This week we’ve been focusing on how the changing times in publishing are affecting the publishing dream. On Monday, aspiring author Orly Konig-Lopez shared her dream, Wednesday debut author Laura Drake talked about her evolving dream, and today, multi-published Marilyn Brant will close out the series.
A Multi-published Author’s Perspective
by Marilyn Brant
First of all, many thanks to Orly and Laura for inviting me to visit WITS! It’s a pleasure to be here with you all today to talk about the evolution of a writing dream/career. I’ll confess, the vision I’ve had for my own fiction career has been an ever-shifting one, and I’m not sure what turn it’s going to take next…
One of my favorite women’s fiction authors, Elizabeth Berg, said something profound in her book on writing—Escaping into the Open. Something that wedged itself into my memory well over a decade ago and never left. As inexperienced as I was in the fiction world back then, I understood what she meant, and I still think about her wise words all the time.
Berg had been talking about “what she wanted” in regards to writing. Early on in her career, back when she was hoping to just get a magazine byline, she told herself that all she wanted was to get published once. Then, she’d have it made. Then she’d be satisfied. Well, she did get published and it was memorable and wonderful, but it turned out that it wasn’t exactly ALL she wanted.
I get that…really and truly.
When I first started, the thing I thought I wanted was just to know for sure that I could write, as determined by some semi-objective measure. I longed for proof of it, and I figured that this proof would best come in the form of a national publication of some kind with a byline and a check. The size of the byline and amount of the check were immaterial, although I daydreamed about both being fairly large, LOL. I’d read the life stories of a number of famous authors and creative types, though, and we weren’t called “starving artists” for no reason. I knew there would be dues to pay, and I was willing to be patient and pay them with my time and my energy because I needed the clips and the exposure. The opportunity to forge a pure connection with readers. And the networking and introductions to people who might want more of the articles or essays that I could write.
But, even once I’d earned a medium-sized byline and a modest-sized check for the coveted back-page essay in a major U.S./Canada glossy magazine, this turned out to be…well, not exactly ALL I wanted. I’d no sooner become a regular contributor to two parenting magazines when I began writing my first novel. After all, I’d now done the magazine thing and checked it off my bucket list. Wasn’t it time to finally tackle fiction?
This habit of attacking a challenge until I’d achieved it and then moving on to something new and more difficult is hardly an unusual trait. Having talked to many authors, I suspect most writers (and artists and musicians) are this way. We’re driven. And we need to be to bring our stories to an audience. We need to be in order to persevere long enough to write our stories down in the first place. But whatever my goal du jour was—winning a contest or getting agent requests or having a poem accepted for publication—I quickly learned it was NOT going to be all I wanted. I had a sense of ambition that seemed insatiable. For years I deluded myself into thinking that a multi-book contract from a New York publisher might actually satisfy me. THAT was the big kahuna, after all! THAT was what I really, truly wanted when it came to writing…wasn’t it?
I did finally get that traditional contract in contemporary women’s fiction after hundreds of agent/editor rejections (that’s not an exaggeration) and almost eight years of focusing obsessively on the craft of writing…but once I had that, I, of course, almost immediately I started to daydream about other things: a bestseller list or two, a better contract, book-club deals, foreign rights sales, honors and awards. Even though I was supposedly “living the dream” that I’d fantasized about for ages, I couldn’t stop myself from reaching toward these new, even more ambitious goals. I suspected it would be impossible for me to break this pattern.
Which wouldn’t have been a problem except…except that I found myself caught up in a lot of inessential details that were draining me. This profession is packed full of exciting challenges—the high can be as addictive as creamy European milk chocolate—but it can also swamp you. Run you completely ragged. I learned it’s dangerous, health-wise, when a very driven person is her own boss. I’d started to lose track of the last time I had a day off…it’d been years. Couldn’t remember when I’d actually fixed a well-balanced dinner vs. something in the soup/sandwich/pizza genre. Hadn’t gone to bed before 2 a.m. in months. Stuff like that.
So, a couple of years ago, I took stock of what I’d accomplished, what was still left on my fantasy to-do list, i.e., that phone call from Spielberg himself, inquiring about movie rights (“Still waiting for ya, Steven” :-)) and, quite often, caught myself mentally returning to the very beginning. To my earliest writing desires, and the origins of whatever sparked this passion for fiction in the first place—the opportunity to forge a pure connection with readers. The need to challenge myself with something new—both inside the narrative itself and within the writing world.
That was what led me to explore some of the multiple publishing options available today, particularly within the realm of indie publishing. The industry had been changing rapidly while I was busy checking off items on my career to-do list, and I glanced up from a frenzy of deadlines to find that I didn’t want to just keep repeating myself. I needed a new adventure, a new focus, a new chance to share with readers something they’d requested of me—more stories with humor—but those books couldn’t be published traditionally in today’s market. The print lines that used to feature short romantic comedies no longer existed. And, if I was going to delve into the world of digital publishing, I was enough of a control freak to want to be the one in charge… This path turned out to be more intellectually stimulating than I could have ever imagined, and it’s a process that’s kept me busier than I’d expected in the past two years. I know this next year will be even more so.
That said, writing and publishing are unpredictable professions (understatement alert!), and I don’t know where the road I’m on will lead next. I have a couple of projects that I think lend themselves best to indie publishing, but I also have others that might find an audience more readily through a traditional house. We’ll see. I love having choices, though, and I’ve appreciated that writers just starting out have them, too. I’ve seen more creativity, enthusiasm and passion for storytelling in recent years than ever before, and I believe this spirit of innovation will lead to even more excitement about books and a greater connection between authors and readers. In my experience, that’s already proven true. So, in spite of all the change—and, in many ways, because of it—I think it’s an exhilarating time to be a writer. And I wish each of you the thrill of adventure on your journey, no matter what twists it takes.
Marilyn Brant is a national bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction and romantic comedy. She’s published several novels with Kensington Books, including her latest, A Summer in Europe, as well as self published a few light romances, such as Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match (on sale at Amazon/B&N this week for 99 cents!). She enjoys being a hybrid author, loves music and travel, and can’t live without ice cream. Her website is www.marilynbrant.com.