Over at the Debutante Ball this week, we’ve been blogging about good advice.
My post is up today, and you’ll be shocked to see I seized the opportunity to be a smart ass.
Just to prove I don’t always have to be a smart ass, I’ll take the subject (mostly) seriously here for a few paragraphs.
In an interview several months ago, I was asked to name the best and worst writing advice I’d ever received. I gave the same answer for both questions, which is probably a sign that I am exceptionally lazy. The best/worst advice is this:
Write the book of your heart.
It’s a phrase that's tossed around in writing circles all the time. The idea is that writers shouldn’t focus on chasing industry trends and what publishers say they’re seeking, but instead focus on writing the book that really speaks to them.
I’ve found that when my books start speaking to me, it means I need to lay off the Chianti. I do get the point though.
You can make yourself nuts chasing trends. I got burned when I jumped on the “next big thing” bandwagon trying to write women’s action/adventure novels for Harlequin/Silhouette’s Bombshell line in 2004. I sold my first book to them in 2005 and wrote two follow-ups that hadn’t made it to contract when the publisher decided it was not the next big thing and canceled the line one month before my scheduled debut.
What sucks is that I knew all along I didn’t really want to write that kind of book. I wasn’t clear what I did want to write, but I knew that wasn’t it and just figured it would be a good springboard for my career. Instead, I ended up with three unsalable manuscripts that would have made excellent lining for a hamster cage if I’d had a hamster.
So while chasing market trends isn’t the best career move, the flip side is the possibility of throwing your heart, soul, and maybe a kidney into a book that won’t sell.
After the Bombshell debacle, I wrote what you might consider “the book of my heart.” You already know the story behind A TRICKY UNDERTAKING, so I won’t dwell on the fact that this book didn’t sell despite the best efforts of two terrific agents and interest from a number of editors.
But I didn’t let that failure crush me, which is something I think can happen all too easily in these “book of your heart” scenarios. Writers convince themselves that pouring every ounce of themselves into a book will be their ticket to success. Then, if the market doesn’t cooperate, they’re left moaning, “but I gave you all I’ve got.”
The best thing I gained from writing A TRICKY UNDERTAKING was the opportunity to discover my “voice” in a way I hadn’t before. No one can take that away, not even if all the publishers in the world close down and we resort to reading the latest Oprah selection on scrolls.
While that book might have been the original “book of my heart,” I knew all along I had more books in me. That’s where MAKING WAVES and BELIEVE IT OR NOT and LET IT BREATHE came from (which is giving me the disturbing mental picture of books spewing from my brain like clowns from a teeny-tiny car).
My point here is this – it’s all about balance. You will make yourself nuts chasing the market instead of writing what you really want to write, and you will make yourself nuts pouring every ounce of yourself into a book that may not have a place in the market.
Research what’s selling, take that with a grain of salt, pour your heart into it, then make sure you can cope if no one wants to buy your heart (though I hear there’s a demand for organs on the black market).
How do you feel about the whole “book of your heart” issue? Do you believe such a thing exists? Do you think writers have an infinite number of books in them, or is your brain more like that clown car? Please share.
I’m going to research that black market organ thing. Think anyone would buy my liver?