Happy New Year to fellow writers everywhere
Posted by E on January 3, 2012
I wish all of you peace and much happiness in the new year, despite the Mayan calendar and New Age predictions of destruction, polar shifts, switching equators, alien landings and other such craziness. The world is changing at such a fast speed that who knows what the year ahead has in store for us? Whether we end up evaporated, digitalized or turned into higher-frequency beings, or stay much as we are, reality is, change will take place whether we like it or not. So, in the words of now-deceased Jack Layton, let’s be kind to one another, and we can change the world.
2011 for me was a year of changes, and not necessarily all for the positive. There were a lot of ups and downs and formed one of the biggest rollercoaster moments of recent years. In 2011 I finished my first novel, Race Traitor, and submitted it to my agent, who in turn submitted it to editors. That painful process – the part from the time when I completed the manuscript onwards – was permeated with countless frustrations with my agent (whom I’ve fired since then), as well as negative experiences piling one atop another.
Two months into submissions, my agent decided – against my permission – to withdraw the manuscript from editorial desks, despite the fact that half of the editors still had not gotten back to us. This ugly incident, along with various other unprofessional behaviours, led me to fire him, but not before I was left with an ugly taste in my mouth about agenting in general, and the publishing industry in particular. More on this later.
Finally, dejection led to depression, which led me to feel hopeless about the entire industry. So – like everybody else these days – I self-published Race Traitor. I’ll never regret going this route, because of the freedom I’ve gained in the last few months. But it wasn’t easy. Getting people to buy it was like pulling teeth. So more dejection and depression set in. And then I understood that in the world of Amazon, where circa 45,000 people publish monthly, you have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming noticed.
And then, gradually, things started to happen. I started selling books. I climbed the ranks. I finally earned enough to receive my first-ever royalty cheque for $500! I could enjoy my success and not give an unprofessional, self-described “rock star” agent 15% of my income. And I was happy, finally, because even though nobody believed in me – nobody, least of all my ex-agent – that I had done it all with my own hands. Myself, alone. And incidentally, while my “ex” still hasn’t sold anything since I fired him, I’ve done mainstream interviews and had my book stocked in a couple of bookstores already.
Even though I still have a long way to go, I’m determined never to let other people’s lack of faith in me determine how I percieve my own value, and that of my work. And I urge you to not do so either. Whether some jaded asshole believes he can sell your book or not does not matter. YOU know yourself and your work better than anybody else. If you can’t get an agent, or you’re forced to fire an agent, remember — they are NOBODY without you. Whether you can get an editor to take a look at your manuscript is not intrinsically tied in with your value as an artist.
This whole fucking industry is built on the backs of writers — who are for the most part, ripped off in terms of lowball advances and crappy royalty rates. You think I’m joking? I walked away from a potential deal with Penguin last year because it wasn’t going to give me enough money to cover my security concerns over publishing the non-fiction version of Race Traitor. So…yeah. Not even a name like Penguin is worth selling my hard work for nothing. I know it’s hard to understand, even for my writer friends, who were part of the entire heartwrenching process, but I had to walk away from Penguin, and I will walk away from future publisher offers, unless they’re willing to meet me at least half-way. You’ve got to earn respect to get respect. Especially when you expect writers to incur potential danger for doing public speaking tours and arranging their own security (which you won’t pay for).
Sadly, when it comes to how they treat writers, the publishing industry has forgotten all that. But you’ve got to stay strong, and not let them get to you. Don’t ever let yourself be at their mercy. Stay firm in your resolutions, and soon you will find that depression can turn to empowerment, and then to freedom. Remember the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
YOU are the talent. YOU are the commodity. If you’re to take anything with you from this post into the new year ahead, remember that.
If you really believe in the value of what you are creating, you will succeed. It’s only a matter of time.