Resilience: dealing with publishing industry ups and downs – Charlotte Nash

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By Charlotte Nash

We all enter the writing game because we love it, and at first, it’s much like the starry-eyed beginning of a relationship. We’re so in love with writing! This love will conquer all! But just as in relationships, one day you can find writing is as palatable as the ancient mouldy takeaway you just found at the back of the fridge.♥

This isn’t because the love has waned, but because reality has staged an unwelcome intervention. Just as you’ve noticed your significant other snores, has dreadful music taste, and always drops crumbs on the couch, so too you’ve noticed that publishing isn’t the fabled land of unicorns and dreams that you’d hoped for. In fact, it’s pretty scary out there, what with these echoes of digital disruption: shrinking advances, falling sales, pressure to self-promote, the indie revolution, Amazon taking over, and oh god, should I write an urban-fantasy-vampire-dystopian-gaming book to surf the latest trend?

Whoa, there!

Writing mojo can be extremely sensitive to gloom. And that’s coming from me, who only believes in the muse the way Stephen King does – that it shows up when I do the work. This isn’t about the muse, though. This is about the gloom that puts lead in your pen, because you’re asking what’s the point of all this writing if …? (if I never get a contract, never sell any books – supply your own industry demon voice here)

So let’s talk abut how you can remain a resilient writer, no matter what the industry is doing today or tomorrow.

1. Exit the spiral

Some people find it cathartic to unload their frustrations. For others like me, talking about it just sticks you in a destructive dwelling loop that eats your precious time and energy. The more you inspect your royalty statement, or google for reassurance your genre isn’t going out of style, or scrutinise lists like 10 signs your publisher is about to drop you, the worse you feel.

So hands off the keys, buster! The industry is uncertain. The only thing you can count on is yourself. So, go write a paragraph on your current project, and hope that turns into more. Or visit your Vault of Awesome (that place you collect positive feedback and writerly achievements. What? You don’t have one? Go start that right now!).

The things we give oxygen are the things that breathe. Give your projects life, not your worries about an industry you absolutely can’t control.

2. Plan on not having luck

Speaking of control, it’s worth labouring the point – publishing is maddening. It’s unpredictable and the rainbows are random in where they touch down. So when you plan your writing for the next year or five, ensure the goals are all things in your control, not someone else’s. For example, submit Unicorns Don’t Exist: a love story to Harper Voyager NOT sell 20,000 copies of Unicorns Don’t Exist. Leave luck to the universe, and then if you get some, you can be pleasantly surprised.

3. Find like-minded, offline support

No one likes to be alone. Well, ok, some people do. But there’s alone, and there’s isolated. Some isolation comes with the territory, but you don’t want to cut off from information, which is your power.

So, foster connections early, especially offline at events and conferences (because the online world just floods us with successes all. the. time.). This isn’t just finding your tribe, but looking for mentors: writers 3–5 years ahead of you career-wise. You want someone who’s more experienced, but not so far ahead they don’t remember your position. These mentorships don’t have to be formal, but are a perfect source of advice if you’re in a quandary. When dealing with a poor contract offer, or a rejected manuscript, or a difficult choice, you want to turn to someone with real insight. These people can help you make informed responses to situations, which feels much more powerful than gut reactions.

As always, though, take care. If you find yourself in a dynamic that drags you down because of the dwelling spiral (point 1), find a way to politely exit the party.

4. Heroic alignment

Just because your non-writer friends keep asking if you’re in the next JK Rowling doesn’t mean you have to hold megastar authors as your heroes. Every writer dreams that their next book is the one the world discovers, making you immune to industry tremors. It’s possible, sure. But probable? No. And those kinds of megastar examples tend to evoke desperation, not determination.

One of my writer heroes is Neal Asher, a successful science fiction author, multi-published with Pan Mac. He spent years of hard work and disappointment building a publishing record in short stories and small presses before he landed a big deal. Many other successful authors were similarly persistent through all kinds of ups and downs. Look for someone like that to inspire you when things are shaky. It’s more identifiable than the overnight success.

5. Diversify, smartly

Writing was a gig job before there was a gig economy, and there’s always an opportunity to branch out: write a new genre, teach, do freelance articles. Being adaptable to opportunities can be great – not only can you weather lean times and discover new loves, but you can improve your craft along the way. The caveat here is to always examine the choice before you leap, especially if you’ve got family and work commitments to juggle too (and who hasn’t). For example, a new genre might look enticing, but are you prepared to commit to a five-book series? For some practical help, I really like this list of questions to ask before saying yes.

6. If all else fails … are you really still in the game?

Here’s the pointy end of the list. Do you still love the process of writing? Or are you now just doing it for some other, external reason? (deadlines, competition, inertia, or I-don’t-even-know?).

This isn’t the same as finding it difficult or having a bad day – it’s when writing has ceased to have any intrinsic reward. Writing is not a place for martyrs. As Stephen King said, “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” If you’ve genuinely lost whatever satisfaction you got from writing, maybe it is time for a break. Don’t worry – if writing really is in you, it’ll reassert itself, probably as inconveniently as before. And if it doesn’t, then you made the right move. Writing isn’t a lifelong affliction; it’s a choice, and we’re free to change.

As with all things, staying resilient is much to do with attitude and the actions you take. Good luck out there.

Charlotte Nash writes both romantic drama novels (most recently, The Paris Wedding), and short speculative fiction, for which she has been nominated for the Ditmar and Aurealis awards. She teaches creative writing at The University of Queensland, where she is also a PhD student, studying how the neuroscience of reading can improve a writer’s craft.

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