Tag: publishing

Why You Should Keep an Idea Garden

It’s easy to feel that nobody cares about your writing. Maybe your work keeps getting rejected by magazine editors. Maybe very few people read your blog posts because, among other things, you don’t know how to get their attention. In any case it’s discouraging and leads back to the perennial problem for creative people: how do I keep going?

One practice that works for me is to keep and maintain a garden or storehouse of ideas. Ralph Waldo Emerson kept notebooks he indexed and mined extensively for his lectures and books. I prefer a digital zettelkasten system and so far I’ve amassed around two hundred and thirty notes on anything and everything I’ve found interesting from a variety of fields such as philosophy, semantics, politics, music and economics, to name but a few. Anything goes.

The greatest benefit of an idea garden, as I see it, is that it can be a safe place for your writing, much like a journal, where ideas are accepted just as they are, while also being a place where the seeds of ideas can grow and bear fruit which we can, in time, take to the market.

Meeting Imposter Syndrome

Two days ago I resumed work on a book proposal I’ve been meaning to write for a while and, to my dismay, something I met when I started the proposal was still there waiting for me: fear.

Some call it Imposter Syndrome. Tom Hanks has felt it. Thom Yorke has felt it. Neil Gaiman has felt it. Hell, even Michelle Obama has felt it. If you dare to do something that will place you in the public eye, like write a book that readers and critics will scrutinise, it makes sense that you’ll doubt yourself. What if they think you’re an idiot? Chances are, given hundreds of thousands of readers, someone somewhere will.

Book publishing, especially in the non-fiction categories, is just as much about the author’s credibility as it is about the book. Notice how many authors are journalists, professors or, at least, ‘experts’ in their fields. It makes sense from a publisher’s perspective because, while a book may be art to its author, to the publisher it’s an investment. I believe I can write this book but I have doubts whether potential publishers or agents will believe that I have enough credibility to sell it. Only one way to find out.

Dare greatly.

Just Believe

Yesterday I unleashed a Pandora’s Box of fear and doubt when I finally made a start on my first book proposal:

Who am I to do this?

Can I do this?

Do I have enough credibility to sell the proposal?

Can I keep going if no one buys it?

I soon realised I can’t answer these questions and maybe I don’t need to either. I just need to believe – in myself and the book.

To encourage me for what I suspect will be a long journey I keep in mind a couplet from Goethe:

What you can do or dream you can, begin it;

Boldness has genius, magic and power in it.

Believe in Yourself

Two weeks ago The Booker Prize announced that An Island, the second novel by South African author Karen Jennings, has been longlisted for this year’s prize. If you knew nothing about the history of the book’s publication you might think there’s nothing remarkable at all about Jennings’ nomination. But you’d be wrong.

After Jennings finished the book in 2017 many publishers rejected it for years. According to The Guardian her publisher Holland House struggled to find anyone willing to review or endorse the book and when it was finally published only 500 copies were printed (in part due to the size of the press). “The only real response that I have been able to pin down,” said Jennings on her rejections, “was that it would not make any money.” Sound familiar?

Jennings’ story reminds me of William Goldman’s immortal advice, first conceived within the context of the film industry but always applicable to anyone that risks rejection for opportunity: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Goldman understood that a rejection, at best, is a guess. A bet if you will. I feel more and more that rejection is a necessary rite of passage for any serious author.

At one time Cormac McCarthy advised scientists at the Sante Fe Institute on ways they could improve their writing. One piece of advice he gave, quoting Rudyard Kipling, was “Trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.”

As silly as it sounds – believe in yourself.

Nobody knows anything.

Forget About Your Marketability (for now)

Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb. You may never reach the summit; for that you will be forgiven. But if you don’t make at least one serious attempt to get above the snow line, years later you will find yourself lying on your deathbed, and all you will feel is emptiness.

Hugh Macleod, Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity

Last year I started writing my first book and stalled a few months in for reasons I’ve since forgot. I always meant to restart my work but hesitated to pull the trigger because at first I felt the time wasn’t right (is it ever?) and then I started to mull over the marketability of the potential book to judge whether or not it was worth finishing. I think in some way I was waiting for permission to write the book.

Suppose I instead wrote a book proposal because I wanted a guarantee from a publisher that they will print the book before I even write it. I could be waiting a long time. Celebrities might get such deals because people know who they are and therefore publishers feel confident someone will buy their books (probably co-written with someone who actually knows how to write). They may tell me my platform is currently inadequate or I’m not yet established in my field (or any field) enough to interest readers and project credibility. The list could go on.

These are all market considerations and someone needs to make them but for now I just need to write and finish a book for me.

I’m getting above the snow line.

You Don’t Need to Qualify to be a Writer

To the right of my desk, in the top drawer of a steel white cabinet along with all my other qualifications is my Creative Writing degree from John Moores University. Though I’m proud of the work it represents I never felt I needed a degree or any form of qualification to write. When I doodled and sketched on a whim with pencils and crayons as a kid it never once entered my mind that I needed permission to draw.

In the job market of today’s specialised economy qualifications matter because many jobs require them and anyone who goes through their working life somehow ignoring them risks having little to no market power. It doesn’t have to be the most important thing in your life, but it still matters, if only to make money. That’s the job market but what about the book market?

If you look at the books for sale in your local supermarket you’ll often find they stock cookbooks, weight loss books, celebrity autobiographies or novels on the bestseller list. These books are ‘safe’, i.e. publishers feel confident these books will sell because the authors are well known or the genres are popular, e.g. crime. If you’re unknown and the book you’ve written or propose to write is unlike anything in the current market then publishers will think you’re too risky to publish. But, as history has shown, many people eventually break through the gates. It make take them years or decades but they get through.

I doubt any publisher ever looked at a Creative Writing degree and thought that was enough to publish someone.