Monday, March 22, 2004

Confessions of a mid-list author 

"Jane Austen Doe", writing for Salon (so you have to get through that extremely annoying day pass to read it) has an interesting, if rather depressing, article about the vagaries of the publishing world. Although the way she presents her story seems somewhat scattershot, the realities are all too true--sometimes that debut advance can be too high, because if you don't earn out, there goes your career and your expectations for future books. Editors can love your work but if they get no support from their bosses, they won't take you on. Then if you get a small advance, there's no promotion or publicity to accompany it.

A sad story? Definitely. But tragic? Should we really feel sorry for her? That, I am still not sure. Publishing is like any pecking order--some are wildly successful, many are simply not. Of course, it hurts if you're in that latter category, but unfortunately, someone--lots of people, really--have to fill that spot.

I've long been fascinated on what I call the "disappeared authors." They have been published, but all their books are out-of-print or they've stopped writing for various reasons, mostly because they can no longer get a publishing contract anymore. Why does this happen? And more importantly, why shouldn't this happen? There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of folks who have obtained a publishing contract. Does this guarantee the right to a long and thriving career? Should it? Is it better to get a spectacular advance at the beginning and flame out two books later, or to be in penury for a few books and build up, or even just to have published at all? Hard questions, but ultimately, articles like "Jane Austen Doe's" are illuminating because the more a would-be writer knows about the business he or she is getting into, the better off he or she is.

No question the publishing world is a tough business, but I'm not sure it can be any other way. The details can be different, but not everyone who wants to be published can be. Or should. Or should be in perpetuity.

(link first seen at Cup of Chicha)

UPDATE: John Scalzi offers his "Even More Long-Winded (But Practical) Writing Advice". This one's my favorite:

5. You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop, You Know.

I mean, Christ, people. All that tapping and leaning back thoughtfully in your chair with a mug of whatever while you pretend to edit your latest masterpiece. You couldn't be more obvious if you had a garish, flashing neon sign over your head that said "Looking For Sex." Go
home, why don't you. Just go.

Admittedly if everyone followed my advice the entire economy of Park Slope would implode. But look, do you want to write, or do you want to get laid? No, don't answer that. Anyway, if you really want to impress the hot whomevers, you'll bring your bound galleys to the coffeeshop to edit. That'll make the laptop tappers look like pathetic chumps. We're talking hot libidinous mammal sex for days.

I dunno John, some people, I think they want to write and get laid....

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