Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Publishers Weekly: The Deals You Don't See

Publisher Shells Out for Crime Novel by Retired English Teacher in “Nice” Deal

Small Press Throws Down for Middle-Aged Poet’s Chapbook in Three-Figure Deal

47-Year-Old Mother of Three Sells Debut Novel in 1-Book Deal

Trade Publisher Quietly Acquires Midlist Author’s Sixth Romance Novel in Low-Key Deal

Venerable Press Finally Makes Offer on Literary Novel It Has Been Sitting On For Eleven and a Half Months

Friends: publishing is not all six-book mega-deals and twenty-year olds winning national book awards. Most book deals are small-to-medium, and most people getting book deals are not teenaged geniuses, contrary to what you read online.

You are valid if you are 20 or 32 or 47 or 64 or 71, if your advance is three hundred bucks or ten thousand, if you are fashionably obscure or completely unknown. The models are Photoshopped.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

what would Tsitsi do? thoughts on filtering in the age of how-to

In moments of writerly desperation, INTERN has been known to go on wretched binges of advice-seeking, looking for answers in all the wrong places: cheesy novel-writing handbooks, questionable blog posts, even more questionable collections of "tips" on character arc and theme. She clicks through tab after tab in a terrible fever, not even reading but scanning, scanning, scanning, looking for the article that will say, "hey INTERN, on page 213, your character really needs to have the opposite reaction of the one she's having now." At the end of such a session, she feels drained and sheepish and no better equipped to tackle the problem at hand than she was when she started—yet the very next time a quandary appears, it's back to the search engine and the 808.8 shelf in the library again.

We live in a culture of how-to, and INTERN has been as guilty as anyone at encouraging it. The internet has taught us that there ought to be a certain type of answer for every question—not "go for a long walk and think about it," but "do step A and then step B and then step C and your character question will be resolved." Not "study it for years and seek out true teachers," but "sign up for this two-week seminar and emerge a novel-writing wizard." This is not to say that books, blog posts, seminars, etc. don't have their place, for they certainly do. But the binge mentality that can arise from the availability of so much information is a worrisome thing, and is surely the enemy of good writing.

A few months ago, Techie Boyfriend caught INTERN in the act of one such bender—which, speaking even more to its shamefulness, INTERN was doing in secret. The tabs were lined up on the screen; the library books were in a pile on the desk.

"What are you doing?" said Techie Boyfriend.
"Go away," shrieked INTERN.
Techie Boyfriend peered at the screen. "50 Ways to Nail Your Ending? Close that thing. Let's talk."

INTERN snarled at him, defensive. Just like other kinds of binges, this one was less about nailing INTERN's novel ending, and more about dealing with anxiety by cramming it full of something else—in this case, writing advice INTERN knew in her heart she didn't need.

Eventually, INTERN allowed herself to be coaxed away from the computer.

"Who's a writer you really admire?" said Techie Boyfriend.
INTERN thought for a second. "Um. Janet Frame."
"Would Janet Frame be reading that website you were just on?"
"Think about that."

INTERN did think about it. She thought about it for a long time. And the more INTERN thought about  it, the more she realized the writers she most admires—Rivka Galchen, Kazuo Ishiguro, Virginia Woolf—would not be caught dead reading article after article purporting to teach them how to, quote, "nail" ANYTHING.

Again, this is not to bash writing advice books, or workshops, or articles per se—but merely to question the ways in which we consume them and, at their tip-centric worst, allow them to distract us from the deeper work of learning to write.

INTERN has a new rule for how she consumes advice or instruction of any sort, and here it is: what would Janet Frame do, or David Foster Wallace, or Tsitsi Dangarembga?

Remember what kind of writer you want to be, and shoot for that.


Is INTERN the only one who is prone this kind of bingeing in moments of anxiety and self-doubt? Are you careful about how you consume writing-related advice? Which writers do you most want to be like? In what ways is the writing advice industry helping writers? In what ways is it hurting or distracting us? INTERN wants to know!