Monday, August 31, 2009

I Am The Work In Progress

This is a personal one. Thanks to everyone, especially F. P. Adriani, Tess Hilmo, and Scott G. F. Bailey, for helping me clarify the role of writing in my life.

I've been writing for nine years, but somewhere, I made a wrong turn. Because, I've been learning two different things. First, I've been learning how to become a better writer. Second, I've been learning some ways to publish a book through a major publishing house.

The wrong turn that I made was that I muddled these things together. I told myself that I'm not a good writer until I'm published through a major house. I told myself that following publishing advice would automatically make me a better writer. This has been bad for me. And, to make matters worse, I've been blaming the wrong people.

It's not the literary agents' fault.

Some literary agents have been very public about telling us what we should be doing to be successful. But, I think a lot of us have misinterpreted their message or have not read their message thoroughly.

1. The agents with an online presence are not EVERY agent.

Blogging agents often tell us that their preferences are no more than their own personal preferences. They can't represent all agents because they aren't all agents. In fact, I've been finding plenty of blogless agents to admire. People like Eric Simonoff, Ann Rittenberg, Laurie Liss, and Sandra Dijkstra approach literature in a way that better matches my views. As an example, here are some of their mission statements:

"To find and sell well books that make a difference. To be our clients' best advocates in a mutually supportive and rewarding environment. To make things happen."
-Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

"We represent authors first, and books second. We're interested in building careers, in nurturing growth--artistic and commercial--with each book our clients write."
-Ann Rittenbery Literary Agency.

Reading that just makes me want to cry with relief. I've sent my compliments to these two agents, and they've even written back with similar nice words. What great women!

2. Writers don't necessarily get the complete picture.

When we take time out of our jobs, our love lives, our parenting, our writing, our critiquing, we sometimes research publishing. But, chances are, we haven't been thorough enough. And, I think we are putting some undue stress on ourselves by trying to interpret the inadequate bits of information we get. We can't know everything there is to know about the publishing world. Agents and editors can't either! So, maybe we shouldn't worry about doing something the wrong way, when, quite possibly, the way we're doing it is just fine.

3. A business person's definition of success is not my definition of success.

Agents and publishers need to eat. To eat they must sell books and take a share of the profit. Because of that, they are approaching writing, at least in part, based on business. There's nothing wrong with that. But, I think each of us has to realize for ourselves what will make us personally happy, and it may not be money.

I've published several short stories in print and online. Some of those stories have been personal. Others have been exercises. I've learned that publishing is not what makes me happy. The satisfaction I get comes from me publishing something personal. Even if I self-publish a personal book and only end up selling 200 copies, I honestly think that would be more satisfying than selling 2000 copies of a book that I have no attachment to. (Yes, these numbers are small. I'm a literary writer, after all.)

Don't get me wrong. I think it's true that writers can do both. I think some writers, given marketing restrictions, can still produce something that was fun for them to make, at least partially. But, for me, the attempt to be business savvy inhibits my own creativity. I don't yet have enough skill to make this type of compromise.

So, here's what I believe will make me happy: 1. I want to write books that I am deeply and personally connected to. 2. I want to share those books with as many readers as I can.

That's it.

That means that I may or may not need an agent. I may or may not need to publish through a major publishing house. I may or may not need a hook or a platform. I may or may not need to network. All of these things are possible tools that I can use to reach my goal, but they are not the only tools. And, lately, my attempts to acquire them have been hurting my art and my happiness.

So, I guess this is my declaration of independence. This is my renewed vow to write with myself and my readers in mind, not the mainstream market. I am going to try to make my writing as emotional and moving as I can, with the hopes that the revelation of the human spirit will be as powerful a marketing tool as my torrid affair with Miley Cyrus.


  1. Davin, this is a beautiful post. I believe there must be many other writers who are in the same boat. Once we get involved in writing, publishing seems to be the only measure of success. It makes sense in a way. Because if a major publishing house buys your book, more people read it, then surely you must be good enough to be read.

    Of course it's not entirely true. There are many total crap books published, because writing business as a whole is quite subjective.

    It is useful if once in a while we take time to think about the journey, and see if we are on the right track.

    Good luck with WIP of your self.

  2. So many important thoughts here, Davin. And, so important for us to discuss. We don't have to go about things the same way .. we don't have to always agree .. we need to find what matters to us and then settle down into it like a comfortable chair. Only then can we really relax.

