Saturday, March 8, 2008

Writing Versus a Writing Career

I had no idea how fortunate I was when, after having finally gathering up the courage to give writing a try, the first draft of my first novel was picked up by an agent almost immediately. She didn't sell it, but sold the second novel (also a first draft!) in the first round of submissions. Night Watch was published by Harper & Row in 1982. It got excellent reviews. I was a writer to watch, according to “Publishers Weekly.” Then it vanished… as most first novels do.

I struggled with the next novel for several years, trying and failing find a way to translate my editor's astute observations about the book into a successfully revised text. The truth was, I’d written those first two novels by some combination of instinct and dumb luck. Now I actually had to learn to write. I was desperate to follow Night Watch with another book before it (and I) had completely sunk into oblivion. But when I expressed the anxiety I was feeling about my writing career to my editor, she said, “Real writers don’t think about careers. They write.”

I paid attention. I wrote from my heart—eventually publishing four (soon to be five) more novels, even winning a fair number of awards for them, along the way. But I’d have starved to death long ago if I’d had to survive on the money I made from them. And as for my so-called career as a writer, it’s pretty much dead in the water.

In case you are thinking this is a sour grapes kind of thing about how my editor failed me, it’s so not! I still believe she was right. But I also know (now) that books are not so different from children: if you want them to be able to live and flourish in the world, you have to take care of them. Why I’m writing is to see if, at this late date, the fabulous writing process might surprise me into figuring out…how.

Sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring...



I knew all along.

There is no magic plan crouching in my subconscious waiting to reveal itself, just stuff to do—lots of it, some large, some small, some relatively painless, some truly horrendous to contemplate. (Like, calling up someone and asking for a favor. Or dropping into to bookstores, saying, “Hi, I’m Barbara Shoup and I’d love to introduce you to my new book, Everything You Want…”)

Oh. My. God. I’m breaking out in a cold sweat just typing this.

But I really am going to do it this time. I really, really, really am.

So if you’re reading this, write and ask me what I’ve done for my book today. If I’m on track, I’ll write back, thrilled to let you know. If I’ve been a slacker, I’ll do something—quick—so I won’t have to lie.


Bryan said...

What have you done for your book today, Barb?

Barbara Shoup said...


1) Set a meeting with a bookstore in Chicago about doing a signing in May.
2) A few blog comments, getting my name out there:-)

Impressive, eh?

Andrew said...

You could start a MySpace page, if you don't have one. It's easy to do, and YA authors -- like the guy you mentioned earlier, Jay Asher, as well as someone named R.A. Nelson, who is my "MySpace friend" now -- are everywhere on MySpace.

But what I noticed is this: I was Nelson's 667th friend, but a week later, he had over 800. Something's working there. It's a way for readers to find you, too, and post comments about your books, etc.

Anyway, that's one more easy thing to do for your "career." It's also a nice way to stay in touch with other writers. Also, another new site:

Your website, as well, could be updated. Do you have a Mac, by chance? So easy with a Mac. I could show you in two minutes.

Also, if you're considering a massive e-blast, consider one of those services, which also give you free 30- or 60-day trials. We're using for the magazine. That way, you can follow up with e-mails about readings in other towns, contact only libraries, or only booksellers, or only radio stations -- however you keep track of your contacts.

Just some ideas.

Barbara Shoup said...

Thanks! Yes, I have a Mac--and, yes, I'll take any help I can get. (If you're still speaking to me after I FORGOT ABOUT THE PARTY.)

andystardust said...

I'll never forget walking into Chicago bookstores to try and get them interested in Faithful Women. The very kind manager of Women and Children First gave me the name of buyers at places like Barbara's. When I asked for the buyer at Barbara's by name I got dirty looks and was asked, "Who sent you?" I think Women and Children First bought it, though, and I guess that proves that no good effort goes entirely unrewarded ... or unpunished.

Barbara Shoup said...

I remember when you did that, too! You were intrepid! I should have named that book UNFaithful Women. It probably would've sold more copies:-)
Shoot me an e-mail. Mine to you are bouncing back. XXShoup