Finding My Place in the Publishing World

UntitledpI’ve been reading promotional materials (again!) looking for ways to increase book sales, and one of the articles, in a rehash of the idea of positive thinking, said that if you’re not satisfied with the way your writing career is going, don’t ever let it be known but speak and act as if you were a bestselling author.

In other words, don’t ever let people know the truth, and that goes against the spirit of this blog. I suppose it isn’t smart of me to talk about my struggles to find my place in the publishing world because it probably does show me in a negative light. In fact, one friend emailed me and said, “If you want to stop writing and pity yourself because you think you are a failed author, go ahead. That’s your choice.”

Regardless of how I come across, I am not negative or pessimistic. I have every intention of making my living as a writer, and if I thought claiming I were a bestselling author would get me there, I’d do it. Or maybe not. There are so many authors out there claiming to be more than they are that the world doesn’t need another one.

Despite the contention of my friend, I do not consider myself a failed author. In fact, I am a successful author. I’ve written five books that I’m proud of and that many people love. I just haven’t been able to turn them into financial successes yet.

I see myself on a writer’s journey, though I admit I’m going through a crisis of faith, struggling to find reasons to write. (I’m also struggling to find reasons to live, but that doesn’t make me a failed human being.) For some writers, writing is their reason for living, but although that isn’t my reason for living (I am not compelled to write; it’s something I choose to do), I have a hunch that my reason for living is tied up somehow with my reason for writing. (Writing fiction, that is. I do write every day for this blog, partly for the discipline of it and partly to help me figure out my place in the world, the world of grief, and the publishing world.)

I began writing fiction more than a decade ago as a means of bringing my dying life mate/soul mate in close. Someone who is dying drifts away until finally he begins to disconnect himself totally from life, and I couldn’t bear to let the disconnect from me happen sooner than it needed to. For several years, until he drifted too far away, I wrote at night, then read the passages to him in the morning, and he’d let me know if I nailed the scene, usually with a small, impish smile. If I didn’t get a passage quite right, I didn’t get a smile, but I got help figuring out where I went wrong.

That’s why I used to write — to see his smile. And that’s why writing has become such an angst-ridden subject for me. My reason for writing died when he did.

A friend (the same friend mentioned above now that I think of it) once sent me a snippet of a poem:

A voice calls, “Write, write!”
I say, “For whom shall I write.”
And the voice replies,
“For the dead whom thou didst love.”

—John Berryman

Maybe someday writing for the dead whom I didst love will be reason enough to write, but for now, I’m still searching for my place in the world and the publishing world. And if the search — or my angst — comes across as negative, so be it. Besides, when I start acting as if I am a bestselling writer, I want it to be for real.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

The Writer’s Journey

Malcolm R. Campbell, my guest today, worked as a college journalism instructor, corporate communications director, technical writer and grant writer before publishing The Sun Singer in 2004.  Malcolm says:

Writers’ journeys are filled with highs, lows and limbos, and down at the what’s-my-next-word level the path often looks like a mess. Joseph Campbell suggested that our lives often appear disorganized when viewed close up. Yet when the point of view is pulled back far enough, the route from here to there and back again stands out as perfect and well orchestrated. 

I wrote my fantasy adventure novel “The Sun Singer” in 1983 because there was a story inside my head that I thought I ought to tell. A young man suddenly becomes psychic when he visits a bronze statue of Apollo. At first, it’s fun. Then he sees a tragedy and his gift is immediately tarnished and he tries to ignore it until he ends up in a mysterious alternative universe in the western mountains. He needs the gift to survive and to complete a mission his avatar grandfather couldn’t complete. 

When I found an agent who liked the novel, that was definitely a “high.” While she thought literary fiction with a teenaged protagonist would be a challenge to market, she liked the story and settings and wanted to try Within a month, I withdrew the novel when she told me one of her other clients books suddenly became a bestseller. That meant my novel would sit on her shelf for potentially a year before she could actively work with it. This was definitely a “low.” 

The low got lower when the manuscript was rejected by about 100 publishers, many of whom liked the book but said that nobody could successfully sell a literary novel to teens or a teenager’s story to adults. This was pre-Harry Potter! They wouldn’t touch the book unless I added ten years to the character’s life. This began a 20-year period of limbo when “The Sun Singer” sat at the bottom of the sock drawer forgotten until I self-published it in 2004. 

The agent did me a favor. She saw the novel in a pre-PC era. The book was a paper manuscript typed with an electric typewriter. When I took it out of the sock drawer in 2004, I had to scan it into a file with an OCR program. What a mess. In the process, I fine-tuned the book a great deal. It became a much better story. 

I suspect most writers can tell similar stories. Manuscripts that look hot, then look cold. Stories buried in the back of a file cabinet that suddenly come to life years later. 

My upcoming novel, “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire” is quite a different story. I had been trying to market a companion book to “The Sun Singer” for over a year when a publisher told me that in today’s market, no publisher was going to take a risk on a 240,000-word, push-the-envelope literary novel by an unknown. 

Intended or not, I heard a challenge in those words: do something to become known. That meant putting another manuscript in the sock drawer and writing a much shorter book for a mainstream audience. I wrote the first draft straight through without stopping. The story seemed to tell itself because it was sitting right under my nose. My alter ego “Jock Stewart,” a hard-boiled 1940s-style reporter, had been running a blog called Morning Satirical News with exactly the style and focus I needed. 

