Yesterday, while walking in the park, I watched a little boy as he picked the ball of a dandelion seed head. He held it up at the level of his nose and blew into it. The seeds gently floated away. The scene inspired me to write this blog post.
All writers, at some point in their career, contemplate the fact that ours is a lonely lot. We don’t report to work anywhere. Our fellow writers are busy doing their own thing. We work alone. It’s a little less lonely now that we have Twitter and Facebook; but when it’s time to write, there’s no one around. Writing is a solitary pursuit.
Journalists may have to report to a desk and they do have deadlines to meet, but we’re not talking about them. They have anchors to keep them grounded.
There is no external, real-world grounding for writers like there is for most other professions. Like all true artists, we are vessels without moorings. There are no weekly meetings. We don’t turn in progress reports and there are no yearly evaluations. We just have to make time to write and keep writing.
Setting goals certainly helps. Did you hear the joke about the writer who was always busy writing but never could finish whatever it was he was working on?
Rejection, Humility and the Ego
It used to be the case that if you couldn’t handle rejection by the gatekeepers, your work didn’t get published. If you gave up after the first handful of rejections, you were effectively silenced—forever. You could, of course, continue to write anyway; but there was no easy method to get people to read what you wrote.
That’s all changed now. Writers, today, can easily maintain a blog or publish an entire book from a laptop. Gatekeepers can’t keep us silent anymore. We can bypass literary agents and publishing houses and go straight to the readers. Sure we have to deal with a retailer who acts as an intermediary, but it’s not a gatekeeper. They don’t pass judgment. Their job is mainly to run the marketplace and make our writing available to the readers.
We may have good reason to distrust the judgment of a skeptical (or clueless) agent. We may also have good reason to question the decisions an aloof publisher. The judgment of the reader, on the other hand, now, that’s a different matter altogether.
The biggest satisfaction for a writer is to be read and to elicit a positive reaction from the readers. A writer can never be a success without a supportive readership that recognizes value in the writer’s work. It’s for our readers we write and it’s their opinions and preferences that ultimately matter.
The reader is the Final Arbiter to whom writers must submit in humility. How talented we think we are has nothing to do with it.
On the flip side of the same coin, how talented we think we are has everything to do with it. A writer must be confident enough to know that her writing is worthy of publication and that an audience exists for it. Otherwise, what’s the point of calling yourself a writer?
Falling Into Fertile Ground
One book, or one writer, can’t please everybody. Some readers appreciate a good historical romance; others won’t touch one even if they receive it as a gift. I have a friend who only reads murder mysteries. We all understand why many don’t appreciate the full measure of Herman Melville’s talent or why some don’t see the beauty in Moby Dick.
No author wants his genius to be discovered long after he’s dead. That was Herman Melville’s lot. Moby Dick, the story of the whale, cleared the first of two hurdles in Melville’s lifetime. The novel was published while he was alive. The second hurdle, critical acclaim, proved more elusive. It came 25 years after Melville’s death. He was talented, but he wasn’t lucky.
There are many similar stories and the more you hear, the more it seems that a writer’s success, talent aside, is subject to whims like the direction of a gentle breeze, or the roll of a die, or the disposition of a planet in relation to constellations of the zodiac. One author died and never saw his book in print, but his talent was “discovered” posthumously after his mother continued the quest to get the manuscript published. The book won a Pulitzer.
The story becomes more poignant when we learn the author became depressed and committed suicide, in part, because he couldn’t capture the attention of a publisher. His name is John Kennedy Toole. The book is A Confederacy of Dunces.
Bloomsbury, the publisher of the Harry Potter series literally hit the jackpot with nary a clue. It owes its successful relationship with J.K. Rowling to the judgment of a perspicacious eight year old. She read a chapter from a manuscript and wanted to see more. It’s a good thing she was the daughter of the chief executive at the small publishing house. Wouldn’t you love to hear the rationalizations of the twelve publishers who rejected the same manuscript?
Publishers would like everyone to believe they excel at finding good books. But it seems to me that it’s the persistent authors—along with some good books—that find the publishers. If they truly excel at judging the quality of books, the question to ponder is in comparison to whom? After all, until very recently, the publishing houses were the only ones who had access to the printing presses.
Creating Your Own Luck
Writers, nowadays, have more opportunities to be discovered even as the market becomes more competitive. Everything else being equal, writers can improve their chances of being successful if they have business savvy, take their work seriously, know how to market their talent, are able to create a following or can find a way to generate buzz.
Are you feeling lucky today?
Dandelion Photograph: Lawrence Lu
Gary Gauthier is working on his first novel, a crime thriller set in New Orleans, just before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. In real life, he works for a small publishing company no one’s ever heard of and that publishes books no one reads.
His blog, Gary Gauthier’s author blog, Literary Snippets, gives him an opportunity to express and share his appreciation for art and literature. He occasionally posts articles as well. Some of his favorite writers are Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. But this changes from time to time. Stay tuned! Follow him on gary gauthier on Twitter, gary gauthier on facebook, and gary gauthier on google plus.
Guest Blogger Gary Gauthier – First posted May 27th, 2012