Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Guest Blogger Brett Sandusky on The Paradox of Becoming an Author

My friend Brett Sandusky is a marketing manager for a major U.S. trade publisher. He also spends his time proselytizing for the #brettism project, writing for Textual Identity, waiting for a fatty book deal, tweeting his brains out, and trying to get his hands on free food, free drinks, free books and decent Mexican food in New York City.

[For the sake of diverting argument from the get go, “writer” and “author” are decidedly not the same thing.]

We’ve all been there, the I-want-to-be-published moment, the I-deserve-to-be-published moment, the call to arms, the fulfillment of our destinies, the raison d’être of our beings. If you’re a true writer, you know what I am talking about because writing is a way of life. Because there is no other way to exist. Because “art is why I get up in the morning.”

Let’s be honest, here, for just one second before proceeding. We’re not all bestsellers. I’m sorry to say, but it’s the name of the game. (Darwin had a point.) Some people just don’t have what it takes. (Don’t kill me for saying this. I know, I know, “Where there’s a will there’s a way”… uh huh, yes, believe it. Follow your dreams, but be realistic about it, too. You know as well as I do: not everyone is a bestseller. I cannot say this enough.)

So, that out of the way, here is the real question: at what point does one become an “author”? Is it the “writing process” itself that does it? (No.) Is it when you are “published”? (Maybe.) Does self-publishing count in order qualify you as a “published author”? (Withholding judgment.) And, most importantly, how many times can one use quotation marks in a single train of thought?

Let me say this loud and clear: the art of writing is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. Shaw said it first, and, you know what, he was right. It’s work. It’s tough. It sucks. It kills. It hurts. It makes you want to vomit. It makes you rethink your life. It makes you ask ugly questions. It is all of these things. It also lets you sleep at night and feel productive and have a sense of self and pay the bills. Well, maybe not that last one, but we can all dream, right? Writing is a cruel mistress that leaves you always wanting more. And more. And more. And more. The mere fact of being insatiable makes it worth it.

And, we’ve all heard the line. We’ve all seen the ad. We’ve all been tempted from time to time with the promises. “Get published now!” “How to get an agent!” “What does it take to be published for real!” We’ve all thought about shelling out the cash for these seminars, to hear what a true “veteran” knows, to get the inside scoop.


I call bullshit on all of these promises. You want the inside scoop? Well, here it is: There is no formula. There is no right way. There is no middle path to enlightenment. And, stop spending your money on scams.

When I see these ads, really, they make me want to hurl. Most (read: not all, i.e. for liability purposes, i.e. don’t sue me, i.e. I’m sure someone out there is legit, i.e. I am not reading this off of a card) of these offers are crap. Bonafide hogwash. Real malarkey. Lying. (You get my point.) I won’t name names. I won’t call anyone out. But, you know who you are; making ca$h off of people’s dreams, taking monie$ from people who just want some notoriety and a sense of accomplishment, lying through your teeth about promises you can’t keep.

I just heard a story the other day about an agent who was running a seminar on how to get published. After the session, she was hawking her book at the door. A self-pubbed book. (!) Do you see the irony? Thank you.

The seminars, the webinars, the meetings, the book groups. Ah, there are many an avenue to finding the secret to being a “published author”. To finding happiness. To reaching your full potential. To fate.

But, the real question is this: Why? Why publish something? What is your true motivation in submitting your manuscript to agent upon agent, so that she can submit it to editor upon editor? This is what we have to ask ourselves. This is what we have to be realistic about. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: “Not everything is meant to be published.”

Having a book published does not make a writer make. Let’s be honest about this, yet again. Writing is an art form, a toiling and weaving of words, a nerve-wracking battle with vocabulary, grammar, precision and style. It is a game one must play, should you choose to listen to your muse. That is all, the long and short of it. Publishing, on the other hand, is a business. It is a financial decision. And, yet, the aspiring writer dreams of this pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (excuse my cliché; if you know me, you know it pains me to use cliché). Again: why? Prestige? Name recognition? The ability to have an extension of yourself bound in an object?

And so the paradox continues. As it will for time immemorial. I don’t have the answers to these questions. Everyone’s motivation is determined by a different set of criteria shaped and molded over time by one’s own journey to the page. I just ask you to think hard, to re-consider and re-up your motivation, to be realistic about what it is that you do. Can you be content in being a writer? Do you take pleasure out of the act of writing itself? Or, are you just in it for the ascot-wearing cocktail parties? (Note: said ascot-wearing cocktail parties are really just a myth. Thanks, Hollywood!)

