Tag Archives: novels

Growing Acorns

“Sometimes … the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”  –A.A. Milne

Through my career, I have often been asked by newspaper reporters or newbie writers how I get ideas. It is not a good question, or a useful question, or even an insightful question. Most professional novelists sneer at it. Some might even label it “dumb.”  Innumerable jokes have been generated by it. When asked, you feel superior and clever. You try not to smile or burst out laughing, if you’re a courteous person. And if you’re a kind person, you might even answer this question with some degree of honesty, especially if the inquirer is a new writer genuinely trying to understand. But if you’re neither kind nor courteous, then you could succumb to the terrible temptation of being flippant, disdainful, or even misleading.

For a long time, I found the very notion of seeking an idea to be laughable. My imagination was teeming with so many plots, characters, and settings that I despaired of finding time to write them all. I had no patience with anyone that claimed to suffer from writer’s block. I felt that anyone lacking in ideas should go and do something besides write.

These days, I’m less arrogant. I’ve learned that you can hit emotional dry holes that leave you empty, too drained or distracted to create. It’s not the same as being blocked–not exactly–but the result is similar, in that you sit at your keyboard but produce nothing beyond a new Pinterest board. I’ve also realized that some new writers feel so timid and unsure that they can’t judge any idea that comes to them.

Fear and uncertainty can kill ideas by draining away all the belief and excitement generated by creativity.

Expectations that are too high can blight a story idea before it barely gets started. I’ve known beginning writers so determined that every word be perfect, so focused on the mistaken belief that their first writing effort would not only be amazing but an instant bestseller that they could not move their project past an endlessly polished Chapter One.

And good ideas can starve and wither when an unprepared writer lacks the skills, experience, or craftsmanship to write them well.

Writers at all stages seek ideas every day, and every day good ideas come to them. Some will make a writer clap hands and chortle with glee. Others don’t look like much at first glance. They get pushed aside, ignored or even forgotten.

But often the best ideas are much like the Milne quote I began with. They are small and quiet. They creep into your mind when you’re paying no attention to them at all. But unlike your grocery list or your promise to walk the dog after supper, they aren’t forgettable. They take your notice, fade to the back of your thoughts, then return. And each time they come again, they’re slightly bigger or they’re better or they shine with a gradual brilliance that finally forces you to look at them, thump them, tug them this way and that, and at last to start testing them for inherent conflict, unpredictability, and marketability.

Milne wasn’t writing about writers when he penned that sentence I’ve quoted. His simplicity of expression, that bell-like quality of purity and the direct thinking of childhood, is what grabs our reading attention and makes us think, Hey now. That’s profound. I’ve pulled this quote from its original context and applied it to our topic without any straining to make it fit.

As writers, what takes up the most room in our heart? The big overblown, over-plotted, grandiose story with a cast of hundreds? Or a story of smaller scale that’s deeper and more complex? Either or none or both?

You decide.

But the little idea can grow into something large and worthy. Don’t be too quick to judge it invalid. Don’t dismiss it as foolish. Don’t call it silly. Don’t criticize it to death to prevent others from potentially picking holes in it.

Evaluate it by all means. Ideas have to be turned into plots, and that process involves stringent tests and plenty of thought.

But don’t try to make it bigger than it wants to be. And don’t throw it away because it’s only a short story idea and you wanted a novel or it’s in a genre you don’t want to tackle or it’s sweet when you want to be dour and mysterious or moody when you want to write romantic comedy.

Listen to it. Think it over without prejudgment. If it stays in your heart and grows, give it a chance.



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Firstly, I apologize to the followers of this post for having neglected you for so long. This year, I have found many such apologies in the blogs that I follow, and I understand. Sometimes, we’re interrupted or become over-committed. LIFE gets in our way. In my case, I could kick about my situation or complain about LIFE stepping in and throwing my recent writing goals to the curb, but as a writer I know that we need LIFE to give us new material.

