Tuesday, October 1, 2013

When NO is Something to KNOW : Intuiting your way to fulfilment as a writer, or anything else for that matter

"Many are called but few are chosen" this scriptural quote is a good fit for adjusting our expectations in getting published. 

Let me explain:

There was a time when everyone I knew and her sister's sister was becoming a yoga teacher. It is as though we, the society, was going through a "Yoga is the Way" to fulfillment trend. As much as I love yoga and meditation, I felt drawn to cultivate these as my own personal, at-home practice over the last 20 years. Work wise, my inner guidance kept returning me to the varied avenues of creative expression that feel most innate, and align me with feelings of passion and fulfilment. The reality of course is that there is no separation, and it was inevitable that the seemingly two paths would come together. And they did when I wrote my thesis on Education Leadership in 2012: Manifesting Self Through Creative Expression. (City & Guilds, MCGI award)

This  feels poignant to share now, because of my "how I got published" story. It really was very much an inner tuition process, a groping into a moment of decisive commitment. A recognition of this  "something" I felt called to since childhood, throughout the decade spent as a classroom teacher, my fifteen years in children's theatre and Theatre-in-Education work, and that remained with me during the seven years in television production:

Caribbean Children's books and media.

This I was doing and would do for virtually free and sometimes only because it gave me that feeling of complete freedom, even when I have had and still have to sustain my endeavours with other sources of income. I was finally able to re-cognise this work as the water that puts this fish back into her element. To me, such a sense of purpose is life changing and surely is holy - because it is the way to 'whole me'.

So many writers I meet just want to get published, but they have no clear understanding of WHY. No deeper awareness of who they are writing for and why. This shows up on the page. These are the subtleties that are conveyed that a mature reader and experienced book lover can easily detect. It leads the quick fix ego into print on demand publishing and e-book ventures with little awareness of the demands in marketing and distribution this will place on their writing time.

Even if we scoop off the  top 1% percentage of writers who have a publishable work ready right now, and the talent to produce more in their chosen genres, there is a waiting line. 

By necessity, the reality that writers must consider about the publishing process, is that the  filtering and editorial discernment has mostly to do with marketability and projected sales, than with talent alone. The talent has to hit some ineffable nail on the head. And someone "out there" has to identify that it has done so. Yet, it is often the case that the more talented writer does not persevere in getting published,  nor in doing the home work of educating herself about the industry in which she seeks work.

And, this is exactly what  unpublished writers are doing - seeking to move from a hobbyist to a professional i.e. to be paid for something that is so close to one's self, it is highly likely that we do not think clearly and practically about it. We love the idea of it so much we forget that in the most essential way it is "work" or "service".

An established publisher and their editors can ably assist with this clarity, not only because their living depends on  the writer's talent and work, but also because they are receiving a wide variety of quality in their submissions. Having filtered out the 'unpublishable' work, they are most suitably poised to develop a strong sense of what is good, better and best. 

But listen, the statistics are just not in anyone's favour.

One article I read claimed that 99% of  people surveyed say they have a story to tell, a book they feel is worth writing and sharing with the world. Good editors earn a living by making money for publishers and so they must intuit their way to just the right books that will fulfil the expectation of an employer in any domain - help earn their keep. And until the day that all authors are happy to blog their best works for free consumption, this will always be the underlying foundation of publishing. Concepts of Art and Academia with capital As are not excluded from my point of view, but these  Agendas, exclusively applied, can often render the most talented intellects without an Audience, and the short lived pleasure of "feeling better than".

In my opinion this has largely been the case with West Indian publishing.

Many writers I meet have a strong sense of entitlement. 

Very often at local (Trinidad) seminars and with online communications, writers I meet, even those with tremendous talent, feel justified in  blaming some invisible force for the rejection they assume is personal. It is as though there is a simple lack of common sense at times. A few short questions into our conversation I  can discern that the wanna-be-published author has no clue about the lay of the land. (Or the I've-published-myself but can't get the books sold.)

He or she has done nothing to help him/herself and is expecting everything in return. Many seem to be  waiting for some magical person to rush in and save them, some Official Of All Things Publishing to ride in and appoint them "Author of the Year"; a university professor to nod in their direction before they feel worthy of beginning....

Getting stuck in blame is B-ing lame, and that hinders your movement metaphorically and literally.

If you have something to say, say it. It is the same with writing. You will know your mission, only by first knowing yourself and intuiting sincerely your purpose.

If you are truly called to self publish, I believe you will find your way.

When you do step out,  whether it's to get your book placed or published, go humbly, cap in hand, the way most people seek employment - ready to do the work and with an understanding that there are many, many more like us, and sometimes, only a few coveted spots to fill.

Discern whether you have really identified your audience, whether they are a paying audience and be honest about whether or not your work is content for which they are willing to pay.

Even the internet, the Every Man's publishing tool, sobers expectations. Put up your best work and see a smoking, Elvis-look-alike baby, break dancing like Usain Bolt dominate your 'like' count with millions more hits. 

