"There's a hundred billion people in this world, and only five of them will find golden tickets [representation as a debut author]. Even if you had a sack full of money, you probably wouldn't find one. And after this contest [process] is over, you'll be no different from the billions of others who didn't find one."
"But I am different. I want it more than any of them."
The more I recalled from that film, the more appropriate it seemed. So, here's what I've learned about publishing from Willy Wonka:
1. You should never, ever doubt what nobody is sure of. If there's one refrain everyone and their brother is singing, it's that publishing is subjective. Rejections are expected, even for eventual best-sellers. A particular genre or topic or plot device may be unanimously declared cliché, or overdone, and yet opinions can change in a split-second based on fresh execution. So, all you can hope to do is keep writing what you love, and hoping someone else comes along who loves it as much a s you do.
2. Rude demands and entitlement issues will send you down the garbage chute. There have been a lot of posts about this on agent/industry blogs. From moonrat's unproductive lunch, to odd or hostile letters sent to Jennifer Jackson, Colleen Lindsay, Jonathan Lyons and even intern Jodi Meadows... the one clear fact is that these author reactions did not help them get published. Take home point? Be a good egg.
3. In here, all of my dreams become realities, and some of my realities become dreams. I am often surprised at how often control becomes a fundamental point of focus. Part of what I enjoy about writing-- the reason I find it therapeutic-- is that I finally have complete control over something. My characters, their world, and what happens to them depends entirely on what I decide. That is a heady feeling. Interestingly enough, once the writing is finished the next step (if publishing is the goal) means putting yourself in a situation where you have very little control. I think that's why so many authors get frustrated riding the query-go-round and alternately cling to rules and/or declare them arbitrary and unreasonable.
4. There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Opening yourself to other people is the only way to share something wonderful you've created. It also means they might disrespect or destroy it. Be ready to filter your chocolate river.
5. A little boy's got to have something in this world to hope for. I struggle with this one a bit personally. I realize rejections are expected. I know thick skin is a publishing industry prerequisite. I know I haven't queried enough to make any assumptions about my chances to be published, but reading the odds can be pretty discouraging. But stories are meant to be shared, so I'll keep a healthy dose of optimism on hand.
6. One is Enough for Anyone. Moonrat once made a lovely post in celebration of the Little Novel That Could. What is striking about this story to me is that sometimes, one champion makes all the difference for a project. Certainly, in order to get a book published, a lot of different people need to believe it can be successful. But sometimes just one person... if it's the right person for the right project... can make them believe.
7. What Are You At, Getting Terribly Fat? I participate in several online writers groups where people share their query letters for critique, and I'm surprised at the number of intelligent, otherwise well-informed folks who seem to be unaware of appropriate lengths for novels. Colleen Lindsay of FinePrint posted a great breakdown of wordcounts by genre a while back.
8. Don't let a golden ticket make the chocolate taste terrible. As much as any aspiring author wants to be recognized and published, the publishing process should not be allowed to spoil the experience of writing. It's easy to get swept into the madness of query letters, synopses, and pitchcraft. And I've spent my fair share of time agonizing over query blurb wording (many can testify to that), but it is important, I think, to remember why we started writing in the first place.
Kate on ktliterary posted a while back about Josie Bloss's plans for a tattoo to celebrate the release of her novel Band Geek Love, and asked what other aspiring authors would do to celebrate publication. I think I might sing "Golden Ticket" at the top of my lungs:
I never thought my life could be
Anything but catastrophe
But suddenly I begin to see
A bit of good luck for me.
Cuz I've got a golden ticket
I've got a golden twinkle in my eye.
I never had a chance to shine
Never a happy song to sing
But suddenly half the world is mine
what an amazing thing!
Cuz I've got a golden ticket
I've got a golden chance to make my way
And with a golden ticket
It's a golden day.