Hello, I’m Your New PRO Columnist: Reflections on the Columns I’m Not Going To Be Writing

You know, you volunteer to write a column and suddenly everybody has an opinion.

Okay, I asked for everybody’s opinion, which is why the next five PRO columns (alternating monthly with the PAN column) will be on the five most requested topics: handling rejection, handling professional jealousy, dealing with editors, dealing with agents, and being a professional writer.

But there were a lot of other suggestions, too. Some were really good, like an explanation of how marketing works, or a run-down on contract terms, or a discussion of how to work with a critique partner, or essays on different writers’ journeys to publication, or a discussion of how to focus on the book you should be writing, but those are RWA-general topics, not PRO topics. PRO addresses a very specific period in a writer’s life–you’ve finished a manuscript which is HUGE and can we just take a moment to dwell on that? (No, I won’t cry. Apologies to the people I wept all over at the PRO keynote in Dallas.)–where was I? Oh, right, PRO addresses a very specific time in a writer’s life and as the PRO columnist, I feel strongly that we should be addressing concerns that only fall into that no-woman’s-land of ”I’ve finished the manuscript and I’m a professional but so far nobody’s given me any money.” So if it’s an RWA general topic, it won’t be in the PRO column. (One topic that would have been helpful was an explanation of what PRO is and what PRO does, but we have a website for that–X–so I’ll just send you there.)

Finally, there were the topics that I thought were applicable to PRO, but that weren’t complex enough to support an entire column, so I’m taking care of those here, a sort of not-so-FAQs that I have short thoughts on. Very short. Occasionally pithy.

Call this, “Topics I Will Not Be Addressing at Length in the PRO Column”

1. How to Write to the Market


Also, stop asking editors what they’re looking for. They’re looking for a really good book, which they’ve probably told you if you asked. ”We’re looking for good books,” they said. This is not a lie. What they mean is ”We’re looking for good books that will sell like crazy,” but nobody knows what that is, so they stick with ”We’re looking for good books.”

Stop worrying about the market and go write your good book.

2. An Honest Appraisal of the Publishing Industry

Nobody knows nothing.

And even if somebody did, the information wouldn’t help because there’s only one book you can write, your book.

So questions like ”Is category dying?” are really irrelevant. You write the best book you can and you send it to the place where it’s likely to get the most promotion and you’re likely to get the most money. (This is rarely category.) Same with ”If category is dying, where do beginners get their starts?” At other publishing houses, where hundreds of writers have gotten their starts. Which brings us to ”What houses are willing to take a chance on unpublished writers?” All of them, if the book is good enough.

You want an honest appraisal of the publishing industry?

They’re looking for books that are so good that they can sell a lot of them.

Stop worrying about the industry which you have no control over anyway and go write your good book.

3. A Survey of Industry Statistics

Good luck on getting honest numbers anywhere, and even if you could, the only numbers that are of use to you are your specific numbers, and you won’t have any until you’re published, so this question is a non-starter. It’s this kind of information that gives people the illusion of control, but it’s an illusion. You can’t control publishing. It’s like a slow-moving, permanent tornado without the interesting stuff like flying cows, which is why we have agents, so don’t we don’t have to go out in the storm.

The specific questions under this topic were:

”Who’s buying books?”

People with money who are in a bookstore and see a book they want to read.

”What are they buying?”

Books they want to read.

”What’s happening with the newer markets?”

They’re publishing books people want to read. They hope.

None of this makes any difference to you.

Stop worrying about the industry and go write your good book.

4. How to Use Contests to Your Best Advantage

Enter the Golden Heart.

If another contest comes along that you can easily afford and that you already have an entry for because it’s already part of the book you’re working on, knock yourself out.

Otherwise, stop entering contests and go write your good book.

5. Where Does Women’s Fiction Fit in RWA

Why does anybody care? A lot of our members are writing women’s fiction, and if it has a romantic subplot, why not include it? And even if we shouldn’t include it, why should we waste time arguing about it?

File this topic under “Life Is Too Short,” and go write your good book.

6. A Review of Workshops at Previous Conferences That Helped People Get Published

There are no secrets to getting published, everything you need to know you already know: Write your good book and present it to an appropriate editor and publisher in immaculate professional form.

Yeah, it’s the first one that’s the killer.

Which is why you should stop worrying about old workshops and go write your good book.

7. A Review of Websites and What They Offer

Publishing websites:Nobody knows nothing.

Research websites: Google.

Writing websites: Very iffy because there are a lot of bad writing teachers out there since anybody can put up a website. I saw one once that advised writers to avoid “said” and provided useful substitutes like “hissed” and “quipped.” Don’t get me started on “quipped.” She hissed.

Get off the net and go write your good book.

8. A Guide to the Transition from Public Work to Writing Life

If you’re talking about moving from working a day job to supporting yourself with writing, it’s going to take years to get to that stage unless you get struck by publishing lightning, so don’t worry about it until you’ve got a book contract and two years living expenses in a rock solid money market someplace. Yes, two years. And that’s conservative. It’s very difficult to write a good book while your children are starving. Even harder while you’re starving.

If you’re talking about the differences between working in the public sector and working at home: No pantyhose.

9. How to Stick to a Schedule and Meet Deadlines

I’m not that much of a hypocrite.

Just write your good book.

10. How to Write Around Work and Family

This depends on the work and the family and the author.

That old Get up at 5:30 and write for an hour before everybody else is awake always strikes me as Mother on the Cross. I’ll just sit here in the dark and write.

My advice: Tell your family and friends that from X:00 to X:00 you will be writing and that you will flay them if they interrupt you during those hours for anything except fire, flood, or an open artery. Then if they interrupt you for anything else, scream at them, make them feel as though they’ve done something horrible (they have), and slam the door. Feel no guilt. Getting married and giving birth does not mean that you have sold your life away to perfectly healthy people who can get their own damn socks.

This does not apply, of course, to people who are too young to get their own damn socks. If you have kids under twelve, accept the fact that you’re not going to get much writing done. You wanted the rug rats, now raise them. But once they’re twelve, they can make PBJs and refrain from sticking their fingers into light sockets without you. And by sixteen, they should have jobs and be copy editing your manuscripts.

Yes, I did have a child at home while I was beginning to write. She got her own damn socks.

11. What Being Close Means

I’m assuming this means Being Close to Making a Sale.

It means that you have three publishing houses making bids on your novel, and your agent has set the auction to end in fifteen minutes.

Anything else is meaningless. A lot of encouraging rejection letters does not mean you’re Close. It means you’re a good writer but so far you haven’t written anything that anybody wants to buy. That may be Encouraging, but it’s not Close.

It’s like being pregnant. You either are, or you’re not.

Stop worrying about how close you are and write your good book.

12. The Top Priority for PRO Members

Write your good book.

You may have noticed a theme running through these answers. Most of these questions came from people who are trying to learn the business because they think that will help them get published. But it’s not about being published, it’s about writing a good book, the book of your heart, the book that makes agents drool and editors weep for joy and–this is the important part–readers feel wonderful because they’ve found that illusive treasure, a really good read. Remember how you used to feel when you came across a truly great story, with characters that stayed with you for days, and a world so real that it called you to come visit it again? Your top priority is to do that for other people. It’s your turn, babe.

And the chances are good that if you do that, you will get published.

Go write your good book.

Written by Jennifer Crusie, this essay was originally published in Romance Writer’s Report. PRO Column, Dec. 2004.