May 28th, 2013

catie_cute

Escaping Stockholm: Part 1

I’ve said this before and will no doubt say it again: one of the coolest things about the intarwebs and growing up to be a writer is having become friends with some of my writing heroes. People I wanted to grow up to be, or whose work touched me, or who I admired the holy living bejeezus out of, or I learned from by reading their books, or all of the above. Usually all of the above.

One of those people is Judith Tarr. She’s a tremendous writer and a splendid person, and if you’d told me ten years ago that I would chat with Judy (see!? I get to call her Judy now, and everything!) on a weekly basis, if you’d said, “and you’ll get worried when she hasn’t posted for several days, especially if the weather’s been bad where she and the fat white ponies live,” if you’d said anything like that I’d have–well, I’d have sat in a corner giggling hysterically and peeking through my fingers and saying, “Really? *Really*?” and then giggling some more.

If you’d told me Judith Tarr would end up writing a three-part blog post about the changes in the publishing industry, inspired by my post on the myth of the rich writer, for my blog, I just wouldn’t have believed it. But she’s done just that, and I’m really ridiculously delighted to present her words to you here over the course of this week.

Escape from Stockholm: An Epic Publishing Saga
Find Judith Tarr on LiveJournal | on Twitter | & at Book View Cafe

Part Two | Part Three

So Catie and I have been having this conversation. It started with her post on money, and I finally snapped, after years of keeping politely quiet. I said, “I am horrified at what I see writers of your particular generation having to do in order to pay your bills/satisfy your publishers/keep your careers alive.”

I’m not really as old as God, but I came in at a younger age than many of my publishing peers, so I’ve been around a while. I made my first sale in 1983, having had an agent for a couple of years. So I’m having an anniversary this year, come to think of it.

My first agent was young and fierce and determined to conquer the world. She started as assistant to Virginia Kidd—whose clients included Ursula K. Le Guin and Anne McCaffrey. Le Guin was a great name even at the time, but Annie while beloved within the genre had yet to become a monster bestseller. She was still a midlister, though a very popular one.

So I came in, all fresh and dewy, and I got the Talk. The one that lays out the agent’s hopes for the new author’s career, cools the author’s jets when she tries to go roaring off in every direction, and sets her up to establish a nice professional profile right from the get-go.

Two things she told me that I want to go into here, because they’re relevant to Catie’s interests.

1. Don’t be too eager, too fast, too prolific. Don’t inundate publishers with ideas, or swamp them with proposals. It’s not just that you’ll saturate the market, it’s that they’ll start to think you’re buyable by the gross. You want to keep them a little bit hungry. Make them want you. Get them bidding on you and fighting over you, because you’re not giving away all your ideas at once or for cheap.

The same applies once you’ve sold. Don’t let them find out how fast you really can write that book, do those copyedits, read those proofs—or they’ll start pushing you harder and making you work faster and demanding more and more and more until you can’t work at all. Take the full time, and insist that it be enough time. Not 24-hour turnarounds. Get ten days or two weeks in those contracts and make them stick to it. Publishers are inherently inclined to slop all over the place—and the author, at the end of the line, ends up paying for everyone else’s missed deadline. Don’t let them get away with it.

2. What I see for you is a long career, well grounded, with sales sufficient to bring in around $40K in royalties a year, and advances around the $50K mark. Solid high midlist. A book a year, consistently. No more than a book every nine months; see above re. market saturation, but also, author burnout. Many authors can do a book every other year and still maintain profitable careers, but if you can do one a year, that’s better. We’ll hope for a bestseller, but realistically, what you’ll do is build a career that keeps you going for decades.

Right. The tissues are over there. If you’re done weeping, with grief or laughter or both, I’ll go on.
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(x-posted from The Essential Kit)