Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, July 11, 2008

This Week in Publishing 7/11/08

My Kindle arrived! First impressions: not as clunky as I thought. I'm loving it for reading partials and after two days I already can't imagine life without it. But there is definitely going to be an adjustment period. I'll give a full rundown next week.

Meanwhile, in other e-book news, Publishers Lunch reports that a new e-book application for the iPhone, tied to FictionWise, is getting some rave reviews, and opening up the prospect of using iPhones as e-readers. Since I'm also hoping to get an iPhone soon, I'm very much looking forward to doing a comparison of the respective Kindle and iPhone e-book experience. The future is most definitely here.

A judge in New Jersey dismissed the case by a New Jersey literary agent against Wikimedia. As mentioned last week, the agent sued some of my favorite bloggers. I haven't been fully up to date on the latest on this case so post in and check the comment section for more info. I've also been told there's an author advocate defense fund for the defendants in the case.

Have you been reading Rebecca Ramsey's awesome blog Wonders Never Cease lately? Yes, she's a client, but honestly it's like no other blog I've read and dare I say it's taking the entire artform of blogging to a new level? Did you even know there was a blogging artform? I sure didn't! But now there is one.

The always-indispensable Shrinking Violet Promotions has an awesome interview with a real live Random House publicist about things authors can do to promote their books.

And finally, the discussions about Wednesday's hypothetical question and Thursday's follow-up discussion really generated some of the best conversation material this blog has yet seen. Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who has contributed to the discussion. I'll leave you with this comment from bunnygirl, which I thought really took the discussion into an interesting new place. What is it about writing that inspires so much more ambition than other hobbies?

What I find interesting is how many people think the only reason to write is to be published, and that publication legitimizes ones efforts somehow. Is there any other endeavor that carries such a load of assumptions?

Most of the people who run marathons know they aren't going to come anywhere close to winning, but they run anyway. Most people who take up a musical instrument don't expect to play at the local VFW Hall, let alone Carnegie Hall. Many people are very happy to paint watercolors that will hang on no one's walls but their own, make beer that will never be served in a bar, or grow tomatoes that will never be for sale at the local supermarket.

No one thinks it odd that people have these hobbies and in fact, people usually speak respectfully of the gardeners, quilters, and other hobbyists in their midst without ever saying, "Well, Bob is just wasting his time restoring that GTO. He's not a REAL mechanic because no one pays him to work in an auto repair shop."

I wonder why writing is viewed by so many as something that's not worth doing unless it results in a gloss-covered product on the shelf of Barnes & Noble?

Have a great weekend!


A Paperback Writer said...

May the gods of Kindledom bless you with a fun-filled weekend, Nathan!

Christine Carey said...

I don't think being published is the only reason to write, and I would continue to do it even if I don't ever get published, but I also don't think there's anything wrong with the desire to be published either.
I write because I like sharing stories. Being published would help me to share that with more people, which would be awesome.
If it's only a hobby for a particular person, that's fine, but it must also be acknowledged that it's ok to want to be a professional author and to strive to make a living through this form of art.

Bija Andrew Wright said...

I think it has something to do with well-meaning friends and family whose go-to words of support are, "You wrote a book? Wonderful! You're going to get published and be rich and famous!" They say it often enough, you want to prove them right.

Also, that so much of the workings of the publishing industry are a mystery to the amateur writer, and out of that amateur writer's hands. Compare it to cooking; sometimes when I've cooked for people they have said, "You could open a restaurant and sell this!" But I think, while I enjoy cooking, I wouldn't enjoy trying to find a restaurant space, hire a staff, advertise, worry about nightly turnout, etc. I'm happy cooking small batches for myself and people I know. From the outside, it might look like an author doesn't have to do this stuff to go from "for fun" author to "published author"--people presume that you just hand over your manuscript to an editor who declares you a genius and you're on the New York Times bestseller list the next week.

Will Entrekin said...

iPhones can already be e-readers. People were reading my collection on their iPhones the week it came out.

The iPhone screen is too small right now (and I hear getting smaller), but the zoom function makes it slightly more workable.

It's best for short stories, poetry, and essays (which is why my collection was particularly good for it). And it helps if the text is optimized for the screen.

Will Entrekin said...

Oh, and forgot to say, Rebecca's blog reminds me a lot of Brad Listi's. Which is very good.

Vieva said...

I think one of the biggest reasons that writers go for publication is that a story isn't really "finished" until it's read.

If I spend hours in the garden, it's *viewed* without much effort by the viewer. Someone walks by, looks at it, admires, and walks on. My work is validated. Same with the painting on the wall, or the meal on the table - it is validated easily.

But it's VERY hard to get someone to read fiction that hasn't been published. Certainly hard to get someone that isn't family or a close friend, someone with the most reason to lie to you. Sometimes you can get a short story read without much trouble, but a whole novel?

We move the novel-vetting process over to the publishing industry so we don't have to wade through it. So our novels aren't "done" until they're published because people refuse to read and validate them.

After all, if I only want people to go "ooh, you wrote a novel!" I could say it and never have one. (or more. I'm up to four finished ones). But there's no *proof* - there's nothing on a shelf I can point to and have people admire. There's nothing that gets validation - except publication.

So we chase after it like slavering dogs after a hot dog truck, hoping for some kind of sign that we're not just delusional basket-cases and that we, too, can get validation for the work we do.

(also? the people that write and don't care about publication probably don't read this blog. :D)

Adaora A. said...

I can't get an iPhone here in Canada. It's not for lack of wanting, it for the OUTRAGEOUS cost, and the ridiculous monthly plan. In US (I think), and in UK, the plan is 18 months long. Here, Rogers (the official 'Screwballs R us holders), are 'offering' a 3 year plan (no exceptions), and you have to sign up for all of the features. The cost of it is 800 dollars, and monthly it's 80-200/month. Try paying for that with the price of gas. There is even an online petition going around in protest of it all. That's the end of my rant.

