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 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.