Novel Survey Update: 130+ responses and counting. My goal is to try to get at least 200.
Steven Saus pointed me toward A Softer World’s comic on fairy tale romance. Yes!!!
Michael Cannon took the picture of me in my hat and photoshopped it into something awesome. Yes, that is Smudge the fire-spider all blinged out on my shoulder.
The first time I noticed the author entitlement thing in myself was with book discussion forums. I’d come across a post asking for recommendations for good fantasy humor, or maybe someone wanted suggestions for a fun SF/F series with strong women characters. Naturally, I’d peek to see if anyone had recommended my books.
Occasionally someone would, but usually it was the same old Pratchett and Asprin, Bujold and Bradley. And I realized I was getting cranky about this. Some of it seems to spring from envy. “Why aren’t I getting the same buzz as so-and-so? They should be recommending me! Strong female leads? Come on! Have you seen my covers? I deserve to be in those lists!”
Only that’s not my call to make. The fact that I’ve written books about goblins and kick-ass princesses doesn’t mean I get a free pass to the top of everyone’s recommended reading list. I happen to think I’m a pretty good writer, but I don’t get to say how successful I should be. That’s up to the readers. (And for the record, I’m tremendously grateful for the success I’ve had — thank you!)
The sense of entitlement seems worst with some of the authors from a certain subclass of “publisher.” Check out a few quotes from the testimonials page at Publish America.
“…people always told me it was difficult to get published. WRONG!”
“…no one,except Publish America will give the little guy, the unknown poet,the chance to get recognized.”
“…PA creates a serious threat to the publishing industry. PA helps new authors get started.”
Ignoring the idiotic assertion that commercial publishers won’t publish new writers, the underlying assumption is that we all deserve to be published. We’re all entitled to that success.
Sorry, but no. In kindergarten, everyone’s drawing gets hung up on the classroom wall. But you’re a grown-up now, and writing a book doesn’t entitle you to a publishing contract. The fact that you think it’s good doesn’t mean you’re right, nor does it mean a publisher must invest tens of thousands of dollars to get your book out there.
For those of us who do break in with a big publisher, that contract does not entitle us to NYT Bestseller status. It doesn’t obligate the publisher to buy major in-store displays or table placement at the major chains. Do I want those things? Heck yes! But am I entitled to them? Envious as I might feel when my friends get a bigger marketing push than me, I’m the last one qualified to say what my books do or don’t deserve.
I feel it with the day job sometimes, too. I’m a published author. Why should I have to work a desk job? Unfortunately, just because I want to write full time doesn’t mean I get to do it. The world doesn’t owe me a full-time writing career, a NYT bestselling series, or a pony.
Setting goals is good. Working toward those goals is even better. But the moment I start griping about not getting the success I deserve, the success I’m owed, then it just starts to feel tacky and childish.
Comments, questions, and outright disagreement are all welcome, as always 🙂
February 22, 2010 @ 10:02 am
Oh, man! Okay, off to cancel the check for my boarding fees. No pony…are you =sure=?
Jim C. Hines
February 22, 2010 @ 10:08 am
Maybe a really good agent could get you a pony clause in your next contract, if you said please.
February 22, 2010 @ 11:30 am
A very though provoking post, J. Some provoked maunderings. 😉 : Goal setting is a mixed bag for me. “Get that book written on time” OK, I can usually manage that. “Make it my best yet.” Always strive for that; readers sometimes do not agree. But “Write a break out novel”? Not yet. “Hardcover”? Nope. “PW review”? Nope. “Awards won”? Some near misses. I’m as envy prone as the next writer, I’m sorry to admit, but I’ve come to realize that those are all more desires than goals. The more I attach to them, the unhappier I am. When I figure out how to totally give up that attachment I’ll let you know.
Goals are something I have control over, and so far that seems to boil down to getting the work done and hoping for the best. An informed hope, perhaps, but there’s a limit to the control writers have over their destinies. My husband just got tenure at his university. There is some slippage here and there, but overall it’s a pretty well-defined series of hoops jumped through and boxes checked off. Ours is a more nebulous world. A constant gamle on ourselves. Does that make any sense?
February 22, 2010 @ 11:32 am
That’s “gamble on ourselves.” That should make more sense.
February 22, 2010 @ 11:39 am
If you can’t get a pony, then there is no hope for the rest of us.
February 22, 2010 @ 1:15 pm
Hmm – you’re conflating good books with published books.
Publishing isn’t that kind of industry any more – if it ever was, which is questionable.
Publishers pick up books because they believe they can sell them. That’s the only reason. Being picked up proves nothing about talent, literary value, insight, imagination, or any of those other good things we expect authors to have. It just means that someone in an office somewhere decided that perhaps a book might match a paying audience.
Audiences aren’t very demanding – see the best seller lists for details – so it’s a mistake for any author to take rejection personally. It may or may not mean an inability to write. The best way to find is to talk to other writers – leave publishers to count beans.
Even so – in a commoditized industry, rejections for commercial reasons can be bad for everyone. There is very much such a thing as too good, too complex, and too difficult. If James Joyce were writing today, Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake would be unlikely to wow the corporate accountants. I’m not convinced that recent classics like Dune or Valis would make it into print. And if Tolkien hadn’t already created a tradition for fantasy, I’d lay even odds on Lord of the Rings not making it past the slush pile. (“Hairy feet? What?!”)
