Monthly Archives: August 2008

The rise of professional writers in Britain – John Brewer’s THE PLEASURES OF THE IMAGINATION

There are days when it can feel tough to be a writer–increasing competition from other media, the large number of people trying to enter the profession, the low pay, etc.  And yet, compared to the past, the arts have come a long way.

THE PLEASURES OF THE IMAGINATION: ENGLISH CULTURE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY by John Brewer (ISBN 0-374-23458-2) is a fascinating look into the rise of professional artists in literature, painting, music, and theater in the eighteenth century.  It is also a fun glimpse into the lives and minds of people living in Britain during the Enlightenment.  Brewer also does an excellent job of weaving the personal stories of various artists with overviews about the cultural revolutions that occurred.

If I were a writer of historical fiction set in the 1700s in Britain, this book would sit within easy reach on my reference shelf.

Also, I came away from reading this book with a much better understanding of the roots of the conflict between writers and publishers over copyright laws and contracts.

Jo March in LITTLE WOMEN (Portrayals of Writers)

I now realize that the character of Jo March in Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN was my first introduction, at the age of eleven, to the writing profession.  So out of curiosity I pulled LITTLE WOMEN down from a bookshelf to see how Alcott’s portrayal of a fiction writer strikes me now.

And what I found made me smile, for the struggles that Jo March goes through are the same for fiction writers today as they were then.  I’d heard that Alcott poured much of her own experiences as a writer into the character of Jo March, and it shows.  If a girl came up to me and said that she wanted to be a fiction writer, I’d recommend to her reading this book to get a taste of the emotional ups and downs of the profession.

Much is here that all writers go through–first publication, the struggle to sell stories, the flounderings to discover one’s “voice”, the ups and downs of publication, etc.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter XLII, All Alone:

“Why don’t you write?  That always used to make you happy,” said her mother, once, when the desponding fit overshadowed Jo.

“I’ve no heart to write, and if I had, nobody cares for my things.”

“We do; write something for us, and never mind the rest of the world.  Try it dear; I’m sure it would do you good, and please us very much.”

“Don’t believe I can;” but Jo got out her desk, and began to overhaul her half-finished manuscripts.

At the end of LITTLE WOMEN, Jo postpones her writing for other pursuits, but it is made clear the postponement will be temporary, and indeed Jo begins to write again later in Alcott’s series.

Ralan’s Webstravaganza – a great market resource for selling short genre fiction

If you like to write short stories or novelettes, you know how difficult it can be to find out about markets to submit your work to.

I recently found out about Ralan’s Webstravaganza on a discussion thread about the headaches of selling short fiction that is 8-40K words in length. I can see why Ralan’s was so strongly recommended. If you are trying to sell genre short stories or humor pieces, you ought to check this website out. Click on the “Semi- & Pro Markets” for the latest market listings in magazine and e-zine publishing. Other pages cover useful information like the response times of various publishers, a list of genre book markets, a list of contests, etc.

Submissions block (the cousin of writer’s block) and two books by Ralph Keyes that can help

Earlier today I went to Wikipedia, and typed in “writer’s block”. As expected, I found an entry. Then I typed in “submissions block” and as expected there was no entry. Writers talk a lot about writer’s block (the inability to write), but there isn’t as much talk about submissions block (the inability to submit one’s work).

But submissions block can ruin a writing career as badly as writer’s block can. I should know, I had it for four years.

Submissions block can be fueled by different emotions: 1) a sense of futility – i.e. there’s so many books in the universe already, why bother?, 2) guilt – i.e. why am I wasting my time on this when it won’t make money when I could be doing something else to help support my family, 3) pain of rejection – i.e. if I don’t send it out, I won’t get rejection letters, and 4) the fear of getting attacked if people notice you – i.e. if I don’t send anything out, I don’t have to worry about pissing people off and having them come after me.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

It turned out in my case #4 (fear of being attacked) was the big fueler of the submissions block. I had to come up with a detailed game plan with specific goals to get past this fear. I’ve broken the block and have begun submitting my work, and to deepen the desensitization process I’ll be blogging (probably a lot). I don’t recommend blogging to people dealing with #4 until they’ve reached the point they know they can deal with any personal attacks that might happen.

There are two books by Ralph Keyes that I pull off the reference shelf at least 3-4 times each month whenever I sense the submissions block is coming back. The names of the books (which do a great job telling you exactly what they are about) are The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear ( ISBN 0-8050-7467-8 ) and The Writer’s Book of Hope: Getting From Frustration To Publication (ISBN 0-8050-7235-7). Both books talk in great depth about the emotions involved in being a writer, and have inspiring stories of how other writers have overcome writer’s block, submissions block, or other challenges. You can read excerpts from each book at the website of Ralph Keyes.

The future of publishing – The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

If you want to get a handle on how technology is going to change the world of publishing, I recommend reading Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail (ISBN 1-4013-0966-4). His book explores the impact of online distribution and markets in detail, and I found it hard to put down. In fact, it was his book that inspired me to start a blog.

The phrase “the long tail” has to do with statistics, what they call the “long-tailed distribution”. In reading this book I found I gained a good understanding of traditional and online distribution methods, and the economics of retail shelving.

The good news is, technology is lowering the cost of production so that more writers can publish or self-publish their work. The bad news is, the markets are getting flooded with more books and e-books than ever. So filters (i.e. customer reviews and suggestions at sites like Amazon.com, or reviewer blog sites) are going to be critical to match readers with writers.

As a reader, I feel at times overwhelmed by the number of books being published each year. I long to find new writers to read, but then I get exhausted just thinking about all the books by favorite authors I have yet to get to. Instead of having too little to choose from, now there is too much.