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“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it." ~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Friday, December 3, 2010

Worried Writers

While agents and editors can lay it all out in their blogs and say pretty much anything, writers have to think about getting readers and followers and fans who will buy their books-- thus we are nice and pleasant. As I wrote about here. After all, we're writers, we hate rejection. Our entire careers are based on avoiding it.

Have you ever wanted to post something but feared going too far? Do you ever hold back thinking, "Better not say that. People who matter might get upset. What if AN AGENT reads this"?

I used to read a book to my kids called Worried Walrus, and when anyone in our family got excessively worried about something, we'd say they were a worried walrus. I think sometimes we writers are worried walruses, afraid of saying, doing or writing the wrong thing to hurt our chances at publication, attracting readers, or achieving success in our careers.

Yesterday I read a post that was brutally honest in expressing what the industry has done to this writer's head since she began. I won't summarize but you can go here to read it yourself if you haven't already. Altho many have looked up to Natalie Whipple as having it all-- the dream agent *no longer in the business*, an editor at a dream publisher who loved her story *didn't work out*, and now still out on submission *where many would kill to be*-- still, the entire process put her through hell and back until she had to pour it all out on her blog.

And as she wrote it I'll bet you anything she worried about saying "too much"--about sounding whiny or ungrateful, about offending someone in the industry, perhaps alienating her blog readers. But she had to let it out, so she wrote the post and struck a chord, getting a zillion comments.

Let's pretend there'd be no repercussions if you wrote a post like Natalie's. What would be on it? What would you say about the industry? What's on your worried walrus writer list?

53 comments:

  1. I haven't worried about anything I've wanted to post on my blog yet, but I do watch myself on Twitter ALL the time!

    I think one thing Natalie hit on that really does drive ME crazy about this industry is that agents do often say they want "new & fresh", but then they shy away from things that aren't currently "hot" because they're unsure if the editors are ready to move in that direction. That's ridiculously frustrating for writers, I think.

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  2. I feel like at this point I'm putting so much energy in writing something good enough to catch someone's eye I haven't thought far enough down the road to the after bit... I suppose on my worried writers list is getting the agent, getting the pub deal, getting a following and then losing it. The inspiration, the drive, the ideas... Basically choking. :D yikes!

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  3. I do worry about this. I keep my innermost opinions to myself. Once things are out "there", you can't put the genie back in the bottle. I'm clicking over to read Natalie's post. (I should be dusting, but what's more fun?)

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  4. Wow, I think she just made a million writers feel better about THEIR crappy situation.
    My worry? I'm a one-trick pony. I had one good idea and that was it.

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  5. Hmm, I haven't worried too much about this yet as I have always been quite open on my blog. I guess I feel comfortable saying anything as long as it's not rude and obnoxious. I wouldn't speak to people face to face like that so why would I do it my blog anyway? So I guess I'm ok with it. Natalie's post was amazing and it must have taken courage.

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  6. Well I DON'T want to be a worried walrus, that's for sure! ;) Thanks for linking to Natalie's post, which was heartbreaking to read. It made me more grateful for my small POD publisher. I don't worry so much about offending agents (since I don't have one LOL) but I do crave writing about politics on my social networking sites. I have some strong feelings about politics but I try to avoid talking about them in my psychology and writing careers since they can alienate those who disagree with me. Great post, Karen!

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  7. Yes there is the phrase 'honesty is the best policy', but in my experience being too 'up front' just puts people's backs up. I guess we do have to consider people's feelings and our own reputations. We can all say things when we're feeling vulnerable that later we may wish to retract but can't. Sometimes it's possible to upset people without even realising it.These days I try my best to stay positive. :O)

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  8. As soon as I saw the title of your post, I had a feeling it referenced Natalie's post! :-) It was nice to see some honest, heartfelt blogging about 'things you're not supposed to talk about'. I always take the opportunity to say what I think on my blog and I don't hold back. However, I stay away from religion and politics because I don't want to offend readers. I also stay away from talking about rejection because I've read it's not a good idea to let agents and editors know you've been rejected. Now that I think about it, that's really stupid. There is not one writer who hasn't been rejected!

