Tuesday, March 22, 2011

3 Publishing Survival Tips from Taylor Stevens

Birthing THE INFORMATIONIST has been a lot like birthing a child—only, with a much, much longer gestation period: There are plenty of unknowns to worry about while a growing baby is safe inside the womb, but all you can really do, outside of a test here or there, is wait and see.

There is mounting excitement with the passing weeks and developmental stages, discomfort with body changes, maybe a little hesitation about the looming responsibilities that will come when she enters the world. There's even a reason or two to wish it were possible to just keep the baby safe inside for longer, until, after awhile, none of that matters because after so much time, and so much growing, you just want that thing born already.

And then, there she is in real life, all touchable and beautiful. With the birth, many fears and worries are put to rest, while new ones rise to take their place. The worry won’t end. Ever. Not even when you’re old and gray.

Yup, that’s pretty much exactly what it’s like bringing a book into the world.

Unfortunately there’s no comprehensive “What to Expect when You’re Expecting” for novel writers—not the kind that takes you through the rollercoaster of emotional ups and downs—the kind of rolling highs and lows that make you wonder if the birthing analogy carries over into hormones as well.

The best you can do is read the wise words of those who’ve come before: to share in the laughter, the joy, the tears and the frustrations, and learn what you can from the knowledge of others. In that vein, I add now to the collective wisdom by drawing on my own experience:

Doubting yourself is a good thing. Sometimes.

With so much already written on the issue of self-doubt—more specifically, how to banish it, and how to deconstruct and neutralize self-criticism before that same self-criticism in turn neutralizes your ability to create—I figure these issues are par for the writer’s course. Which is good, I suppose, because I second guess myself when it comes to my creative efforts. I second guess a lot. And I’d hate to think I’m the only novelist full of doubt—I much prefer believing that I’m in good company.

Bertrand Russell is quoted as saying, “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision."

I stole that quote off of the Wikipedia page for the Dunning–Kruger effect. If you haven’t already read about said effect, I highly recommend that you do. It will help you realize that there’s an upside to self-doubt, before you go on to quash it and then continue writing.

It’s impossible to write something that everyone “gets.”

The advice that I have given many yet to be published friends who have come to me asking for assurance that their writing is pleasing or good enough, is this: “Stop writing to the crowd.” Now that THE INFORMATIONIST has been published, and my craft has been laid bare to anyone who cares to comment, this is advice that I also have to take for myself. But the truth is, it’s impossible to please everyone, and what resonates with one person might seem stupid and childish to another.

There is only one person you can truly write for without pretense, without holding back, without fear, and that is you. Write for yourself. Write what resonates in your heart. Write what makes you laugh. Write what makes you cry, and write what you enjoy. When you do this, your writing will be true, and although the entire world will not appreciate it, there will be those who do, and that is enough.

Publishing takes a long time.

The journey to publication is exactly that: a journey. For some, the trip is shorter than others. Mine took roughly six years. I don’t know how it works for other people, but for me, it took an incredible amount of focus to stick to something for that long without knowing if I’d ever, ever, see the reward for my effort—or even what the reward might be. I’m not here to dissuade you from the journey, only to let you know that it’s not always enjoyable, and based on what I’ve heard from some just starting out, the destination might not be what you think it will be. That said, the only way to see the publication destination is sticking it out for the entire way, and oh, what a journey it is.

Taylor Stevens is the author of the critically praised thriller, The Informationist, first in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series (Crown).

Born in New York State, and into the Children of God, an apocalyptic religious cult spun from the Jesus Movement of the '60s, Stevens was raised in communes across the globe. Separated from her family at age twelve and denied an education beyond sixth grade, she lived on three continents and in a dozen countries before reaching fourteen. In place of schooling, the majority of her adolescence was spent begging on city streets at the behest of cult leaders, or as a worker bee child, caring for the many younger commune children, washing laundry and cooking meals for hundreds at a time. In her twenties, Stevens broke free in order to follow hope and a vague idea of what possibilities lay beyond. She now lives in Texas, and juggles fulltime writing with fulltime motherhood.

Website: www.taylorstevensbooks.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/taylorstevens

Twitter: twitter.com/taylor_stevens


Tracey Devlyn said...

Hi Taylor,

Thanks for blogging with us amidst your busy book signing schedule! Loved your tips, especially the one about self-doubt. Do you do anything special when the doubt begins to creep in?

Congrats on your recent release of THE INFORMATIONIST. Has your head stopped spinning? What are you working on now?


Taylor Stevens said...

Now that the rush of promotion for THE INFORMATIONIST has settled down, it's back to work on the third Munroe installment...oh, and that would mean back to dealing with self-doubt too. Which also means back swallowing my own medicine about not writing to the crowd, and telling myself that with so much doubt I must be incredibly brilliant. Hey, whatever works, right?

Carla Buckley said...

Hi Taylor,

Welcome to The Thrill Begins, and thanks for sharing your story and the wisdom you've gained along the way to publication. I've got THE INFORMATIONIST on my nightstand and can't wait to dig in.

Like Tracey, I'd also love to know about your next book, and whether you started writing it before selling your first.

Taylor Stevens said...

I'd *techically* started on it. I had about one chapter, and some of the ideas/ concepts blocked out. There was about a year's time between when THE INFORMATIONIST got agented and when it was sold. (Due to the economic situation at the time, and upheavals within the publishing industry, my agent recommended sitting on it until things got better.) That particular year was filled with a lot of personal drama that allowed me very little time to work on writing. So, yes, I'd begun the second, but hadn't gotten very far, which made it feel like I was starting from scratch.

Lynn Sheene said...

Hi Taylor,

Love the concept of a comprehensive “What to Expect when You’re Expecting” for novel writers. Wouldnt that be a wonderful thing!

Tracy March said...

Hi Taylor,

I loved your post! In it, I recognized so many things that I have told myself during my 6 1/2 year journey toward publication, yet you presented the ideas much more eloquently!

Congratulations on the publication of THE INFORMATIONIST! And I agree with Lynn, you are really on to something with the "What to Expect When You're Expecting" for novelists. Hmmmm!

Taylor Stevens said...

Hi, Lynn. Hi, Tracy. Thanks so much! :)

Rochelle Staab said...

Hi Taylor,

Congratulations on the release of THE INFORMATIONIST and thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. Your background is fascinating. I love what you said about writing for yourself, advice close to my heart.

But seriously Thank You for making me Google the Dunning-Kruger effect. I now view my raging doubt as a certain sign I might possibly be okay. Awesome. Do you think the Dunning-Kruger effect has anything to do with Male Map and Instruction Avoidance Syndrome?

Hope to see you at Thrillerfest!

Nancy Naigle said...

Best wishes for you and THE INFORMATIONIST. Thanks for sharing your journey and tips for success.

Taylor Stevens said...


Hope to see you at Thrillerfest, too! I would imagine that Dunning-Kruger effect is related to a lot of the varied issues that we creatives face :)

Taylor Stevens said...

Thank you, Nancy. Much appreciated!