Also, after my three recent books on writing technique, I felt for a while that I’d said all I had to say on method and approach. This attitude is unfair to you as followers and shirks my responsibility to you. However, as a writing teacher once said to me many years ago when I was as yet unpublished and living on dreams and sheer determination … “From time to time, you have to let the well fill back up.”

Earlier this summer, when I was feeling guilty about posting nonsense about toads instead of advice on killing adverbs, I told myself to pull it together. It was time to walk into my office, sit in my writing chair, and resume posting on writing techniques.

Instead, a weird thing happened. I was plowing through a stack of possible novels to assign to my university course on genre fiction this fall when I read a book by a highly successful author of romance and romantic suspense. It was my first exposure to this writer’s work. I don’t know whether it’s representative of her usual effort or an aberration or a new direction for her.

All I know is that this genre novel had next to no plot. The protagonist hit a strong and dangerous problem in chapter one. That problem was resolved in chapter two. The romance was clenched in less than twenty-five pages. The subplots were introduced and resolved without any conflict. And the rest of the story filled in with illness, personal makeovers, and wardrobe decisions.

That book poleaxed me.

In hindsight, I realize that it got to me because I was tired and stressed due to LIFE. Worry and lack of sleep had sapped my reserves more than I realized. And for the last three weeks after reading that book, I kept thinking, What is the use?

That question is always a danger signal for any writer, at any time, in any situation.

It means, in effect, that the writer is surrendering, giving up, and abandoning the art and joy of creating with words on the page. Whether a writer is stymied by lack of time, distractions, hindrances, self-doubt, criticism, lack of support, or whatever form of resistance being thrown at her, too much of it becomes a tsunami that can drown intentions, goals, writing schedules, and projects.

What is the use, I wondered, of standing on technique, of trying to teach unwilling and recalcitrant students how to form scenes, follow plot questions, or handle pacing? It was as though I was trying to swim across a river, and that novel was a cement block thrown at me instead of a life preserver.

In recent years, I’ve seen waves of poor writing flood our entertainment industry, whether in books or films. I’ve read too many reader reviews raving about books that turn out to be nothing more than gimmickry or a mess of episodic events strung together. I’ve attended writer conferences where young, up-and-coming writers thumb their noses at plot and story design. I’ve watched the publishing industry crashing in Zepplin-flames as the seasoned editors retire or are driven from their jobs in the name of corporate downsizing.

From food to stories, the fashion du jour seems to be deconstruction. I understand this is a fad. I understand that youngsters love rebellion and delight in taking things apart. Yet in a year where the whole world seems to be embracing the cause of anarchy with no signs of stopping, I can’t help but think of that era of history when knowledge and civilization faltered, and Europe plunged into the Dark Ages.

See what I mean? In such a gloomy mindset, how easy–after reading a pleasant but utterly plotless effort by a bestselling author–for me to say, “Writing has reached its end. Stories are dead.”

Yeah, I realize I’ve been a drama queen about the incident. But writers have to over-react. Writers have to be too sensitive. Writers have to be so empathetic that we absorb the emotions of others and vibrate to their joys, tragedies, and comedies.

Good stories are still being written. Plots still exist out there. But, for the past month, I clung to the cement block and sank. I spent a lot of evenings thinking and pondering whether to abandon the abilities and skills I’ve been honing for a lifetime. Was it time to walk away? To say, no more writing?

Well, one of the precepts of genre writing is that readers will accept any emotion in a character except self-pity. It seems to me that it’s a good precept to follow in real life as well. So I dropped the cement block and floated back up to the surface.

Meanwhile, LIFE has backed off its pressure slightly. Stress has dropped a fraction. Sometimes, I get more sleep. I have been reading other books from my stack and they are better. I have dug down and found that my innate stubborn determination is still within me. It’s shaken but intact.

