Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When the Hooray Goes Away

Last week I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the LDS Storymaker’s writing conference. I loved it and I learned a lot of things. I found every workshop I attended helpful and most made me stop and rethink my work. Storylines, concept, and theme – it’s all a little more clear and focused. But, I think the most important thing I learned was something I discovered pretty much on my own.

At lunch time, I randomly sat down next to a literary agent. We chatted. She told me she represented young adult fiction and I told her I had written such a thing. She told me to send it to her. This has happened to me before. I’ve met agents, they’ve requested my work, and my typical response is cool, calm adult behavior on the outside and childlike yippies and hoorays on the inside. This time, no yippee, no hooray, more of a thoughtful hmmmm…..

I took a class on marketing your book (an excellent class) and the presenter discussed the marketing strategies of different authors. One author spent eight hours a day, six days a week, for three months doing book signings in Costcos. Another author had a $10 thousand dollar marketing budget from her publisher and spent another $10 thousand of her own. She didn’t make anything on her first book, but is now making money on her second and third book. Even my friend Neal, a brilliant writer who collects awards like redheads grow freckles, is never home. He spends days, weeks and months away at school visits, which is noble work, but he's not writing and he's not home. Which might be fine for Neal, but it wouldn't be fine for me. (I'm a hermit.)

I spent the weekend with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. I’d get up early in the morning and run along the canyon to the Bountiful temple. The mountains were covered with snow. The air is clear there. From Cynthia’s window you can see the temple and the Great Salt Lake. It’s incredibly beautiful. On a wall in Cynthia’s entry she’s hung pictures. She has ten children and 26 grandchildren.

I tried to explain to Cynthia some of my ambivalence towards the agent’s request and this was her advice. (I applied it to my writing, but I think it could be generally applied to any situation). Look at your next five years and what do you see? I see graduations, missions, babies and weddings. I think it’s completely possible that five of my six children could marry in the next five years. Maybe some would even marry within months or weeks of each other. Babies could happen. Can anything be more fun than weddings and babies? Certainly, sitting at Costco for three months would not be fun. Traveling from school to school would not be fun. My life is full… much too full to do anything I don’t want to do.

And so, I’m passing on the agent’s request and considering self-publishing (excuse me, I mean indie-publishing) and not because I’m tempted by the siren song of greater royalties. It’s silly to believe that anything I personally published could sell as well as something backed by a professional team armed with experience and thousands of marketing dollars.

But, maybe, for me, that’s not the point. I’ve written for years without any monetary compensation and so I’ll continue. I’ve written mysteries, romances and young adult stories, because at that moment, that’s what I wanted to write. Currently, I’m working with a very cranky, somewhat hostile ghost. I wouldn’t have that luxury if I had a publisher to please. The ghost shouting my ear wouldn’t exist if I had to listen to editors, an agent and a publishing house.

It’s odd and yet freeing to abandon a life-long dream, to set it down and say this really doesn’t work for me.

Because, quite simply, I don’t want to turn something I love into work.


  1. It's very important to keep priorities straight and to know what you want most. Good for you for taking the time to work that out.

  2. Your last sentence summed it up for me. Thanks.

  3. I think your dream was partly my dream, so I don't really want you to do something different. But, it's not giving up something you want, it's realizing what you want isn't really what you thought it was. Makes sense really.

    I still think it'd be cool for you to be famous.

  4. You know, I agree with you. (Though from what I've been learning, traditional publishing doesn't spend thousands of marketing dollars unless they think you're the next Stephenie Meyer--and there are a few self-published authors doing quite well.) I love to write and if I had deadlines and had the stress of all that, the fun would be stripped out of writing for me.