Tina Wainscott

Keeping your chin up in a down market

by Tina Wainscott

We hear a lot of bad news about our business: it’s a tight market, authors’ contracts aren’t being renewed, publishers are merging and squeezing out our opportunities, midlist is shrinking, and oh, the sky is falling too. I’m sure you can think of a few others to add to this list, but that’s not what this article is about. We’re trying to think up, not down. So, how do we keep our optimism in the face of all these worries?

Here are a few ideas to help keep your chin out of the mud:

1) Give up the idea of getting/staying published. Think about other things you could do, other dreams to pursue.

What? you cry indignantly. Give up writing? Are you nuts? Tell me to stop breathing or thinking—it’d be a lot easier.

See, didn’t that get your blood flowing? Instantly you recalled your passion; you remembered how much the whole dream means to you. And you know, no matter what, you have to write; you can’t do anything else.

Or, maybe you don’t. Maybe your mind wanders and you think about that secondary dream you’ve had about raising llamas. Or starting an anchovy farm (is there such a thing?). Or something even crazier, like joining corporate America where paychecks are steady and so are benefits.

That’s okay, too. Explore. Sit with it for a few days, a week. How does it feel? If you run screaming back to your PC or typewriter, you have your answer. And if you don’t? Maybe you have your answer anyway. What would you tell your friends and fans, though? That you failed, dropped out, gave up? Nah. Tell them you’re on hiatus. Refilling the well. Changing creative direction. Whatever you want to tell them. Because the bottom line is, it’s your life. Live it the way that gives you the most satisfaction.

2) Rub your nose in it.

Okay, not it. Maybe you’ve decided not to read Romantic Times where you learn about so-and-so’s film deal and what’s-her-name’s big breakout book with a new publisher. Maybe you decide not to read the First Sales column in the RWR, because you don’t want to read who’s selling when you’re not.

Allow yourself a few minutes (okay, even a day but no more) of pouting when you read others’ good news, then think about this: new writers are still selling. Authors are still getting to write their breakout books. Production studios are buying movie rights for books. Good things are happening out there. Maybe not to you at the moment, even for the past few years. But just the fact that they are happening should give you hope. Works for me.

Hope is a rare commodity in these “The sky is falling” days, but as writers, it should flow through our veins. Let others’ good news be a blood transfusion—or, should we say, a hope transfusion?

All right, if it makes you feel better, think about those authors who have had 1, 3, or even 7 books out, and suddenly have no publisher. Maybe they ticked their editor off, or the line was shrinking, or killed altogether. Or worse, their sales just didn’t warrant another contract. Or maybe you’ll think about the fellow unpub who sold a book only to have the line or publisher close down before their book even saw print. Think of their agony. Feel better?

Probably not. But hey, if you do, that’s okay, too. Just don’t laugh in their face or rub their noses in it. Whatever it takes to make you feel better, as long as it’s legal and moral. Misery and frustration love company, and there is always someone who is worse off than you are.

3. Keep reading.

Read the books that are winning awards, getting lots of hype and word of mouth. Especially if it’s a book that really boosted an author’s career, or got her on one of the lists for the first time. If you’re trying to break in, read books from first-time authors (which also has the do-good benefit of supporting a fledgling career). Be inspired as you read, not jealous. Don’t nitpick, but absorb and study. It’s not what she did wrong, but what she did right that you’re looking for. And she obviously did something right.

4. Keep writing.

Waiting, disappointment, and rejection have a way of eating away at our creativity. Take this time to write the book that’s been haunting you for years, but isn’t “right for the market.” You know, the crazy one where the hero has been turned into a dog by a man-hating witch, and the heroine owns forty-two cats. Go crazy with it, let all of your emotions pour into it. Feel the rush you used to feel when you knew nothing about the rules and the market. Nowadays there are more publishers out there who will consider “out there” books. Maybe you’ll even sell it. Even if you don’t, you’ve tasted that “no bounds” freedom you had when you first started out. Take my word for it, you don’t get to indulge much if you’re steadily contracted.

Or give yourself writing assignments, like writing the most awkward dinner scene you can imagine. Or take a classic fairy tale and make it dirty. Whatever makes your eyes gleam and your fingers itch for those keys or the pen. Go ahead, get silly or macabre. Or you could get together with your fellow writers, critique group, or chapter and challenge each other with crazy assignments. Have fun with it. Isn’t that why we became writers to begin with? Oh, that’s right, it was for the fame, the easy money, and glamour. Silly me.

5. Take up a pastime.

Something new and fresh, something that has nothing to do with writing. Like learning how to fish, invest (nah, one down market is enough), or cook the obscure parts of the cow. Check the paper or the adult education classes for courses in activities you never considered. Do it for yourself, you, and only you.

6. Don’t cut yourself off from your writing friends.

I know it’s tough to face them when you have no good news to report, or worse, bad news. But do it anyway. These are the only people who have felt your pain and know intimately your struggle. They care. Besides, where else will you get the latest gossip?

Just remember, things could always be worse. And things can always get a lot better. That’s the wonderful thing about this business. We can go from the deepest pit of despair to exultant joy with one phone call. Or with one fan letter. There are a lot of rags-to-riches-to-rags-back-to-riches stories out there. We can worry or we can be inspired. In a business where a lot of our choices are out of our hands, it’s nice to know that we can steer our attitudes if not our destiny. Whatever our choices are, we should at least be happy with them. And, after all, isn’t happiness the best revenge?