Tuesday, October 5, 2010

You Can't Take Your Name For Granted

I honestly do believe that many professional writers out there have become weaker writers over time. In other words, the quality of their writing in the early stages of their careers was infinitely better than what they are producing today. Why is this? They simply are taking for granted their position in the writing community.

As a beginning writer, they had to fight to get what they wanted. They had to work extra hard on that manuscript and did everything they could to make sure THEY were the ones on the top of the editors radar. Proposals were turned in early. Revisions were done with extra care and certainly, finding the best dang story out there was always the highest priority.

And then their name gets out there.

Just putting something out there to wrap up a contract was fine. Revisions were no longer something to produce the best project but just to "get it done." It even gets to the point that the networking they tried so hard to do early on to make a connection with the readers disappears. Those mailing lists and email contacts they created. The chance to answer a few emails from readers was no longer something that was worthy. They were better than that.

I am working on a book project right now and want to include some comments and ideas from writers that I believe have some great things to share. Do I get a response from them? No. I get an automated response simply saying, "I get so many messages it may take a while to get back to you." Oh la, dee da. Do you really get all of these messages or is this just a way to make yourself sound popular?

I even saw on a writing loop some comments about judging comments. There were professional writers saying that they simply don't assist with contests anymore. They don't have the time. This is a wrong attitude. They need to remember when they were a beginning writer and the help they received.

The deal is this. When you move further up that professional writing hierarchy, you have more and more responibilities. Each story has to be better. The networking you do has to be more. Simply being AUTHOR XYZ is not enough.



  1. As a struggling, unpublished writer, I'm happy to say my experiences have been very different to those you describe.

    Published authors - some multiple New York Times best sellers - have been unfailingly generous with their time and advice on writing craft.

    From unsolicited help with query and synopsis writing to full (and, again, unsolicited, critiques), I've been overwhelmed with help and encouragement from busy, successful authors.

    In a difficult economic time for this industry, I have been knocked out at the way successful authors go out of their way to help newbies like me.

    I've worked in other businesses that were rife with prima donnas - I''m sure publishing has its fair share, but if so, I haven't come across them yet.

  2. It is sad to see authors not participating in basic events around the writing community.

    With social media, these authors could be giving to the writing community in a helpful and constructive way, while at the same time being able to protect their personal time.

    There are a lot of time sucks out there, and being a successful published author can make you are target. New technology gives you a very good barrier to say no through.

    Undoubtedly though what does impress and charm readers/writers most is when they see a successful author offering something of themselves in real and genuine ways, such as involvement in contests and willingness to make public or school talks.

    In Australia two bestselling worldwide authors, show consistent generosity to young students.

    Bryce Courtney has sold almost ten million hardcover books around the world. On tour he has an assistant who always carries a bag full of Bryce’s latest hardcover and by the end of the day all books will have been given as gifts. Bryce himself will chat to each recipient whether they are the receptionist at his hotel or a school group at a Writers Festival (2,500 of his books are distributed this way each year). Bryce also has been known to sponsor talented writers from rural Australian schools and send them to special writing camps. With one young writer I was working with, Bryce had taken the time to give a full and detailed critique of the student’s short story.

    Mathew Reilly is one of the biggest success stories of thriller fiction. As a major seller he would be exempt from any but the biggest events but he makes a conscious choice to continue to keep in close contact with fans through festivals, book signings, and even an annual talk at his local public library where he wrote Ice Station. On a personal note, after I asked him a question during a session about editing, he came over after and gave me complete run down of his processes.

    Great guys both of them and both publicly admit that keeping in touch with the reading community undoubtedly sells books as well as allowing them to give back to their readers and help potential writers.

    Both these authors speak openly about their marketing strategies and their websites provide plenty of information for writers who want to treat publishing as a professional endeavour.

  3. I imagine that if you spent a few weeks in their shoes, you would rethink your comments.

    Many of my friends who have become quite successful have incredible time stresses. They are expected to write two or more novels a year. Sometimes, they must write three in a very short time so the publisher can issue them a month at a time.

    They must also promote each one in person, on social networks, Twitter, etc., etc. They must attend every major reader convention as well as the publishing conventions. They also must write a novella for several anthologies a year.

    Oh, and they are supposed to volunteer their time for anyone who asks.

    Those who have had long careers say that the publishers want more and more material, and the outside responsibilities of promotion have tripled in the last five years.

    Meanwhile, the editors are so pushed with obligations that the actual editing part of their job is ignored so the book that was written on a brutal schedule goes as is to the public.

    As someone who used to volunteer countless hours to unpublished writing contests, I can tell you that they eat time, and I have only received one thank you forwarded to me out of thousands of entries where I would write pages of suggestions on improving the manuscript.

    I have a large teaching presence online with writing articles, etc., and I'm always receiving requests for all kinds of free services. Just this morning, someone who had read my article on writing book blurbs wrote me requesting I critic and rewrite the blurb he'd written on his self-published poetry collection.

    Yeah, right.

  4. Whoa--I'm surprised only three commenters chimed in so far.

    This is a great post. After reading a handful of bestselling authors for years and years, I've adored their first dozen books, but I'm less engaged with later books. It makes me wonder if there's a mid-career creative slump or something?

    But having said that, I still buy their books because once I love an author, I love her for life!

  5. Well...I agree about the quality of writing but there's good reason for it and there's lots of blame to go around. I reviewed a book for an author with over 60 books to her credit. I was SO looking forward to reading it. But it was HORRIBLE! It was a FIRST draft--no doubt about that. But the reason it was a first draft is because the author doesn't have time to revise, get critiques, etc. Granted, she could turn down some of those contracts but no way will she do that. Would we? I blame her editor too. The book should never have been accepted in its present condition. But if we had the opportunity to sell 6 or 8 books a year, wouldn't we grab it and then put ourselves and our families through hell trying to meet those deadlines? Probably. For the most part, authors are still pretty generous with their time ...I just wonder what's happening at home with their families. So who's to blame? Publishers. That's the way I see it. You know... seems to me that someone is making a heck of a lot of money. I don't think it's the writers. Am I wrong?

  6. This is a fantastic post! Thank You!!!
    While I cannot begin to grasp the demand published authors (beyond deadlines imposed from their writing alone) have on their time -I'd like to think that the majority of them 'do what they can'.
    I can comment on the decline in an author's later work. I'd rather wait between books and read worthy books than hold sub-par pages in my hands after months of anticipation. This, as is evidenced by many recent new releases, obviously is not the case. I'd think a published author would feel MORE pressure. You've broken through, you're published. Now show us your talent extends beyond the length of that singular book. Give your readers stories that, at the very least, equals or surpasses previous work.
    If I'm ever published, I plan on making that my writing mantra. My best work every time. It's the right thing to do - for the writer skills and the loyal readers they're lucky to have.

  7. Wow--amazing post and thoughful comments. I do wonder if, as a result of tight deadlines and marketing requirements, the passion to write fades and becomes a mere piece of a strenuous job for some authors. One, whose first few books I read multiple times was/is still a huge name in womens' fiction, yet now, when I see her newest volumes on shelves I walk away. What happened? Those first books were lush and compelling...in later works the language became simplistic, the stories predictable. Did I change, or did she? In truth, perhaps both, but maybe on her side, the key is in the difference between the words "writer" and "author." As a writer, the pressure is inward. It is your responsibility to yourself to dig and scrap and create the best manuscript you can, then do all you can to get it published. Once you are a published "author," external expecations clearly eat into that focused creative process.