[A follow-up to this piece is here: How To Write Stories & Articles That Sell. A short while back I did a multi-post series on how to make a living writing; the first of that series, unsurprisingly enough, is How To Make A Living Writing.]
Yesterday I spoke before the large and active San Diego Christian Writer’s Guild. I’m sure I was fascinating. I distinctly remember gesturing a few times — and thinking one of those times, “Man, I have long arms. Look at ’em out there, waving around like jellyfish tentacles.”
A couple of other times I noticed I was up on my toes. So then I had to think, “What am I, Nijinsky? What’s up with the toe action?”
Anyway, after my talk many people came up to me, smiling.
“Back off,” I kept saying. “I don’t do warm and fuzzy.”
“But we love you!” they clamored.
“Fine. I take cash, okay?” I said. “But no checks. All of you: Stop trying to write me checks!”
But I jest.
I do take checks.
I think some of the people at the talk yesterday are going to come look at my blog today, and so I thought I would make a point here of listing a few random Big Deal Writing Points that yesterday I either forgot to say, or passed over too quickly because I was just then momentarily obsessed by stuff like my waving arms and dancing feet. So here are at least a few of those points:
Publishers and agents need you more than you need them. Writers tend to have this attitude that they’re weak and down below, and that book agents and publishers are high above them, and have all the power in the relationship. That’s exactly backwards. Book publishers and agents are useless without writers, and they know it. They need writers to do what they do; they have no income without writers. Go into your every interaction with a publisher or agent as if you, and not they, have the power. Then in your dealings with them you’ll present yourself with clarity and confidence — which, as a cologne, smells infinitely better than “Need.”
Exploit your relationships. “Exploit” isn’t really the right word (oh: and as a writer, always use the right word), but never fail to respectfully explore the possibilities inherent in every relationship you think could be of value to you in your career. A basic Fact Combo about people you should use to your advantage is that people like helping other people, and that few people actually ask other people to help them. That, combined with the truth that no one is above feeling flattered when another person shows respect for them and asks for their Expert Input, means that you should never be afraid to honestly ask someone who has shown any kind of interest in you at all to keep showing interest in you until they’re done (for now) being interested in you. You can go a long way down that road with a lot more people than you probably think — and in the end, you’ve got yourself a little network! It’s a beautiful thing; it’s a wonderful way to make friends and develop mentors. And you have to have that; without a network, you’re talking to nobody. Be likeable, be humble, be appropriately responsive, be succinct — but do be in the conversation.
Remember that the most valuable commodity anywhere in media is ideas. Ideas, ideas, ideas. In publishing, ideas are pure gold. Everything depends on The Idea. Books are sold to publishers every day on nothing but a title. The quickest way to become someone with whom others in the creative field of your choice want to be aligned is to be known as someone who consistently comes up with quality ideas. Think creatively! All the time! That’s how you make friends, influence people, and turn your brain into a cash cow.
Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. New writers are always worried that an agent, publisher or fellow author is going to steal their ideas. Don’t worry about that. They are going to steal your ideas, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Part of the cost of being a new writer is that people who are further up the food chain from you get to steal your ideas. Your attitude has to be, “Go ahead, take that idea. There’s a million more equally good ideas where that one came from.” Let ’em have your ideas. If you’re not pretty much an idea factory, you’re never going to make it anyway. The universe is full of ideas just waiting to be grasped and formulated. So what if someone takes one of yours? They’re likely to fail with it anyway, because no one can execute your idea like you can. Jerry Seinfeld has a great line, where he says, “So what if someone steals my material. What’s someone else going to do with my material?” If someone steals your material, be flattered, know you must be doing something right, and move on. (And, if you’re like me — not that you should be — be sure to take names. You’ll want them later.)
Rejection can’t mean anything to you emotionally. Your stuff is always going to get rejected for perfectly good reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of your work. Forget rejections; they mean nothing. Keep going; there’s always another venue, always a new place or person to submit to. If you let rejections effect (affect? oh–and always keep a good usage manual nearby) you emotionally, you’ll never make it. Of course every rejection will hurt a little — but feel that pang, give it its proper acknowledgment, and then lose it like the useless weight it is. Writing’s a weird business: You have to be sensitive enough to be open and vulnerable and creative — and yet be The Terminator when it comes to rejection. No problem. You can do that. Life hurts sometimes. So what? Remember to keep your eye on the prize, which is to be so successful writing that you never again have to get a real job.
Well, that’s all I can think of just now; I have got to get some breakfast now, before I eat my coffee cup.