly know if she wants to.

Thanks as ever for sharing the insiders view.

Sarah Salway said...

Maybe you won't, Tania - I hope you celebrate properly but I think it was good for me that things carried on. I was always terrified they might change.
Yep, Jem, always important to remember it's what you want. It's easy to get carried along with what others are doing writing-wise and think you HAVE to go their way.