Fans, Publishers, and the Writing Life
The entire story that broke over the weekend about Author Steph Swainston giving up her day job (writing) to teach chemistry has a lot of writers whispering.
Are publishers really expecting too much from writers by expecting them to crank out a novel a year? Is the Internet really poison to authors? Are fans putting too much pressure on authors? Are the critical fans really causing authors to make changes to their entire career path?
Is the solitary, self-promotional, prolific writing life for everyone? Can all authors “cut it”?
I think it is up to each author to answer these questions for themselves.
I, for one, am not a firm believer that books that take longer to write are better. Why? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – my most popular novels have not been the ones that took me the longest to write. ::shrug:: That, for me, kind of blows that theory out of the water.
I came into the writing life knowing I’d have to self-promote to sell my books. I came in knowing that the only way to make a living writing was to write at least a book a year. Thank goodness I am prolific and constantly have books in various stages of completion, otherwise I might feel pressured and stressed, too.
I don’t find the internet poisonous because I pick and choose my battles and my critics can expect me to engage their criticisms all they want, that doesn’t mean I will or that I have to. I don’t engage critics – period. However I do try to read criticism objectively and if I agree with the critic then yes – I might change something in a future book. But if I don’t – sorry. I love my readers, I do. But the stories are still mine. Also – it’s impossible to please everyone. I don’t try.
Overall I love being able to interact with my readers. The fans far outweigh the critics . Some of them have become friends over the years.
Do I feel like my fans put pressure on me? Thats an interesting question. I would say yes, but that’s not really fair to my fans because I’m sure that their enthusiasm for my next book is not meant to pressure me. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I contend the concept of “pressure” is much the same. No one can pressure you without your consent. You choose to cave into the pressure, or you don’t. What are they going to do? Lock you in a room and make you write what they want you to write on a deadline? Oh, wait, that was the plot of Stephen King’s Misery. I’d say it’s highly improbable that will happen. ::laughs::
I also love the thrill of the fast paced world of writing. I find it challenging and exciting.
Now I admit I am not really a big fan of self-promotion and marketing. I feel somewhat socially inept and misanthropic. Even shy about my writing in public. As a matter of fact, a lot of folks in my day-to-day life don’t even know I’m a writer and I often find myself blushing when confronted with the topic. Being shy is a tough trait for a writer to have. I’m also one of those people who finds it exhausting to constantly talk about myself (as writers sometimes have to do) because I live with me. Trust me – I’m not nearly as exciting as some people seem to think. So no, not all aspects of the writing life are all they’re cracked up to be. But I do the stuff I am not so good at because it’s part of the job. There’s always going to be part of your job you’re going to dislike.
I think I’m the opposite of Ms. Swainston. I’ve spent the past twenty-five years working a day job in the “real world”. I’m pushing forty and I’m ready to get *out* of the daily grind. But admittedly that prospect does scare me because I don’t know how I’d do being stuck home all day even though I’m finally making enough writing to where it would be worth it to give up my day job.
Is my writing art? Inasmuch that I craft stories to entertain, yes. I’m not one of those authors who is writing fine literature that will endure centuries and I’m cool with that. I never set out to write the next great American novel or the next literary masterpiece. I write to entertain both myself and my readers. Period. I have no illusions of grandeur or fantasies of being famous after I’m dead. Hell, I have no fantasies or illusions of being famous now. I have about ten thousand fans, about ten vocal critics (most in the NF department, several who are ex-friends), and I imagine the rest of the people out there could care less if I lived or died or conveniently fell into a hole in the ground.
Are my publishers making me sacrifice my art? No. My publishers have all been very workable with me regarding deadlines. If I say I need more time, I almost always get it. Of course this could be because small press is more workable like that. With my self-published stuff I tend to keep a schedule, too. I adjust the schedule as I need to and sometimes fans have to wait a little longer for something. That’s the nature of the beast. I might push myself if I feel I’ve been slacking for too long.
I think it’s great that Steph Swainston, after feeling her writing was being compromised by modern publishing, has decided to get a day job and start writing on her own terms. Good for her. Clearly she’s not cut out for the traditional publishing model. The good news is she has a wonderful fan base and she can now take her time to write her stories to her satisfaction, and she can probably successfully self-publish at this point. But I guarantee you this: she won’t stop writing. I have yet to meet a writer who can stop writing. That’s like asking someone to stop breathing on command.
S0 what say all you writers out there? Is the model of modern publishing too stressful for you? Have you considered giving it up? Or do you take it in stride and just go with the flow?
I’m so glad you’re one of those authors who does talk to her fans and you don’t get annoyed by us. It’s one of the reasons I took the leap and read your fantasy novels, then the mystery, and then the erotica. You are a very talented writer and I love your work! I am patiently waiting for Eagles Talon Gray next summer.
Thanks, Hill! 🙂 You’re my number one fan, but I swear — if you ever drug me and lock me up in your guest house and force me to write on a dead series… lol! j/k Don’t worry – ETG is being worked on. About three years per novel for that series. For some reason the fantasy novels just take longer to work around in my brain. 🙂
Morgan Drake Eckstein
So the bottom line is that she doesn’t want to do the dirty and unpleasant side of being a professional writer. Talk about sour grapes and the grass being greener on the other side of the fence.
That’s kind of what I got from it. I got that she didn’t want to deal with the fans either, which I find kind of bizarre. I mean she can’t say she doesn’t write for them – otherwise she would have never sought professional publication. Clearly she’s writing because she WANTS to be read. I just really think there are some authors out there who may have tons of talent, but who can’t hack the social side of the job. And I agree — marketing yourself can be tough. I really am shy offline. But I suck it up and do it anyway. 🙂 I think she’ll find that even on her own terms she’s going to have to deal with fans and marketing. You just can’t get around that these days.
Ooh, good topic! Personally, I have already decided not to become a 100% full time writer. I admire those who are, but it’s not for me. There are several reasons, and maybe some day I’ll make a blog post on it. I know I’ve posted about it at various times on Forward Motion. One of the things, though, is that I want the security of at least some other income so that there’s not even the *chance* of being in a position where I might consider writing something I don’t love in order to pay the bills. Because there are a lot of themes and topics I really don’t like to write (and one of them is the classic Good vs. Evil plot, which leaves a lot out). I’m not married, and wouldn’t want to rely on a husband’s income anyway. So, unless I suddenly become independently wealthy, I think I’m saner with another job. Again, though, I absolutely admire the full time writers out there, and a part of me wishes that I had it in me to do it.
I’m not far enough into my professional writing career to say whether it’s stressful or not – my first book isn’t out until next year. I do think that being a writer of commercial genre fiction is not for everyone – it requires a very different mindset from that of the aspiring writer (I’ve just blogged about this myself). I also wonder if Swainston was so overawed by the critical acclaim her books received that she bit off more than she could chew.
@Raven – I think it’s great that you know yourself well enough to say this. A lot of writers don’t. @Anne – you’re definitely right about that. The dream and the reality are two very different things, indeed. 🙂