I love her blog! I visit all the time. I think (and here are my bragging rights), I was one of the first to find it. I love her 'wonder of the world' daily feature.

I'm glad the case was dismissed. It's a financial burden to go to court to begin with - legal defence fees - and with the skyrocketing price of everything, it must be hell.

Bunnygirl makes a brilliant point. I own an acoustic guitar (and I want to own a sratocaster electric). I play for fun - and I play a little bit above satisfactory. Let's say I recieved lessons for the next year and became amazing. I can sing (no really), because I use to be in the choir. Does that make me want to be the Rihanna (unplugged) or India Arie? Absolutely not. I love to do it for fun, and it makes me feel good. But's it's not where my passion lies. I'm sure there are many writers out there who have amazing talents in other areas, but they choose to write because they get that 'thing,' that feeling when they do it. The thought of being published, of seeing their name on a book title in their favourite book store makes them weak in the knees. That's the feeling people have to hold on to and go for. I don't think if folks are doing it for money, they should bother entering. People go into law and medicine for money and then leave, because it wasn't worth their happiness. That's just my opinion though.

David said...

You could read partials on the Kindle in one hand and published books on the iPhone in the other hand! Aahhsome, as some people pronounce it!

For other applications, such as texting and e-mailing and surfing at the same time, we could all either get additional hands grafted on, or we could wait for the advent of direct brain hookups. Now, that would really be ahhhhhsooome!

Actually, it really would be.

Joe Iriarte said...

I was going to answer, but then I saw that vieva said it all so well.

What the heck, I'll try to add a couple cents of my own. As an artist of pretty much any other sort, I can experience my work as a consumer in addition to a creator. I can listen to the music as I play it, and enjoy the interplay of the notes. I can eat the tomatoes. I can put my painting on the wall and seeing it might put me in a good mood. I can enjoy the smooth acceleration and handling of a car I have tweaked. I love to look at the hardwood flooring I've laid throughout my house, and the detailed mural my wife painted in the kids' room. Reading a novel I wrote isn't the same, though. I can't be surprised by anything that happens. I can't learn from my own insights.

Which brings me to the other side of the coin: other people can enjoy our other creative work easily, because virtually no art form requires the time investment to enjoy it that novel-writing does. Come listen to me sing karaoke. Are you enjoying that meal? I grew the herbs in my own garden.

I don't believe there is such a thing as solitary, noncommunicative art. An artist needs an audience (unless you're Emily Dickinson, of course, but I'd argue that even she had an audience in mind when she composed).

But very few people will read a novel consisting of laser-printed pages in a binder. That takes so much longer, and people don't want to spend four hours or more reading something that may turn out to be crap. The publishing is the thing that proves a work of fiction is not totally without merit. And, of course, it brings you an audience wider than the one or two friends you strong-armed into reading your ms.

Rebecca Ramsey said...

You sweet thing!
Thanks for your kind words about the blog!
And Nathan, you're quite a wonder yourself.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Bunnygirl's a friend, so this is something we've discussed between us at some length.

And it explains my answers to the original question, too, I suspect: no, I wouldn't stop writing. For me, writing is akin to breathing. I stop doing it and I die (I have good knowledge of the breathing part of that statement today, in fact). Publishing's my goal, yes, but it's not the be-all of my ambitions.

Dan said...

Re: Bunnygirl's comments -

Though a few people are here for the good writing and many more appreciate the insider look at the industry, I'd wager most are here in hopes of getting valuable information that can help them advance their writing careers.

I think bunnygirl makes a good point - many people are content to run metaphorical marathons and say 'I did it.' But if that's the case your time would be better spent running rather than Nathan's blog.

"Everyone has a talent. What is rare is the courage to follow that talent to the dark place where it leads." (ie - rejected query letters)

Anonymous said...

"I wonder why writing is viewed by so many as something that's not worth doing unless it results in a gloss-covered product on the shelf of Barnes & Noble?"

Good question. I think it has to do with the fact that pretty much anyone can write something, whereas not anyone can restore an engine (at any level), or play the drums (at any level) or go scuba diving. But everyone can write, to some degree.

bonnie adamson said...

Thanks for the link to Rebecca's blog--and "Hi, Becky!" from Bonnie just off Pelham Road--such talent in my own back yard (love your view of the peachoid!). Will be bookmarking this one and rooting for more sccess for the gal from Greer!

pjd said...

If a person writes a story in the sand at low tide and no one reads it before the sea washes it away, is it anything more than a Zen experience for the author?

Does a story that is not shared exist?

Some things I learned from the discussions:
1. People don't believe in 100% accuracy.
2. Given a hypothetical thing people don't believe in as the base condition, they ignore the question and answer the question they really wanted you to ask in the first place.
3. Without the goal of publication, writing is simply a hobby.
4. I like my hobbies to be more fun and less work. For me, writing is a vocation. Playing soccer and drinking beer and blogging are hobbies.

Dan said...

"4. I like my hobbies to be more fun and less work. For me, writing is a vocation. Playing soccer and drinking beer and blogging are hobbies."

PJD makes a great point, and if it wasn't Friday afternoon I might've said it even half as well.

JohnO said...

This is prolly grist for a different blog post, but I'd like to hear your and other agents' reactions about reading online vs. reading paper -- especially if they're read (in ink or ion) Nicholas Carr's interesting piece in the Atlantic about how the internet is changing the way we read. (

Sprizouse said...

Well bunnygirl's comment is sort of irrelevant. Writing, in and of itself, is a tool and some people do work to improve their writing skills with no hope of being published (like doctors and executives who want to communicate better).

But the discussion on this blog is about writing a novel (or perhaps a piece of non-fiction). And the "what" of what's being written is important.

Comparing writing to being a mechanic or cooking in the kitchen or taking up the guitar on weekends correlates well if you're just talking about writing.

But when someone sits down to pen a novel, complete with three-dimensional characters, a plot etc, then the comparison must be between a NASA engineer, an aspiring musician, or a master chef. Why? Because those of us who sit down to write novels do so because there's at least one person (and usually billions) we hope read and enjoy it afterwards. And if we want billions to enjoy it, then the work needs to be published.