I have come to see that no technology, but that of  true self knowledge, wise intuitive guidance, and simply doing the work, can lead anyone to fulfilment, even if it leads one to popularity, because even the guy who posted that Baby Wonder, will be trying and trying to recreate that moment of  success and the formula will escape him time and again.

For writers in any genre, true confidence  arises  on the basis of the work. The work of research, rewrites, commitment and the creative investment. These authors don't depend on talent alone. They study the market, get to know their target audience and welcome feedback. They are unafraid of poignant criticism and will follow through on professional guidance. They can discern and shut out  negativity and not get deflated in their efforts. They enter contests and some, win them. They apply for grants, send out submissions to both agents and editors and accept whatever comes back. They strengthen their inner muscles for the work at hand.

Any good writer can at least solicit a rejection letter that will outline the agent's / editor's reasons for refusal. This is a good day as a writer! To receive professional feedback rather than remain wondering in  some solitary, silent void of no response, means you submitted to the right agent/ publisher/ editor for your manuscript! Take their comments to heart and follow through.

This kind of NO, is a way to KNOW your way through. It marks a milestone on your journey of getting published in a way that will count as a 'career' moment.

But you don't need to go through query letters and submissions merely as an automated, practical exercise without expectation. There are many tools you can employ.

TWO TOOLS  worthy of your effort:

1. RESEARCH AT THE LIBRARY AND/ OR BOOKSTORE. Look into your genre i.e. examine other books published in the genre of the manuscript you are shopping. Look for books similar to your own - especially RECENT ones. Recent, because these are manuscripts that someone paid the author for the right to publish in this era which influences  market tastes and sales. Examine and compare.  Is your title unique? Is your theme, or point of view original? If it isn't, be honest. This is the best feedback you can get. Don't think the publisher or editor won't know about other previously published titles like yours. It's likely they spend more time than you studying their markets. If your work is in the same vein of a popular title, it's important to discern if this topic has peaked in which case editors will say, 'there's a glut on the market of this vampire teen thing' or if it's ripe for a new slant and they'll say, 'Wow, I've never thought of a vampire president story'.  

2. GET A NAME. If you send your query letter to a publishing house and it says "Sir/ Madam", to whose desk will the mail sorter send it ? Based on your  library/ book store research: once you've found a book or books that are like yours, take note of the publisher and research them online. If the editor's name and  submission guidelines are listed, then follow through. Do what is asked. If the guidelines say no email submissions then don't email your submission. They have their own good reasons why they've set up these systems and put them out there: for our benefit. You risk annoying the very people you want to 'hire' you. If you are an un-agented author, look for guidelines that say, UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS ACCEPTED, otherwise, don't waste your time. There are filters of junior editors and readers who will toss submissions that don't fit the guidelines into the slush pile. This early line of defence though, can be of assistance. If you don't get a name from the published guidelines, and once you can fulfil the criteria of the publisher, then, and only then, call the company. Be short and precise. Don't waste time on chit chat or going on about yourself or your work. Ask simply, "Who edited The Vampire President" or whatever  title you've found in their catalogue that  is most like your manuscript.  (Make sure you read the book so you can be certain you are a good fit for  the publisher and vice versa.) Now, you have a name.

THREE Warnings: 

1. DO NOT call this person or ask to speak to them directly. You  wouldn't burst into the CEO's office at your city bank and ask for a chit chat. The query letter is simply the industry's version of a call card and having you make an appointment; one that you may or may not be granted.

2. DO NOT submit your manuscript unless the guidelines say to do so. Learn the art of the query letter and begin your new relationship with each editor, with a good one. 

3. EXCLUSIVE SUBMISSIONS ONLY - This means that the publisher will not consider a manuscript that has been sent out simultaneously to other publishers.  If you feel guided to send the same manuscript to a handful of editors at the same time, then look for a short list of editors in your genre who say:  MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS ACCEPTED

In my experience, the ONE KEY that is the most important underlying factor of any good advice, no matter the source or expertise is: develop, employ and learn to rely on your intuition. 

Be prepared to go through trial and error as you fine tune this process. Spend time listening quietly within as much as you spend time writing. This inner tutor, will guide you with the right balance of humility and confidence.

You will soon know whether you are called, or chosen, and whether this is your  season to dream, write, get published, or tell your stories in another way, or move on to baking class, at least for the time. Who knows? Maybe your book was meant to be Recipes for Vampires - cooking rare  meats rear. Or , Vegetarian Recipes Even a  Vampire Will Love.  Who knows!?!

You do.

Trust your intuition to find and follow your bliss, whatever that is, and whether or not you are guided to getting a publisher, you will be led  to something greater: FULFILLMENT.

Follow your bliss,

P.S. Feel free to post comments, to send questions or good ideas, share experiences. In creative work,  I believe conscious community produces more success for many, than competition can do for one. 

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