Do Your Research, or How Not to Make a Good Impression
I find myself, in general, having less and less patience with people who can’t be bothered to learn the most basic things about the business, or who think that they’re entitled to make other people do the work for them.
There’s so much information available, and it’s so much easier to find than my contact info. Type “how do I get an agent” into Google, you’ll have resources for days. Try “how to publish a book”. “How not to get screwed by a publisher/agent/whatever”. Do. Your. Research.
Writing is an incredibly hard business. Even if you’re just doing it as a hobby, hoping to publish a few stories here and there, it’s fucking exhausting, heartbreaking, debilitating work. You have to know about everything from marketing to legal rights. Even if you have an agent, you have to know as much as any small business owner, just to keep the framework in place to be a writer…and then you have to know how to write on top of that.
And it’s doable, obviously. There are people who make a living at it. Some of them even make a good living. But you know what, those are the people who do their research, who stay on top of their industry, and who have a work ethic to end all work ethics.
Even people who have day jobs besides writing have to know all of that, it’s just a little less imperative to stay *that* on top of it because you have a fall-back plan. But that work ethic? That knowledge of your industry and your place in it? Still there. It takes an incredible amount of discipline to write AND maintain a day job, and most of those writers have families to maintain, too.
So here’s the thing, if you want to be a writer. Don’t email a large professional organization demanding that they find you an agent, or that they publish you, or that they read your book and give you feedback. Don’t go to your writer friends and demand that they tell you how to do things (we’re usually happy to answer questions, but those damn sure better be things you can’t find in our blogs or websites or Writer Beware or SFWA.org or whatever), or that they introduce you to their agent or friends or editors. Don’t think that you’re going to walk in and be an immediate success, because you have as much chance of that as of winning the lottery.
Don’t come into this business thinking that you’ve got all the answers, without even looking at the problems. Don’t trample over the people around and below you in an effort to come to the notice of those above you, because it’s more obvious than you think, and this is a very small industry with a very long memory. Don’t look at the professionals, the superstars, or the successes as notches on a belt, because we notice that, too. Don’t backstab or gossip or screw or harass or use your peers and colleagues, because, again, small industry, long memory, too little sleep and absolutely no tolerance for poison. We’re all struggling to make it, and to get better, but the people who will really succeed in this industry are the ones who are as willing to boost others as to ask to be boosted.
Don’t expect everyone to lay down a red carpet because you have the most amazing book you’ve ever read. Because guess what: I can list twenty authors off the top of my head who have *amazing* books that haven’t sold. Some have been trunked, some are in rewrite hell, others have been self-published, some have been put aside to write something else in the hopes it will sell.
Do come into this business with an open mind and an obsessive need to learn. Do come in with an attitude of generosity and the willingness, the *need* to help those around you. Come in with a desire to know the people in the trenches with you. Come into this industry with a genuine desire to make it better, but know your own shit before you try to fix the constipation of others (that’s totally how that old saying goes, right?). Listen. Learn. Have an insatiable desire to improve your own knowledge and to give that knowledge back. Understand that no one owes you anything, that you have to demonstrate a willingness to pull your weight.
Work hard. Research endlessly. Read your colleagues. Know your path. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Be willing to ask for help, but make sure you’ve already done what you can for yourself. Be willing to help others, and to keep an eye out for those who aren’t able to ask for help. Be ready to admit when you’re wrong, to change your career at the drop of a hat, but be ready to dig your teeth and hooves and claws in and hold the course until you can’t hold it anymore. Be willing to learn when to hold that ground and when to gracefully give way. Educate yourself, and share that education with others.
It’s a hard road, and if you aren’t willing to do the work, you’ll wash or burn or blow out of the industry sooner or later.
And remember: Google is your friend. Don’t give me an excuse to send you to this amazing site.