Archive for May, 2006

Great Article!

 From Media Bistro

Wednesday, May 24

Looking at the Big Picture: Achieving Our Long Range Writing Goals

vanishingpointcover128.jpgMary Sharratt is an American author currently living in England. Winner of the Willa Literary Award for Contemporary Fiction, she is the author of three novels. Her latest, The Vanishing Point, is a tale of dark suspense, love, and betrayal set in 17th century Maryland. Today she shares some of her expertise with you.

If you are a yet-unpublished writer, does your heart sink a little lower with each rejection letter? Do you gnash your teeth while reading about other people's book deals on Publishers Lunch?

If you are published, do you obsess about your sales ranking? Or your Bookscan numbers? Do you fume at seeing the front table of your local bookstore piled high with ghost-written celebrity memoirs while your painstakingly crafted literary novel is shelved away in an obscure corner? Do you despair that everyone is getting reviewed except you?

Whether you are published or unpublished, it's all too easy to get sidetracked by the harsh realities of today's publishing world, but in obsessing about the details, we are ignoring the big picture. If we are committed to pursuing a career in fiction-writing, we need to rely on a lot more than luck and the fickle favour of a volatile industry. The life of a career-writer is not about one review or even one book; it is an accumulative process. We are in it for the long haul. Ten years of writing in obscurity may be necessary to produce a publishable first novel, but even after you are published, it is never easy and nothing can be taken for granted. Today's six-figure book deal Wunderkind might be tomorrow's has been-witness Kaavya Viswanathan's recent plagiarism scandal. Today reviewers might savage your work-or worse, ignore it-but in ten years' time, you might find yourself the recipient of a major award. Perseverance, commitment, and belief in yourself are essential.

However, it's quite a challenge to nurture self-belief when trying to stay afloat in an increasingly cut-throat publishing climate. Too often I see very talented, promising writers give up in despair after one rejection letter too many, or after their published novel's disappointing reception. Like in any other business, publishers struggle to maintain their bottom-line in a difficult economy. In a world where fewer people are reading, publishers need to find books that are going to sell and are thus more reluctant to take risks on lesser known authors. Nowadays even the best agents find it tough to sell new fiction. More and more review space in newspapers is being axed and more independent booksellers, who traditionally hand-sold quality fiction, are folding under the pressures of a competitive market. A progressively smaller number of "big books" monopolize media attention while countless other books remain unjustly neglected. As my editor Jane Rosenman observes, "Sometimes it seems as though everyone is reading the same ten books."

So how is an author supposed to keep the faith in this publishing climate? Here are the strategies that my friends and I have found most useful.

Focus on your own writing. As writers we need to take back our power. If the book market is full of variables beyond our control, we need to focus on what we can control-namely our own writing. In her excellent book, Writing Past Dark, Bonita Freedman notes that our commitment to our own writing is our best weapon for banishing inner demons. "The antidote to envy is one's own work. Not the thinking about it. Not the assessing of it. But the doing of it. The answers you want can come only from the work itself. It drives the spooks away."

Abandon perfectionism. "A work is always going to be imperfect," cautions novelist Leora Skolkin-Smith. "The work, like your life, is continuous-imperfections, flaws, and all the problems you haven't solved in one book are a sign not only that you have more work to do but that you have a whole lifetime of work ahead of you. And unless one prefers to be dead and buried and forgotten, this is a good thing."

Learn how to pace yourself. Short story writer Richard Grayson, who was first published in 1975, stresses the importance of pacing one's career for the long haul and in cultivating a stamina that goes beyond the ephemeral buzz of "hot young author" publicity. "There are a certain number of young writers who are constantly talked up on a lot of the blogs. I know that some of these writers will still be talked about [in] 20 and 30 years . . . but most will not. If they continue writing, they will have to deal with the lessening attention in a world that sometimes seems focused, if not fixated, on the young and the new." Ask yourself where you want to be with your writing 20 years from now. How can your life and work leave a lasting impression long after the glamour of your first novel has faded? Perhaps parallel to your writing career, you would like to establish yourself as a creative writing instructor, a profession in which age and experience are valued.

