94 posts tagged creativity
I’m pretty sure Liz Phair was talking about critical v commercial success in this song, but her advice still stands for women negotiating salaries/pay rates: "It’s nice to be liked, but it’s better by far to get paid."
(And men too, of course, but women seem more prone to fall into the trap of “But what if they think I’m DIFFICULT?”)
Like most people who have come of age writing online (no? it’s just me?) I can’t help but think about how readers will respond to my work while I’m writing it.
I hear the voices of online commenters when I’m writing opinion pieces, and while writing my book, I was very conscious of the likely criticisms people are likely to make. That doesn’t mean that I change what I say, but it does mean that I am careful - sometimes too careful - about how I say it.
That said, I still value my own opinion of my work as much (often more) as I value other people’s. Like you, my aim is to publish work that I would want to read.
So, if I publish something I think is mediocre and other people like it, I’m happy with the result, but I still secretly think the work is mediocre. Or if I write something I think is really good (this, for example) and it falls like a tree in the forest that nobody hears, I still think it is awesome.
Willow asks: I’ve been writing a book (a novel) for the past three years now. I expect to be finishing up within the next six months, which is very exciting, but I’m also starting to realize how little I know about this process. When I started writing, the plan was to self-publish, but now that the beginning of the publishing process is so much closer to where I am on this timeline, it’s harder to tell if this is the most practical option.
I want to have 100% creative control of my book, and I really like the idea of receiving 100% of the profit, but I’m not sure if I will be able to generate all the money I would need for the startup of that kind of thing, especially with no guarantee that my book will ever leave complete obscurity. Why did you choose to go through a publisher? Would you recommend that path, and what steps did you have to take to secure your book deal? I’m just a little out of my depth here so I was hoping you could shed a little light on this process for me.
Hi Willow. First of all, congratulations on being so close to finishing your book. It sounds fascinating, and I can’t wait to read it, whichever route you choose.
As I wrote in our email exchange, whether you decide to self-publish or traditionally publish depends on what you want to do with your book. Is the goal to get it out there so that people can read it? To reach the largest possible audience? To become the next Jennifer Egan or Zadie Smith? To just have the glorious (and sometimes heart-breaking) experience of having published a book?
For me, publishing The Sex Myth with a traditional publisher was a no-brainer. I wanted to write a Big Ideas Book that would change people’s hearts and minds, and I wanted to get it in front of as many people as possible. (Lofty goals, much?) I chose my publisher - or more accurately, I chose to slave my guts out to get the publisher I did, because let’s face it, it’s not like big publishers are banging on first-time authors’ doors begging to publish our work – because I thought they would put me in the best position to do that. They would offer me credibility. They would force me to do my best work, and draw attention to ways in which my work could be improved that I either would not have noticed or would have been too tired to tackle after finishing my manuscript (sometimes ceding a little bit of creative control is not a bad thing). They dominate the front tables at Barnes & Noble, and they have the connections to get my book plastered on the TV, the radio, newspapers and magazines for at least a week or two.
Now, it’s worth noting that the division between self-publishing and traditional publishing isn’t quite as clear cut as I’ve made it seem in the above paragraph. There are plenty of books that spend a couple of weeks on the front tables of Barnes & Noble and get written up in the New York Times that don’t make an impact at all, and get sent straight back from the bookstores to their publishers within a month of going to press. Mine may well end up being one of them. Even if my book ends up being a mammoth success beyond anyone’s expectations (say, I sell 1 million copies – does that even happen in ideas-based non-fiction?), that would still be but a small fraction of the reach of Fifty Shades of Grey, a book that was initially self-published. And traditional publishers certainly don’t do all the marketing work for you.
Still, the metrics are different. If I self-published my book and it did really well, it might reach, what, a couple of thousand people? And I say that as someone with a lot of journalist friends and contacts, and a sizeable readership on this blog. Realistically, I could end up reaching as few as a couple of hundred people (there is a big difference between people who like your work enough to subscribe to your blog, and people who like it enough to want to buy it). If my book “fails” with a traditional publisher, I’ll still reach the same number of people I would have in my best-case self-publishing scenario. And I’ll have been paid enough to have had something of a financial safety net for a couple of years.
All of this makes me sound very anti-self-publishing (or at least very pro-traditional publisher), and that’s not the case. The truth is that traditional publishing is hard. It is slow, you have to jump through lots and lots of hoops, and you put the matter of whether your work ever sees the light of day in some else’s hands. If you do choose to traditionally publish, you probably won’t see your book in bookstores (or on Amazon.com) for another 2-3 years. And you may want to skip the pain and get your book out there for people to read as soon as possible.
Self-publishing is a great option for people who want to take control of their own creative path and make sure their writing gets read by someone, regardless of whether it fits the mould of what traditional publishers think will sell. It’s a great option for people with large and engaged existing online audiences, and whose book is closely aligned with the content they are publishing online. It’s a fantastic option, from a monetary perspective, for people who are writing self-help oriented content: people who write on how to be fitter, happier, more productive (this kind of content seems to do brilliantly on the internet). And it’s a great opportunity for very young, early career writers like you to learn more about how the publishing process works and experience it first-hand.
In the long-term, I suspect self-publishing is increasingly where book publishing will head. I’ll probably try it myself someday. (Arguably, I already have. I published my own first novel online when I was in high school – covering similar themes to your own, it would seem – and thoroughly enjoyed the process. It never occurred to me send it to a traditional publisher: I just wanted to get it straight into the hands of the people I was writing it for.)