Students who labor for years at cooking school or study engineering at M.I.T. aren't likely to consider themselves successful if they're working at McDonald's or tinkering on a hotrod in the garage when they're finished.

The mechanic who tinkers in the garage either doesn't have the skills to hurdle the barriers to become an engineer or doesn't want to try. Plenty of students at the culinary institutes drop out or lack the talent to become world famous chefs. The barriers to entry in the publishing world are the same as the barriers to entry in the engineering / cooking world: they're barriers.

And hurdling those barriers will always be a measure of success.

Adaora A. said...

@spirouse - You said this:

Well bunnygirl's comment is sort of irrelevant. Writing, in and of itself, is a tool and some people do work to improve their writing skills with no hope of being published (like doctors and executives who want to communicate better).

And I respectively disagree. I think it is very relevant. The point she made was in regards to WHY people write (whether to get published, to make money, etc and so on), and said that if you're doing it just to make it to the B&N gloss, it may not be for you. And I think she's right. When I first started reading this blog, I picked up the fact that there is a lot of waiting involved in writing, and there is definetly going to be some disappointment. The point that has to be seen is that not everyone who wants to make it is going to make it. So the people who are writing just so they can make the New York Times list, so their book can be discussed on TV, and all of that. They have to get real I think. It's not everyone who reaches pop-culture status. It shouldn't be the reason why people start writing to begin with. But I do get your point on a general basis.

Anonymous said...

Let me answer the hypothetical question of whether it’s worth doing unless you get that glossy cover with another hypothetical question: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Look, this is the blog of a literary agent, which offers very useful information and advice on publishing, so why the judgment on weather I am actually sincere in my love of the art? I do happen to number gardening among my hobbies, but I don’t haunt gardening blogs in the aspiration of opening a florist shop. You will correct me if I’ve misunderstood, but am I truly being asked to justify my ambition?

Solidus said...

The iPhone is (as has been said) already an accomplished ebook reader. Indeed, it's one of the main reasons I bought my iPod Touch - basically, the iPhone without the phone part! If you jailbreak the device (easy to do), the Books app is excellent - HTML and TXT files of any origin with fully customisable font size and face. Sure, the screen's smallish but I have no problems at all regularly reading my Analog sub on it. It's just so much more portable than something like a Kindle! Different device for a different purpose. Wonderful for casual reading when out and about (waiting for a bus, queueing for tickets, whatever).

Now that the latest version's out and the iTunes store is open, there's the commercial version of Books, called Bookshelf. I've not had a chance to try it but it looks further improved, with more file formats and easier transport of files onto the iPhone.

Well worth a look. There are even two or three alternative programs out there, including the one you mention. Couldn't check it out because the link was sub only. :-(

Anonymous said...

bunnygirl makes some interesting points and I agree to some extent. Journaling, personal exploration, therapy, meditation, etc - there are many enjoyable and worthy reasons to write, but much writing is about communicating - and not just to the inner self. It would be like acting - without an audience. That said, I believe that the best writing comes from a place that is not immediately concious of the audience. Sure, you have to hone it with the eye of an editor, but fresh work cannot be born while simultaneously obsessing about the possibility of publication. That anixiety-ridden monkey needs to reside with the part of the brain we send off to the zoo when we are working.

WitLiz Today said...

Michael Jordan tried to play baseball once he 'retired' from basketball.

He loved baseball. He probably thought to himself, I can do this. I'm Michael Jordan. I can hit this little sucker(or fucker by the time he finished his baseball career, which was mercifully short-lived).

Unfortunately for Michael, Air Jordan became Chair Jordan, and you could hear the laughter ripple from sea to shining sea throughout MLB.

But I bet he came away from the game of baseball with new respect. Especially for the players who toil in the minor leagues, year after dismal year, trying hard, but not quite ever making the big leagues. The fringe players. And I’m betting, Michael also came to find out, that in the game of baseball, he was not even fringe player level. Here he was, aka Michael Jordan, and he couldn’t play baseball. He simply didn’t have enough talent. For baseball.

So it is with writers. I think Mr. Bransford is absolutely on target here. Yes, writing AND successfully publishing a book, takes an extraordinary talent. If you love to write, it would be prudent to have a backup plan. I know I have three!

But I truly believe each person in this life is extraordinarily and uniquely talented in one way or another, so in a sense we have the potential to be Michael Jordans in our respective lives.

The trick is finding ‘Michael’. Aggravating, I know. Like finding Waldo with a migraine headache. You just want to kill the little fucker when you do.

nikki-riles said...

You want a blog that brings the medium to an artform check out Grace Undressed
Fascinating and eloquent.

cc said...

re: bunnygirl's comment:

"...Why does getting published legitimize ones efforts somehow?..."

In my opinion it does. Because it's proof you've done an awesome job -- awesome enough to garner an agent, and an editor that believe in your work, and maybe readers will embrace it too.

Here's my question: Since when is writing with the goal of publication somehow less noble than writing for personal pleasure?

Am I less of a writer, or my intentions somehow less pure, simply because I'd like others to read my book?

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I loved the wonders never cease blog.

I thought most posters said they'd write anyway. hum...

Shell I said...

A few people here (Vieva, PJD, Dan & a few others) have echoed my point in response to BunnyGirl in yesterday's comments.

I don't write specifically to be published, I write because I enjoy it BUT I wouldn't waste as much energy refining a book if I wasn't hoping that maybe just maybe someone would publish it. I would write short-stories and other things. It is a hell of a lot of work doing a novel.

Publishing is the gold medal, the grand prize. Not the money - after all how many authors who have only been published once can say they are "rolling in dough" but for the acknowledgement that my story is good enough, someone else can read it and quite a few someone's thought it was good enough for other people to want to read it.

