The Great (Writers) Depression

It seems that this recession is quickly giving way to a great depression.
And I’m not sure how to stop it.
Today, a woman posted on a writing forum that she is giving up writing for good. Her husband is unsupportive, her kids are unsupportive, the rest of her family is unsupportive.
She might as well focus on scrubbing floors, she said.
A good friend who has spent the past 20 years working full time as a playwright, posted his laments recently on a social networking site. I was surprised. He always seemed to be doing so well.
But he doesn’t feel that way.
He’s bumming.
I went through my own slump last week. The querying process had me down. Way down, even though I’ve had plenty of requests recently for partials and proposals. It just seemed like I’d been working at this for so long and getting nowhere.
Thankfully, a virtual intervention on a writers forum was successful.
I am much more cheerful now.
I hadn’t noticed this much negativity in the writing world before.
Maybe I’d just never opened my eyes.
Maybe it’s because the adrenaline rush is wearing off, kind of like it did after my first marathon 16 years ago.
I ran that first marathon on a dare.
I couldn’t resist the challenge.
I had run only 25 miles a week prior to the race and my only long run was a 19-miler three weeks before. I was out with an injury for the two weeks before the race, so I didn’t get any running in then either.
Yet I ran it in 3 hours, 58 minutes.
I ran on pure ignorance.
Pure bliss.
Pure stupidity.
I ran the last two miles on legs of lead.
Blood soaked through my sneakers as I crossed the finish line.
I lost nine toenails over the next couple weeks because I’d worn cheap cotton socks and 5K running shoes.
I didn’t care.
Not then.
I was gleeful.
I was ready to run another.
Imagine my surprise when, a week later, I was too sore to run half a mile.
My toes were too sensitive for sneakers.
My knees were a mess.
That adrenaline rush was gone.
But something else happened. As the rush subsided, my eyes opened. I began investigating all the things I did wrong. I started looking for ways to do it right. I read books. I developed a training method. I bought new sneakers and socks with Coolmax.
I ran another marathon.
This time, I finished in 3 hours, 42 minutes.
So maybe this is a good thing, this loss of adrenaline.
Maybe I was so blissful and so ignorant when I began this querying process that I didn’t notice all the writers struggling surrounding me. I didn’t see how hard it could be, how disappointing sometimes. Maybe, I was doing it all wrong.
Maybe it’s better that my eyes are open now because I find myself focusing more, targeting the right agents, working on my platform, freelancing, submitting short stories, starting another novel.
I was doing okay before.
But maybe now I’ll do better.
Maybe that great depression is always there for all of us, always threatening. Maybe that threat is part of what keeps us alive and hopeful and motivated. Because I sure as heck don’t want to fall prey to it.
Nope.
Not going to do that.
I am going to work hard and work smarter.
And someday I might even run one last marathon.

Why self-publishing is not for me

Originally published Nov. 16, 2008

Even before I started querying literary agents, the queries came pouring in from friends and family.
Why go through all that?
Why not self publish?
Well, here is my answer:
I still have faith in the gatekeepers.
Self-publishing has its place.
Some people want full control of their written work. They want to retain all rights; They want to retain all profits. Other folks don’t have the time or the patience for agents. They see the flaws in the system and they are discouraged. And who can blame them? Some agents will toss manuscripts in the garbage for reasons as simple as margins that are too big or too small.Then there are the people who write only for limited and personal audiences. They write for themselves, their families and their friends. Retaining agents make no sense for them. It’s not worth the time or the effort.
But this is my career, or the career I want.
I want to be writing novels and non-fiction books when I am 80 and I want people to be confident when they go to a bookstore and pick up one of my books that it has passed certain tests—the tests of the industry.
The industry is not perfect, but agents and publishers do the best they can in a world in which paper prices are rising and the competition from electronic media is ever-increasing.
I have read some awesome self-published books and I have been saddened by the knowledge that those books will never reach their sales potential. That saddens me, not because the author is missing out of fame or fortune, but because I know so many others would enjoy reading those books as much as I have.
But those books will never get the distribution and exposure of an industry-published book.
I have also read some self-published novels that left me embarrassed for the author and wishing for a refund. Not only were they poorly written and poorly plotted, but they were riddled with errors.
That’s where the gatekeepers come in.
Sure, some lousy books slip through the gate. But 90 percent of the novels and non-fiction books that make it to the presses through non-vanity publishers are pretty darned good.
And yes, I’ve encounter some agents who were egotistical jerks. I even hung up on one. But 90 percent of the agents that I’ve queried or spoken with have given good, solid and well-intended advice along with their rejections. Some have rejected me with form letters, but the letters were constructively written and professional.
So I will plod on.
I will continue taping my favorite rejection letters to the wall above my desk. I will continue honing my novel, my query letter and my non-fiction proposal based on the constructive criticism of those agents who have nothing to gain by spending time addressing me individually, but who do so out of a passion for the industry.
I will continue to have faith in the gatekeepers.