So, what should you do? My first piece of advice, upon finishing your book, is to get a professional to assess your manuscript. It will cost you a couple of hundred dollars (and I understand that given you’re still in your teens, you’re probably not flush with cash), but it will give you a good indication of whether you’re ready to send your work to an agent if you decide to try your luck with a traditional publisher, and it means you’ll have a better book if you decide to publish yourself (trust me when I say that good editors and smart second opinions are invaluable – I wouldn’t have gotten my book deal without them). I highly recommend my writing coach, Brooke Warner, who has worked as an editor in a traditional publishing house and now helps guide writers through the self-publishing process, but whoever you go with, make sure you choose someone whose history as a writer and editor you respect and (this is so important!) someone who really knows the industry.
My other main piece of advice is to really get to know your options. As well as her coaching and manuscript assessment services, Brooke also provides cost-free advice to writers through her Facebook page, which will help you understand the publishing landscape better. I can also recommend The Unconventional Guide To Publishing, which offers a pretty comprehensive insight into both traditional and self-publishing. (NB: I have no financial relationship with either Brooke or Unconventional Guides, except for the fact that I hire Brooke.)
Whatever you choose, good luck, and like I said – I look forward to reading. And let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help or guide you.
Does anyone else have any advice or resources to offer Willow? Or experiences to share on self or traditional publishing?
Great question. The funny thing about non-fiction writing (and any writing really, and possibly even anything) is that the more you do of it, the more critical you become of other people’s attempts. So while something like, say, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth inspired me to want to write a mainstream feminist book, when I returned to it after writing most of said book, all I could think was, “Naomi, your analysis of power is all wrong.”
Anyway, books that have shaped my thinking in writing my own include (listed in order of most to least accessible) Leonore Tiefer’s Sex Is Not a Natural Act (very readable), Gail Hawkes’sA Sociology of Sex and Sexuality (a bit dense and academic), and Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, which took me three attempts over as many years to understand, but when I finally did, I was like, “Awesome. So you’re basically arguing the same things I am.” I also liked Annie Pott’s The Science/Fiction of Sex which, while a bit academic and from a different perspective to my own, is a fun and smart read.
For non-sex related books, Brigid Delaney’s This Restless Life felt like life wrapped up in a(n admittedly complicated) bow to me when I first read it, and I have recommended it to countless people since. It is smart and ambitious, but very readable and not at all academic. Paul Gilding’s The Great Disruption makes climate change so compelling and easy to understand that I texted my friends in excitement as I read it. Hazel Rowley’s biography of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre is an inspiration, and while I wouldn’t say it has particularly influenced my philosophy per se, Catherine Mayer’s Amortality is an excellent piece of non-fiction work.
Finally, on the fiction side of the fence, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin (much better than the film, IMO), and Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach are all outstanding. If you haven’t yet read them, you are very lucky, because it means you still have the chance to enjoy them for the first time!
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks tearing my hair out over my manuscript as I prepared to send it to my editor this week, picking apart the holes and despairing over how I would ever fill them.
But last night, as I moved all the chapters out of their separate files and into one big one, I experienced a moment of awe.
I did it! I wrote a book! Sure, it’s not perfect and there are about a hundred things I’d like to change about it. But there are 70,000 words on the page, and they are mostly smart and interesting. And just as importantly, they reflect the vision I had when I began working on this project five years ago.
And in that moment at 3am that seemed pretty amazing. Hell, even now, 20 minutes after I sent it off, it seems pretty amazing.
One step closer.
Now for the months of edits and revisions.
I’ve got a story in UK Cosmopolitan this month, a reprint of an article I wrote last year for the Australian edition.
Not the first time one of my stories has been syndicated, but the first time one has been syndicated to a country where I can actually purchase the magazine. So yay.
Page 95, ‘The Rise of the iNarcissist.’ Here’s a taster:
The problem goes to the root of the way our brains are wired, says Dr Larry Rosen, author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold On Us. Those Facebook “likes”, blog comments, and Twitter follows? All give us a shot of a little chemical named dopamine, which is associated with happiness.
“I love the rush when someone ‘likes’ a status or a photo,” says Ruby, 22. Amelia, 30, describes a “feeling of success” whenever someone responds to her on social media.
But the net can also make us anxious. What if no one comments on your blog post, or your Twitter crew all go out for drinks without you, or the girl you worked with after school in year 10 deletes you on Facebook? “Narcissism is an interesting combination of pleasure and anxiety,” says Rosen. “You get pleasure, obviously, out of people responding to you or telling you how great you are, but there’s also a lot of anxiety that they won’t respond, or that they’ll respond differently from how you might like.”
The internet allows us to control the way the rest of the world sees us like never before: you can be a model, an up-and-coming author, or a celebrity fashionista with a few strategically angled photographs and a well-written Twitter bio. But the ability to control our image comes with a price of increased self-consciousness. We don’t just play at being “celebrities” on the internet; our lifestyles increasingly resemble theirs, whether we like it or not, as anyone who has ever been tagged in an unflattering Facebook photo can vouch.
iNarcissism is not the same thing as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the term psychologists use to describe people who have a pathological self-preoccupation. Where a person with NPD will manipulate others for affection, lie about their achievements, and lash out at those who don’t support their inflated self-image, a garden variety iNarcissist will upload a few too many photos of themselves, keep you abreast of their every thought and movement, and overuse the “like” button on Facebook and Twitter in order to attract your attention, says Rosen. Annoying, sure, but not exactly the kind of person you’d cross the street to avoid…