Monday, October 25, 2010

Network, Schmepwork

Half your life as a writer will be spent in networking. Maybe more. The days of Hemingway sipping espresso in a Paris café while he scribbled his first draft are gone. Of course, his main network time was spent drinking all night with F. Scott Fitzgerald and running around Spain, watching bullfights and fly fishing. No one can deny that Hem lived life.

I yearn for those days when kids still played baseball after school until dark, or we could spend an afternoon lying on the grass watching clouds scuttle across the sky. Our best writing came after daydreaming in a swing, drinking iced tea and staring into space. Now we feel guilty if we spend five minutes daydreaming in the shower.

Today writers network instead. We’re consummate multi-taskers. Some of you set timers on your cell phones or watches to remind yourself to sign off Facebook or stop Tweeting how many pages you’ve produced.

We’re addicted to social networking, e-mail, and a thousand other ways to postpone the inevitable: starting at a blank page. Hemingway used actual paper. Imagine that. We use a computer screen with a blinking cursor that silently screams “hurry up.”

Yet I know writers who are able to balance their marketing, sales, and networking efforts while giving birth to another manuscript. I’m amazed. They can produce two or three books a year. I’m even more amazed.

We’re writing what the market wants to read. But, just for a moment, think about this: What if you decided to write a book that you wanted to write . . . one that continually nudged you over the course of years? Maybe God wants you to produce the next great American novel rather than write something in a popular genre.

A few agents and editors want to slap me about now. Because once you’re in the game of publishing, you will be expected to churn out at least one or two books a year to satisfy your audience.

After agent Rachelle Gardner recommended Betsy Lerner’s book The Forest for the Trees, I ordered it and just finished it last night. I highly recommend it; you will find yourself between its covers.

In the last chapter Lerner writes, “Publishers are concerned that the business model that has long served their business will no longer work. All this is disheartening for writers. It’s no wonder that some are tweeting for their supper. . . . I fear that we are dancing on the deck of the Titanic.”

But you know me: I look at life from the perspective of a glass half-full. Publishing is changing, and no one in the business (CBA or ABA) has figured out where it’s going or what to do about it. Remember that old cliché that if you’re digging a hole and it’s only getting deeper, stop?

This is day #8 in our 30-day prayer challenge for the Christian publishing industry. We can’t go back to the lazy days of the fifties. As authors and publishers we need to embrace the digital age. It’s here to stay.

But frankly, I think if publishing execs spent a little more time daydreaming, they might just find the way out of this mess. What do you think?

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This is day #8 in my 30-day prayer challenge for the Christian book industry. Please share your prayers and thoughts with us in the comment section below.


  1. I'm optimistic about the future of publishing because I think many editors realize we have to do something to keep this business going, and they've managed to convince the marketing and accounting folks. If I'm wrong, please don't tell me because I need to maintain a certain amount of Pollyanna spirit to keep going.

    Now I need to get off the Internet and go write the book of my heart (next "Great American novel" maybe?). I agree that daydreaming is essential in the creative world. Thanks for having faith in your authors, Barbara!

  2. RG mentioned Forest on her blog about a year ago. Ordered it then and devoured it.

    It's an encouragement to me Wally Lamb took nine years to write The Hour I First Believed.

    I can churn 'em out, but I want them to be rich. I want my novels to have lasting impact. If that means write a little slower, well then...

    ~ Wendy

  3. I loved reading this post, Barbara. When I was a kid I was always getting reprimanded for staring out the school room window and daydreaming. At night I would put myself to sleep by making up my own stories.

    I have you to thank for championing my writing. Surrender the Wind was a book I wanted to write. I mean I had a burning in my heart to get it down on paper. You said to me once that my writing took you back to the days of classic romances. When you told me that, I realized I had accomplished what I set out to do. Previous to your acceptance, I had a few authors tell me it would not be published because it began with the hero. Readers have loved it.

    How can I say this without offending someone? But really, really, good novels, thought provoking, moving novels that stir the soul and the imagination, that grip my attention, that I cannot put down are becoming few and far between. Maybe it is me. Or I'm just not finding the best in fiction. But as a reader that is what I am searching for.

  4. I volunteer to influence a couple of CBA novels a month. Mostly historical romance, which is what I typically like. As an influencer, I have to either give it a great review or no review at all, as is my understanding as one who influences others to buy people's books. But
    I feel a bit disingenuous at times. Do they all deserve fours and fives? hmmmm. . .

    I don't post things I don't mean in the reviews, but to elevate entertaining books alongside deeply moving books, or books that show much greater depth of thought or artistry, does make me a little sad and uncomfortable. Are we digging a deeper hole with the system we currently use? Probably. After reading this, I may have to retire my shovel.

    I love that you are praying for the publishing industry. I am joining you.

  5. At my very first writer's conference, an exploratory foray before I'd put a word on paper, an editor said, "We have one author who can turn out 3-4 books a year, and we're looking for another who can produce like that. Do you think you could?" I had no idea, but determined to try. I've since come to the conclusion, though, that even if I can, I shouldn't.

    In my non-writing career we have an expression: "We can do good work, quick work, or affordable work. Pick two." If we do good, affordable work, it will require a reasonable amount of time. If you want high quality and you need it fast, expect to pay extra. If you want cut-rate prices and push the time boundaries, the result is unlikely to be excellent. I think in writing it's the same.