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  9. So reading your comments I will let you know what my worries are-- (and they are nothing like what Natalie mentioned because I'm with a small press and love it)-- but my writing worries are:

    No time to write
    No ideas
    I lose my talent & my writing gets worse instead of better
    Something happens with my publisher and then I'm stuck having to query and find an agent or another publisher.

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  10. Wow, I just read it. I do tend to make sure i'm not affending anyone when I write in public places. I don't want to pitch blame, or burn bridges. But words are magical, and you can state what you feel without doing any of that. I think she did a wonderful job in expressing herself.

    Thanks for the post.

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  11. I don't worry so much about what I say on my blog (obviously *grin*), but I would never intentionally try to offend or hurt anyone, either. I'm that way in real life, too--life is too short to hurt other people.

    One thing I don't do a lot of is discuss every little step along my writing path. Guess I'd rather just watch it unfold, and then share anything momentous if/when it happens.

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  12. I loved Natalie's post! Here are my two biggest worries.

    1. Alienating my family because of my obsession and consequent neglect of them.

    2. That if I have potential, it may never be realized simply because agents are so swamped with queries they may choose to pass simply because they don't have the time to steer me in the right direction. I'm a hard worker, take criticism well, and learn fast. But that's not enough if someone doesn't have time to learn that.

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  13. I will occasionally post about controversial things (politics, banned books, reviews on books I don't like) but since I haven't had any experience with the industry I can't really say I'm worried about it . . .

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  14. People, stop the fuss, you are writing because you have something important to say. So, damn the consequences. We can't live with ifs and buts. It's your WORK! Imagine if Michelangelo had to put up with crap like this. He didn't. He quit. The pope at that time sent envoys to bring him back.

    YES! They will circle around you to get a piece of your PIE.

    You have the goods.
    Now, go bake. Ehmmm..go WRITE.

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  15. I loved Natalie's honesty and I admire her courage for posting. I was so glad that she did it. I feel like we are so restricted in the blogging world and have to really watch what we say. That alone can be exhausting. I worry that I started too late in life. That they're looking for younger YA writers, not women my age. That's my biggest fear. I need to get my things together now, now, now and get them out there or it may never be because who reads books written by someone my age? That's my big fear.

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  16. Hmmm... this is very thought provoking. I watch what I say online, but I don't necessarily worry about it. I just write what I write.

    I suppose my big secret fear is that I'll never be good enough. I've revised and revised, written a new book again and again, and I'm afraid I'll get to a point where I'll never write a book that's good enough.

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  17. I will check out the link. Thanks.
    I'm worried that all my obsessive behavior will damage my kids. I get so torn --wanting to spend time with them while trying to tame the wild fire passion in my gut. I love to write and can't stop. I do want to be published (hopefully, one day), but I'm afraid that all the barriers that keep blocking me will never clear, nor will any agent/editor think I'm ever 'good enough'.
    Yes, trying to find time is always hanging in front of me.
    Great post and Natalie is wonderful.

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  18. I did read it and it made me glad I'm not so cut throat about my writing (hey I have no illusions about what I write and I so know of and am aware of my very limited talents!!!) although I continue to be utterly sensitive about how others perceive what I write!

    Take care
    x

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  19. Im glad that post touched you, that was the first time I heard that someone had an agent and no sale for two years. It scares me so much I dont know what I would do if I were in her shoes.

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  20. I don't like controversy for controversy sake, but if there is a genuine passion behind it and a need to 'get it out' then no problem. Hmm, even then there are some things I wouldn't say.

    My only gripe is how small the industry is in Australia, but no one can do anything about that. The country might be large but the population is tiny.

