Sunday 28th February 2021
None of this is specific, just an amalgamation of experience and observations over the years.
When you start out you want to set the industry ablaze. You’ll be blind to the flaws of your novel and as much as you try to convince yourself otherwise, like a proud parent, you’ll have a gut feeling that it’s something special.
You’ll find out that the industry is in bloom, that more people are reading. You’ll tell yourself not to, but you’ll research what they are reading.
Of course, you’ll tell yourself not to be so shallow, to write what you want to write, and ignore the pressures of market. All that talk of your best work being that which interests you most will ring true. Except there will be a little voice in your head that says you might actually sell something if you did something more commercial.
The fools will chase the market. They’ll see that sparkly vampires are in and write a sparkly vampire book only to find the market has moved on. But there will be some that catch the tail end of the wave and ride the current reading fad quite successfully. You’ll note that and it will distract you from time to time.
And yet, some fiction is more commercial than others. Urban fantasy isn’t really selling at the moment unless you’re already an established name. Epic fantasy never seems to go away. That may change tomorrow.
Some friends whose careers you’ve thought going well have swapped from fantasy entirely. Moving to thrillers and crime. From books you can only find in Waterstones or on Amazon, to those that can also be found in the Supermarket. They obviously had passions for those types of books as well, but you wonder what’s made the market so bad for them so to make such a big switch.
And you can’t help but be influenced by this however much your subconscious tells you not to. You’re a captain navigating in a storm and you have to stay on your own heading or risk being dashed on the rocks.
You need thick skin as well. When rejections come, whether that be for novels, agents or short stories, you need to weather them. You can’t help but question yourself, your talent, your ego in thinking you could write something others would want to read.
It’s made worse that the vast majority of people in publishing are genuinely nice people. You meet them at cons or online and they’re the people you’d want to hang out with. Some complain that publishing is all about who you know and not talent. That’s certainly not true. It might help you get through the door, it won’t get you a deal. And those connections were made years ago when everyone was new and innocent and full of dreams. Their path has taken them into publishing, your has taken you into writing. Just as it’s wrong to chase the market with what you write, so it’s wrong to chase industry professionals. Editor X might love dwarf fantasy but by the time you’ve got your magnus opus ready, they’ve moved on. Better you hang out with your friends at cons and realise that if they do make it… well at least you know the rejection to be honest.
Because you do wonder. You take any rejection and you over-analyse it. They said the characters were good, what are they trying to say? Because publishing is filled with nice people are they just saying it to be nice and let you down gently?
You’ll do a lot of waiting. Whether it be for agents or editors, you’ll wait. The industry is slow until it’s fast. Wise minds will tell you to use that time to work on something new. This is impossible. Part of you wants to work on a second book so you’re ahead of yourself. That yearly cycle most authors are on can seem daunting at times. You’ll try another idea but your focus will be all over the place while you wait.
Jealousy is something you need to combat. You’ll see friends get acceptances and deals and you’ll be happy for them. But at the same time, you’ll look at your own work and worry what’s lacking. You’ll look at it rationally, and tell yourself that they are talented and were in the right place at the right time. But you’ll also look at your own work and doubt yourself.
You’ll soon see that whilst the general story of “I sent a story to an agent who picked me up and then sent it to a publisher who gave me a deal” is true, there’s individual nuance that makes everyone’s path is a little different.
Your published friends will tell you stories in private. From the outside they’ll seem to have made it. A nice advance and a decent publisher. But you’ll hear the horror stories. Of publishers going under midway through a series, of rights issues, of not selling enough books to cover the advance. They’ll tell you there were times when they considered giving up.
There will be those that are quiet, who work away, who do tie ins and you think careers are on the wane. Then they’ll launch a new book that’s amazing and sets the industry abuzz. You soon learn that you’re only as good as your last book.
So you try and filter this all out. You try and forget the market and write your novel your way. You need to be stubborn, you need to be tough, because the truth is that no-one knows. Maybe your book will be a sleeper hit and set the industry ablaze.
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