So, why am I saying this? Because I believe in the publishing industry, in the written word, in the power of creation. (You see, according to mystics, G-d created the world with a series of verbal enunciations. So, when an author writes, is she not creating the world once over with her words?)

And: because there is a litany of misinformation out there on how to get published, why one should be published, and what the point of the book industry is about. There are predators who disseminate disinformation and make a buck off of those who don’t know.

The true path to becoming an author lies in the hard work, that 90% perspiration, it lies in the dedication to becoming a better artist every day, to writing every day, all day, all night, and in your sleep, it lies in the fact of being haunted by not writing. This is what agents see and want. This is what editors fight for when acquiring a property. This is what will get you to that pot of gold. And, once you’re there, well, now it’s time to really get to work.

I leave you with this one last thought: Writing is a profession of know-it-all-ism and toiling for your craft. Authorship is a profession of self-promotion. Think about this and ask yourself: “What is it that I love to do?”


Myra said...

Non-writer friends call me "author," and I correct them. Most don't understand why. Writer friends encourage me to that end, but it's ok if I don't get there.

I write because I have to write. The JOY is all I'll ever need or want. (The spouse, on the other hand, would like to see monetary compensation. He'll probably get over it.)

I am the most blessed of creatures. I do what I love - obsessively, compulsively, every single day. I write.

Thanks for the encouragement...

writermomof5 said...

I heard a commercial for a TV show the other day. One of the characters said, "If you can be anything else, you're not a cop."

Or something like that.

What struck me was the similarity to writing. I'm a writer because I can't not be.

leesmiley said...

Ah, a fitting counterpoint to the article I read on CNN.com this morning praising the rise in POD publishing.

If I can't break through the traditional way, then I just don't deserve to break through. Even if I don't, though, the hours I've spent writing are some of the best of my life and worth every bruise I've received banging my head against the keyboard in frustration.

Kat Richardson said...

It's kind of funny: I've always thought of "author" as the professional, public person who goes out (or sits online) and shills the book, who is lovely to everyone and says witty things about the book and so on; while the "writer" is the squirming, crying, horrified creature hunched over the keyboard, bleeding words and ideas, and shepherding them around the field of artistic endeavor, lashing them into shape and cutting themselves so they can bleed more ink, while begging "please be good, please be good..."

Book Maven said...

• I call myself a writer because no-one has yet managed to introduce me as a "writeress"

• I note that in the UK at least those newspaper ads ask "Do you want to be a writer?" rather than "Do you want to write?"

That's all it is really, isn't it? If you write for a living you're a writer, just as much as if you fixed boilers every day you'd be a plumber.

• WHAuden said he was only a poet during the act of writing a poem. Not before and not after. That's a bit too purist for me but I know what he meant.

• The distinction Kat makes could be very useful. I think that increasingly publishers expect you be the author as well as the writer. And some people spend so much time on appearances and self-promotion that you wonder when they get any writing done.

But one can find a halfway point between putting oneself about everywhere and being a JD Salinger. It requires creativity but, hey, isn't that what we're all about?

Lisa Iriarte said...

I write because I want others to find as much excitement and entertainment in reading about my characters as I do. I want my characters to have life beyond my computer files and my crit group.

As for the author part, I would so love to go out and promote my book and meet people and talk about writing. I outgrew my introverted side in college. Giving lectures at conferences would be fun for me. I teach English literature and writing now, for a living. (Ok, not much of a living, but you know how teaching is.)

And balancing both sides? Well, teachers do get a lot of time off, at least.

I want to be published in the traditional way. We have several self-published authors in my area. They do not tell people they are self-published when they introduce themselves as "authors" but I researched to find out. And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being self-published. It's just not for me. WHEN I'm eventually published, I want it to be because I put in that 90% perspiration, and other professionals in the field believed me to be worthy.

Latayne C Scott said...

In the process of writing, I straighten up my mental house. Thus, much in the way that a computer catalogues and makes searchable the bits on a disk or hard drive, my books write me.

