Monday, June 29, 2015

What do I want from my writing?

Oh wow. I've just been reading some pretty sad news for wannabe authors like me. For example, according to online sources, the average published author in Canada earns $500 per year in royalties.

Scary, huh?

Or try this one: even if a book is published, it has a 1% chance of being stocked in the major book retailers.

Or this one: the vast majority of promotion and marketing for new books is done by the author, not by the publishing house.

Or this one: The average book published in Canada sells between 5,000 and 10,000 copies over the course of its lifetime.

Scary scary scary scary, especially if you're one of those authors who hopes to make a living through your writing.

Thankfully, I've never really "hoped" anything of the sort. I knew from the start that it is only a very small minority of published writers who earn enough from their books to "quit their day job".

I still find the statistics just a little bit depressing.

My research only serves to confirm a conversation I had last week with a writing colleague at the post-book-launch party in honour of a new collection of stories by a mutual friend, Rob Gray, called Entropic.

This author colleague is, himself, published with a small east-coast publisher and he told me that, from his experience, the publishing house worked very hard to gather sufficient arts grants to pay their own staff salaries, to pay their overhead and to produce the books. After that, the publishing house considered its work to be done -- it's up to the author to sell copies of the book.

He also said that few of the authors he knows have any expectation of selling huge numbers of books: they just feel it to be important to write quality literature and get it out there to the (often few) people who are interested in reading it.

I'm not sure how I feel about all that. And it's made me think pretty intently about why I write and what my goals really are. I spend an awful lot of my time writing, thinking about writing, promoting my writing, talking about writing and all the rest: what do I really hope to get out of that investment?

I love to write. I love the creative process. I love the thinking and dreaming and researching and planning that goes into creating, from nothing, a story for other to enjoy. I love to read other people's writing and to think about why it works (or doesn't), how it is put together, what decisions the author made or should have made to make the piece what it is.

But (and I hate to admit it), at the base of it all, I write because I want to see my creative work published by a real publishing house. For all the success I have had self-publishing and promoting my Abigail stories, I really want to have a professional publisher with a known publishing house say to me, "We want to publish you.; we think you're work is worthy of taking the risk."

Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What is my natural writing voice?

I'm still struggling with my next writing project. Actually, that's not exactly true: I'm not struggling with my next project because I haven't yet decided what my next project should be; I'm struggling to decide on a next project.

I have completed drafts of the four stories that will form part of the next Abigail story book and, if I might blow my own horn for a moment, I think they're really good. There's action, a little bit of comedy and quite a bit of character development in them. And I didn't struggle at all in getting them written. As with the original 12 stories, they really just poured out of my fingers and onto the computer screen.

But what next? My partner tells me that I should stop struggling to write mysteries and court-room dramas (the two genres I thought were my thing) because, in her opinion at least, they don't represent my "natural voice". Based on how smoothly the Abigail stories seem to flow out me, she argues, my "natural voice" must be in the genre of middle-school or young-adult fiction -- more specifically, the voice of an innocent, somewhat naiive and optimistic young girl who isn't afraid to take on life's bigger challenges.

Yes, you read that right: my natural voice is apparently that of an adolescent girl, preferably one who lives in the middle part of the 20th century.

Is my partner right? Is that really my natural voice?

I am having a hard time arguing with her, to be honest. The Abigail stories flow so remarkably smoothly for me. I can generally produce a very strong draft of a story in perhaps two hours of writing and that draft will require very little editing or revising to get it into final form.

That being said, I find it something of a bewildering situation. I have spent my entire life thinking that mysteries were my genre and, almost from the start, my protagonist was going to be a lawyer turned investigator, so that I could incorporate elements of courtroom drama into the mix. I have, in fact, completed three novel manuscripts in the mystery genre and have come very close to having two of them picked up by mid-sized Canadian publishers.

I have also written five or more short stories in the same genre, though none of those have caught on either.

What I keep having to accept is the fact that the writing process for every one of those particular pieces (novel and short story alike) was a fairly tortured, drawn out experience. They were really hard for me to write. The final product was good but the process was painful.

So maybe I should take these Abigail stories, and the ease and pleasure with which I wrote them, as confirmation that I've been wrong for most of my writing life, that I really should be writing middle-school or YA fiction.

I had thought my next project would be to go back to my mysteries and revise them some more with a view to resubmitting them to new publishers. But maybe, just maybe, I should be planning a full-length book for young people, with a female protagonist.

It's the decision of what to write next, rather than the writing itself, that is currently bogging me down.