Writers do have a lot of power. They just don’t exercise it at times, if at all, due to financial conditions (need for money) and survival in general. But, those who have sufficient means of support other than from writing can exercise this inherent power and take the higher ground in their writing careers more consistently.
Sasha White, a contributor to the Genreality Blog, posted a motivational, but slightly idealistic, segment today on not compromising your ideals and ideas just to get an agent (who may be unsuitable for you) and get published. What drew me to her piece was her marquee quote from one of my favorite performers: Janis Joplin, a very talanted but screwed up singer from the sixties who lived a hard, short life and put all her emotions into her remarkable songs.
“Don’t compromise yourself, you are all you’ve got.” ~ Janis Joplin
We often talk about being true to yourself in your writing. Hone your own voice, follow your own path, write the story as you see it, not as others tell you it should be. I firmly believe in those things.
I also see plenty of blog posts or articles that put a lot of emphasis on things being all about the story. Hearing things like “As an author all you can really control is the work.” or “The best thing you can do to ensure a successful career is write a great story.” over and over again, but I don’t believe that.
Now get this straight. I am not saying that the story doesn’t matter. What I am saying is that we, as authors, control a lot more than we’re being trained to think we do. We can control more than the story.
I’ve been agent hunting for about a year now, and I’ve queried many many agents. Some passed on my ideas, some wanted to know more. Some told me what to do, and some talked with me about my choices and options and left it to me decide what to do. However, I’ve yet to connect with an agent enough to seriously pursue a business relationship. I’m being very picky, and I know it. I think that’s okay because I know what I want, and I’ve decided if I can’t get what I want then I’m not willing to settle for less. Instead of settling with an agent I don’t believe in my heart will be my final agent just so I can get some proposals out there, I’ve decided to submit them myself, and use a literary lawyer for the contract work if I need to.
A short time ago an author friend of mine emailed and announced a book sale. She was super excited because it was to a new publisher, and it seemed like a great move. Not only was it a sale, (which is always good), but it was one that would get her more exposure and help her move in the direction she wanted to take her career. Then, a couple weeks after her announcement, she walked away from the deal. It wasn’t an easy choice, but it was one she made because she was smart enough to think ahead and know that she’d regret it later if she didn’t make her stand.
Those are just a couple of examples of the power we have. Power that has nothing to do with the story, but everything to do with building a career. Sometimes we concentrate so hard on being writers that we forget that if we want to make a career out of this that we have to be businesspeople too, and that means that we have to make tough choices at times. Sometimes it’s about more than the story. Sometimes it’s about knowing that the choices you make and the path you follow is ultimately your own responsibility.
John’s Note To Sasha: Don’t hunt for the perfect agent…They don’t exist. Get one that will meet most needs for your present project. Good agents DO have extensive contacts and, if your work is really good enough, they will get you much more money and better future rights, residuals and benefits than just a legal type. If one agent doesn’t like your idea…keep looking for one who does…If you are totally unsuccessful at this, then, by all means, use alternative publishing sources.