A mechanic may tinker with an engine (writer doing it ONLY for the love of it, not wishing to ever get published) but it takes a truely dedicated person to pull that engine to pieces, play with every little part, paint it, slowly put it back together again ensuring that everything is done 100% perfect and then enters it into a car show for a trophy (the novelist trying to get published). They each take two different levels of patience and have different rewards.

I never meant that writing should be done with publication in mind, but the endless reviews & additions and time to perfect the story is.

Christine Norris said...

Here's the thing about writing. If you write stories, for example, you want someone besides yourself to read them. The best way to have lots and lots of people read the is to publish.

Gearheads restore cars and take them to classic auto shows, where people ooh and ahh over them. Quilters have bees, and some sell those quilts for a pretty penny. So there is some reward for the hobbiest in those fields.

It's not like writers get together for an unpublished manuscript show, or have a writing bee...

Writing bee...hmmm. There's a story in there somewhere.

PS- if you need something to read on that Kindle, I can link you up with one...that I wrote ;)I'm interested for your take on it. I'm waiting on Astak to get their stuff together, because their reader is supposed to be way cheaper than the Kindle, and just as user friendly, with e-ink screen. But they keep pushing back the release date, so I may just cave and buy a Kindle.

A Paperback Writer said...

nicely put.

bunnygirl said...

Boy, some people sure get huffy when you say that getting published isn't the sole validation of one's efforts! :-)

All getting published means is you've competently told a story with current market appeal, and you've had the time and determination to ride that query-go-round until you got the brass ring. Your story might also be a work of genius, but publication isn't proof of that.

It's crazy to get sucked into the mindset that publication is the only measure of one's talent with the written word. It's an attitude that paralyzes and discourages writers, which doesn't benefit us or the agents and publishers who have to deal with us.

What if that poor writer who couldn't find a publisher for a well-written novel with an unmarketable theme simply gave up, thinking they were no good? The next novel might've been a best-seller, but neither the writer nor the agent will ever know.

That, gentle reader, is the reason I find the publication uber alles mindset so annoying. Write what moves you. Publish what the market will allow. Share the rest and die happy. :-)

jax said...

I love my iPhone, even though it was one of those first run batches, so there are a few little quirks. At least I can read PDFs and Word documents without any trouble. The best part is being able to enlarge the screen for those with bad eyesight. The only drawback is their Edge network but if you can hook into wireless you're set for a quicker download.

Speak Coffee said...

"I wonder why writing is viewed by so many as something that's not worth doing unless it results in a gloss-covered product on the shelf of Barnes & Noble?"

And yet I have an alternate story, as told to me by a former professor, Joseph Heithaus: Joe is a published poet, an MFA/PhD with a tenure position etc, and yet it was his brother's poem -- something sweet, almost childish with rhyming couplets -- that their father remembered best. He praised Joe for his work and his accomplishments, but really, he like his brother's one poem best, better than anything the published Joe had ever done.

I think it's really a matter of who your audience is. Of who in this world gives you validation. I have a sinking feeling that the people reading this blog may (in part) be here for Nathan's wit, but they may also be here because writing is not enough for them, writing for their fathers and families isn't enough, that they either need or want that outside validation.

Perhaps not all of us can get validation from our immediate families. My family is so supportive I'm shocked. And yet they're not my best readers because they don't always have the same training or background.

My father told me a particularly harrowing story from the biology lab the other day and I said "huh, really?" but he spent an hour on the phone to a colleague 100 miles away retelling and reliving the story. Perhaps, as writers and solitary workers, we feel that publishing will give us colleagues (or at least agents) that we can tell these stories to.

April Hollands said...

bunnygirl asked:
I wonder why writing is viewed by so many as something that's not worth doing unless it results in a gloss-covered product on the shelf of Barnes & Noble?

Because when you look at a friend's terrible painting, you only have to look at it for a second. A novel is a much longer investment in time when you're the friend of the writer. I wouldn't want to subject anyone to my terrible writing if The Sage told me I could not write.

AstonWest said...

Publication is tangible evidence of a book which other people are book sales for a published author.

Thomma Lyn said...

Bunnygirl's a friend of mine, and her comment gives excellent food for thought.

What constitutes success, anyhow? Writing books that will be read a hundred years from now? Achieving publication by a big house? Publication by a reputable small press? Cultivating an enthusiastic following as an e-book author? As a self-published author? Writing books you're proud of but which are never published in any form at all?

If you write novels because you love writing novels but you never achieve commercial success, is that wasted effort?

Here's my take:

As Bunnygirl said, achieving publication is largely about writing with reasonable competence something that agents and/or publishers think will sell.

Sure, it takes talent and hard work to be a professional writer. I don't know why people think "I can write a publishable novel" straight out of the starting gate when they haven't read widely, when they've never written anything but papers for school, when they aren't willing to work hard at the craft. That's as ridiculous as somebody who can barely poke out "Chopsticks" on a piano expecting to be asked to play a concerto at Carnegie Hall. But just as there are many kinds of music, there are many kinds of writing. And there are all kinds of people out there to read it, too.

Just as food ranges from gourmet fare to McDonald's, so does the literary world, in its way. Does one type of novel represent "success" and the other type "failure?"

Well, it depends on whom you ask, doesn't it?

Every now and then, I see on the writers' boards people who ask some variant of: "What's the quickest way to write a bestseller, and how long will it be before I can expect to rake in my millions?" These are the people who probably won't be writing even two years from now. Reality will bite them in the butt so hard that they'll have to run, screaming, far, far away.

But people who write primarily for writing's sake -- with other rewards being secondary -- are the ones who are more likely to keep at it, and keeping at it is the only way to achieve success, whether you define success as self-fulfillment, modest publication, big-time publication, or books that will be read many generations from now.

Even if a writer gets published by a big house, publication is far from a Magical Success Talisman. There are plenty of first novels that don't earn out their advances, putting their authors in an untenable position for future novels.

And even if a writer does well commercially, will her books be read in ten years? Twenty years? Forty? Most books populating the bookshelves today will be forgotten in the years, decades, centuries to come. Should their authors then be regarded as people who wasted their time?