    And, I love my non blogging agent. His website begins with 'We are not looking for any science fiction or fantasy'. For me, that one line let me know he would be a fit.

  3. This is a very important post to anyone who writes. I agree 150% with everything that you've shared here.

    Last Monday I attended my 1st class, of my last class req'd for my M.A. Which is not in writing, but in the Humanities. My class is Expository Writing, and one of the questions asked to us was, "What kind of writer are you? And why do you say so?" My answer, "I still do not consider myself a writer, but instead, a writer-in-traiing. I think I will always consider myself 'in-training.'"

    I've come a long way in my writing style, and I still have a very long road ahead.

    I used to think it was about the bottom line of selling books and making a nice profit. Now I believe it's truly about writing something where my words can make a positive difference to someone, somewhere -- even if it's just one person.

    Thank you for leads to agents who share my point of view.

    Once again, a great post!


  4. Davin, I know this is something we've discussed a lot, and I like to see your thoughts here all laid out, especially with your resolve at the end.

    This is how I've felt about writing, which is why I was having such a difficult time with Monarch awhile ago - wanting a divorce from it, and all that jazz. I didn't feel like it was personal and emotional enough to satisfy me in the end. But after recommitting myself to it, I've made it just what I want, and honestly, to see it in print would be great, but just to have it sit on my shelf will be great too. I've written it to prove that I could write it well. I didn't write it just as a way to get published. That's just a perk.

    And like we've discussed, if traditional publishing doesn't work out after some serious attempts (and that can take a long time, remember), then there's always self publishing. Some of us decide to do that right up front, and that's fine too. Everyone's different!

    Either way, Davin, good luck. I'm always here to cheer you on!

  5. Davin, what a fantastic post. It made me think too. I've started querying(as you know) and I admit to wondering if all this aggravation is worth it. I've thought that writing for myself is a much safer route for me to take. But I decided that I want to at least try and share my writing with others. So a... querying I shall go.

    You bring up another interesting point(besides the torrid affair with Miley Cyrus). :)

    Blogging agents. I've been thinking that I should query ALL agents that have a feel for what I've written. Not just agents who blog. So I'm doing just that. This is not to say I don't have agents on my list who blog...I do.

    And you're right again! How many times is that now? :) It isn't the agents fault that we hear what we want to hear sometimes.

    Thanks Davin. You've made me reflect on some things that I needed to think about. Now about this Miley Cyrus thing. Is that your next post? :) :)

  6. HA! I knew it was you with Miley the other night at California Pizza Kitchen!

    Anyway, lovely post. And it strikes a chord with me. I always write first and foremost that which I have a need to write (for better or worse.) Some of it is marketable, and some is not. I try to sell the marketable stuff because I think there is a place for it in the publishing world and that kids would get something form it.

    The rest? Well, just because it is not marketable does not mean that it was not important to write.


  7. Great post.

    I think when we write for ourselves, we write the best stuff we can write. It took me many, many years to come to this conclusion. I was always worried what other people would/might think about my writing. This was definitely the wrong path to take.

    It was only when I began writing solely for me, telling the stories I really wanted to tell, the stories that poured from deep within me, that I truly felt content (comfortable) with my writing.

    There will (hopefully) come a day when I might have to tweak my writing based on . . . audience, agent request, editor request, and/or publisher request. I'll deal with that moment when it hits me. For now, I just write . . . and I'm loving almost every minute of it.

    So, three cheers for your independence!


  8. “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls”--Joseph Campbell

    Good for you, and good luck to you.

  9. It seems that our competitive culture sets up these notions that we aren't good enough unless we win the Gold--silver doesn't mean a thing. So it's got to be the biggest publishing house, the best-seller list, the invite to Oprah. Or does it? You've raised the question so beautifully and with such heart.
    The short story you posted on this site was deeply moving and gorgeously written. You know what you are doing and that human spirit shines through.

  10. Great declaration of independence!!! And I'm glad what I've said has helped you.

    Yes, a big house definitely doesn't matter for every writer. I'm surprised if you haven't tried smaller book publishers. FWIW, if you do send in, I'd suggest trying there first. I used to send to small-/medium-sized presses first; they're more likely to read the manuscripts they receive. And they give writers more control over the final products.

    I think some agents are focused on sales primarily or even exclusively; many blogging agents unfortunately seem this way. Not-commercial writers especially should avoid those agents as I don't think they value writers maintaining artistic control over their works. These agents view books as products, and easily-changed products at the whim of the end-producers, not the beginning-creators.