Latayne C Scott

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I write because I can't keep it all in my head, there's just not enough room. So I write. And then I realize it's not exactly what I meant or want to say, it doesn't sound the way it should. So I rewrite. It misses a beat. I rewrite some more. It has extra words. I rewrite even more. I'm never finished writing, and I think that is the mark of a someone who doesn't just write, but is a writer.

The proliferation of blogs, which I love, has come to entitle people who write to call themselves writers. I struggle with this because I am proprietary of my legion of fellow writers. I don not believe the badge goes to everyone - yet so many claim it and wear it. It makes it more difficult to discern who is who when the label of writer is sorely overused.

As for author, although I've published many essays and articles I have not yet published a book. Strangely I do not call myself an author, but a published writer, because to me the title of author is someone who has penned a published book. And to me that is a traditionally published book -- because author is a title bequeathed upon you by the publishing industry when they put your book on a bookshelf.

But that's just me.

Ed Pahule said...

I write because I have no other skills to speak of. If I can't make it here, I can't make it anywhere.

Linda Austin said...

Real writers wish to become authors to share their creations with others - why hoard it all in a secret stash - and not just to become rich (those are the dreamers). You're dead right, publishing is a business, meaning publishers are looking for books that will make money for them, and those books are not necessarily very good (note all the celebrity books) or diverse in audience target. If a manuscript doesn't have mass-market appeal or the author a ready-made following, a big publisher will not be particularly interested. That is where self-publishing comes into the picture. Fortunately more and more self-publishers are understanding the value of good editing and quality design. Ultimately, the writer determines his/her own meanings of the words "author" and "success."

ryan field said...

I loved this post. Writing is hard work, but it's fun, too. At least it always has been for me. Getting an agent wasn't easy and sometimes it made me want to vomit. But the writing, in an overall sense (nothing is perfect), has always been fun.

Dorothy said...

I was a writer when I was a student. I was a writer when I was a teacher. I was a writer when I was a community organizer. I was a writer when I was a social services coordinator. I was a writer when I was a civil rights investigator. I was a writer when I started a battered women's intervention program and when I started the sexual assault victims' resource in our county. I was a writer when I started a new age pagan church. Those programs were things I did for a living. They continue without me. I am still a writer.

Conjurae said...

Excellent Blog, Brett.

99% of any success story (irrespective of profession) contains mostly drive and persistence and dedication, but there is also the element of luck.

Luck, however, only provides the opportunity to showcase the goods.

Opportunity doesn't always come knocking. Sometimes it's a soft knuckle-tap, and if you aren't prepared to seize the moment, then that opportunity may pass by.

Hone the writing. Develop the voice. Work to get the words right. Evaluate criticism. Take nothing personal, and above all stay true to the story.

And be prepared. Because when "something opportune this way comes," luck favors those prepared.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

I write... to practice my spelling!

Haste yee back ;-)

Bill said...

I find writing to be blissful at times, finding the story just pouring out of me or taking off in an unexpected direction.

Editing, though, is a pain in the tucas. Spellcheck doesn't know tucas. Tuckus? Rats. Editing, though, is a pain in the ass. No, wait, that's a cliche.

Editing, though, is like trying to remove a cat whose claw is caught in your sweater.

It helps to be crazy if you're a writer.

pseudosu said...

What?!-- No ascots?! Well, eff this.

Yeah, it's the whole "can't not" thing, and also, the "not wanting my characters to die unnoticed" thing.

gringo said...

Think about this and ask yourself: "What is it that I love to do?"

I thought about it. I love to drink beer and chain-smoke unfiltered cigarettes. The writing just sort of happened while all of that was going on. Then it became yet another addiction.

Sometimes they even pay me for it.

kayekhalsa said...

Brett-Thank you. I'm one of those 'have' to write people- waking up with just the right word, dialogue and action rolling through my head day and night. I am nearly finished with my first novel and have found the next step, agent queries, editors, feels like going to the dentist to have a tooth filled. Thanks for articulating what I'm feeling--writing and getting published are indeed two different animals.

Emmalyn said...

Lovely, lovely post. I am a writer because I write and can't not write. I write lots. I think best with pen in hand and paper handy. I write so I can think more clearly (speaking clearly takes more time). Still, I wouldn't complain about getting published (properly, with an editor, agent, publisher, not just a book printed like going to a photocopier), if only to have credentials when I retire and want to teach creative writing on the side.


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