Friday, April 3, 2009

WRITING: DON'T TRY TO CONTROL THE UNCONTROLLABLE

~Sia McKye~
"Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is: you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public." Winston Churchill


One of my favorite blogs was discussing the attitude of some aspiring authors and how critical they were of books on the market today. I do read many blogs and the comments as well as discussions on writer’s forums. There is a worry that the writing market is being flooded with wannabe authors. Frustrated writers trashing, not only the books that are being published when theirs are not, but also agents and publishers and the horse they rode in on, because they have passed on their manuscript.
They curse the market that’s buying books that aren’t in their genre. I’ve seen a lot of scrutiny on what is being published. Questions and opinions on formula writing to the market, thrillers and suspense, romance and various sub-genres of romance. Are there too many types of Regency novels flooding the market? Is erotica another word for porn and is it a valid genre? Are Vampire stories a dead end now? Are paranormals on their way out?

I happen to think any idea, if presented in a fresh way, will still sell. I’m a selective reader and will say I do think twice about reading a book or series written about vampires. I’m the same way with Regencies and to a certain extent, paranormals. It has to have that certain something that makes it stand out. Say what you want, but paranormals are still hot and I don’t see them declining in popularity any time soon and I think it’s the same with genres of erotica.

Reading some of the blogs and writer forums is a lot like walking into a room filled with chaos and loud opinions. I tend to do one of two things when that happens, walk out or start watching for the patterns. Make sense of the chaos and find my own path.

There are a lot of opinions and strong feelings on what’s selling today. Speaking as a writer, I am more critical of the quality of writing in books I read, this is true, but not so much that I pan most of the books published today as drivel. I don’t think they are.

I suppose some of the attitude among writers’ stems from the feeling that most books published today are tripe. It may also depend upon the genre of books a person reads. Various genres wax and wane in popularity. When they wane, it’s hard to find a book to read in that genre. I love a good romance but I read several genres, so I usually find something worthy of reading. Right now, I’m reading and enjoying a thriller by Stephen Coonts, called Deep Black: Arctic Gold.

I think some of the attitude among writers might also stem from having their work passed over while others seem to get published. They compare their book ideas or those of their friends with what’s out there and finding it lacking. Some feel that their writing is as good as or better than what’s being published—and that may well be true. I’d say this attitude is both frustration with a highly competitive market and plain jealousy. One you can’t do anything about and the other you can.

I have a good friend who says getting published is like a lightning strike. You need to be in the right place at the right time. Lightning strikes happen more times than we realize. So, following analogy if that’s the case then I am going to be the one out in the storms carrying the lightening rod and trying to draw the lightning.

While I'm ambitious, determined, and success oriented, I've never been a type A personality. I feel that yes, there is some luck involved—being in the right place at the right time. I watch the patterns I try to place myself where I can take advantage of the thread of luck, such as it is. I also feel there is a good deal of work involved. I can’t control the market. I have no control over readers' taste in books. I realized a long time ago, there are few things in life you are able to control, so why waste the energy trying to control the uncontrollable? I can control the quality of my work and improve it so I’m more competitive in the existing market. So, I work.

The thing about jealousy, aside from making you bitter, is the fact that while you are so busy bemoaning another's success you don't have the time to work on your own. I don't begrudge someone his or her success being published and I’m not. Good for them and I’ll have my own soon enough unless I give up—which is not my style.

For me, success has always been about applying myself, believing in myself, getting knocked down but getting back up. I don’t have time to sit in the middle of the road crying over whether something is fair or not, or worry about the market, agents, or publishers. There is one thing about all those writers trying to break into the business though, if I fall and skin my knee, or have hurt feelings from a rejection? I sure as hell better get up quick or I’ll be trampled or left behind. Footprints and dust aren’t the fashion statement I want to project.

So, regardless of the market, the opinions of agents and publishers, my philosophy is: Don’t get caught up in jealousy over another’s success. Don’t try to control the uncontrollable, like readers' taste and what is or isn’t being published. Control those things you can and if you want to be published, be willing to work hard to perfect your craft. If you get knocked down, get back up. Writing is a business so learn the business to the best of your ability. Carry a lightning rod and always keep your eye open to look out for your own luck.

“Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.”

What do you say? Shall we dance?
***

Sia McKye has spent over twenty years in marketing and promotion. She's written and published various articles on writing, marketing, and promotion. She's a Marketing Rep by profession and also writes fiction.

22 comments:

Margay said...

As I sat here reading this post, I was reminded of a bit of wisdom my mother gave me when I was about twelve. She said, "No matter how successful you are, there's always going to be someone one step ahead of you - and there's always going to be someone one step behind you, waiting to take your place." I think she said this to give me perspective not just on the worth of my goals, but on the journey I would need to embark on to reach them. I think the same can be held true of the writing world. There's always going to be someone one step ahead of you and someone just itching to take your place, so instead of wasting time being jealous of the person in front, spend more time working on your own craft and perhaps giving that person behind you a little boost to validate their goals. They say that writing is a solitary experience and I think that's true to the extent that we make it a solitary experience by isolating ourselves from the people we should be learning from. Sure, I might have a flash of jealousy for the author who is more successful than I (I wouldn't be human if I didn't), but I get over it and start taking note of what makes the person so successful. Are they wasting time venting their jealousies to the world? No, they're WRITING. That's what makes them successful. They write, rewrite and deliver - they give the audience what it wants, time and again. So my advice to all aspiring authors in this case would be to take all of that negative energy devoted to jealousy and turn it into something more positive, like honing your craft and submitting to agents/publishers. You have to remember that reading is subjective; not everyone is going to read or like your book, but once you find your audience, you can build up a very loyal following because readers tend to seek out more of the same - whatever caught their attention first will continue to do so. I know this from experience. If I take a chance on a new writer and I like what I read, I will patiently wait for the next book from that author and if that book delivers, too, then I will continue to buy what that author writes. So spend more time cultivating an audience and not jealousy over someone else's success. Think positive, not negative. It's amazing what can happen when you change the vibes you give out into the universe. On that note, I wish every author, aspiring or otherwise, a great writing day today!

Margay Leah Justice, author of Nora's Soul

Netti said...

Well said Sia!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Margay, I'm not above being envious that others are published. As you say, it's human. I cheer on my friends that get contracts, listen to the tales of how the navigate through the process. I just don't believe in being focused on what others have that I don't. I rather focus on what I have and what I can do and be prepared for my turn.

I like the advice your mom gave: No matter how successful you are, there's always going to be someone one step ahead of you - and there's always going to be someone one step behind you, waiting to take your place." A good one to keep in mind.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hey, Netti! Thanks for stopping by. Seeing your name here always brings a smile to my face.

Margay said...

My mother is a very wise woman, Sia! And I agree with you. I can get envious of the success of others, but I can't let it deter me from achieving my own success. And when you get that contract, I am going to be first in line cheering you on, so get ready!
Margay

Helen Ginger said...

Hi Sia. I love your visual of the writer grabbing up a lightning rod and racing out into the storm. It says it all. If you're not out in the storm of writers trying to get published and waving your rod, you're not likely to get that once in a lifetime hit. And you have to have the right kind of rod, too. Not wood or plastic. Not two inches long.

Helen
http://straightfromhle.blogspot.com

Magdalena Scott said...

I love this, Sia: "Footprints and dust aren’t the fashion statement I want to project."

Me neither.

I'm so much happier with my writing when I concentrate on MY writing, and don't try to compare myself, or my success, to someone else's. Worrying about the market? I'm tired of worrying about it. I'm aware of it, yes. Worrying about it, nope.

That stuff is really extraneous, and pulls me away from enjoying the process. If I don't enjoy the process, how can I create something that other people will want to read?

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia!

Fabulous post- seriously. I love the part about getting run over if you sit in the middle of the road crying!

I also envy your Winston Churchill Quote! LOVE it!!

I like to think of "Hamlet," Act 5, scene 2: "...The readiness is all."

Good writing, fun stories and being present when the storm strikes. That's something, isn't it?

Thanks for the great post!!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Helen, no worries, mine is six feet and loves lightning, lolol! And you're right, you have to have quality materials to get published and you have to be determined and committed. :-)

Thanks for stopping by!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Nancy, readiness is all. Wishing does you no good if you never put any effort into it. I have another saying I like, "Be your own genie and make it happen."

