A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him. – Edna St. Vincent Millay
So why in the world do authors do it? Why, after her one-hundred and first rejection letter, did Madeleine L’Engle take A Wrinkle in Time to the hundred and second publishing house? Are writers simply arrogant? Patently optimistic? Grotesquely naive? Yes, yes, and yes. But the full truth is this: we write because we must.
We write, though the words go slipping through our fingers like wet soap; though the feelings of a girl living in 1863 are interrupted by a phone call; though the agent doesn’t want us; though the publisher let us go out of print; we write because we must. And when we visit bookstores and stare at the rows of name-brand writers whose publishing houses buy them shelf space and oodles of marketing, we weep at our pitiful condition.
But the act of writing always brings us back from the edge of the abyss.
Something begins as a single thought and eventually rises up to stare back at us fully formed — walking, talking, thinking, feeling — in a world created out of nothing. When we write, we’re a perfectly balanced ball spinning on the tip of God’s finger. Perpetual Motion. Time machine. Pleasure beyond description.
Arrogant? You bet. The sort of rollicking arrogance that comes from knowing the pen is mightier than the sword. Optimistic? Always. We are addicted to hope. Naive? Oh, yes. Entirely. The rejection letter is always a complete surprise.
Will we start again writing despite it? Of course we will.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. — Mark Twain
I was reading “Seven Life Changing Lessons You Can Learn from Mark Twain” and thought, Hey, this IS my life, for pity’s sake.
My weird little theatre life.
Depending on your point of view, I live somewhere between free and paying theatre, a community theatre with cash or a poor man’s professional theatre. And Mark’s words turned out to be hilariously apt to this particularly form of organized chaos.
I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened. - MT
Thank you, Mark. For the pleasure of inhabiting another perspective for a time, actors will risk self-respect and criticism, face sleep deprivation and midnight terrors… just to enjoy living through some terrible things. And the things that actually happen? They feed into the actor’s art and enhance the richness of every character portrayed.
Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first. - MT
Ah. The actor who walks into auditions wanting a particular role… then argues with the director about their casting choices. Yes. That’s going to go over well; do try that. And then try auditioning again… somewhere else. Of course, he could also be describing life as a director. And, yes, I tell myself to get over it a lot, actually. And I better had, because…
When people do not respect us we are sharply offended; yet in his private heart no man much respects himself. - MT
I hate a bad review, but if I don’t leave room for improvement, what do I think I am, perfect? A ridiculous notion. Every really good actor I know doubts themselves, because they’re always reaching for perfection. Conversely when an actor has said (however shyly) they believe they’re good, nothing good has ever come of it.
Mr. Twain even has great advice for the actor and director’s technical processes:
The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one. - MT
Spot on, sir. Spot on.
And when chaos descends — as it will, without fail, one to ten days before opening night - remember these words:
When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear. - MT
Twain may not have been thinking about the theatre when writing any of these, but his words sure do come in handy to a thespian; yes they do.
Should I turn my old books and manuscripts into Kindle-ing?
Years and years ago, when I first became a published author, I was content to believe all I would ever do is write book after book, and attend signings, speaking engagements and Book Clubs. A good life. A very good life. But then two things happened that changed everything:
1. A story came to me that begged to be turned into a play. It’s impossible to explain, other than to say that, instead of the characters wanting to be housed in a bookly habitat, they told me they would much prefer being brought to life. So I wrote a play for the first time in many years and a local company decided to produce it.
And I added “play writing” to my daily list.
2. My publisher disappeared. Specifically, the Editor who loved, loved, loved my work and promised to publish everything I sent her changed jobs two months after my books came out. And the new Editor was taking the company in a new direction and neatly rejected my next novel in the series. Well, more accurately he rejected the box it came in, because the envelope was never even opened. I knew I should get my manuscripts out there to another publisher, but there was something about theatre. Bringing those characters to life was amazing. And I loved what actors brought to the table – an ever-changing dynamic. So I decided to take a break from the publishing world.
And I moved “play writing” to the top of my daily list.
Years later, I manage my own production company, Run Rabbit Run. I work with fabulous people, do speaking and teaching engagements once in a while, and submit plays for production or go ahead and produce them myself. This is working well for me, but every once in a while I think about the characters in my unpublished books. If you’re a writer, you understand. They want to be heard, and sometimes they’ll whisper to you: “HEY, why don’t you trying getting PUBLISHED, again, JERK!” Or something like that… I try not to listen.
Then along came eBooks.
In the last year a sea change in publishing has occurred. Amazon appears to be calling most of the shots, and their Kindle platform is definitely calling 75% of the eBook shots. But still there’s that icky “self-publishing” thing, right? Well, apparently in the last year that’s changed too. In fact, the publishing process is being reversed as we speak: eBooks that sell well are being picked up for “real” publishing by the majors.
Hmm… Suddenly I’m looking like a pretty good bet here, because I…
– design websites and love to learn new internet tricks. I am, in fact, a Net Geek;
– love creating video promos, graphics and taking great photos;
– dig every aspect of marketing (my focus during my Masters in Arts Management studies);
– have a group of previously published works with solid reviews;
– never stopped writing, and so have a stack of unpublished manuscripts to send out, as well. Oh, and plays! And nonfiction! And… heyyyyy, this could work!
But now for the reality check: the eBook formatting process isn’t easy (a lot of people opt to hire someone to do this for them, and, after mucking around, we’ve been tempted), but I thank heaven daily for my Software Engineering husband, and it’ll get easier after the first one. Next problem: It’s true 99% of eBooks just don’t sell, but there’s no harm in trying, and I do appear to have better odds than some. Besides in this day and age, $20 is $20, know what I’m sayin’?
Lastly and best-ly? I’m one of those people who have ever and always appreciated being my own boss, and eBooks are giving me the chance to manage my own publishing experience. How can I say no to that?
Thus, I have decided: I will Kindle. And we will see.
Meredith Bean McMath is the Managing Director of Run Rabbit Run Productions, Inc. She has books and plays, awards and degrees. She is grateful but sometimes she wishes writers and directors were paid a little more.