There is usefulness in what I do and teach. I will not stop doing what I know and believe in. I am competitive enough, stubborn enough, certain enough, and trained enough to go on. And if American literacy drops even lower than its current, shameful fourth-grade level, and we become monkeys able only to point and click, then I will hold my lantern aloft for as long as I’m able.

Meanwhile, my intention is to resume regular posts and put my writing schedule back on track. We’ll see how it goes.






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From My Bookshelf: Mary Roberts Rinehart

I have long been a fan of Rineharts’ mysteries. When I see her name on a ratty, much-worn, or faded binding, I usually pounce. Far too frequently, the book proves to be so musty I pass it up, but sometimes I grab it anyway, determined to find a way to read it even if it must be shelved in the garage.

When you start looking, she’s not impossible to find. A few of her best-known works can be found in paperback editions or e-books. A few.

Trouble is, I want them all.

Have you heard of her? Have you ever read her?

She was born in 1876 and died in 1958. She is best known for her mysteries–and she wrote over 60 of them. But she also penned plays that were performed on Broadway, plus short stories and articles for the Saturday Evening Post. She was a travel writer and a war correspondent for that publication during World War I. In the latter capacity, she interviewed Winston Churchill and Queen Mary. In addition to her prolific writing, she trained as a nurse, married a doctor, helped him with his practice, and raised three sons.

She is held responsible for coining the phrase, “The butler did it.” Her first book was published fourteen years before Agatha Christie came along, yet Rinehart today is known as the “American Agatha Christie.”

The other day, as I was reading an elderly, non-musty edition of her novel, K, I found myself asking why did Christie surpass her? Why is a sizable amount of Christie still in print and still selling while Rinehart molders away, largely forgotten?

Christie is probably better at crafting puzzlers. Rinehart is very much of the American school of mystery’s Golden Age. Her novel, The Yellow Room, dating from the 1940s, is as convoluted as any Chandler or Hammett work. No, I couldn’t solve it ahead of her sleuth, but the solution was so complicated that I’m still confused about some of it. And while I was willing to push my way through Hammett’s The Glass Key by watching the film innumerable times then reading the novel in an effort to understand it (and ditto for Chandler’s The Big Sleep), I’m not convinced that struggling so hard through this so-called American approach is worth the trouble.

Christie, after all, is easy to read. She doesn’t require huge effort, yet neither does she write down or patronize her audience. And while I think it’s important to read the difficult as well as the easy, the fact remains that Christie’s prose is clear and approachable. And there’s an advantage to that.

Rineharts writes beautifully. Her sentences are lyrical, lovely, almost poetic. Her style is rich, and she conveys a view of America in that period of pre-WWI through the 1920s that I love to visit. She doesn’t shy away from crime, relationships, ethical dilemmas, or moral struggles in her fiction, yet there’s nothing tawdry or coarse either. I think perhaps she fell out of favor because her style is too distinctive, too noticeable. We’ve moved away from the issues of that era. Very few of us now remember or realize a time in America when income tax didn’t exist. When people struggled to maintain a standard of living that was slowly going extinct before the Great Depression of the 1930s dealt it a death blow. Her characters, contending with recalcitrant servants, dwindling incomes, the desperate need to keep up appearances after losing all their money, etc., seem to belong to that elusive world of old black-and-white movies, evening gowns, and chauffeur-driven automobiles. Her books open a window and let us peer with curiosity into that long-ago place, but it’s hard for us to relate now.

By contrast, Christie doesn’t seem to date. Her characters lack the layers displayed by Rinehart. They are names. They move about and speak, but they are barely developed. Christie’s focus remains on the puzzle to be solved. Strangely enough–despite our modern fascination with the psychotic–we are less drawn to Rinehart’s tormented and complex people than Christie’s placeholders.

Now, my theory that her ornate style drove Rinehart out of favor may be bunk or it may be valid. All I know is that I love pouncing when I find her in vintage shops, forgotten corners, and occasional Amazon offers. She’s a treasure.

