March 16, 2010

It Just Doesn’t Make that Much Difference

Here’s an excellent interview of literary agent extraordinaire Donald Maass up at Author Magazine (by the wonderful Bill Kenower).

Donald and Bill said a lot of wonderful things, but the one that struck me the most was this. Bill asked Donald what a writer should do after her or his first book is sold to publisher ~ “after they’re set,” as Bill said. Donald replied that that’s where a writer can get into trouble. Having the attitude that she or he is set sows the seeds of later problems. Donald said that the writer should immediately start her or his next book. In fact, he or she should have already been working on it because their deadline is really short this time around. Their first book may have taken three to five years to draft and redraft and make as good as possible, but with this next book they may only have a year to three years to do the same thing, in addition to promoting their first book and also having a life. (May I add, making a living.) And they shouldn’t be focusing their energies on blogging, getting cards made to hand out, and all that. This stuff is good, but it doesn’t make that much difference. What makes the difference is a darn good book, so the writer should be focusing on that. It takes about five published books for an author to have gained enough of a following to have a breakout book, and it’s all about the writing. A writer needs to try to top her- or himself every time.

I was both heartened and a little shocked that Donald said that blogging and all that doesn’t make that much of a difference ~ since self-promotion is the common wisdom these days. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, my gut tells me what he says is true. While blogging and putting yourself out there might make the difference between tanking and selling 2,000 copies, it won’t make that much difference in selling 30,000 copies. On the other hand, I think it’s human nature to want to do as much as possible to ensure your success. That old up-by-the-bootstraps myth.

But I wholeheartedly agree that it’s all about the writing. You have to focus on the writing. That’s the most important thing.

What I’m Reading Today: I reread half of A.M. Holmes memoir The Mistresses Daughter. (I had forgotten I’d read it.) It is compulsively readable from the very first page and so wonderfully honest. But also profoundly depressing. There’s no wonder A.M. is a writer.

PS Hey, NYC: My excellent friend Nina McConigley will be reading at Jimmys 43 for the Sunday Salon, along with other fabulous Bread Loafers Ru Freeman, Emily Raboteau, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, and Reginald Dwayne Betts. Please give them a rousing NYC welcome!

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