Thursday, October 26, 2006

Community and Commitment

I had my ear pierced yesterday, and afterwards met my friend Marcus Sakey (The Blade Itself, coming Feb 2007 St. Martins) for dinner.

Marcus is part of a new wave of writers who know a tremendous amount about publishing, even though their first book isn't out yet.

I didn't know squat about this business before I signed my first contract, four years ago. All the How To books were out of date and lacking practical information about even the most basic things, like how to do booksignings or how a publishing company works. There were no blogs about the business. Writing conferences existed, but I never thought to attend them. Not many writers even had websites yet.

Prior to that contract, my writing was also done in a vacuum. No networking. No contacts. I was a slush pile success, and didn't get any help or advice or encouragement from anyone in the biz, peer or pro.

I learned about publishing the old-fashioned way, by making a lot of mistakes. In hindsight, I should have asked more questions, and gotten in touch with those more experienced. I should have reached out and made friends. Because, simply put, friends make this business a whole lot easier.

Networking, talking shop, commiserating, schmoozing, offering advice and help, and even reading and commenting on manuscripts, all can accelerate the learning curve for everyone involved. Marcus realizes this. So do many other new writers. And as a result, his expectations are more realistic, his goals more grounded, and his X-Factor--that elusive luck all writers need in order to succeed--is tuned for maximum potential.

I met with Marcus for dinner so we could critique and brainstorm. We're each working on projects, and we read each other's prior to the meeting, so we could discuss ways to make each stronger.

I do this with several other authors as well. It's win-win. Not only does it reduce the rewrite time, but it accelerates the learning curve because you can learn as much critiquing as you can being critiqued.

It was a productive dinner for both of us--we each found ways to make our projects stronger, and we found them much quicker than if we'd been working solo.

Midway into the evening, Marcus commented on my new piercing, and mentioned he didn't see me as the earring type. And he's right, I'm not the earring type. I got an earring as part of my Halloween costume, and will remove it on November 1st.

Marcus immediately understood, as if it made perfect sense to permanently modify your body for a costume accessory. He recognized the value of committing to something fully, even if it didn't make a lot of sense. I had a costume idea, and I didn't pursue it half-assed. I went all-in (using a poker term.) I had a goal, and did whatever was necessary to reach that goal.

So what does this lame and sketchy analogy really mean?

If you're a writer, it's important to learn as much as you can about this business. But before you even do that, you have to have the commitment. You can't be afraid of your friends and family thinking you're silly for pursuing you goals. You can't write once a week, take an occasional writing class, and believe that will be enough to land you a contract. And you can't do zero promotion, thinking that all you have to do is write a good book and leave it to your publisher to sell it.

In other words, stop making excuses and go pierce your damn ear.

Okay, lecture over. Now I have to go rinse with the sanitizing solution...


Bob Farley said...

A news story ran this week about how successful people--even those who are quote-unquote geniuses or savants or wahtever--have to work at it, incessantly. And usually that work takes ten years before success hits. Proof of what you've been saying every now and then: you gotta have commitment, you gotta do the work. Even Tiger Woods wasn't an overnight success overnight. His dad worked him from an early age so by the time Tiger was winning all his junior golf trophies, he already had the ten years behind him. Doesn't mean ten years of sludging at something you're not meant for is going to change your cards, but it might.

Mark Terry said...

It is a commitment and I'm pretty sure most aspiring writers (novelists or nonfiction) don't really understand what it takes to make it in this business, both to break in and to stay in. I don't think it's any different than any other endeavor in the arts, and probably a hell of a lot easier to make a living at than, say, acting.

But I spent most of yesterday doing promotion and although I enjoyed it, I was pretty tired and headache-y by the end of the day. Couple hundred miles of driving and 6 bookstore stops (I'm in awe of you Joe, the more I do this), and I was thinking, "Man, this feels like work."

Mark Terry

Jude Hardin said...

Let me guess:

Meatloaf's biker character in Rocky Horror? :)

Heather Brewer said...

I say keep the earring, Joe. You were overdue for a piercing. ;)

Richard Cooper said...

To get something, you have to give something. If you have a day job, it's pretty hard to give it up without losing your lease--so you will have to give up your comfortable habits which get in the way of writing, whether it's watching Desperate Housewives, building your own meth-snorting-Tickle-Me-Elmo, or breathing the rarified air of the blogosphere (present company excepted.)

Each day, after clearing my mind of disturbing mental pictures (i.e., Joe Konrath wearing a Bulgari diamond earring) I ask myself: Am I committed? Or should I be? Or should Joe be?

To be certain, the word-processor is less intimidating than Nurse Ratchett, which happens to be my Halloween costume this year. Wait, you don't suppose Nurse Ratchett had any piercings under her white uniform, do you? It would explain a lot.

Incidentally, for everyone still wearing a WWJD bracelet from 1985, just change the J-word to signifiy "Joe" and do what he would, um, do: go pierce your damn ear. Pretty soon we'll be wearing other Konrath kitsch, and I'll be first in line to buy a "Joseph Saves" t-shirt.

No, really.

Jude Hardin said...

Ouch! That was brutal, Heather.

BTW, Joe, you've been tagged over on my blog. Just in case you were running out of things to do. :)

Mary Stella said...

I'm forever grateful that I joined Romance Writers of America (RWA) and it's affiliated chapter in NJ several years ago. While I wrote, revised, honed, etc., I also learned all that I could about the business. In RWA we have access to LOTS of industry info. When I finally sold, I was prepared and a lot better off than I would have been otherwise.

JA, you could be missing a contest opportunity with the earring thing. Poll your readers on whether the earring should stay after 10/31. Offer prizes. *g*

JA Konrath said...