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For some reason, chapters tend to baffle newbie novelists. I am frequently asked questions such as

What are they?

How long should they be?

How should they start and end?

Are they the equivalent of a short story? Is a novel a series of short stories strung together in chapters?

Should they have titles?

Let’s take these one at a time.

Chapters divide a novel into sections that psychologically give readers a stopping point. They help to break up a very long story and make it visually less intimidating. They serve to assist writers with transitions, viewpoint changes, and the setting of hooks. They are usually centered around a plot event.

Therefore, if an average-length novel contains roughly 20 plot events–give or take–then there will be approximately 20 or so chapters.

Chapter lengths vary. Time was when chapters were lengthy, featuring perhaps two or three scenes, with sequels in between. But then James Patterson started the trend of very short chapters. His rationale was based on shortening attention spans and multi-tasking, where readers are increasingly distracted by our hectic, modern world. So you might pick up an older, midlist book where chapters run as long as ten or fifteen pages. Or you might decide to read the latest young adult bestseller, where chapters average two to five pages.

The shortest chapter I can recall reading is in Ray Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. It’s one sentence long.

It’s placed somewhere in the midpoint of the book for special effect, and it works beautifully as a transition and pacing change.

Chapters should end with hooks. Chapters should begin with hooks, or viewpoint changes, or time/location changes. Avoid starting each chapter the same way. Avoid ending chapters with your protagonist falling asleep. Set a hook at the end to keep readers turning pages.

Chapters are not short stories and should not be written in the same way. As I’ve already mentioned, they are either focused on a story event, which may involve one scene or two scenes. They may be focused on the aftermath of a major story event, where the protagonist has to pause and process what just happened.

Chapter titles usually appear in fiction for young readers. They serve as a guide or a foreshadowing of what’s about to happen. In effect, they are a tiny hook to keep young readers going. Fiction for adult readers seldom requires them.




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Now or Later

When it comes to writing, are you a doer or a procrastinator? Do you write steadily and daily according to the BIC principle (Butt in Chair)? Or do you catch up on your tweets, play games on your phone, and allow yourself just five little minutes on Facebook before you get started?

And how often do those five little minutes suck up all the time you’ve allotted for your writing session?

One of my favorite films is THE BISHOP’S WIFE (1948), staring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. It features a subplot involving an elderly professor (played by Monty Woolley) who is friends with the protagonist Julia and her husband Henry. Professor Wutheridge is poor, retired, and without family. He has talked for years about the book on Roman history he’s writing. Everyone assumes that this is his life’s work and he’s been slaving away on it steadily.

In fact, he hasn’t written a word–as he finally confesses to Julia and the angel Dudley. When asked why, he blurts out, “Because I couldn’t think of anything to say!”

That’s as good a cause for procrastination as any.

Generally, I find myself putting things off for three basic reasons: fear, laziness, or dislike.

If I’m doubtful of my ability to perform a task or try a new experience, that’s letting fear hold me back.

It’s so much easier to delay, promising myself that tomorrow I won’t be so anxious about possible mistakes. Or the next day, or a week from now, or how about next month?

Another variation of fear-procrastination stems from perfectionism. It’s good to hold yourself to high standards in your written work (and elsewhere), but not to the point of paralyzing yourself lest you make a mistake.

I once tried to coach a woman who expected to write a bestselling masterpiece with her first writing effort. Having shackled herself to this very unrealistic expectation, she spent several weeks plotting and then delayed and delayed and delayed before she finally wrote a 12-page first chapter.

It featured beautifully couched sentences, good depiction of story action, and little else. It needed tweaking and stronger scenes, but she couldn’t accept constructive criticism. Nor could she embrace the concept that this effort of hers had not achieved perfection.

She abandoned the project and did not return.

