Writing is a beautifully creative process that, like most of the arts, is prone to commercial failure. After all, literary success is now, more than ever, a numbers game. Most new writers must undergo a subjective process that, no matter how many may think your efforts are brilliant, is doomed to, at best, skirt along the razor’s edge of commercial viability.
That’s in the beginning of a career anyway. How many times have I looked at contemporary work of art, or read a book where it seems any real skill has been cast aside to cash in on an established name or controversial topic.
I was once advised that Publishers are interested in only two sources – an established author, or a celebrity name (eg sporting celebrity). In the harsh reality of the viciously competitive literary market, publishers want a sure thing and are, as a result, unwilling to take on new authors. Today’s publishing business is tougher, less likely to take a risk, and the marketing department is now in charge.
It feels the old employment thing doesn’t it? How can a beginner gain experience for the job unless they have already worked in the job? How can a successful writer have their work published unless they are a successful writer?
In becoming a published author, we must first understand that there is an oft-lengthy process to becoming financially viable. In a nutshell, the process is as follows:
- Write your book – conceding that this may take years of research and writing, editing, rewriting – rinse and repeat.
- Consider the services of a professional editor.
- Self-publish – pay to have your book published.
- Market your book to raise awareness of your work.
- Once you enjoy success, a publisher might, maybe, decide to publish your work. Please note that the days of big money for publishing your first book are gone. Now you can expect only a small percentage of the sale price of your published epic. The proof will be in sales, but to get sales you need to be distributed into a number of stores by a publisher who is effective at marketing.
- Your popularity grows, books sell like crazy and a movie or miniseries based on your work means you can now eat.
There are, of course, shortcuts.
However, one of the most insidious issues is that of self-confidence, in thinking your product might never be good enough.
After having my self-published book on the market, and having been read by a bunch of friends, family, and others, and received overwhelmingly positive critique, I submitted the novel to be assessed by a professional editor. In the continually-critical life of an author it was a humbling and growing experience. My Editor was UK literary agent and script doctor John Jarrold (http://www.johnjarrold.co.uk/) who was tough, but fair and I am grateful for his advice.
His main comments were issues he describes as common to most new authors:
- Access the writing guide: “Elements of Style,” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White because it seems some of my sentences had stepped firmly outside of the framework of the English language.
- Make your language more ‘active’ than ‘passive’.
- Remove wordiness and waffle.
- Don’t! Use! Exclamation Marks!
I went through the inevitable “Ouch! How did I miss that?!!!” and, naturally, followed his guidance.
My reading of novels since receiving that assessment suggests that many authors haven’t been so fortunate to receive those words of wisdom, but I have to confess that the guidelines were certainly pertinent to me.
Smart Blogger (https://smartblogger.com/editing-tips/) lists tips designed to help writers:
- Don’t pad your prose with empty filler words.
- Don’t weaken the action with wimpy words.
- Don’t cripple your descriptions with feeble phrases.
- Trim flabby words or phrases.
- Don’t pussyfoot around your verbs and adjectives.
- Throw out the rulebook on punctuation – eg commas.
It’s a never ending process and a balancing act, as authors need to judiciously retain some of their own creative brilliance.
Editing becomes lax when you tire, or when you are just sick of it, but constant editing, assisted by another friendly pair of eyes, is vital to the more appealing presentation of your fabulous story.
Some might fear failure, but, like most arts, it’s a game for the stayer with skin too thick to penetrate. But advice is invaluable.
Look at it as the immortal Rudyard Kipling describes in his work “If”
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too
Writer’s Life.org’s Bethany Cadman suggests that, “Failure teaches us lessons. Each and every time we fail we learn something – about ourselves or about our writing. We can use these lessons to improve and to try again. Without failing we might never get better, so think of failing as an opportunity to learn something new and to get better at our craft.”
According to Ingrid Sundberg’s site, Literary talent is the use of words. “It’s the ability to create beautiful sentences and spin a stunning metaphor. It’s the language of imagery, the emotion of a carefully placed consonant, crafty dialogue, and gorgeous descriptions.”
But according to Robert McKee in his book Story “literary talent is common.” Whereas story talent (in his opinion) is rare. He goes on to say that “literary and story talent are not only distinctively different but are unrelated, for stories do not need to be written to be told. Stories can be expressed any way human beings can communicate. Theatre, prose, film, opera, mime, poetry, dance”.
Story talent is rare.”
Writer Stan Hayward (https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-being-a-good-story-teller-and-being-a-good-writer-assuming-they-are-distinct-qualities) gives more insight as he suggests:
“Good story tellers are in fact rarely good writers.
And good writers are rarely successful writers.
Agatha Christie was not a good writer, but could create stories as puzzles.
Barbara Cartland said something to the effect that trying to write well was a waste of time as her readers just wanted romantic stuff.
Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes by chance.”
In the end, it is about targeting our market. Will anyone read what we write, even if it is well-distributed and marketed? Who is our reading audience?
Maybe failure is a tough take on a perpetual growing process. Whenever literary corrections are received, stay true to your story and accept that it’s all part of the learning process to develop a product that will eventually become enjoyed by millions.
Lack of publication might not be because of our failure, but because of the will of the Gods, the alignment of the planets, or just bad luck. Persistence is essential.
But the story is waiting.
We just can’t give up.