Which being true – publishers have an obligation to promote work, because it’s in their own interests to do so. They don’t have to hype it into orbit, but it makes no sense at all to go to the expense of paying an advance, going through the editing and proofing sequence, getting a jacket designed, and arranging for distribution – and then leaving a title to rot.
Jim C. Hines
February 22, 2010 @ 1:20 pm
Your maunderings are always welcome, Lynn! 🙂
I really like the distinction between goals and desires. I’d love to win a Hugo, but that’s not something I can really control. On the other hand, I can control whether or not I get this book finished on time, and whether I give it as much attention and rewriting as it deserves. I can control whether I aim even higher on the next one, or if I shy away from the ambitious book to do something “safer.”
There’s a part of me that would love it if writing were more structured. “Write X books, and you will be promoted to midlist writer. Write Y books, and union regulations require you to be placed upon the Hugo ballot.”
Jim C. Hines
February 22, 2010 @ 1:27 pm
“Publishers pick up books because they believe they can sell them. That’s the only reason. Being picked up proves nothing about talent, literary value, insight, imagination, or any of those other good things we expect authors to have.”
It’s true that publishers buy books they believe they can sell. Publishing is a business.
The rest of this paragraph leans strongly into the “Publishing is a lottery” misconception.
The argument that books from 50 or 100 years ago wouldn’t sell today isn’t all that meaningful. Things change and move on. What was original then would be derivative today.
I guess I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here.
February 22, 2010 @ 1:27 pm
I myself am an aspiring writer and have recently entered the World of Jim C. Hines! you are a wonderful artist with a pen and i appreciate the work you put into your stories. That being said, I can appreciate you now even more after reading this post about entitlement. Too many people want to be spoon fed in their lives and get everything they want for little effort. To those people i propose a question… Do your characters just wake up one day to have the entirety of their hardships just washed away by the fairy god mother? If they did then let me tell you i would not be reading these stories. So keep in mind just like the stories you want to get out there and published, so to is your life. You need to have all the details and hard work in the body of you your life to get to the good bits!
February 22, 2010 @ 9:35 pm
Michael, that is a great analogy! I’m going to hang onto that one. 🙂
February 23, 2010 @ 7:46 am
Thank you! =)
February 23, 2010 @ 9:49 am
Darn. Just checked my contract — no pony. I will have to mention that to my agent the next time we negotiate. Except I want a unicorn (but not the flesh eating kind, thankyouverymuch).
I think a writing career is a lot like Frodo and Sam’s journey up Mt. Doom. Lots of scrabbling, skinned knees and weird traveling companions. But in the end they succeeded and Frodo only lost a finger in the process. No entitlement, just hard work. Where’s the personal satisfaction if everything is given to you?
February 23, 2010 @ 3:07 pm
Well, one thing that I got from Leviathan21’s reply is that the demands on big publishing to make big sales can cause them to overlook good work that does not have a large mainstream audience. When that happens, and the book is good, the long tail of the internet does in fact offer alternative avenues to finding readers.
Digital publishing has thrived in the gaps left by the large-scale sales demands of print publishing. But it’s not necessarily less work, whether you go with a reputable epublisher or if you self-publish. In fact, if you’re serious about what you’re doing, self-publishing a book is a huge amount of work, because all the editorial, production, promo, and distribution is on you.
I think there is room for some middle ground between “publishing is a lottery” and “if it’s not published traditionally your book must suck.” But deciding if your book is not being accepted because it’s bad or because its audience is not fully understood or considered profitable by traditional publishers is a pretty tricky business. That is another place where I agree with Leviathan21 that other authors are your best resource. The feedback of writers who are more accomplished than you are is absolutely indispensible. (Arg, I can’t spell that word.) (See? No editor for this reply, and look what we get.)
Like Jim says, we’re lousy judges of our own work, and there certainly is a tendency for those new to writing fiction to underestimate the learning curve. On the other hand, with African American romance still being shelved in African studies in the stores, and lgbt romance only accepted as erotica or gay lit, as opposed to, you know, romance, I don’t believe that print publishing has a monopoly on good books that people want to read.
Jim C. Hines
February 23, 2010 @ 3:35 pm
I like that metaphor. The Ringwraiths could represent various scam agents and publishers. The Fellowship is your trusty writing group. Gandalf is the grumpy old pro advising the newbies…
Jim C. Hines
February 23, 2010 @ 3:38 pm
I think there is room for some middle ground between “publishing is a lottery” and “if it’s not published traditionally your book must suck.”
I’m not aware of anyone saying the latter. Yes, sometimes good books get rejected. I don’t think anybody is claiming otherwise.
But show me any 10 writers griping about how their books are good and Big Publishing is too obsessed with making money to see it, and I’ll bet you 9 out of 10 of those books will be pretty darn bad.
February 23, 2010 @ 5:08 pm
“But show me any 10 writers griping about how their books are good and Big Publishing is too obsessed with making money to see it, and I’ll bet you 9 out of 10 of those books will be pretty darn bad.”
Well, that is kind of saying that if your book isn’t accepted by traditional publishers it must suck. Isn’t it? Am I missing something?
Jim C. Hines
February 23, 2010 @ 5:41 pm
“Well, that is kind of saying that if your book isn’t accepted by traditional publishers it must suck. Isn’t it?”
No. It’s saying that if your book is consistently rejected by publishers, then there’s a good chance it’s because the book isn’t good enough. You can see the difference, can’t you?