I’m a perfectionist, too, and yet I know that writing is seldom–if ever–perfect. It’s not going to happen. Whatever lovely exchange of dialogue is playing in my mind, somehow it’s never quite as good once I convey it to paper. I give my work the best I’ve got at the time, within the deadline assigned to me, and that’s all I can do. Sometimes, what I produce pleases me and sometimes, later on, I find certain aspects of it embarrassing. (Why are my characters such dopes? Why, oh, why didn’t I catch that plot hole? Etc.)

The fear of making a mistake should never hold us back from trying.

Don’t know how to write the scene you envision? Try it anyway. Put words in your characters’ mouths and figure out how they can be opposed to each other. Then, go for it.

The result might be rotten, laughable, or halfway decent.

Procrastination due to fear simply requires scraping together enough gumption, determination, or willpower to push past it.

I frequently cause myself problems because I put off doing things I should.

I don’t want to clean off my desk each day. Result? A piled-up mess of papers, notebooks, Post-Its, and receipts that slithers onto the floor when I’m using the computer mouse or eats the scrap of paper where I’ve scribbled the KEY MOTIVATION OF MY VILLAIN, WITHOUT WHICH THE ENTIRE NOVEL WILL COLLAPSE.

I don’t want to bother shelving the novel I’ve just read, so I stack it beside my reading chair. Pretty soon another book is placed on top of it, then another, then another. Eventually I have a teetering, dusty tower of read books that are bound to be knocked over either by myself or the dogs. Down they slide under the sofa or into an awkward corner that I can’t reach without stooping, bending myself into a pretzel, or–much to the amusement of my dogs–crawling. The very best book of the group–the one I intended to keep forever–lands edge down, crumpling the pages.

A calamity that didn’t have to occur.

Laziness can also apply to writing. What if you have two scenes in mind. Scene 1 will be a confrontation between Pete Protagonist and his brother Amos. They’re fighting over … over … well, they’re fighting. You know they’re angry at each other, but you haven’t worked out why. Because you don’t know their motivations, you’re hazy on their positions in this argument.

Furthermore, you haven’t really thought through Pete’s goal for this scene. You don’t want to bother with all of that. It’ll come to me once I get going, you think. No need to waste time planning every detail.

So you type a few paragraphs. The brothers stand there–where? Oh, they’re just standing there … somewhere. You’ll fill that detail in later.

They’re standing there. They’re angry. They utter a few dialogue exchanges, but the conversation doesn’t get far. You force them through one page, and yet it’s like wading through sludge. Everything they’re saying seems trite or clichéd. The story just isn’t advancing.

You stop and sigh. This is too hard. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Or, let’s say you’re vague about what’s going to happen in Scene 1. All you know is that the brothers will argue and part, feeling bitter.

Meanwhile, Scene 2 is clear and shining in your mind. It’s going to be straight action. No need for awkward character motivation here. You’ve planned every moment in detail. You know a storm is going to blow up while Pete is sailing. He’ll struggle alone with sails and rigging. Then the tiller will be jerked from his grasp. The jib will fall on him, knocking him unconscious … no! Better if he’s swept overboard. Now he’s swimming for his life in rough seas … and sharks are coming.

Excited about that story segment and unwilling to work out the knots in Scene 1, you skip over the bothersome Scene 1 and write Scene 2 first. Maybe you take the time to research how unlikely it is that sharks will be circling a swimmer during a ferocious ocean storm, but maybe you don’t because your laziness has made you procrastinate about researching, too.

As you continue writing your book, you keep skipping the tough sections and writing only the bits that you like. You tell yourself that it will be easier to fill in the skipped stuff later, when you know exactly where the book is going and why the characters are behaving as they do.

Trouble is, this kind of procrastinator may never realize why the draft is so bad, why his characters keep reaching dead ends, or how a revision will be so tangled an entire rewrite will probably be necessary.

If the motivations and goals in Scene 1 are skipped instead of being worked out plausibly, how can there be a connection between the events of Scene 1 and those that take place in Scene 2?