All my blabbing distills to this: don't write for money, and don't write for fame. And for goodness sake, don't live for money, and don't live for fame. Write for love. Live for love. In this all-too-short human life, love is the substance, and everything else is gravy.

A Paperback Writer said...

Thomma lyn,
nicely thought out -- but what about an author who has no one to love or be loved by? That author may be seeking to leave a mark on the world through her/his work as a replacement for the denied love that you (validly, I must say) claim is a superior thing for which to strive. We're all driven by different things, and not everyone is lucky enough to be loved as you suggest. Immortality may be sought through words when there is no posterity to carry on a name/memory. (It's no guarantee, of course, but the seeking may drive a person.)
The Glaswegian poet Edwin Morgan (now 88), admitted he would have liked to have had children, but, as a gay man of parenting age at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Scotland, he was never able to work out the details and reached old age childless. (He also has no nephews or nieces.) He has readily admitted several times that his poems are his offspring. He is so famous in Scotland that his fame should outlive him at least a few decades, but who knows after that?
Shakespeare's direct bloodline died out with his grandchildren, I believe (correct me if I'm wrong), but his words are his immortality. ("So long lives this and this gives life to thee" -- and, ironically, even more to the writer.)
I am not being very concise here, but my point is that, although your sentiment is very noble and beautiful, not every writer can write or live for love. At the risk of sounding like an amateur psychologist, I'll say that writing, like other things, may very well be a substitute for this human craving (for both love and immortality).
People's motives are different, but craving publication and recognition may very well be sought as a substitute for some other kind of belonging that's not happening elsewhere.
(For those of you where this is NOT the case at all, please don't assume I'm pushing this on you.)
My apologies for the length of this comment.

Thomma Lyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomma Lyn said...

Paperback Writer, I'm sorry -- I guess I should have been more clear in my last paragraph. By "love", I meant "for the love of writing", more of a joie de vivre thing, being in love with life, doing what you love and loving what you do.

I don't have children and will never have any, I don't have nieces or nephews. I have a husband who loves me and other folks who care about me, but by and large, I've always been and in many ways continue to be a lone wolf.

And one of my motivations as a writer is, yes, to leave some kind of legacy, a mark on the world; at least, that's ideally what I'd like to do. It's a dream of mine, though as I pointed out there are no guarantees.

The biggest thing I was trying to get across in my comment is that because there are no guarantees (whether in writing or in life), we should try to focus on the journey at least as much as we focus on the destination. Because even if the destination does not materialize, we will have learned from and perhaps enjoyed the journey.

I hope I'm making sense. :)

(sorry for the deleted comment above, that was me... I needed to fix then repost my comment for conciseness)

Sprizouse said...

Just checking back in today... didn't mean anything harsh or demeaning when I said "irrelevant" earlier.

'Twas a hastily written comment, that looks a smidge insensitive to me now. Sorry if I offended you bunnygirl.

A Paperback Writer said...

Oh, sorry I misunderstood you, Thomma lyn.
And you did much better at being concise than I did.

JDuncan said...

In regard to the hobby point bunnygirl made. In some respects she is correct, it is rather odd, but unlike most hobbies, people who make writing a serious 'hobby' are generally holding on to the hope that one day it will become a profession. Yes, writing is done for the sheer joy of writing, for most anyway, as are most hobbies, but most hobbies do not hold that carrot out there withing seemingly easy reach that might take it beyond the realm of hobby. That said, those who write with only the intention of publishing are at a serious disadvantage.


Anonymous said...

A lot of hobbies turn into professions: photography, music, woodworking, restoring old cars, making movies...writing is just another one.

maris said...

Whoa. Nathan, I found this site after Googling "novel word length" in a friendly domestic debate. (I believe you write what tells the story; The Beloved strives for what fits the genre.) Thanks so much for encouraging intelligent discourse about the art and business of what few people may dispute as one of the more passionate pastimes.

I think the ambition associated with "the hobby" is fueled by fear of humiliation. Writing is appearing naked in public. You might enthrall people with your chops, but you'd better believe they're smirking at your shortcomings.

JES said...

Speak Coffee: I have a sinking feeling that the people reading this blog may (in part) be here for Nathan's wit

Ha ha! Oh, come on -- Nathan's wit isn't THAT bad. :)

JES said...

To Thomma Lynn and a paperback writer: Thanks.

Bryan Russell said...

People have touched on many aspects of bunnygirl's comments (often with grace and insight), but I think there's one aspect that has yet to be fully explored. I think part of the reason writers feel such a need for validation in regards to their writing, and why so many others are so ready to judge them based on the achievement (or lack thereof) of that outside validation, is the nature of writing itself: it is a medium of language, a communication of oneself to the outside world. I don't think there's is anything so inherently tied to the self as language, as communication (in whatever form it might take), and on account of this there is nothing so revealing, nothing so tied to one's ego and self-esteem, so tied to our own sense of ourselves. We are, in some ways, our language: whether it is the words we put on the page or screen, or the ones we use to converse with others, or the ones that echo only inside our own heads. Our thoughts are given form by words, and our personal history, our sense of ourself, is in some ways nothing more than the narrative we work up of our own experiences. We are the stories we tell to ourselves.

And on account of this writing, putting out such a focused communication, is more inherently tied to the self than any other activity. And thus to be judged wanting as a writer is to be judged wanting as a person, or so I think many people feel. How much of ourselves is in our writing? So much, so much... even if we put down only the most far-fetched and fantastic elements of our outer dreamworld. And so nothing is so harmful as that judgment of the self. When people ask "Are you published?" what we often feel as writers (whether justly or not) is that underlying question: "Are you worthy?"

A song, a painting... these are expressions of the self, but people can judge them easily. It's good, or I like it... but writing is a little different. It takes time to understand, as some have mentioned, which most people we meet are unwilling to do. But even if they do happen to read our words the depth of self involved leads to a greater risk. If you hear someone sing poorly, or see someone paint poorly, you can say they can't sing or they can't paint. But you can't say they're stupid, or impractical, or needy, or unperceptive, or shallow, or racist, or misogynist, or weak, or cowardly... but writing opens us to this and to much more besides. It opens us, rightly or wrongly, to valuations of the self. To be published offers a writer the chance to say "Yes, see, I am worthy." It's a chance to defend the self.