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  21. Wow. The linked post was some read. Honestly, it stinks having your future determined (seemingly) on the whim of others and I sympathize. I have to say though, my experience in life has been that almost everything I've ever done in a professional setting has been difficult. That it takes more that talent and hard work to achieve success is infuriating. But life certainly isn't fair.

    That said, my biggest worry is just that I'll be too chicken to really put myself out there and make the kind of effort necessary to achieve anything. If I'm never done revising my stuff then I never have to send it out. If I never send anything out then I'll never be rejected. And if I'm never rejected then I can always say that I could have been great, I just didn't pursue it.

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  22. I wonder if I have the ability to be focused enough to do what has to be done. I'm learning so much from reading the blogs of others who have obvious frustration with the entire ordeal.
    I really just don't know anymore...

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  24. All right, I'll try to get it right this time!

    If you have an idea and want to write, then I say write. If it's a good book, it might find an audience. Then again it might not. I think it has always been this way. It's just more difficult today to find a large readership than it was several decades ago when more people read books. I keep writing because I want to, and because I want to see if I can write something good. It's a challenge. But I'm not going to let the success or failure of something I've written define who I am or rule my life. And if for some reason I never get a second book published, I'm not going to feel like a failure.
    Ann Best, A Long Journey Home

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  25. Karen, what a great post. Thank you for weighing in on such a touchy subject. I had not read Natalie's post but clicked over from your link. Ouch.

    The timing is serendipitous for me in that I've just begun exploring my hesitancy to put my opinions out there, not just in the world of writing, but in some other areas that I feel strongly about.

    Thanks for the provocative post, that rebel, Olivia

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  26. I read natalie's post and loved her honesty and now yours is making me think about a review I was considering. It is not enirely favorable to either the author, editor, or publisher of the book. And yes, even tho practically no one knows me,I do worry about offending someone. Thanks for this.

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  27. Olivia, well since your tag line says you're a rebel, I wouldn't expect anything less!

    Ann, I think the danger comes when expectations are raised. This writer had a top agent, she had interest from a top publisher, thus her expectations would naturally be success coming fast and furious. The higher the expectations the greater the disappointment when things start falling apart.

    Pat, The focus is essential, I'm getting that just from my few attempts at NaNoWriMo, and for those of us who are easily distracted by life it's a constant struggle. Altho I've found that I'm more often frustrated by my own lack in that area than I am by the industry. Since I'm not going the agent/big advance/big publisher route, I feel like I have more control over my own career as small as it might be. And I love having that control.

    Rusty, This train of thought reminds me of Marty's dad in Back to the Future: "I just can't take that kind of rejection." LOL. Have your read On Writing by Stephen King? He collected rejection slips like trophies, and tacked them to the ceiling above his bed. I guess to get anywhere as writers, we have to develop that kind of tough skin.

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  28. mshatch, Well if you're reviewing a book I wrote or someone from my favorite press, WiDo Publishing, wrote, then fagetaboutit LOL.

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  29. Most of what I post on my blog is geared towards being positive and relevant. So ranting about agents or rejections or the publishing industry doesn't interest me too much although I understand totally when someone wants to vent. Whenever I do rant a little it's in the sense of providing a solution that doesn't seem to be clear to those in the industry. Like when I discussed authors being trained in public speaking to they're better able to present their work to the public. Stuff like that.

    Being negative or bitter doesn't help much. Looking for solutions and thinking of other ways to deal with publishing seems to me to be a more productive way to doing things.

    Jai

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  30. I too read her post and now yours, both brutally honest. I have no experience in this to comment on but I do highly value honesty.

    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  31. I'm an open book. If the same thing happened to me, I'd probably share on a Feel me up Friday via humor. It's the only way i'd know how to deal.
    :)

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  32. Karen, I loved this post and also loved Natalie's.

