I had the chance for a long and productive holiday weekend, but I blew it by getting a bad cold.
I’m feeling a bit too groggy to make anything meaningful this week. But I’m afraid that the blogosphere is still a “publish or perish” environment. It doesn’t take sick days, and I can’t, either.
So allow me to try and throw something together. Hopefully, I won’t embarrass myse…sa…ah…AH…
Sorry about that.
Let’s get down to business.
Writing, and Editing, and Refining Your Craft, and Such
It’s important, when writing anything important, to remember the thing.
You know, the thing.
Well, don’t ask me to describe it. I can barely see well enough to make out the letters on the keyboarlibushimmmmmmsasfdierledeijdfa;;;weijfewpjeirvnmqwerfejwqvnqverhqwhrgg84erwqfeqd
I’m sorry, what?
Right, so anyway, I’m not in the right frame of mind to remember what I’m supposed to be talking about, so if you could just pretend to be on the same page as me, that would be great. You know what they say: “Fake it until you make it.”
Hey, that would be a great topic for a blog post.
Faking It until You Make It
As an unpublished author, there is nothing that can really prepare you for the rigors of professional writing and publication. Anyone lucky enough to sell their first book is guaranteed to lack the competence to pull it off.
So this week, instead of trying to feed you some advice or insight that can’t really replace the value of actual experience, I’m going to encourage you to create a facade of competence, in the hopes that it will help you dupe some of those rubes in the book industry into thinking you’re better than they are.
And I do mean better than they are. It’s impossible to trick someone into thinking you’re on the same level. They already know what their level looks like, and they can tell when something doesn’t fit there. But, with a little effort, you can convince them that you are on a higher level—one that lies beyond their meager comprehension.
Essentially, it’s the Andy Warhol method, except that we can’t all be Andy Warhol. “Oh, look at me: I can put nine Marilyn Monroes on different-colored squares, and someone will pay me a million dollars for it.” Because that takes sooooooo much artistic talent to do.
He might have gotten away with it, but YOU have to be more subtle in your approach. The book industry already has enough prima donnas. They bite their tongues for the ones who have been around awhile, but it’s the last thing they want from their new talent.
Still, it’s even worse to be a shrinking violet. Those kinds of writers are only good for being stepped on. And that’s no way to make a name for yourself. You’re not going to trick the professionals into believing that you already know this world, but you should at least convince them that you’ve been preparing for it. It’s kind of like getting a college degree, in that it ultimately does not qualify you for any job, but it shows that you are dedicated to a particular field of employment.
Let’s go over a few basics.
Learn the Terminology
No tribe is going to accept you if you can’t speak their language. The book industry is particularly xenophobic tribe—cannibalistic, too, though we’ll get to that later.
The most important terms you can learn are the ones pertinent to writing, since you are (I assume) going into this industry as a writer. You’re not going to get your foot in the door if you can’t keep up in a conversation about Voice or Theme or Three-act Structure.
Beyond that, you should be familiar with the various kinds of intellectual property rights, as well as royalties and advances. You need to understand genre and demographics and be able to describe your target audience in three words or less (“Middle-aged seamstresses”, “Agoraphobic Sewer Mutants”, “Young Adult Arsonists”, etc.).
There’s no way I can define all these aspects in a single post, and, come to think of it, I haven’t written a lot of posts about them before (just what have I been doing with this blog?). A simple internet search can tell you a lot about them, but the best way to learn about them is from professional writers, which means following those writers’ blogs and/or sitting in at a writers’ conference full of people who know how this stuff works.
Asking the Right Questions
Much like in a job interview, the best way to demonstrate your mastery of the subject is by asking intelligent questions to the interviewer. Asking the wrong questions will reveal your unpreparedness. If, for example, you want them to elaborate on something that is standard, industry-wide policy, they will correctly guess that you do not understand the industry. But if you only ask questions pertaining to their particular policies, it will make you look interested in them personally.
There are some things that a professional author should be asking potential publishers and agents. Here’s a few examples.
- Who’s going to be doing the marketing for this book?
Each publisher takes a different approach to marketing, and you want to be sure you know how much resources, if any, they will be setting aside for this project. If this is your first rodeo, then they’re probably not going to take a lot of risk with you. Which is fine, as long as you’re both on the same page about it. Neither one of you wants to put in the position where you thought the other party was supposed to be doing this.
- What kind of schedule are we looking at?
There are all kinds of deadlines and cutoff dates in the book business. You’ll probably be told what yours is without having to ask, but there are still some gray areas that may need clarifying. What should you do if you’re ahead of schedule? What if you turn in your manuscript or copyedits early? What should you do if you have a scheduling conflict? They might not know the answers any better than you do, but by asking good questions, they will at least be tempted to take you seriously.
- Who else should I be talking to?
A lot of hands are going to be touching your book, so you might as well know who they are and how much right you have to get in touch with them. Suppose the publisher is hiring a cover artist, and they already have a design in mind. Alright, but does that mean you shouldn’t even be talking to the artist?
How often can you call for a status update? Which is better: phone or email? And what is the best way for them to keep in touch with you?
Talking to Other Writers
It’s not just suspender-wearing editors and office peons you should be talking to, of course. Part of establishing yourself as a writer is maintaining a professional presence among other writers.
And this is perhaps the easiest part of all, because all you really need to look like a professional, when among other professionals, is a certain amount of interpersonal generosity.
Give them time to talk about themselves. Show a genuine interest in the projects of people around you. Be polite and tasteful and don’t press hard on issues that they’d rather avoid. They’ll reciprocate, of course, and give you time to talk about your own stuff. Ideally, you’ll both be generous enough to allow the other to speak and get the same amount of input.
It’s really not that different from being a good conversationalist in general. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t impose his demands on the world, but still asserts himself enough to be heard, you’ll be fine.
And that’s about all I have energy for today. I’m feeling a little better now, but I think I should take it easy for a while, all the same.
I’d like to thank everyone who gives this blog a chance. I wouldn’t get far without you guys.
Thanks for readingadfaearwqgrwqihbqh hwrbwbqwoqjhoph””’eqweqawgb.,qbrq<dgwe
[This week’s tagline: “Where people come…when they’re not feeling great.”]