Thursday, June 7, 2007

What's My Motivation?

Good god, did you read this article? It's phenomenal what authors put themselves through. And with what horribly unrealistic expectations!

(Ok, ok, you're thinking back to some of my posts and thinking, "Phenomenal what we put ourselves through?" And while my social life may be in the toilet, and I may have gained some weight since taking this job, and there may be better-paid sanitation workers... crap, what was my point? Oh yeah. At least I don't find myself wandering around with just one shoe on like a crazy person. My crazy job makes me happy, and I can at least maintain the appearance of sanity.)

Anyway, this is about how crazy you people are. So, so many people seem to decide to become authors because they have the wrong idea about what's going to happen.
Not "You've got the wrong end of the stick."
More like, "That's not the stick. You're holding a tree snake."

Let's dispel some of these ideas.

1. It's easy!
While it is perfectly true that there are abominably written books out there which make it seem like damn near anyone can get published, I think a great many people are looking at children's picture books and thinking, "That's short! I can write short! I'll write a children's book the next time I sit down!" And I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the slush manuscripts I see are written in the bathroom.

2. I'll be rich!
You aren't going to get rich. You aren't even going to make a living at this. You'll be among the lucky few if you get enough money out of your book to buy an economy car.

3. I'll be famous!
Celebrities are not going to rally around your book. There will be no groundswell of support from consumers. Awards committees will refer to you as, "Who?"

No, neither sloth nor greed nor vanity shall make you a happy author. (Nor anger, gluttony, or envy. Not sure about lust.)

Lookit. There's just one reason why anyone should subject themselves to authorhood. Because you've written something that you love. If, at the end of all the hoopla, very few people read your book, or it gets terrible reviews, or it never even gets published, you should still be holding something that makes you happy. It's just not worth it otherwise.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very, very true.

Now I'm not going to lie; I'd love to be a published author one day - eventually one with lots of books to her credit. However, I've pretty much come to the conclusion that I can only make one part of the equation happen - writing the book. Everything else is out of my control, and I'm much better off not obsessing over it.
When I get a rejection, send the manuscript out again and keep writing.

Maybe nothing I write will ever be published, but I will have spent my time doing something I enjoy. That's worth something in and of itself. To look at it any other way invites bitterness and insanity - not a pretty picture.

Anonymous said...

I don't write for myself. I write for an audience. If a book I write doesn't get published, it may have been good practice or whatever, but ultimately it has not achieved its purpose.

Do surgeons say, "I cut into bodies for its own sake, not to save people's lives"? Do mail carriers say, "I put mail in boxes because I enjoy it; really, it doesn't matter if it gets to the intended recipient"?

Sometimes I really get tired of the smarmy bits of conventional wisdom with with children's writers love to lecture each other.

K.B. said...

Reading all those whines, I was struck by how much the sound like my students -- the ones who do the one-upmanship whines about how late they stayed up studying or doing a project, how they're living on Red Bull and Ramen, all that. Sure, they could think ahead, make a calendar, start studying early, start the project after it's assigned instead of the day before it's due, but no, they're into the "Oh, poor me, I have it so hard, SOOO hard," culture of college. (I put myself through college and I still didn't pull any all-nighters AND I graduated with honors, so it's not like you HAVE to go through all that pain.)

I'm hearing the same whines among those authors: It's such a hard life, how tired I am of these characters, if only I were done with this lousy biography, the book didn't make me rich and famous, blah, blah, blah.

Well, if you don't like writing, do something else. Me, I like writing, I like teaching college, and I like research, so that's what I do. While writing for the school and library market will never make me rich, it's a kick to have a stack of titles with my name on them.

Anonymous 2 has a point about writing for an audience. If the book doesn't sell, either to an editor or to the public at large, that's one point one might consider. Who is my audience, and did I connect with that audience?

Deirdre Mundy said...

I think the big difference between a cheerful writer and a gloomy one is that the cheerful writer would write anyway.

Even if she wasn't also submitting and daydreaming about that first big sale....

For me, anything I sell is a bonus-- it offsets my postage costs and gives me a little bit of unexpected cash to spend on things like a new wagon for the kids....