Now the question is whether there is much truth to this belief, and I'm not sure there is. A little, perhaps, as there's a bit of you in everything you write, but that only goes so far. You are more than what you write, however well or badly. There are other and better ways to calculate value and worth. I once remember a professor of mine being blown away by a certain famous author's work, and one day she had the opportunity to meet him (I'll spare his name) and she found him to be a horrible person, utterly at odds with the beauty and humanism of his work. The reverse holds true, too. Writers are much more than a bad novel, or even ten bad novels. Sadly, though, I think many writers get caught up in this belief, and knowing and understanding how it operates doesn't always help. I feel it, a little, though I try to disregard that feeling.

It's only human nature to want that validation, that outside confirmation of worth (whether real or not) that we can hold up and say "Look at this! Look at what I did, look at what I am." What we have to remember is that though we might want this, we don't need it.

My best to everyone,
Bryan Russell

Thomma Lyn said...

Bryan -- what an insightful comment. Excellent points!

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

Thank you Brian, well said.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

Bryan I 'knew' I was spelling it wrong!!

As to people being here for Nathan's wit = actually, I love the comments from everyone who posts.

ICQB said...

If you could go to every commenter's blog and read what they have written (and some of them post snippets of their work), would you?

What if it was an excerpt from a published work, would you then?

Shauna GM said...

People do write without any desire or chance of being published. I'm not saying writing isn't unusual in the percentage of people who want to do it "professionally" instead of as an amateur, as a hobby. But there are also a lot of people out there who embrace writing not as a means to be published but as a means to tell stories - and to enrich a community and build friendships, much like with other hobbies.

Fan fiction is especially popular because there is a built in community of fans, and I think the sheer number of people participating in that changes the ratio of aspiring professionals vs. amateurs. But in addition to fan fiction, you also frequently find writers writing original fiction for audiences online, playing in original or fandom-based roleplaying games, doing things like NaNoWriMo, etc.

And then there's the stuff you don't see. My best friend writes dozens of modern fairy stories for her little sister. I once wrote a novelette for my friends dramatizing what would happen if our college were attacked by zombies. Another friend wrote a play where we were all romance novel characters. We can't be the only ones who do this - and I know other people tell their children stories before they go to bed and to keep themselves amused on long car rides.

I wonder if the statement What I find interesting is how many people think the only reason to write is to be published, and that publication legitimizes ones efforts somehow isn't implicitly building into the worldview it marvels at, by not recognizing the abundance of ways in which people write and tell stories without thinking of publishing at all.

Joe Iriarte said...

Shauna, I agree. The question is a bit of a straw man. Or at least, it begs the question of whether the assumption at root is in fact true. I think it feels to us like every writer wants to be a "professional" because that's the crowd most of us here run with, and so we're assuming that's all that's out there. The enormous popularity of fan fiction is one sign that that's not all there is. Ditto for free online erotic fiction.

I would take it one step further, though. I would say that not everyone who seeks to sell a novel is seeking to be a professional. What we all seek is an audience. If you have a novel-length work, publication from a royalty publisher is the main way to acquire an audience. But most writers who do publish through royalty publishers never make enough to quit their day jobs, and I bet quite a lot of them are satisfied with that. My wife doesn't want to quit hers. I could go either way. I wouldn't quit tomorrow if I suddenly landed a megadeal. I've worked hard to get to the position I'm currently in at my day job and want to reap the rewards of that work for at least a little while. If all you write are short stories, even if you succeed in selling them to paying markets, you pretty much *are* a hobby writer. You will never make enough to live on with those sales. The huge number of short story markets that pay in writer's copies, or that pay under $25, reinforces this.

I just can't agree with the notion that there's something mercenary about seeking professional publication. Most of us who do that, I believe, are not doing it for the money. When I think about the money I have spent on books on writing, books on publishing, writers' conferences, readers' conferences, well, heck, even if I sell a book my first advance probably won't put me in the black. I just finished buying airfare to Readercon, on my credit cards, even though I'm pretty much broke. I can't be doing this for the money.

I would argue that those of us who want to be published through paying markets are still hobbyists. We're just seeking the audience where it lives. I don't need a recording contract to find an audience for my singing, but I pretty much do need a publisher to find an audience for my novel-length works.

I think the question stirs us up so much because most of us view "mercenary" as being on the opposite end of a spectrum from "artist," and when you suggest that people are only in it for the money, you are really calling into question whether or not they are artists at all.


icqb, Nathan gets so many commenters, there is no way I could check them all out. But I do check out quite a few. Generally people who agree with me, I'm embarrassed to admit. And people who pique my interest. From this thread alone, I've been, so far, to the blogs of paperback writer (because I see her posting on a lot of the same blogs I post at), vieva, and rebecca ramsay. I'll probably check out more if the conversation continues. I do make a point of looking at other blogs besides those of agents and famous people.

Jess said...

I blogged about this the other day.

Part of it is that most writers don't view it as a hobby. A hobby is something you can put down. I can't stop writing, so the natural conclusion of that is if I'm going to do it anyway, have to do it, I may as well do it for a purpose, and that would typically be publication.

But it's not the only reason to write. There are people with the same drive who don't draw such a conclusion.

That said, I quilt. I can not work on my quilt for months and it doesn't bother me. So I don't expect to enter any bees or fairs ever because it's just a hobby to me.

I think the problem is in the use of the word "hobby" applied to writing. If it were just a hobby, then seeking publication does seem a little odd in most cases, but if it's not a hobby, I can understand it.

A Paperback Writer said...