Formulate your own definition of success, which may be different from other people's. If you are writing every day, continually honing your craft, and enjoying publication, however modest, this is to be celebrated, even if you aren't on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. If you can devote vast chunks of time to absorbing yourself in something you love-your writing-you are "richer" in many ways than those who earn a lot more money in soul-deadening professions. Recently, in a country hotel in Wales, I fell into conversation with a businessman who supplied needlework kits for women's magazines. Upon hearing that I was a writer, he became obsessed with knowing how much I earned. He went so far as to ask me to estimate my hourly wage by dividing my book advance by all the hours I had spent writing it. When I mildly pointed out that most people choose careers in the arts for reasons other than earning loads of money, he stopped in his tracks. At the root of his rather boorish inquiries, I sensed his envy and genuine curiosity about the mystique of a writer's life.

Develop a sense of healthy belligerence. In fairy tales, only the brave deserve the fair. Sometimes we need to get fierce to defend our long range goals. Years ago, I showed the first few chapters of a new manuscript to my agent at that time. It was a historical novel set in Colonial America. She told me to scrap it because books set in that era didn't sell. Instead of scraping the manuscript, I got another agent, Wendy Sherman, who championed it. The Vanishing Point, as the finished manuscript is titled, sold to Houghton Mifflin and three foreign publishers.

Be happy with what you do achieve. Most of us won't get much of an ego boost if we compare our Bookscan numbers with Dan Brown's, but we can teach ourselves to appreciate the successes that we have earned. My long-suffering husband, on hearing me moan about the injustices of the publishing world, suggested that I do the following exercise. Take each of my published novels, add up the sales figures. To this add the foreign rights and translation sales. Then translate those numbers into readers. Behind our house is a vast sheep pasture. I tried to imagine that pasture full of all the people who have taken time out of their busy lives to read what I wrote while labouring alone in my room. This is the big picture and encouragement that will keep me going for the next forty years. Ultimately we write for our readers, no matter what the market does.


It’s all about perspective

Ha! How quickly our perspective can change. Up until only a week ago, I always got uptight when I sent my poetry, essays and fiction out, seeking publication. But now that the manuscript of my novel is in the hands of two agents, suddenly I find that sending off submissions feels like small potatoes in comparison. I whizzed through five submissions this morning without blinking an eye.

Have a fun and safe Memorial Day Weekend!

The Street Smart Writer

In a continued to effort to show my support for AW and Jenna Glatzer, I am happy to post the link to her book, The Street Smart Writer, which ironically talks about scams writers should be on the lookout for.

A temporary forum for AW’ers


While Jenna works out the details of getting AW back on the map, Roger Carlson, a moderator at AW, has been gracious enough to set up this temporary forum. I am headed over there asap.

Also, here is the link to Jenna's blog with some heart-felt thank yous.

Rock on Jenna!

I’m gonna faint!

I just got my second request for the full manuscript of THE SUN SHINES ON MADDY WEAVER from a major NY agency. Yee Haw!! That's two requests for fulls and 6 rejections out of 31 equeries I sent Sunday. That means I still have 23 possible replies left.

Oh my…oh my. I think I'm gonna faint.

Spreading the word

The following list of blogs all discuss the bullshit that so called literary agent Barbara Bauer has visited upon Absolute Write.  Thanks to Kira at Loving Twilight for these links.


December Quinn

Twenty Worst Literary Agents

Oh Dear

One Billion Dollars

Benjamin Solah

Bernita Harris

Dama’s Dramas


BlogPulse Newswire

Soi Dogs



Writer’s Blog Alliance




Sean D. Schaeffer

UnNatural History

Neil Gaiman

Sara Spock


Fiona’s Farrago

An Insane Writer


The Blonde Artist

The Parchment

Hoosier Red

Writer Beware (or those who wrote the list!)

Southern Expressions

Writer’s Row

Tori Scott

Books, Inq.

One Odd Goose