Sunday, January 07, 2007

Why Can't A Writer Be More Like A Cat?

When I was eight or nine, I fell in love with movie musicals. I watched them all: Brigadoon, Camelot, Gigi, Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, West Side Story. The fact that I absolutely CANNOT carry a tune never stopped me from singing along. Much to my family's chagrin, I sang broadway hits day in and day out.

My all-time favorite musical film was My Fair Lady and, to this day, I pretty much remember all the lyrics. Since I was a complete tomboy, I had little concern for the beautiful love songs. No, I was more interested in the battle-of-the-sexes anthems. My favorite was Eliza's "Just You Wait" with its bloodthirsty lyrics. But a close second was Higgins' utterly misogynistic "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?"

Why can't a woman be more like a man?
Men are so decent, such regular chaps.
Ready to help you through any mishaps.
Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum.
Why can't a woman be a chum?

I was reminded of that song this morning. I was on a writers' loop and had just read my third email of the day where newbie writers were singing the praises of what they called "POD presses like PublishAmerica." The naivete of some of the posts made my head hurt.

Then a movement from outside the French doors caught my attention. Dinah (my new black-and-white kitten) was creeping up on a pair of squirrels. While I watched, Bobbin (my two-year-old hunter) joined her. Dinah, who had been moving very aggressively up to that point, took a cue from Bob and relaxed onto her haunches.

Bobbin sat patiently, becoming part of the landscape. Dinah, whom I'm sure had been about to dash forward, displayed a measure of self-control I had not seen in her before by settling down beside him.

And, then, it struck me--Why can't a writer be more like a cat?

Cats are persistent
To impatience, resistant
Complete models of self-control.
Cats will wait
As long as it takes
Why can't a writer be more like a cat?

Every day, I see newbie writers who--after receiving a dozen or so rejection letters--decide the problem is not with their manuscripts but with the agents and publishers who are unable to recognize a potential bestseller when they see one. Impatient to see their work in a tangible form, the newbies rush off to self-publish.

Instead--like Bobbin--they should move cautiously and become a part of the publishing landscape. By this, I mean they should do their research and learn what is involved in being published. Being published is NOT simply holding a book in your hands.

The Rejecter had an interesting post on December 11th, talking about e-books and PODs. She made a statement in her own comment stream that caught my attention:

"At the turn of the 20th century, ALL publishing was indepedent. The reason most famous writers because (sic) published at all was because they owned a printing press or had access to one . . . The process was extremely expensive, but it meant everyone could publish anything. It also meant that a lot of crap was published that never went into reprint . . . At some point along the way, various business people got together to form little business around the presses they owned, providing the writer not only with access to their printer, but also to editorial assistance and thinks (sic) like copyediting so that novels weren't ridden with errors and falling apart at the seams (literally). These companies did a good job, and grew and grew. Eventually they did their job so well that they could afford to start PAYING the AUTHOR instead of the AUTHOR paying THEM for their services. "

Her comments reminded me of the old adage, "Everything old is new again."

I truly believe that publishing is on the verge of what will be a cataclysmic change. The Internet and digital technology are already beginning to offer opportunities for writers to not only self-publish but, more importantly, MARKET their works independently, thereby breaking the total reliance upon traditional publishing companies.

But that day hasn't arrived yet. In my post of September 15th, I described the three obstacles to self-publishing that must be overcome first: (1) Vetting for quality, (2) Establishing a viable marketing system, and (3) Overcoming the negative reputation of self-publishing.

Once these three impediments are removed, IMO, publishing will come full circle: writers will again have the upper hand and be in control of publishing their own works.

Having said all that, it frustrates me to see a newbie (the amateur) deciding that agents and publishers (writing professionals) are all wet and that the newbie's manuscript is ready to be published. I don't know what surprises me more: the sheer arrogance or the appalling innocence (I started to use another word, but changed to "innocence").

From the time I seriously started working on my novel Bad Girl to the time it sold took three years. Three years during which I watched friends and peers selling multiple novellas to e-publishers. More than once, I was tempted to do the same. But I stuck to my plan to find an agent and seek print publishing for a full-length novel. And, eventually, it happened.

Please understand: I'm not speaking to the relative value of print publishing versus electronic publishing here. I'm saying, if you're a professional, you need a CAREER PLAN and then you need to FOLLOW YOUR PLAN. It's a mistake to throw your entire plan out the window just because of a desire for immediate gratification. Repeated rejections should serve to make you reconsider your manuscript's viability--especially if you have the benefit of getting the same feedback from more than one agent. Perhaps, the problem lies not with the agents, but with your writing.

While Bob and Dinah waited patiently, the squirrels searched for nuts in wider and wider circles, eventually bringing them to within several feet of the two stalking cats. I could tell that Dinah--who was fairly bristling with impatience--was ready to make a mad dash, and I opened the French door and called, "Bobbin, want a treat?"

Of course, the squirrels ran away with Dinah in hot, fruitless pursuit. Bobbin gave me a look that said, "I know what you just did," but came inside for a handful of treats, prepared to let bygones be bygones in exchange for a piece of chicken or liver. After all, the squirrels will still be there tomorrow.

Why can't a writer be more like a cat?

1 comment:

Emjay said...

What the ....

You mean we're supposed to spell check?