Your blog will NOT let me leave a comment!! Every time I try, it automatically kicks into refresh, so I gave up after 5 tries!
I'm glad Thomma lyn and I gave you food for thought. Thanks for telling us both. I did enjoy reading your blog post.
very thoughtful stuff, there.
well said. thanks for dropping by my blog; I didn't know you had because you didn't leave a comment -- but I'm glad to know.

Anonymous said...

To me, this web site (link below) sums up the road-to-publishing reality in a way the sum total of agent blogs never could:

He's a published thriller author, and he has listed every one of the 400+ query responses he sent out for the world to see, along with statistics on how many rejects, how many requests for partials, etc.

FYI: 220+/400 agencies never responded at all, some never even repsonded after requesting fulls, even after followup requests.

JES said...

Paperback Writer: Sorry for the confusion... I do get comments from others (including Thomma Lynn, today) so I'm guessing there must be something going on with the word-verification thingum on the comments page; I see a few attempts today to post a comment without entering the correct pair of words. I'll check into it, though, and thanks for the heads-up (and also, again, for the conversation that kicked this whole thing off).

Shell I said...

Going back and re-reading most of the posts I think it is quite funny, everyone seems to be arguing different sides of the same coin. I think where Bunnygirl is coming from (and sorry if I read this incorrectly) was how many people answered that they would stop writing if the seer told them a definate NO.

However I think it is then a bit of a leap to see it as only doing it for the publishing. Because no such seer really exists (no one agent, publisher etc can 100% tell you it is not going to happen) I will keep persisting. I may send a thousand queries and get a thousand form letters for a number of different books and ideas before I finally go "you know what, maybe I can't do this professionally" and find some other avenue to expend my creative juices.

But at the end of the day I think pretty much everyone here is an artist, whether they decide to attempt to publish or not.

Polenth said...

April Hollands wrote:
Because when you look at a friend's terrible painting, you only have to look at it for a second. A novel is a much longer investment in time when you're the friend of the writer. I wouldn't want to subject anyone to my terrible writing if The Sage told me I could not write.

I had a similar view for years. I'd show people my art, which I knew wasn't professional quality, because they only had to look at it for a second. Inflicting creative writing was something else. I didn't want to do that to people.

However, that only stopped me showing people stuff. It didn't stop me writing it in the first place. Hiding work because you believe you're terrible is a different kettle of fish to not writing because you believe you're terrible. The interesting point is that more people seem to fall in the latter category.

As far as I'm concerned, I believed the seer for years. So it wouldn't be a huge change to believe the seer again.

Rick said...

I tell people who ask for writing advice and getting published not to confuse the two. As so many have already stated or alluded to, writing can be a very therapeutic and personal experience. If you enjoy writing, then write until you can't lift the pen anymore. Publishing a novel or writing for a living is a wonderful way to earn money but don't confuse it with the art itself.


Maris Bosquet said...

I don't mean to go off-topic, but as Nathan mentioned something about the court case in NJ, I thought it was OK to ask:

The defendant claims to hold a doctorate. Does anybody know in what field, and from where? I once saw a board of trustees candidate claim to hold a doctorate from an Ivy League university. The claim was proved false, and the man stepped down before he was sued for fraud.

Chumplet said...

Bunnygirl and I are in agreement. I often post about the satisfaction I get in doing a lovely painting and hanging it on my own wall.

My brother plays the guitar for his little daughter and in the local bar down the street. It makes no difference to him -- he's doing what he loves and his craft improves as a result.

Why does my friend JC play Nana the dog in a local production of Peter Pan? Because he loves to sing and dance, although his day job is graphic design.

Some of us may be satisfied with our accomplishments outside our usual daily duties, but others are ambitious enough to push ourselves a little further each time, to see if we can do better. Some may need to take their calling and make it a mission, like my sister-in-law who is one step from having her musicals produced on Broadway.

There's nothing wrong with ambition. It's what drives us to be better at what we do. I just wouldn't want anyone to give up in despair only because they didn't hit the 'big time'.

My first book is available in Kindle, by the way. Care to be the first sale? I can be number 1,999,999 out of 2 million.

'S okay with me.

Scott Jones said...

Often quoted, but appropriate - sorry if its a bit inaccurate: "Many people want to be writers, but few want to write." Eudora Welty

jjdebenedictis said...

[M]any people think the only reason to write is to be published, and that publication legitimizes ones efforts somehow. Is there any other endeavor that carries such a load of assumptions? --Bunnygirl

My answer to the question is "Yes." However, what I say next doesn't apply to serious writers.

I think every career that has some component of public adulation attached to it attracts people who want that attention. They see the career itself as a vehicle for getting the adulation.

There are untrained singers who dream of being Madonna and try out for American Idol. There are incompetent writers who dream of being Neil Gaimen and spam literary agents with weak queries. There are even hobbyist technophiles who dream of being Stephen Hawking and send scientifically-incorrect papers to journals.

I think the focus on publication for some people is just them yearning for validation. They want external proof of their worth and talent.

But as I said, this doesn't apply to serious writers (or singers, or scientists.) For them, external validation is nice, but secondary to doing the job they love.

Doreen said...

I'm still trying to figure out exactly what it is I'm after in regards to publishing my book. While writing it, I didn't want to 'taint my writing with the prospect of commercialism' so I did zero research. Once I finished, I learned I'd been lying to myself all along. I had always been thinking about what readers would want. I had always known I wasn't going to keep it to myself and I wish I had been real with myself about it so this whole world wouldn't have been such a culture shock. I never knew I'd have to become so obsessive about getting it out there or that I'd have to have to committ to foreplay with an agent before they'd even ask me to dance. Is it wrong that the goal turned from personal fulfillment (while writing it) to one of money and acknowledgment as soon as I finished)

Nancy D'Inzillo said...

Doreen asked, "Is it wrong that the goal turned from personal fulfillment (while writing it) to one of money and acknowledgment as soon as I finished)"?

I don't think so; every human has shifting goals and its natural that goals change. I think it's totally possible to write something for the pleasure of writing, and then realize that maybe, after all the work, you'd like some recognition. There's nothing wrong with wanting the outside validation of an audience.