After taking 20 years to publish “The Sun Singer” and 10 years to write the companion book, writing a book without all the angst of creation was a very empowering experience. It represented a jog in my writer’s journey that I had never foreseen. I’m still rather stunned by what’s happened. I have a feeling, though, that one day I’ll stand back and see everything from another perspective and feel that what happened had to happen as though the trail was always clearly marked on an old map I’d forgotten about.

See Also:
Pat Bertram and Malcolm R. Campbell Discuss the Writer’s Journey
Celebrating Five Years of The Sun Singer

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Where Do We Go From Here?

I’m sure it won’t come as any surprise to those of you who follow my blog and my comments, but I am at a crossroads in my life. I’ve spent most of the past eight years learning to write, writing my four novels, studying the publishing industry, sending out query letters, dealing with hundreds of rejections, finally finding a publisher, preparing the books for publication, and then waiting for their release. Two of my novels have already been published and the other two will be published later this year — Daughter Am I in August and Light Bringer in November. Daughter Am I is in the proof stage right now, and I am doing the final edits of Light Bringer. (Have I mentioned how much I hate doing that? It’s the one phase of writing that I truly abhor — de-wasing the manuscript, getting rid of the justs and onlys, the ups and downs, and all the other extraneous words that only serve to dilute the story.)

Eventually though, the books will be put to rest — in readers’ hands, I hope. And then what? The overall theme for these four books has been public lies and hidden truths, but Light Bringer pulls it all together and kills the need to write any more on the topic. I do have another book in the works, which is about half finished. I thought I was writing a book about freedom vs. security, but it turns out that I write what I live, and so the book is really about change. Lots of changes. Perhaps the reason I haven’t been able to work on that particular manuscript is that I need to first rethink my journey as a writer and decide where to go from here.

Which brings me to tonight’s discussion. One thing I am rethinking is this group. Members come and go, though a few people have participated in most of the discussions. Considering the few participants recently, I’ve been wondering if I should disband the group, but the fact is, I still enjoy it. So, even if I end up monologuing, I will continue. But . . . should I restructure to make it more user friendly? Set it up at another time? Perhaps 7:30 to 8:30 pm ET? Change the focus of the discussions? We’ve talked about many different aspects of writing, but perhaps there are topics that you would like to discuss that we haven’t touched on. Perhaps you would like to post bits of writing for critiquing? (Though I have to tell you that I can’t really participate in such discussions — I no longer feel that I have the right to give my opinion about other people’s writing since I don’t follow the rules myself.) Also, I have become a bit self-conscious about asking people to host. It seems to be a bit of an imposition, especially since there are so few regulars. So do I continue doing that? Or do I post the discussions myself until someone volunteers?

Besides talking about where this group should go from here, let’s also talk about where we each will go from here. I know I’m not the only one at a crossroads. Some of you are getting published, others are doing the final revisions on their books or beginning the querying process. Still others are setting up new websites with a look to the future. Maybe together we can figure out the next step.

On Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 9:00 pm ET, the group No Whine, Just Champagne will discuss where we go from here, both as a group and as individuals. I hope you can make it. I’m interested in what you have to say. Everyone  is welcome to participate, and I hope you will!

Click here to join the live discussion: Where Do We Go From Here? If you prefer, you can leave your comments here on the blog. I would like to know where you are going.  

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When Did the Realization “I Am a Writer” Hit?

The title of this bloggery is the topic of a discussion on Facebook hosted by Christine Husom, a fellow Second Wind author. My response was:

The realization that I am a writer hasn’t hit, and I’m not sure it will. I’m very involved with writing — I belong to various groups; I talk a lot about writing; and even when I’m not writing creatively, I’m writing: blogs and articles, comments and emails. But I don’t define myself as a writer. When you consider all that being a published writer entails — promotion, engendering good will, etc — writing is a small very small part of the whole.

Of course, when I’m accepting the Nobel Prize for literature a dozen years from now, perhaps then the realization will hit. (You do know I’m joking, right?)

A few people responded that of course I was a writer, and they are right — I do write, therefore I am a writer. I even have two books published. But the question was: when did the realization hit? And it never did. My journey to becoming a writer was a long, smooth (or almost smooth; let’s just forget about those 200+ rejections) journey from first draft to second, from second draft to edits, from edits to proof to copy-edits, from proof to finished book. I saw so many copies of my proofs that when I received the final book, it never struck me as being different from the proofs I’d struggled over. Even the demarcation between being published and not being published was smeared. A month or so before A Spark of Heavenly Fire and More Deaths Than One showed up in print, I noticed that they were available from Second Wind Publishing as ebooks. I don’t know how long they’d been on the site, but their availability made me a published author, and I wasn’t aware of it.

I’m sure if I was making a living off my writing, I’d define myself as a writer. And if I won the Nobel Prize, I might. But still  . . . I blog more than I write creatively, but I don’t call myself a blogger. I promote more than I blog, but I don’t consider myself a promoter. I sleep more than I promote, but I don’t call myself a sleeper. (Though some people might.)

But how I define myself isn’t the question. The question is: When did the realization “I am a writer” hit?  And my response holds true. I never did have that realization.

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