Or, if the argument between Pete and Amos in Scene 1 had spilled over to Scene 2, what if the brothers had gone sailing together and when the storm burst over them, sweeping Pete overboard … would Amos have still been so angry and resentful about what occurred in Scene 1 that he delayed helping Pete and hesitated at the moment that a quick grab of Pete’s arm would have saved him?

Amos may spend the next five chapters leading a search-and-rescue operation. He could be bitterly blaming himself and experiencing all kinds of agonized guilt for what he’s done.

And when Pete is finally found, soaked with brine, starved, and half-dead, he might believe Amos deliberately tried to kill him.

By working through each plot problem as it arises, by not skipping ahead or just writing the bits of story that are the most fun, you could end up with a draft that makes sense and is much richer in layers, nuance, and context than you originally planned.

Intense Dislike:
Whenever we are faced with a task that we find distasteful, we’re likely to put it off for as long as possible.

Do you enjoy cleaning the bathroom? Some people do, but I don’t. Because my dislike of a dirty bathroom is even stronger, I perform the chore.

Do you enjoy working on your income tax? I loathe accounting work so much that I do it once a year. Although I know that prepping for my tax return would be quick and simple if I maintained the books weekly, or even monthly, I just won’t do it.

The result is that, yes, I only have to face the ledgers once a year, but it’s an awful experience. After twelve months of neglect, my accounts are in such a tangle that it takes weeks to straighten everything out and bring order to the mess.

By then, I’m behind on the new year’s accounts, and so I procrastinate again. It remains a vicious cycle that I never seem to break, year after year.

The only way to conquer this is through sheer discipline. Rather like being ordered by a dentist to floss daily, and having to create a new habit by forcing myself to perform the task at the same time every day until the habit is created.

In writing, perhaps you hate writing the first draft and enjoy the revision process. Or perhaps you love writing the rough draft and loathe revision. Either way, you need to create incentives for yourself and form the habits of discipline in order to get through the tasks you dislike.

Sometimes, people who are actually talented at writing never sit down and do it. They aren’t afraid of the task. They aren’t lazy. They want to write, but they just never do it.

Probe into their reasons, and sometimes the answer is, “I just don’t feel comfortable writing fiction. I can write essays fine. But putting stories together is hard and confusing.”

My response is always going to be, “So why aren’t you writing those articles or essays instead of pushing yourself toward the Great American Novel?”

Are you writing a story you just don’t like? Are you writing in a genre that’s not really your métier?


Do you secretly love true confession stories but fear that you’ll be laughed at by your friends if you wrote them? Do you struggle to write mainstream literature when your heart belongs to space opera? Are you stumped by your mystery plot that won’t gel when what you wish you could be writing are picture books for three-year-olds?

Snobbery and fear can push us in directions we truly don’t wish to go. Because we can’t write what we actually want, we don’t write at all.

Now, how is that going to get you anywhere?

Carrot or stick … or both … is the only way to get past this form of procrastination.


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Drat! (The Update)

Well, I was in error today. Sue Grafton’s W IS FOR WITNESS won’t be released until September 10.

And I didn’t dine tonight with Sid Halley. No, I spooned my soup without having the new Felix Francis mystery to read at the table.

So after a long day of eager anticipation, my evening has proven to be a bummer. The Francis mystery was indeed at my local bookstore, but I’ve decided to delay gratification in favor of a better discount. Blame it on the book budget, which is tight these days. (Especially after a binge at the estate sale.)

Still, I can be patient. These delays are but trifles. Meanwhile, I have plenty of other books to read.

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Phoenix Time

If you want to be a novelist–and by that I mean you really want to write books on a regular, consistent basis and aren’t just toying with the notion of writing one book someday–then you need to be aware of the statistic floating around that claims the average novelist’s career ends after three books.

That’s a dismal statistic. I’m so glad I didn’t encounter it early in my career–much less BEFORE my career was launched.

