After months of waiting with bated breath (okay, bated breath was really just the last few days before I got the email), I finally received word that I have been accepted into Nova Ren Suma’s YA novel-writing workshop at Djerassi! I’m incredibly honored and grateful for the opportunity to work not only with an author that has deeply inspired me as a writer and as a person, but also to be working with 9 other talented writers! I’m looking forward to some inspiring people and conversations, and learning whatever I can from each and every person present. My brain is ready for your wisdom! And I guess to share whatever wisdom I might have (lol).
I’ve said it a million times before, but one of the reasons why I continue to work towards having a traditional publishing experience is because I want to always be working towards becoming the best writer that I can possibly be. I hope that, with the right agent and editor, I can learn and grow as a writer and a storyteller. Lessons from the traditional publishing world are one of the few unexplored frontiers for me, as someone who’s been a self-proclaimed writer since before I could spell my own name. You see, (and you’ll have to pardon the unintentional humblebrag) all my life I’ve had the unsatisfying experience of being a “really good writer for my age” when I was younger or “extremely talented.” Which means that, in every creative writing class and every writing workshop, even up to an agent-fishing-type conference just a few years ago, I’ve always been a big fish in a small-to-medium pond, and the focus was always on teaching those smaller fish. That’s awesome when two agents are fighting over you at a conference–not so great when all the full manuscript requests over the years never seem to pan out.
I’m lucky. I know I’m a good writer. I believe in that wholeheartedly, even when I also know that what I’m writing is shit (I know I can fix it. Revision is glorious). Just having that in my core belief system puts me miles ahead of a lot of creative types. But I know I have plenty left to learn, that my writing can always be even better, that there will never come a day when I am done perfecting my voice, my craft, my process, my method.
I am not a religious person, but for me, everything in life rests on a spiritual foundation. Every choice I’ve made; every relationship I keep or dissolve; the food I eat, the products I buy; the way I see everything in the entire world–it all comes down to the things that I believe in, deeply, when nothing else can be known for certain. Choosing to self publish, despite the criticism I knew it would invite, was based on those core beliefs (and a handful of editors validating my work but telling me, essentially, “as good as it is, no publisher will take a chance on something so strange.”). I love the freedom of self publishing, the possibilities it presents, and, you know 70% royalties on ebook sales doesn’t hurt either.
But I didn’t do it for money. I did it because unpublished novels that I know are good feel like deaths in the family–far worse than an abandoned manuscript that wasn’t ever going to get better. And besides, just because a novel doesn’t necessarily have a broad appeal doesn’t mean it’s not a great novel with the potential to change someone’s life.
Admittedly, that sounds really defensive. I’m not here to defend my choice to self-publish my early work in this ever-changing landscape of publishing. But consider this: have you ever loved the shit out of something no one in your life had ever heard of, that never gained in popularity (or if it did it took a very long time)? Have you ever loved a person that no one else even notices, or wanted to get to know the super shy kid in class that everyone else ignores? Have you ever found an old book at a used book store, a novel or a book of poems, or found a piece of art and fallen completely in love with it and then found out there is ZERO information on that poor author/artist who probably died in obscurity?
Okay, well, maybe you have and maybe you haven’t. These probably aren’t universal experiences. Maybe there are just some people who live a kind of universal experience themselves, and there’s nothing obscure about them. Hipsters weep for them, and chances are good that they probably wouldn’t like the books I’ve self-published. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But let’s be honest–the mark of a great piece of art, including fiction, is that it speaks to us. And the more people a work of art speaks to, the greater it is, in history and theory. And, also, let’s be more honest: the more people it speaks to, the more appealing it is to anyone who stands to profit from representing it.
How to appeal to the masses (or a large enough mass to make your art lucrative, anyway) is probably the hardest thing for any artist to learn, if indeed it is something that you can learn. Some people have it–some people, who probably already enjoy things that appeal to larger groups of people, naturally tell stories that fit into that world and appeal to those masses. For other people, like myself, we tend towards things that may be excellent, but unmarketable. Remarkable, but strange. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, since my whole life people have repeatedly told me the things I say and do are “lol so weird” and my response has always been “Really? That’s weird? Not the spoon cult I started in eighth grade, or the comics I used to draw about my sociopathic alter ego?”
I don’t know if you can actually learn how to write stories that appeal to more people–and if you can, I don’t know that it would actually serve your writing. I’ve experienced myself, and heard countless tales from other authors, how writing for mass appeal can cause devastating depression and creative blocks. But I do believe that as we grow into our art, we connect more and more with that deep undercurrent of raw humanity that lies at the foundation of all creativity. I believe that if we follow our hearts and hone our craft and keep writing our words, no matter what, that the stories we write will naturally evolve into things that are bigger than our quirks and fascinations, our talent and our vision. A great story–and great art–is always much more than the sum of the artist’s parts.
Anyway. I’m finishing the second draft of The Tower and starting the outline for my next stand-alone YA novel, I’ve got an AMAZING narrator contracted for the Ghost City audiobook, and I’m really looking forward to the conference in June. So that’s where I’m at right now. :D