Monday, April 19, 2010

The Single Best Piece of Advice a Gonnabe Writer Can Receive


I dropped by the Free Library of Philadelphia Book Festival twice this weekend, once out of idle curiosity and once to see Jane Yolen, who was one of the guests.  Jane (above) was promoting Foiled, her first Manga, illo'd by Mike Cavallaro, who also spoke.   It was a very pleasant talk and afterwards I stood in line to buy a copy of the first issue.

Earlier, though, Marianne and I were talking with Kyle Cassidy and Trillian Stars when Kyle glanced over at the Children's Book Signing Tent and said, "That's sad."  He was referring to an author sitting glumly behind a stack of books with nobody at all coming up to get an autograph.

This happens.  It happens all the time.  And it has nothing at all to do with whether you're a good writer or not.  It's happened to me.  I've seen it happen to Samuel R. Delany.  It can happen to anybody.

But the incident put me in mind of the single best piece of advice an unpublished writer can hear.  Which is:  While you're still unpublished, go to every appearance, reading, and signing by people you know are good writers, and take careful note of how they're treated.

Just so that when it happens to you, you don't cut your throat afterwards.



Eponymous said...

Sort of ironic for you to get spammed on this particular blog entry. Proves the point.

Good advice, though. Consider it taken. (Although can any fan reaction [or lack of reaction] be worse than a mother's insistence not to quit your day job? Some of us, hopefully, have been vaccinated against this sort of thing...)

Pat J said...

So you're saying that the readings and signings I've attended by William Gibson and Neil Gaiman may not be representative of readings and signings as a whole?


Michael Swanwick said...

Oh, I'm sure that Bill and Neil have their stories, though they may have to reach deeper in the past for them than most of us.

There's a grain of truth behind the "don't quit your day job" advice, which is that before you do, you should have at least a rudimentary business plan, a good idea of how much you have to write and how much you can expect to get for it.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith run a workshop for published writers in which they teach the business end of things. Some of their stories of ways writers mess themselves up financially would curl your hair.

Those stories aren't mine to repeat, but here's one I got from a published biography: Mervyn Peake, who was a wonderful writer with the business sense of gravel, used the advance from one of his novels to make the down payment on a house, without asking himself where he was going to get the money for the monthly mortgage payments.

Of course the need for business sense varies with age. When you're in your twenties, living in squalor and poverty is just la vie Boheme. But when you hit your fifties, you really and truly do need health insurance.

Eponymous said...

I've heard it said that when your income from your writing equals the income from your day job, then you can quit, as long as you understand you'll be right where you were before you sold word one.

Hope to put that theory to practice someday...

My day job remark is more directed to the psychological effects of lack of support (missing and insane fans a la Ellison's stories being a true lack of/wrong kind of support).

Peake's story is a great object lesson. (I do wonder what the real estate listing for Gormenghast would read like...)

Pat J said...

I do wonder what the real estate listing for Gormenghast would read like

From what I've read of the Gormenghast series (not a lot), it'd be about 90 pages long, wouldn't it?

Matthew Adams said...

Quaint castle with commanding view of local countryside for sale. Perfect do it upper for project minded couples. Plenty of spare bedrooms for friends and families. Enough space to invite the inlaws over for a holiday, and still not have to see them. Lovers of wildlife, espeically owls, will find this castle a cosy nest. Wonderful home for those looking to share with boarders. Perfect home for the expanding family.