By Guest Blogger Roberta Isleib
There's an awful lot of griping going on among writers about the publishing industry lately, and I admit I've contributed my share. Did you see the recent New York Times article reporting that because no one knows how to predict what sells, the folks in charge guess madly (sometimes by attending to a sizzle in their spines) and pay enormous advances to a few lucky writers? And what about the decline of book review sections in newspapers? Or the sudden incineration of entire mystery lines by some publishing houses? And don't forget the article in the Times business section today--Simon & Schuster will be selecting book proposals based on traders buying shares with fantasy cash. Finding a publisher "American Idol"-style? There is a lot of bad news. What's a writer to do?
When I find myself in a whining rut, it helps to remember that there are thousands of people who'd KILL to be where I am. And when I talk to new writers, I tell them what I tell myself: the publishing world is tough, so focus on what you can control. Hone your skills, sharpen your priorities, and then persist like a mad dog. (And my agent would add, if you can't imagine how a book idea would be marketed, move on to something else.)
I attended a golf psychology workshop a few years ago in which the psychologist leading the seminar suggested that our subconscious needs to be engaged by specific goals. For example, if I dream of talking about my books on the today show, I should pin up a photo of Matt and Meredith on my bulletin board, maybe with an empty chair between them--for me of course. In TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT, Lawrence Block tells the story of how Charles Schwab, president of US Steel, consulted an efficiency expert. He wanted action fast. The expert told him to make a list every day of what needed to be done, in order of importance. Then he was to work on the top priority until it was done, then go on to number 2. That's something I can control: putting my writing at the top of my list. I try to set specific small goals, like writing 500 or 1000 words or two pages per day. As my friend Hallie Ephron likes to say, writing 2 pages a day produces a book in six months. Doesn't that sound good?
As far as persistence goes, I will always remember a talk that Esther Friesner gave at my local bookstore well before I was published. She said lots of people with good ideas or even good books don¹t get published because they give up. 150 million American adults say they want to write. Fifteen million begin to write. One million, 500 finish something. One hundred fifty thousand submit their work even once. Fifteen thousand of those continue to submit until they make a sale. I don't know where she got the numbers, but the idea makes a lot of sense.
The most important part of surviving hard times for me is finding a community that encourages networking and support. Mystery writers are fortunate to have two strong organizations, the Mystery Writers of America and the Sisters in Crime. My contacts with these folks have made all the difference. I didn't know a soul when I started to write, but I've made dozens of friends. If I whine a little too much, any one of them is happy to nudge me along: just finish the dang blog entry and get back to work!
DEADLY ADVICE, the first in Roberta Isleib's new series, has been published by Berkley Prime Crime, with PREACHING TO THE CORPSE to follow this December. Read more at http://www.robertaisleib.com. Roberta is the national VP of Sisters in Crime: celebrating 20 years of opening doors! http://www.sistersincrime.org