    I hope I don't seem blunt in saying this, but I cannot "crank out" 3-4 high quality novels with deep, thought-provoking messages every year...and if I try, my motivation would be wrong. I seriously doubt that God would give me something significant to say every 90 days or that I could say it with artistic skill at that rate. I can only speak for myself, but my only motivation for trying such a thing would be to group together enough contracts to amount to a modest annual salary, and money is seldom a good reason to do anything.

  6. I think publishing has a future in quality control. Sure, anyone can publish a book now, but those "anyone" books aren't subject to the scrutiny that is much more likely to produce a good book. I expect readers to look for books by regular publishers, even in the changing marketplace, just for the quality.

  7. Last spring I finished my 3rd full length novel and began toying with many more story ideas. None of them, however, took root. My agent suggested writing for a specific publisher on a specific topic, and I attempted it. I discovered that it is very difficult for me to write something that isn't from my heart.

    I then realized that I love my blog readers and those are the people for whom I want to write. That's when I realized that they are my readers because they like to read what I write. :)

    So that made me think that my energies would be better served writing what I'm passionate about, which my blog readers seem to enjoy, and that so far has resulted in a book that will be released in June 2011. I'm not sure where God will take that book, but it's in His hands.

    I'm now working on another story that will run through my blog, and if the Lord wills, it too will come out the other end as a published book. I know that goes against the advice of so many people. But then, I'm not writing for them; I'm writing for God.

    My passion for writing isn't publication or making money, it is to glorify God. From the responses I've had from my readers, I see God glorified and I am humbled. Time and again I am reminded "to live is Christ and to die is gain." Paul inspires me. He loved his churches so much that he didn't care how much he suffered for them, and he believed that in doing so, he was magnifying Christ in his life. I want to have that same love for my readers and heart for Christ.

  8. I love this post. I struggle with the balance of it all. I find myself trying to divide my time betweent too many networking avenues and just writing. I want what I write to matter, and I want to live the life God intended. And many times these beliefs leave me feeling very frustrated with the writing industry as a whole.

  9. I'm so glad this posting hit a nerve, and that you aren't throwing tomatoes at me. Riley, our Chihuahua, kept us up all night because of thunderstorms, and when I sat down to write at 4-something, I was sleepy, cranky, and angry at the publishing business. How's that for honesty? LOL

    I've watched writers and editors burn out because of the stress of meeting insane deadlines. One author, whom I've known for years, suffered from TMJ and other stress-related ailments because of the demand for her books. If she called and asked for extra time because of illness, I gave it to her, and I would make it up in the editorial process by working overtime.

    Sometimes deadlines are set and then moved up because publishing execs want to publish a book early. Why? To make up a deficit in the fiscal budget that might end July 31 even though the book wasn't set to pub until September 1.

    Oy, the stories I could tell. But we all want to serve God. We lay our gifts before Him and ask Him to use us. The trouble is...we often get used by others with different motives.

    I don't know the answer. That's why I implore you to pray for the Christian publishing industry and for all those authors, editors, agents, and other people who bring a book to fruition. There has to be a better way.

  10. Often books cranked out by authors I previously enjoyed have been terrible and would probably never have been published if written by newbies. I wish some publishers would dare to take a chance and spend most of their advertising money on new authors because books by those who are already well known will probably sell pretty well anyway.

  11. Being scarcely published, I'm still writing what I like and looking for homes for what I've written... and networking. But maybe we could learn to balance writing what we like and writing what we're asked for (assuming I ever find myself in that place), as well as balancing writing, reading and networkign.

  12. Perhaps some of what is going on in the publishing industry with so many rejections, stress inducing deadlines, etc. that is why many authors are turning to publishing their back lists and new work to Kindle, or going with small presses.

    I know a few authors given 4 months to write a book, and these were in series of 3. They are so stressed.

    One agent recently encouraged me to take a hold of my career. It is something to contemplate, of how to make our lives as authors a little less stressful, and also get back to writing what we love to write.

  13. No technology will ever reduce the high demand for creativity and story telling. If fact, most of the new technology is built to distribute it.

    No advances in trends or styles will ever reduce the need for the Gospel to be heard. As a Christian writer...what me worry?

  14. I met Becky Lerner at a small conference in the Adirondacks. I am now reading her book. She is honest and forthright, and I expect the book to be likewise.

  15. This is very thought-provoking. I like the comments too...thanks everyone!

  16. Barbara, I loved your tho't-provoking post & especially part where you are praying & urge us to pray too for the industry. Thanks for shaing w/us. I'm a new follower; will be bk.

  17. After I got off work today, I had to pray in my car before I could drive out of the parking lot. I prayed that God would be my Marketing Campaign Manager. I'm thinking about promotion 24/7 and I need a break from the thoughts. Since I'm between books right now, I've decided not to schedule any promotion during the month of Dec. I want to take this time and rest my brain. I might get some writing done, but it isn't the writing that stresses me--it's the marketing & promotion. It may be a little harder on me b/c I work a full-time outside the home and guess what it is--that's right-marketing & promotion. I do all the website, blogging & social networking for our agency. So I guess, I'm getting a double-dose of it. Yet, when I'm not online, I feel serious withdrawals. I know I need to be home during the day or maybe a different kind of day job, but I don't know what steps to take to get me there. I know God will provide the answers soon enough. Praying with everyone!

  18. Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts on the blog today. Let's keep praying for one another, and I know God will move in our lives.

    Welcome new followers as well!

  19. I love the imagery of this post! :-)

    <>< Katie

  20. What a testimony your faith is. Thanks for sharing it. And for doing the prayer challenge--what a great idea. I pray for my own books, my publisher and employees, but I've never thought to pray for CBA on the whole. Thanks for the much needed reminder.