I actually though about getting WWJAKD bracelets made, to give to newbie writers at conferences.

As for Halloween, my wife are going as Bacardi and Cola from the commercials (they get the job done!) I'm cola. :)

Marcus Sakey said...

What Joe didn't mention is that after we had drinks and discussed our projects, he showed me his other piercings.

The horror...the horror...


Stacey Cochran said...

Blogging has pretty much revolutionized how newbie writers enter writing communities. It's remarkable how many people have said to me, "You're the Stacey Cochran that posts comments on JA Konrath's blog!"

Total strangers, people in the soup kitchen line downtown, this strange man that lurks around my neighborhood, lives in the sewer, and has four arms, everybody.


Anonymous said...

LOL Stacey! I am one of those, huh?

I deeply appreciate all I learn from fellow writers, in particular from JA.

Hey! I have all three book cover images on coffeee mugs now! And Book Squid is getting great traffic - I hope it is helping folks learn about you and your work!

Aimlesswriter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Aimlesswriter said...

I always said I'd get a tatoo when I get published.
I vote keep the earring!

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Rewrites? You guys do rewrites?

Patrice Michelle said...

A piercing for a that's decidation. After the party you may decide to keep least until you get tired of cleaning it for the full four weeks. *g* When you get really tired of cleaning your ear in the third week and be thankful you didn't go for the upper ear piercing...that takes six months to heal. *g*

Lisa Hunter said...

Thanks for your great blog, JA. It's been really helpful to me as my first book has moved toward publication. Today was my book launch, so naturally I was incredibly nervous (public reading, bookestore talk, newspaper interview, etc.), and I actually managed to calm down by taking a deep breath and asking myself, "What would JA do?

Stacey Cochran said...

Hey Marti! :)

Thanks for corroborating.

Now, if I can just get the four-armed man to post a few comments as well. That would be cool.

He actually types very well, or so I'm told.


P.S. Everybody, go check out Marcus's book

Trish Ryan said...

Thanks for sacrificing your earlobe for the betterment of the greater writing community :)

Confessions of a Starving Mystery Writer said...

I don't know about guys our age that get their ears pierced but too each his own.

Without commitment it won't happen. I know. I haven't had the proper commitment myself. So I remain, unpublished.

Good post, as always.

Anonymous said...

When you first got your contract and I read your article in Writer's Digest, I said amen that there was another writer that actually felt and experienced some of the things I had.

As I've been reading your blog (and other articles) I continue to say hallelujah for you - someone who is realistic about marketing and publishing and the good and that bad that goes along with it.

The circle of writer's I had managed to find in my city were of the belief that this was "art" and that if we were true "artistes" we wouldn't sully ourselves by marketing something. Rather we would be rewarded by the Gods above with a bestselling novel.

As a matter of fact, I'm sort of thought of as the local JA Konrath (guerilla marketing I call it).

Well, my books are published and in eight countries. And I'm honoured to be thought of in the same vein as JA.

As to the piercings - I think that might be more committable instead of committed???

Allison Brennan said...

LOL, Joe, I got my ear pierced today. My oldest daughter "earned" a second hole in each ear (for not talking back for a month) and she said why don't I get mine double pierced? I told her I had a second hole in one ear (big fade in the 80s), just rarely wore the earring. So I went out and got the second hole in the other ear.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Joe, I think I've figured out how you do so many book signings, write your blog, answer email, and still have time to write novels. Your big secret is that you have a TWIN. Right?? That's gotta be it. Otherwise, I don't see how you do it. I just finished writing my first mystery novel, and now I realize that I have much more to do, even if I'm lucky enough to get it published. But the great thing is that you have been nice enough to share with us the mistakes you made, so that we don't have to make the same ones. Although, I'm sure I'll come up with some of my own. :)

anne frasier said...

i didn't know anything about the biz and didn't know any other writers when i started out. i mailed manuscripts to the publishing house addresses i found inside books.

i'm getting a big tattoo soon. that can be removed when i'm done with it, right?

Heather Brewer said...

Brutal? *eyebrow raised* In what way? Piercings are cool. :)

Anonymous said...

Wishing you a Happy Halloween!

Hope you'll post some pictures of your costume!

s.w. vaughn said...

Happy Halloween, Joe! :-)

Anonymous said...

Joe a twin? No, Robert, it's darker than that. There are clones of Joe all across America.

Anonymous said...

This post really gives me hope.

Thank you.

I've been a member of the California Writers Club for about a decade because I wanted to join in the community of writers. To learn from them, network with them and be inspired by them.

I even worked at a B&N superstore for two years in 1994-6, prior to the launch of their website. I'm sure that it has changed the way they do business in the brick and mortar stores, but I did learn a lot about the publishing industry from the retail perspective.

I saw author signings where the store was jam packed with people, and those who had the author's spouse and the Community Relations Coordinator staring at one another.

I also came away with the belief that the spine of the book was much more important than the cover. Because most books are shelved with their spines facing out. I actually saw some books with white covers and the title was written in pink ink in italic fonts.

All I could wonder was who was the braintrust to come up with that combination? You can't see it, so it won't get picked off the shelf by anyone.

Anyway, the support I've gotten from belonging to a writers club has been immeasurable. I have learned a lot about marketing, publishing, writing query letters, publishing law, contracts, what to expect from agents, etc.

And belonging to a critique group of a select few in my club for the last two years has been incredibly helpful for me as well. It is good to know that published authors also seek feedback to know "does this scene work for you?"

And it gives me hope that when I finish revising my novel and begin the search for an agent then publisher that I shall be successful. Your post helped to confirm my belief that this has all been time well spent.

Linda McCabe is the address of my humble little branch of the California Writers Club