Skiing the Slippery Slopes of Publishing

May 1, 1999
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ASK THE EDITOR "Skiing the Slippery Slopes of Publishing "

By Susan Malone

May, 1999

Writers are bombarded these days with a plethora of ways in which to improve their craft, and often deciding which method is best, right for the individual, or most productive is difficult if not downright lunacy. I have folks write me saying theyre attending classes/workshops, going to conferences, reading the classics and/or bestsellers, reading critical analysis and how-to books, and hiring free-lance editors, quite often simultaneously. Everyone, it seems, is trying to find the fastest way possible to be the next John Grisham. Or Sandra Brown. Or in nonfiction, a McCourt. Often folks ask me which method produces the quickest or best results (and rest assured, those two are NOT the same).

My first words are always: SLOW DOWN. While all of the above works, it works in different ways and for different results and good God but doesnt all that going around in your head at once give you a migraine? My brains spinning just thinking about it.

You must find a place from which to begin, and to do so, you need at least an idea of where you want to go. In other words: what are you writing and why, and whos your target audience. Do you want to become rich and famous? Or write very well, establish a readership book by book, and have your stuff read 100 years from now? In other words, are you looking for the commercial kill, the bestseller list, or for your books to be studied by college seniors?

As Felicia Eth, of Felicia Eth Literary Representatives recently told me, theres not one easy answer. All those methods sound like good things to pursue, though not necessarily towards the same ends. Some produce better books, some more marketable books, some connections and insight about the book business. All in all they contribute to making a writers life less insulated, and thats always good. Writing in a vacuum is tough. But dont confuse the benefits of different kinds of endeavors, reading the best-sellers may educate you as to the market, but wont necessarily encourage creativity; likewise reading great books may accomplish the latter not the former. Its tough. About the only thing I can say is tenacity is a real necessity.

Okay, now that youve decided WHAT it is that you want to write, and where this will lead, return to step one: SLOW DOWN. The most important thing to remember here is that learning to write well is a PROCESS. You cant learn to do anything worth a flip overnight, and writing is no different except by degree.

The point is to progress, and to continue doing so until you quit or die (often thought of as redundant in this business). Each work will be somewhat better.

And finally, there is a point at which you take off. Suddenly, youve found your ski legs (I dont know how to sail). Any analogy works, but remember when learning to ski you had to manage about fifty things at oncebalance, poles, stay on the inside edge, my God this is steep, keep your upper body quiet, etc.constantly concentrating on all of the minute aspects. And then one day and completely out of the blue, you noticed you were just skiing?

Writing is like that. Only infinitely harder. A million points and tools exist for you to master and remember. And you will. And one day youll look up and say, My God, Im writing.

Just take this a step at a time. And remember not to grasp so much as to flow.

Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to Authorlink.com, Associate Editor for THE LITERARY MAGAZINE, multi-published author, and owner of a successful editorial and manuscript assessment service. You may email questions to her at: aaasuz@aol.com

 

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