Over at WriteSex, my column Success just went up (and here's a tease):
Currently I’m involved in a very special publishing endeavor – sorry for the tease; I’ll come to it shortly – that has gotten me thinking quite a bit about writing, especially about what it could meant to be a successful writer.
An odd word, that: success. In some cases it can be a very clear-cut. Getting from point A to point B? Success is just making the trip. Balancing your checkbook? Success is making it all add up (and, one hopes, remaining in the black). But for writers … well, it can be rather, shall I say, slippery.
For example: finishing a book or a story. That can be a form of success – though too often it feels like there’s always more that could have been done. Selling a book or a story? That can be successful – though many times there’s the nagging doubt that it could have gone for more money, higher status, etc.
Then there’s the big form of that word. What does it mean to be a successful author? Excuse me for evoking my inner Cranky Old Pro, but far too many authors seem to think that being a successful author is not just finishing books and stories, selling books or stories, winning awards, making money – but making sure everyone, everywhere, knows about it.
In other words, the world of professional writing – or creating anything, it seems like – has become about who you are and not what you do.
The world of professional writing can be ... no, that's not right: the world of professional writing is - without a doubt - a very frightening, confusing place.
Not only are there only a few diehard rules – to either slavishly follow or studiously avoid - but even basic trust can be a very, very rare: should I put my work on my site, or will it be stolen? Should I even send my work out to other writers, for the very same reason?
What about editors or - especially - publishers? Does my editor really have my best interests in mind? Should I make the changes he or she suggests or should I stand my ground and refuse to change even one word? Is my publisher doing all they can for my book? Are they being honest about royalties?
Back in the days of print - before the revolution – a lot of these questions would have been answered by an agent: a person who not only knew the business but would actually hold a writer's hand and lead them from that doubt and fear and, hopefully, towards success ... however you want to define that word.
Agents spoke the cryptic language of rights and royalties: they could actually read – and even more amazingly - understand a book contract. They'd be able, with their experience and foresight, to say when a writer should say yes or no to edits.