    I do worry about how to word things on my blog. I don't want to sound too whiny or depressing. I have been daydreaming about doing a post where I'm brutally honest and let it all out. Who knows, I just might do it someday after I have hundreds of loyal followers.

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  33. Lisa, Whenever I do an As I See It post I lose at least one follower. Some people don't want to read let it all out posts. Others love it. I personally am in the category of loving it. I love it when someone posts raw emotion.

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  34. Some times rejection puts me in a sad place, but emailing friends serves for venting (since I haven't been plugging away in the business as long as Natalie). Poor Natalie! I appreciate when bloggers are honest and themselves and I never begrudge when they tell it how it is. I can't imagine that agents and editors wouldn't understand this so no worry walruses needed! :o)

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  35. She really did strike a chord with us. The ripple effects of her post have continued to radiate through the blogosphere all week. Her courage is amazing and oh-so-admirable! :-)

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  36. You got it Karen, I was a worried walrus today when my post, in response to Natalie's post went live. But I have always been honest, even when it wasn't popular. I am glad you appreciated my post, that really helped. Your post also touched on the things that I missed. Fabulous.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  37. I appreciate Natalie's honesty and her post is relatable. I think it's good for bloggers to let loose sometimes. I do personal posts at times and I feel so much better; the positive comments surprise and encourage me. It shows that many people are in the same boat. As for industry people...I think if someone is a constant whiner it's a turn-off, but Natalie did write she was holding this back for a long time. It's important for people to know how things really are. If I read her post years ago, I wouldn't have felt nearly as bad with rejections.

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  38. I am a worried walrus (just love that phrase!) about everything which includes my writing. There's nothing wrong with a well-crafted piece of criticism of the writing industry. Goodness knows they deserve to be criticised but I read a post several months ago where the writer had used offensive language against her editor and agent and sounded as if she had totally lost it. It was embarrassing to read and I hate to think how she feels about that post now, let alone how she felt the next day. Where possible I prefer to sleep on a blog draft before posting it. Once things are out there it's very hard to retract.

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  39. I know exactly what you mean -- it extends to other areas too - like one day at the gym something happened and I wanted to post about it - and then I thought, "wait, what if I post this and the person who did the 'thing' reads my blog and is embarrassed that I wrote about her?" There have been other instances where I want to relate something but I hesitate - what if they read my blog -

    But I do also try never to be negative or say inappropriate things about the industry ... though I have been wanting to write something about bookstores vs ebooks and will eventually do it.

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  40. It IS a tough line to walk, but I think Natalie did such a great job because she is so honest and brave, and at heart a sweet, nice person just naturally.

    I always try to be encouraging, but admitting to your own struggles is not the same as bashing the industry. It's the lashing out that I try to avoid - mostly because I feel bad afterwards.

    I don't shy away from controversial topics though: ratings on books is one.

    One thing I would like to see more discussion about (maybe I'll post on this) is how much money writers are encouraged to spend pursuing their dream (conferences, seminars, writing books), when the end goal is so uncertain and elusive. The cynical part of my thinks that this is just making money off the hopes and dreams of people; but part of me also sees it like a dancer who spends money on lessons, costumes, etc. and may never attain her dream of dancing for the Royal Ballet. Hmm....

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  41. I worry that I will be seen as too old by the agents and editors if I don't get the "call" soon enough. I feel like I waited too long to start writing and now I am rushing to catch up. And there aren't any guarantees. At all. Period. So I try not to think about it too much, but this is taking valuable time away from other things so if something doesn't happen I know my husband will be wondering why I keep doing this. I can only say that writing is my passion and my joy. I can't stop.

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  42. I'm a little behind on my blog reading, but I wanted to weigh in on this one.

    Yes! I worry. I sometimes write about subjects that are controversial and I worry about:
    1. offending readers
    2. going too far
    3. getting sued

    I usually try to edit myself so I don't go too far, but I actually found myself changing one blog post this year after readers started reacting. I realized that they were reading it in a way I hadn't intended (at least not consciously).