So why am I laying it on you? Because my point is that–like so many statistics–it can be misapplied and misunderstood, thereby becoming deceptive. You need to understand what’s true about it and what’s misleading.

Long-term working writers reinvent themselves all the time. Unless and until a novelist strikes oil with a major, runaway bestseller or creates a series that becomes highly popular with readers, it’s necessary to adapt and change in order to keep pace with an ever-developing book market.

I have friends in the business who write in several genres under different pseudonyms. So you may see a trio of science fiction space adventures from author Wylie Writer, and maybe you’ve enjoyed them. But then Wylie vanishes, and you think, Oh, darn. He gave up writing.

Not necessarily. Wylie Writer simply found that revenue on the PRINCESS MONA MAMBOS ON MARS series was inadequate, or Wylie’s publisher declined to continue Princess Mona’s adventures. So Wylie is now working on a new paranormal romance project, ZOMBIE BABES, under the pseudonym Amanda Amorous.

The book business operates in a feast/famine cycle. You land a five-figure book deal. You treat your family to steak. Then you s-t-r-e-t-c-h that money over the next three years while you write your epic urban fantasy trilogy about the battle for New York between the organized werewolf clans–Canis Nostrum–and zombie invaders from New Jersey. “Yo, Fuzzy! Go down to the sewers and give Mr. Rotgut an offer he can’t refuse.”

Writing other projects on the side can help mitigate the famine aspect, if you have the focus and discipline to write more than one book at the same time. (Sometimes our day job gets in the way!)

But the first book in that trio may not sell terrifically. Book 2 is much better, but the publisher has already lost interest and doesn’t push it. Book 3 is slid onto store shelves without any fanfare at all. Writer does not land another deal with that publisher.

Again, if you’re in the business because you love to write and you can’t live without words and you intend to keep on writing despite everything, then you pitch your next project to another publisher. And maybe you do so under a different name.

The added complication–as if writers don’t already juggle enough of them–is the current publishing revolution. Traditional ink-on-paper publishing has been merged and blended into what’s now known as the “Big Six.” In a year or two, it will probably be the “Big Four.”

Vanity publishing–thanks to the advent of electronic books–has never been easier. A novelist can put up as many books as she can write. The drawback, however, remains the same hiccup that we’ve always had: getting the public to notice.

In the past, the hiccup was called “distribution.” Under the old-style of self-publishing, you paid a company to print your books then you drove around with a stack of two hundred copies in your car trunk and couldn’t get any brick-and-mortar bookstore to let you hold a book signing event. You ended up either storing the books in your mom’s garage, handing them out to your family as Christmas presents, or dumping them at a tag sale.

In the present, the hiccup is called “promotion.” The new venue of self-publishing gives you worldwide distribution online. Trouble is, you have to catch reader attention. Novelists are now spending time learning to design Web sites and constantly feed a stream of chatter into the various forms of social media in hopes of enticing someone to read their latest e-book.

Writers try new ideas all the time. They try new venues. They pitch their projects to literary agents and publishers, and maybe they’re shot down. They write the book dear to their heart anyway and publish it in Kindle format. No one reads it, and every online visit to the empty bank account (created just for e-book revenue) is a stab to the heart.

This is a business of dreams and disappointments, splurging and starving, trying something new and meeting rejection. It is a lifetime of persistence. A career novelist has to be able to endure the jerky uneven pace of this kind of existence, perhaps even thrive on it. Most importantly of all, a novelist doesn’t quit, doesn’t quit, doesn’t quit.

No matter how many reincarnations it takes to keep work going out there to be read by others, we don’t surrender. We don’t give up. We endure the dark tunnel of working on projects doomed by their publishers to fail. And now and then, we step out into the light of a new sales contract, a juicy advance, a book that’s selling, and good reviews. Like troglytes kept too long in the shadows, we blink in dazed amazement and smile. And when we descend back into the tunnel, the warmth of the good times we’ve enjoyed keeps us going.


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