So, as followers will know, I was at CopperCon this weekend working my authorly self. One of the panels I gave--with the awesome Michelle M. Welch--was about resources for authors in this digital age. Well, due to some time discrepancies between the pocket schedule and the actual program, our panel got mostly ignored. There were a few people, though, so our panel turned into more of a cozy conversation. During this discussion, a man came in, sat down and started asking off-topic questions. I figured he was just uncertain of what we were talking about and possibly a little strung out from the long day. However, a friend of mine who was there said this guy was obviously drunk. Considering said friend was downwind, I'll buy it.
He asked interesting questions, this drunk. Not in the philosophical sense, but interesting in a sociological kinda way. Like, if I were Jane Goodall I would've been cataloging his movements and tracking him through his habitat to know more about his strange breed of drunken con attendee. As I'm not Jane Goodall, I blog.
Michelle and I dodged the, "What do you think of TWILIGHT," bullet. He asked if writers should aim their books at teen girls. (I offered that if you're going to write to an audience at all, go for the mothers of teen girls. Direct income, and if you judge by Twilight, twice as crazy for the material.)
Among his awkward questions like, "What's your most famous book?"* and "Have you written any time travel books?"**, this guy said that he'd heard that writers should write their books, "like movies". He said the wisdom behind this gem of advice lies in this: if someone wants to make a movie of your book, it's already laid out like a movie and it won't get chopped up from page to screen.
I didn't dive into a dissertation about the Hollywood Formula. We didn't go into the fact that no book will ever be perfectly translated from book to box office. Michelle and I did agree, though, that this is not sound advice.
"Write a good book," I said. "Before you can get a movie deal, you have to have a good book."
He seemed confused and said, "But, isn't that what every author wants? To get a movie deal?" Our guest rambled a bit about how the movie deal is the Holy Grail. Disagreeing, I shook my head and said, "Not for everyone. It depends on how you measure success."
He lifted his hand and slid his fingers over his thumb in the international symbol for "cold hard cash". I sighed because this is one of those conversations that can make me go from perky to cynical-and-jaded faster than you can say Twilight. So, I'm going to tell you what I told him...and go into a little more detail, because this is my blog and I can.
I don't know about you, but I'm a little weird. I do not measure success in dollars and cents. I know that this is a business and businesses are supposed to make money. And I'm not about to go into the, "I'm an artist and I do it for the love." No, bullshit. I might love what I do--and I do very much--but if I was just writing stories for myself, I wouldn't try to get published. I wouldn't have spent all this time, effort and sanity working toward my goals just for warm fuzzy unicorn kisses. But, to be honest, I do not judge the success of my career with something so liquid and arbitrary as money.
Don't get me wrong, fiscal growth is not a bad yardstick to have. Whatever rocks your boat and keeps you going. However, this view that we should all be striving for the shining movie deal is misled. Not only does it put the cart before the horse, but it paints a very narrow view of success. (And breeds mediocrity. But that's another topic all together.)
Your mileage may vary, of course, but you need to decide how you measure success. What are your goals? Why are you writing? Why do you want to be published? Do you want to be published at all? What is it you want to get out of this?
For me? Well...
I have several goals. First and foremost among them is, "Write a book that people love." I want my characters to worm into readers' hearts and souls and make little homes there. I want you to leave my book laughing and telling people about the shit that satyr said. I want you to want more. (Because I've got more for you.) I want you to love this book.
To do that....well, there are a few things I'm going to need. Above all else, I need to write a book, and that book needs to be good. Fantastic story, real characters, gripping narrative, command of the English language. All the trimmings. That takes work on my part. Years of honing my craft, writing shit, failing, letting other people read it, editing it, writing more stuff, letting people read that, over and over.
Then, as a writer, I need to revisit those goals of mine. Do I want to write as a hobby? Do I want to have people who aren't friends read it? Do I want to make money? Do I want to be a published author? Personally, I decided that I wanted to reach more people. I wanted to be an author with a career in writing (always have, actually), rather than a hobbyist.
This leads to more questions. Okay, so if I want to be published, what does that mean? Self-published? Traditionally? What will I need beyond the book to meet those benchmarks? Well, if I want to get a rabid audience of fans and reach lots of people...I'm going to need distribution. This, at the moment, is going to be best met by traditional publishers rather than self-publishing options. I'm going to need a publisher with some weight behind them. To get the publisher, I'm going to need an agent. To do that...more work. Research. Writing queries, synopses and proposals. Rejection. Edits. More queries. More rejections.
And the process goes on like that. Over and over. Redefining the short term goals to see what needs to be done to meet the bigger ones.
The journey is different for everyone. The inebriated audience member was focused on the destination. I am constantly looking at the path that takes me there.
And sure, I totally have fantasies of getting a panel in Hall H at San Diego Comic Con some day, and I'd love it if Tom Hiddleston had a role in the movie version of my series. But that's not what I'm working toward. That's not the endgame for me. That's icing on the cake. That's fluff. Gravy.
I can't judge success by getting a movie deal. (Not only because it's so rare, but because even if you get a deal, you don't always get a movie. Development hell or other studio issues can often can a movie before it has the chance to have a script. And then, there's no guarantee it's going to be a good film, a blockbuster or critically acclaimed.) That's like saying a high school basketball player is only good if he's won an NBA championship. There are too many other ways to succeed, too many other goals to have that mean something.
When I told him that I don't see the movie deal as the Holy Grail, he just kinda stared at me, slackjawed.
I know I'm a hippie chick who hates that money drives society, so that's part of it. And I know that sales are how publishers and professionals judge the success of a book. But, I also know what I want. My bottom line. I know that working toward my goals and not a sales number is how I'm going to be able to sleep at night. And if, somehow, somewhen along the way I end up in Hall H with 3000 screaming fans of my series, so be it.
The drunk thanked Michelle and I for our panel. He then told us to let him know when we'd written something with time travel. Then he'd buy that.
Dude, drunk or not, had a very narrow view of the world.
Anyway, what about you? What are some of your goals? How do you define success for you and your career? Leave some comments.
Until next time kids. Nerdmaste.
* - In answer to his questions, "What is your most famous book?" None, yet. My debut novel TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES comes out in November from Entangled Edge. My short story "The Clever One" will appear in the anthology WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME 2 (Dragon Moon Press) next month. Michelle's would be CONFIDENCE GAME. /pimpery
** "have you written a book about time travel?" - Not yet. I have a story in my head that involves some level of time travel, but I won't be working on it for at least another 3 months.
By the way....