    It's a fine line to find the right balance.

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  43. I usually try to stay positive because the more I bitch and moan, the more depressed I get, so it's self-serving for me! I loved Natalie's post because we never hear about most of those struggles. It's good for us to hear about the hard times as well as the successes.

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  44. I deleted one post about political discourse. I've tweeted some things that were also too political, in retrospect. No one objected, but I'm not a politician or a rhetorician. As long as I stick to indexing, poetry friday, and my personal junk I shouldn't offend anyone. I won't attract too many visitors either.

    I worry that writers assume too much responsibility for getting published. Much of it is beyond your control. The writing is the only thing that is up to you. And you need to know without a doubt that some beautiful books never get published, but making a beautiful book matters even then.

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  45. You're right, Karen. Agents and editors do get away with a lot that writers never could. We even worry about posting negative reviews of books we read! I know I only write a review if I honestly liked the book and have positive things to say. If I don't have much then I just stick it on my I-read-it list and stay quiet. Yes, I'm definitely guilty of not speaking my mind on my blog ... sticking to safe subjects.

    Amy

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  46. I am definitely a worrier walrus! When I write a tweet or a blog I try hard to be positive and confident, but in reality I am a terrified little girl. I have a finished novel manuscript that needs editing and revision but I keep it on a disk and put that off. I love the story line and love where my characters are, but I know it's not "good enough". I too am worrie if I continue to revisions I will ruin it and take out or add too much. Honestly, and I am only admitting this here, although it would make a good blog, I know my fear and worry is the reason I am avoiding revision. I worry I am a writer only in theory and in my own mind and the world composed of agents, editors, publishers and readers will think, "What was she thinking?" so yeah, I am definitely worried.

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  47. I'm a worrier through and through. I worry about everyone. When one of my bloggy friends is upset or close to a deal I worry about them. My Dad says I have the Johnson worry gene. For my writing, I worry that I'm not good enough. Most of my cp's write novels...I write pb and chapter books (I'm trying my hand at novels), but they seem so much more mature than me....There Karen, you got me to say it out loud....(Shesh, I hope none of them read my comment.)

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  48. I read that post a couple of days ago and actually found it nice that someone actually honestly spoke their feelings. More of us should do that.

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  49. When I first started blogging I thought it would be a kind of journal and I could speak my fears, my doubts, my failures. It was also a sort of training ground to teach me how to become technically a better writer. For some reason I never thought about actual people reading my posts, until someone did, and that's when I began to worry. I didn't want to give bad information, or set off an agent, or cause someone to think I actually knew what I was talking about. But it is a beautiful community, with miles and miles of support. It's pretty amazing.

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  50. Reading all these comments makes me think there are some interesting posts brewing! Altho it's hard to have it both ways. Being upfront and occasionally controversial means sometimes people won't like it and will argue the points. So if you can't take the heat stay out of the kitchen.

    When I first started blogging I made a comment on a self-publisher's blog asking her how do you make any money doing it like this? I thought it was an honest question, I really wanted to know, I didn't think I was being confrontational. But she and all her followers came down on me big time. It almost put me off blogging. I certainly never went to her blog again.

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  51. Thank you for the link - I hadn't seen that post.

    X

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  52. Natalie was so brave posting that. I'm so proud of her for giving voice to a journey that many of us writers have also experienced.

    The only thing I stay away from blog wise is discussions about my work once it is on submission. I do know that editors read blogs, and I don't want to whine about how I've gotten x passes on my book when my agent is still actively subbing it. That could lead to any editor reading my blog because they are interested in said MS to have second thoughts.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  53. The more I read the writers' blogs, the more scary the industry seems. It sounds quite repressive, always seeking approval and fearing that one may adversely influence an editor's decision. You'd wonder how Hunter S. Thompson ever got where he did, and whether Thomas Pynchon has been hiding under his bed all this while.

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