    "The satisfaction I get comes from me publishing something personal. Even if I self-publish a personal book and only end up selling 200 copies, I honestly think that would be more satisfying than selling 2000 copies of a book that I have no attachment to."

    --Wonderful! The Wild Grass is so good, and I think that's where you should write: when your writing really moves YOU.

    Don't forget that if you do self-publish, that could also lead to traditional publication. The two types aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Some writers move back and forth between. Even some traditionally published writers couldn't find homes for certain works, so they put them into print themselves.

    Years ago when I'd send in my work, cheap and easy self-publishing options didn't exist; only expensive vanity presses. When cheap or free e and POD vanity-/self-publishing places came about, they were a useful option. Today's writers are lucky they have these options (just research first--some places are huge scams). If things don't work out the sending-to-agents-and-publishers route, at least their best manuscripts won't be sitting in drawers for forever. And some writers may want to self-publish first. It depends on what they're writing.

    But I do believe that readers are Numero Uno beside creators--and I don't need outside publishers to reach readers. Granted, reaching more may be easier through traditional publication; on the other hand, I'm not sure traditional publishers would know how to market my writing. I may know more than they do on that because my writing tends to be strange.

    But I should point out that my at-that-time "body of work" received several hundred rejections before I started self-publishing. If you (impersonal) really want a contract somewhere, give yourself quite a bit of time seeking one. But remember: if you never wind up with one, you will have wasted lots of years querying.

    Good luck, Davin--I'm glad you've found more clarity about writing!

  11. OK you had me at agents and publishers have to eat. I get it. point well taken ;)

  12. Lost Wanderer, thank you very much. I do think a lot of people understand what I said here, and probably see things the same way. I think this was something I always knew but didn't readily accept.

    Tess, I think you are such an amazing writer based on the few snippets I have read. I'm very happy that you are happy with your agent and your progress! I can't wait to buy your book.

    Suz, I'm happy to spread the word on excellent agents--and hopefully these people indeed live up to their missions! I also consider myself constantly training.

    Michelle, indeed you have been around to cheer me on and I appreciate that so much! I really admire the changes you've made in Monarch. I liked it before, but not I feel a more personal connection to it, which I think reflects you as the writer. I'm excited to see the finished product.

    Robyn, I'm also querying at the moment, although I'm not stressing over it as much as I was a few months ago. I do think a good agent can be a big help, but while I'm trying to find and get that agent, I also want to keep writing new material. That keeps me happy...or at least content. As for the other stuff, you'll have to contact Miley.

    Shelley, very well said, and I have appreciated all along your ability to stay true to yourself! And, who knows, the other stuff might be marketable after all. Once you build your audience, I think they will be more willing to follow you wherever you decide to go.

    Scott, thanks a lot for your support! I'm so happy that you feel the same way, that you are writing for yourself. I think that is so hard to do with all of the other stuff that is thrown at us!

    Rebecca, indeed. :) :) :) :)

    Tricia, wow, thanks so much for those kind words and the support. Beautifully stated--I've always felt so bad for the silver medal winners because they are soooo good, and they so often see that as losing when it's really not.

    F. P. I think I have found more clarity indeed. And, I'm sure over time I will continue to find more. I haven't decided exactly what I'm going to do about querying yet. I have a couple out now, but I never put a ton of energy in it yet, and I'm not sure if I will. One of my current projects is of a very dark subject matter, and that one, to me, has always seemed like a great one to self-publish as sort of an underground thing. I like the thought of that, and it may be my experiment on self-publishing.

    What I find interesting is that almost all of the writers that I have talked to about this, including poets and people who have self-published have advised me to try the traditional route first. I just wonder if self-publishing after rejection is the best way to approach this. I think that maybe decided to self-publish before the rejections is a healthier thing. I haven't decided yet.

    Thanks, T. Anne! :) They do need to eat, after all.

  13. Davin: This is a beautiful post. I have no idea which route to readers is the best for you, or for me, or for anyone. I'm on the agent/publisher track now, and I'll see where that takes me.

    The question of how much we give up of our personal vision in order to be published by others is an important and vexing one. My agent has had a couple of good suggestions about my novel that I've taken, but I've also ignored some of his suggestions because sometimes I know better. I have no idea if I'll be able to get away with that sort of attitude once we sell the book to a publisher (if we do). It will be an interesting moment when I get the editorial letter.

