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 cellphone 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 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 that begins as a single thought 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. We must.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime. - Mark Twain
I was reading “Seven Life Changing Lessons You Can Learn from Mark Twain” and thought, Hey, this my life, for pity’s sake. My weird little theatre life, with its broad, odd, wholesome, creative, charitable views of the world - found all because I chose NOT to vegetate in a little corner of life.
And those that join me in organized chaos have the pleasure of inhabiting dozens of people and perspectives, new worlds and old, and all sorts for magic and mayhem.
I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.
Well put. For the pleasure of inhabiting a completely different perspective for a time, an actor will risk self-respect and criticism, face sleep deprivation and midnight terrors. and live through some terrible things. And the things that happen to them in real life? Those 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.
Ah. The actor who walks into auditions wanting a particular role… then argues with the director about casting choices. Yes. That’s going to go over well; do that. And then try auditioning again… anywhere but here. Of course, Twain could also be describing life as a director. And, yes, I tell myself to get over myself... a lot, actually. And I better, because…
When people do not respect us we are sharply offended; yet in his private heart no man much respects himself.
I hate a bad review, but if I don’t leave room for improvement, what do I think I am, perfect? 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.
And then there is Twain's great advice for getting organized:
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.
Spot on. Spot on...
And when chaos descends — as it will, without fail, one to ten days before opening night - I remember these wise words, as well:
When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear.
Mark Twain may not have been thinking specifically of the theatre when writing any of these, but his words sure do come in handy to a thespian - they certainly do.
When I was first published, I thought all I'd ever do is write... book after book, attend signings, speaking engagements and Book Clubs, submit another manuscript to my publishing house, and start all over again.
A good life - very good life - but then...
1. A story came to me that begged to be a play. It’s impossible to explain, other than to say the characters didn't want to live in a book. They wanted to be 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. Then my book publisher disappeared. Specifically, the Editor who loved, loved, loved my work and promised to publish everything I sent her for the rest of her life... changed jobs two months after my books came out. And the new Editor was taking the company in a new direction, and my next manuscript came back in the box unopened. And historic fiction became something beneath securing evening cleaning staff on their list. And I knew I should get my manuscripts out to another publisher, but there was something about theatre. Seeing those characters brought to life was amazing. And I loved what every acctor brought to the table – this ever-changing dynamic.
So I decided to take a break from the publishing world and 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're lonely. They want to be heard, and sometimes they’ll whisper to you: “HEY, why don’t you trying getting me PUBLISHED again, JERK!” Or something like that… never listening that carefully.
Then along came eBooks!
A sea change in publishing occurred. As of 2020, Amazon appears to be calling most of the shots, and their Kindle platform is calling 83% of 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;
– Dive easily into 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, so I have a stack of unpublished manuscripts to send out, as well. Oh, and plays! And nonfiction! And… heyyyyy, this could work!
But now 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’?
Finally, I’m one of those people who have always appreciated being my own boss, and eBooks are giving me the chance to manage my own publishing experience and along with the reader's experience. How can I say no to that?
Thus, I decided: to 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.