Yah, I thought Churchill's thought that the MS becomes the monster you kill and fling into the public fitting, lol! Especially after several revisions and reading your words at least 30 times you are for sure ready to kill it. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Fashion is everything, dahling. Except when we are actually writing, lol!

Magdalena, I agree, you do have to be aware of the market but you can't obsess over it.

~Sia McKye~ said...

For those Writers and authors out there, my friend James Rafferty is doing a series of articles on using OneNote for multiple writing projects and many other uses.

Writer's Notebook: Getting Organized with OneNote http://blog.humancomm.com/

I wish I could set the link here. but it's worth a visit. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mynfel said...

Excellent post, Sia. I'm probably guilty of being one of those blog writers you mention (from time to time), although I try not to be. Heh - although I've never ranted about someone passing on my manuscript - but that's because I'm still finishing mine - ask me again in a few months. LOL.

Still, good advice all around. My mother also used to say something like: "Be nice to the people you meet on the way up, 'cause they're gonna be there when you're coming back down." And I do think that's very true - and people have *very* long memories.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Mothers seem to put things into perscpective, don't they? People do have long memories. That's why I think that one of the best way to help yourself is to help others. You also learn so much when you do.

A friend reminded me that it's not only unpublished authors that are opinionated when it comes to genres, a market full of aspiring authors, or opinions on the quality of books. She's a published author and tells me there are just as many published authors that think bonfires should be set under some genres. Like I said, there is room for any idea, freshly presented out there.

I know competition is stiff for all writers breaking into the business and forr authors already published. No time, except for a few, to sit on your laurels, so to speak. Too many coming up behind you to sit for long.

Thanks for coming by. :-)

Conda V. Douglas said...

Excellent post, Sia. And I've never understood the snarkiness of some wannabe writers. To me, it's always been the hallmark of an amateur. After all, this is a business. I've also noticed that the huge majority of writers, no matter what their success (which is all subjective) are helpful, generous and kind.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I've noticed the same, Conda. You'd think that some multi-Best Sellers would be unapproachable, I've not found that the case.

Excellent point! This is a business.

Thanks for stopping in Conda!

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Sia,

I've got a special award for you...come pick it up on my site!

Hugs
Hawk

McMama said...

This is a wonderful post, Sia. I agree with you that any book in any genre can transcend the conventional wisdom about what's in style, if it's written well enough. I also agree that tearing down other people's success doesn't provide you with a leg up to your own.

Still. I do complain about the quality of some best sellers, which seem to have been dumbed down and hammered smooth. I fear too many publishers want only blockbusters, which they define as more of whatever sold last year, and refuse to take chances on unknown authors.

That's not to say, of course, that all best sellers are crap. They aren't. But a dismaying number are poorly crafted, and that's just depressing.

Cathy

~Sia McKye~ said...

Cathy,

Pulishers make money on Blockbusters, but unfortunately those aren't the majority of books hitting the market today.

I'm more critical of the quality of writing too. It is dismaying. And some of these authors that are repeatedly making the Best-Seller's List have more leeway with editing and how they write than say a debuting writer. I'm sure you've favorite authors too; those you faithfully buy on name alone, only to get home and realize that it doesn't have the zing, or the standards of writing the previous books had. *shrugging, it happens.

Jill Lynn said...

I admit to grumbling a few times when reading popular books I don't feel are up to par. But it also works the other way around. I've found and read some obscure published books and wonder why more readers haven't discovered a particular author. Finding those diamonds in the rough make it worth the hunt, and remind the writer in me to shine my WIPs into a high gloss, and not to dwell on those not-so-brilliant novels in the marketplace.

And, face it, every reader isn't going to love every novel written. Same thing will apply to me if I'm ever fortunate enough to be published.

~Sia McKye~ said...

You're right Jill, it's all so darn subjective, isn't it? One persons treasure is another's junk.

No point in dwelling on them, I agree, you take the lessons learned and apply them. :-)

Btw, I do think we'll be seeing some books out there with your name on it soon enough. You're good, sweetie, so don't give up!!