Thursday, October 26, 2006

Community and Commitment

I had my ear pierced yesterday, and afterwards met my friend Marcus Sakey (The Blade Itself, coming Feb 2007 St. Martins) for dinner.

Marcus is part of a new wave of writers who know a tremendous amount about publishing, even though their first book isn't out yet.

I didn't know squat about this business before I signed my first contract, four years ago. All the How To books were out of date and lacking practical information about even the most basic things, like how to do booksignings or how a publishing company works. There were no blogs about the business. Writing conferences existed, but I never thought to attend them. Not many writers even had websites yet.

Prior to that contract, my writing was also done in a vacuum. No networking. No contacts. I was a slush pile success, and didn't get any help or advice or encouragement from anyone in the biz, peer or pro.

I learned about publishing the old-fashioned way, by making a lot of mistakes. In hindsight, I should have asked more questions, and gotten in touch with those more experienced. I should have reached out and made friends. Because, simply put, friends make this business a whole lot easier.

Networking, talking shop, commiserating, schmoozing, offering advice and help, and even reading and commenting on manuscripts, all can accelerate the learning curve for everyone involved. Marcus realizes this. So do many other new writers. And as a result, his expectations are more realistic, his goals more grounded, and his X-Factor--that elusive luck all writers need in order to succeed--is tuned for maximum potential.

I met with Marcus for dinner so we could critique and brainstorm. We're each working on projects, and we read each other's prior to the meeting, so we could discuss ways to make each stronger.

I do this with several other authors as well. It's win-win. Not only does it reduce the rewrite time, but it accelerates the learning curve because you can learn as much critiquing as you can being critiqued.

It was a productive dinner for both of us--we each found ways to make our projects stronger, and we found them much quicker than if we'd been working solo.

Midway into the evening, Marcus commented on my new piercing, and mentioned he didn't see me as the earring type. And he's right, I'm not the earring type. I got an earring as part of my Halloween costume, and will remove it on November 1st.

Marcus immediately understood, as if it made perfect sense to permanently modify your body for a costume accessory. He recognized the value of committing to something fully, even if it didn't make a lot of sense. I had a costume idea, and I didn't pursue it half-assed. I went all-in (using a poker term.) I had a goal, and did whatever was necessary to reach that goal.

So what does this lame and sketchy analogy really mean?

If you're a writer, it's important to learn as much as you can about this business. But before you even do that, you have to have the commitment. You can't be afraid of your friends and family thinking you're silly for pursuing you goals. You can't write once a week, take an occasional writing class, and believe that will be enough to land you a contract. And you can't do zero promotion, thinking that all you have to do is write a good book and leave it to your publisher to sell it.

In other words, stop making excuses and go pierce your damn ear.

Okay, lecture over. Now I have to go rinse with the sanitizing solution...