This Writing Life--Mark Terry
Thoughts From A Professional Writer

An Open Letter to Aspiring Writers
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Dear Aspiring Writer,
I won't call you pre-published. Although I respect your optimism, it borders on hubris. Nothing is guaranteed in life and the notion that if you keep plugging at it you WILL get published is not guaranteed. I think it's likely you will, but there is no guarantee.

This letter is to you. I assume you've written something. A novel. A TV or movie script. A poem. A short story. A magazine article. You quite likely have discovered that the world of publishing, TV or film is not impressed with your efforts. Even more likely, you have found that they aren't impressed with your efforts because you can't get anybody in those industries to even look at your efforts. You've been faced with rejection. Form rejection letters and no responses and all manner of rejection. Here are some thoughts. I don't want to sugarcoat anything.

1. My life will be so much better if I can just get published.
No. Well, maybe. But if you're unhappy, irritable, frustrated, and you feel it all has to do with a lack of success in your writing life, you're mostly wrong. The problem is with you. Pay attention to your life. There's more to it than writing. There are people suffering horribly all over the world--Iraq, Afghanistan ... everywhere. They have many more problems than you and yet they deal with it. Not all, but many. If you think your life would improve by getting published--and it's the only thing that would improve your life--then you need help. Talk to your doctor about antidepressants. Talk to your spouse. Take up an exercise program. Getting published won't solve all of your problems and may not solve any of your problems. And it may solve some and create others.

2. That jerk's not as talented as I am, but he's got a 6-figure advance for that piece of dreck.
Yeah. Fine. Go over to Joe Konrath's blog and read the argument raging on his "luck versus talent" entry. I don't agree with Joe entirely, that success in publishing is the result of luck, not talent. It's the result of both. But don't discount luck--in any area of human endeavor. Talent usually wins out in the long run, especially if tied to persistence, but anybody with a grown-up mentality realizes that sometimes talented, persistent people don't break through either. You're blaming someone else for your problems. Stop it.

3. Those editors/agents/publishers are only buying things from people they know. It's who you know, not how good you are.

I doubt it. Yeah, they may give breaks to people they know. Maybe. But they won't stay in business long if those things don't deliver, so don't overvalue connections. We'd all generally rather work with people we know, but the work has to stand on its own, too.

4. I'm going to get my book published and make a ton of money.

Maybe. I started out thinking that. Just ... probably not. Typical advances run between $5000 and $10,000 and you usually have to pay an agent 15% and the government between 25% and 35%, and even if you made $100,000 advance, that money usually doesn't come in one big chunk. And even if it does, there's no guarantee your next book will be picked up exactly 12 months later ... or ever.

5. I'll get foreign rights sales and a movie deal.

Maybe. But even if you do, the money may not be all you think it is. And depending on your contract, that foreign rights money may go to your publisher to pay off your advance if your accounts are "basketed." And movie deals, which are cyclical, are typically done in the form of an "option," and it may be $20,000 for a one-year option or less, and again, this time you've got multiple agents involved and the government and there won't be much money left.

6. I'm an artist. I'm not going to worry about money. It means nothing to me.

I've never been enamored with the starving artist in a garret scenario myself. The problem, of course, is that the people who buy magazine articles, TV and movie scripts, and novel manuscripts ARE in a business and they ARE worried about money and they DO have a bottom line to concern themselves about and if you don't somehow allow them to break even or make a profit, "artist" or not, you're going to be a one-shot wonder.

7. What do you know? You haven't been published by any magazines I've heard of. You haven't been published by any big publishers. What makes you think you're an expert on the subject?

Right. Because I'm making a living at it and I'm getting books published. And just because you haven't heard of the magazines I get published by doesn't mean they aren't high-paying publications with national readerships. My best magazine client pays $1 per word. And they're not listed in The Writer' Market.

As for that book publishing thing, you're right. But I did sign contracts with a major independent publisher and was paid an advance and the check cleared.

You're not obligated to listen to a word I say here. Ever. But if you haven't been published, either poems, magazines, scripts or novels and you think you know more about the subject than I do, you're wrong. I study Sanchin-Ryu karate. I recently was promoted to 3rd degree brown belt. The insignia for Sanchin-Ryu has, among other things, a person practicing karate and he's missing the top of his head. It represents an open mind. Try it.

But if you want to instead say, "What does this guy know. What a jerk! I know more about the subject than he does," fine. Say it. Say it here if you want to, or just say it to yourself. Make you feel better? Okay, I guess one good thing came out of this blog entry. But if you somehow think that saying I know nothing about this and that your work isn't being picked up because of any of the above, or your life really is in the toilet right now but if you just get published it'll be better, and you feel that someone ELSE is to blame, well...

You're wrong.

Mark Terry

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