Relative to Bunnygirl's comment, I'd say that there is an expectation for writer's to publish from outside the writer, even if they're doing it for pleasure. One of my professors even said, "You can't call yourself a writer until you're published." (Um, excuse me?) With those kinds of expectations (the constant questions from family, etc. as others have mentioned), it's hard not to feel the pressure even if that's not the direction you started out going for... I totally agree it's important to write for the love of writing and realize that most people won't get published, but I also think it's a shame that so many people (even among those I respect) seem to consider a work "validated" just because it's published.

There seems to be an underlying discussion (relative to the painting, the cooking, the gardening, etc.) about what constitutes "art" and the assumption that if something is acclaimed enough to make it big (or even make it in the industry at all) that it must be better than what doesn't. (Bunnygirl I believe touched on this too.) Just because a book makes it to a publisher doesn't mean it's a great piece of literature, just like some head chef may be considered brilliant by many when I still may prefer my grandma's home cooking. There is nothing objective in how we define art (be it the art of fixing a car or the art of writing a book). Too bad so many people insist that there is...

Anonymous said...

Screenplays or novels--which is harder to break in with?

Anonymous said...


Found your blog yesterday and I'm really enjoying it, but there is a question that is gnawing at me.

Identifying your "genre" seems like a really important part of getting your work noticed and finding the right agent. My question is what is the best way to handle this part of things if your genre is a bit muddled?

Maybe this shows a weakness in your manuscript I don't know, but I find that the stuff I am working on tends to cross some lines and mix genres. Not that I'm mixing fantasy and sports and interior design but I'm not sure it fits perfectly into one of the standard genres.

If this is the case what is the best way to present it to the agent so that it makes sense and how would you recommend finding that agent? Or is it best to just stop being a flake and try to make your work fit a bit better into the industry nomenclature?


Natalie Hatch said...

Hey Nathan, just voted for you as Hottest Guy in Publishing...
think we should get the rest of the crew voting for you, maybe you'll win a set of steak knives or something...

Anonymous said...


I'm not Nathan, but I think you'd want to think of it like this:

If youwalked into B&N tomorrow and found your book on the shelves...what section would it be in?

Take the name of that section, and use it for your "genre."

If it could fit in more than 1 seciton, generally go with the section that appeals to a wider base of readers. But if it's YA-anything--it'll be YA.

If it doesn't belong in any section, then you've written somehting that may not have commercial potential. Or just go ahead abbd label it "Literary" and buy a big bottle of whiskey.

Dawn said...

Thank you for mentioning the Author Advocate Defense Fund, Nathan!

Dawn O'Bryan-Lamb
fund administrator

Jeff said...

Doreen, I think you've nailed it. As a writer, it's awfully romantic to think of oneself as an artist whose first purpose is to tell ones stories and to hell with the market and publishing. I write for me, right?

My wife, however, is a realist, not a writer. She often reminds me that if I want to be read, I have to write what people want to read. I don't believe my art is any less pure because I want to be read. I want to succeed in the market.

I also want to remain true to myself. What I can't afford to be is a romantic. As you said, you're lying to yourself if you think you're going to write a novel and then stick it in a drawer or just show it to your friends. Very few people invest years of their lives into something as massive as a novel without expecting some form of return, whether that is a glossy cover and an endcap at B&N, or the recognition of legions of Buffy fans. Our rewards come in many forms. There is nothing mercenary or impure about acknowledging the desire for the recognition and appreciation for the quality of your work.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, thanks for all your info. Was wondering if you are still not taking on middle grade projects, unless they blow your mind?

Anonymous said...

The first time I started to dare to share writing was through letters.
I was so flattered that people have kept my letters all these many years and told me they cherished them.

Someday, when my husband and I are dead, someone may want to publish our love letters.

These are all private writings though and very satisfying.

These differ from writing meant to be shared widely.
But, yes, not everything is valuable or made more valuable by public display or funding.

Quasipsyco said...

I know I am coming into this a bit late, but....

The first point I would like to make is that most people are a touch myopic about their obsession. For someone who is into writing enough to find writing blogs and groups, writing is the end all be all.

As far as the original statement, "...why writing is viewed by so many as something that's not worth doing unless it results in a gloss-covered product.....?"
The same things goes for actors, though the gloss-covered product is a opening night poster or DVD.
You never hear someone saying they want to act only for small plays. The goal is to be famous, on Broadway or on the silver screen. There is "no" second best.
The main difference is that people don't think of acting as a hobby.

There are people who write for themselves. Who make up stories for kids and never write them down. They do not have a goal of being published and are happy as they are.

On the other-and more popular-hand, writers have limited feedback options. There are people who get enough feedback in writing/critique groups that they never move toward publishing. Those that do want more exposure.

Humans are rather self serving beings. We do things for praise or reward. Whether the praise is internal only or external only matters in terms of degrees.

Most people do not think of hobbies as career choices.
The few who do spend as much time and energy toward that goal as writers do toward getting published.

When I started knitting I thought it would just be fun projects for my own enjoyment. Then I started getting praise for my finished objects. This feeds the praise crave and I started sharing pics of my knitting with more people, joined knitting groups, found an online forum and have since learned that one can make a living off of knitting. All I have to do is write up great designs (kind of like programing), build a 'name' or 'brand', and then get my patterns published. After that I have to get a few more books done, start teaching classes and then people will pay for me to travel to their location for classes and signings and stuff.

Motivated people always want to reach the top. Everyone wants maximum praise.
Writers want to be published (which gives us the largest audience and possible fame).
Actors want to be the lead (in the largest audience format of their path and possible fame).
In knitting there is the goal of being published and being thought of as a source of knowledge and skill.

Joe Iriarte said...

Oh, I disagree, Quasipsyco. I know *TONS* of people who do community theatre with no hope or aspiration of ever being professional actors. Ditto people who love to sing karaoke every week--not because it's what's happening at the bar, but because they love to sing--or sing in talent shows, again with no professional aspirations.

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