    For a couple of months at the beginning of this year, I was so excited and stessed at having an agent that I was sure I'd do anything that was asked of me in order to get a novel in print. As time went by I remembered that I have a real job that feeds and shelters me, and that I'd be writing even if I didn't have an agent. So I have happily stopped worrying about anything except how much I like my book. In the end, how we feel about our work is what matters the most. As you say, if you don't have a personal connection with what you're writing, why would you care about it? Why would you write it? It's Monday and I'm rambling so I'll shut up now.

  14. Thank you for the post and putting your view. I used to look at publishing as a way of documenting my success. And not having an agent made that harder, made me want to change what I wrote in order to "fit the market".

    Sometimes it takes years to grow up (at least as a writer) and realize the reason we're writing. Not simply just to reach people or to write the Great American Novel but deep down honesty about why we're writing.

    I would hate to look back on my writing years down the road and say, yeah, I got ten books published but I didn't really enjoy it. If it's all about giving what's expected, what's going to sell, then I feel it will make for a short career or at the very least an overall unhappy one. Declaring independence from these pressures sounds like a wonderful idea. Write because you love it. Write because creating amazing prose gives you contentment nothing else has. Write because if you don't, words will follow you into the night and nag at you until you pay attention to them.

    Great post!

  15. Davin: looks like your declaration of independence has already touched many people here. I'd say that your goal of writing something personal and sharing it with people is fulfilled in your post today.

    Thanks for sharing in such a real and personal manner.

  16. I appreciate you sharing your struggles here. We all are searching for our voices and our niches. I find that I lose confidence when I try to be what the business world is looking for and nothing gets done. Good luck with working on yourself. I think it is what we all are doing.

  17. This post hits home. It's so true. We link the "published" or even "agented" with "success" and it's not always the case.


  18. Davin, this is awesome, and I feel the same way.

    I had plenty of my own hang-ups about writing before I started reading all these blogs at the beginning of the year, and the blogs did get me out of a nonwriting slump initially, but over time they have often made me feel inadequate and unmarketable and like I want to crawl into a hole and never hear words like "social networking" and "hook" again.

    But one blog (this one!) has continually reminded me why I wanted to be a writer in the first place, and I'd rather get my book right even if it takes years before I ever worry about publication.

    I can't wait to read your stuff one day, no matter how you get it out to readers.

  19. Scott, it has really helped me to get your thoughts on this process as you are going through it. I imagine my own opinions of the matter will change over time. That seems normal to be.

    Cindy, some great words there! The time is definitely a big part of this, isn't it? Becoming a great writer takes a lot of patience, and I think that's one of the ways we writers are tested.

    Yat-Yee, thanks for stopping by. I admit I'm quite blown away by the comments and the support I'm getting today!

    Lois, good luck to you too, then! Yes, this has been a struggle, and I imagine it will keep being a struggle.

    ElanaJ, exactly. Sometimes the two go together and sometimes they don't. I think that's all be need to remember.

    Annie, thanks so much! I'm very curious about your writing as well! I've been reading your comments and your own thoughts about writing seem very similar to mine. I often wonder if our writing styles are also similar.

  20. Absolutely wonderful and inspiring post for any artist. Thank you.

  21. Thank you, Kim. And, thanks for finding us.

  22. Great post, Davin. This got me to thinking (uh-oh!):

    I wonder if being a famous writer creates such a high demand on you, to please an expecting public (and editor, publisher, agent) that established writers long for the days when they had the freedom to craft their stories their way. Not the Rowling's, King's, Meyer's, and Clancy's of the world who call the shots, but the others; or even the aforementioned during their climbs to the top.

    How long do you think John Grisham wanted to write something other than a legal thriller, for example?

    I may not be citing the most revered literary geniuses of our time, but they are very respectable professional authors.

    Do you think they miss what we all have?

  23. Rick, really great points. Honestly, I bet J. K. Rowling was under a HUGE amount of pressure. I get anxious whenever I think about it. I think Grisham is a different story. Based on what I've learned from him by watching his interviews, I think he's totally content writing his, as he describes it, formulaic work.

    A writing teacher once told me to be sure I was a good way through my second novel before I publish my first. That helps to alleviate the pressure because you at least have started out with something you were personally attached to before an agent influenced you. I think that's great advice.

  24. This is a wonderful, beautiful, personal post. Thank you for sharing it.


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