But I like submitting because It gives me an incentive to FINISH what I start and to polish it and make it perfect. (The hard part... the initial writing is just fun...)

But I'd also write regardless... when I have a busy week and don't get to spend anytime on my writing it affects my productivity because I start daydreaming and telling myself stories..... if I write them down, I can function like a normal human being....


But I do understand the "wanting this woman out of my life" mood too....

I just finished a picture book revision for an editor-- I love the book... I loved it even more after the revision... but the intense week of headache-inducing editing left me wanting to take a break for a while.....

But, if it comes back to me in two or three months with a "no", I'll be ready to spend time with it again....

Editorial Anonymous said...

You all sound very well adjusted. I wonder if that article was really a product of a reporter who went out with a headline already written, and just ignored the examples of non-crazy authorship he/she found?

Well, thank goodness for your good sense. All day dealing with an author who couldn't find her premise in a paper sack makes it just wonderful to connect to reasonable people!

Anonymous said...

Do surgeons say, "I cut into bodies for its own sake, not to save people's lives"?

Plastic surgeons do. ;o)

lesmuir said...

Hey! I think that crazy-author-guy has my shoe!

Anonymous said...

We're children's writers, EA. People with visions of fame and fortune don't become children's writers. Not mostly, anyway.

Yarker said...

Ah, there's nothing quite like a good face slapping reality check from the paper-calloused e-hand of an editor.

Thanks EA.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I'm pretty sure that the author of the piece DID seek out the most disfunctional authors possible...

I mean, Frey? He's famous BECAUSE he's always falling apart...

And someone who spends 10 years on a book and has quit their day-job in the process? Clearly he hasn't learned how to say goodbye....

And the author who's bitter because her book didn't sell as well as she hoped?

This is probably one of those "make the reader feel good" articles... as in "See, I could write a book if I wanted to, but I don't want to because it would make me miserable! So I'm GLAD that that mean old editor sent me a personal rejection stating that if I ever sent her anything again she would take me to court and sue me for the pain and suffering that my 365-stanza epic poem about "Holly, the Heroine Addicted Heron" caused her....."

Editorial Anonymous said...

Shaken and Stirred gets it right with this pithy comment:

"My Book Deal Ruined My Life." Then, please, by all means throw your obnoxious selves off a bridge or something. Also, whoever had the idea for this story, please follow suit.

sandmore said...

An economy car? Cool!

Rilla said...

Economy car? Wow! I'd be happy if I covered postage and conference fees. You're right, nobody gets into children's writing with visions of riches, but only because you love the journey and there's nothing else you'd rather do. That doesn't mean you're not allowed to winge along the way, we all know how tough it is. Self-questioning, self-loathing, weight-gain, withdrawal into my study away from everyday life -- I have to admit to all of them although I still have both shoes and my cats aren't dead yet... And, though I long to hold that published volume with my name on it and inhale the new-book smell and crack open the binding -- I do wonder how it will affect my life.

O'Donovan said...

I completely lost my mind when I read that article.

As a freelance writer who has pretty much the same lives they described without the deal, I was completely offended.

As a journalist, I thought the reporter's bias was amply demonstrated by the absence of a key question: If you knew then what you know now, would you still take the deal?

I've finally calmed down enough to see that, yeah, this sort of story serves to remind aspiring writers that it's not all fan letters and advances, but still ... argh.

cynjay said...

What a bunch of whiners.

I agree that JK Rowling aside, most kidlit writers aren't in it for fame and fortune. We're in it to watch a kid pick up something we've written and get something out of it.

Trust me, if I ever get a good deal it won't wreck my life.

Rhubarb said...

The typical media coverage of authors and book deals tend to be rags to riches stories, giant advances, fabulous book tours and so on. So that sets up the stage for a slanted article like that one, which gets attention because it throws everyone's fictional dream job in the trash by making it sound like THE SHINING with sweatpants.

We don't see the news story of the person who works hard over time and builds a career, and gets to a point where they actually make modest money years down the road, has the economy car, pads the income doing school talks or a part time job, lives frugally, still works hard, and feels happy/proud/sane about what they are doing...

Editorial Anonymous said...

"The Shining with sweatpants"

LOL. That's fabulous!