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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Willy Wonka & The Publishing Industry

The inspiration for this blog post came when a quote from Willy Wonka popped into my head and seemed to fit my quest for publication.
"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.

And finally:

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.

H. L. Dyer, M.D. writes women's fiction and works as the Clinical and Academic Director for the Hospitalist Program at a pediatric teaching hospital near Chicago. In addition to all things literary, she enjoys experimental cooking and composing impromptu parodies to annoy close friends and family. Click to visit her personal blog, Trying to Do the Write Thing.


Amanda Bonilla said...

That was an AMAZING post! It echoes exactly what each and every writer feels every day. We are swept up in such a roller-coaster of emotions and expectations and ultimately you just have to keep saying "I think I can.." until you reach the top of the hill.

BTW, I love that movie to!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this - I really needed it. The emotions related to writing and submitting are insane, and sometimes we need to just take a step back and look at them objectively (humor doesn't hurt either).

Suzette Saxton said...

I laughed aloud when this article dropped into my email this morning. Very clever, Heather, and insightful! Willy Wonka is a publishing industry pro - who would have guessed?

Anonymous said...

First I must say I'm the biggest fan of Will Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

And,this was a fabulous post.

Anonymous said...

Heather - ths is brilliant!!! Thank you so much for a post I will save for those tough days...

Stina said...

I love this post!!! It echoes the sentiments three of us are currently going through in my writer's group. There're days when someone is getting nauseated from the trip, and everyone else is there to remind her to take a deep breath. That she'll make it. We've all had our self-doubts and frustrations, but this post reminds us why we’re putting ourselves through all the ups and downs. We love our characters and we love our stories. And most of all . . . we love to write. Thanks, Heather, for the reminder.
I’m off now to print this post and paste it on my office/bedroom wall with all the other great posts. This is better than Feng Shui. ;) (Okay, my husband might not agree, but fortunately he’s very supportive of my writing.)
Oh, and congrats ElanaJ for your win on the SA contest. Yours was one of my favorites.

Annie Louden said...

This post was just what I needed. Thanks! I really need to read more stuff like this instead of all the publishing news/agents' blogs that get me down.
Oh, and I need to stop being afraid and just write. Maybe I can retrain my brain on the publishing process. I know it's important. I know I need to treat it as a career. But, I can't even write query letters until I truly finish one of my novels.

Michelle McLean said...

I love this post!! Definitely one that I will be printing for those days when I need it :)

Chas Hathaway said...

Thank you thank you!

I find it so difficult to shape my writing to what the industry wants. Obviously grammar and such have to be squeaky clean, but if I'm not writing in the genre I love, I stop writing - it's that simple.

It's nice to hear encouragement like this!

- Chas

Katie Salidas said...

* Standing Ovation *

That was an awesome post! Thank you so much for sharing this.

Danyelle L. said...

Very good advice. THank you so much for sharing! :D

Tabitha said...

Brilliant post! I'm sharing this with everyone I know. :)

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Brilliant post. Thank you!

H. L. Dyer said...

Wow! A standing ovation! *snort*I'm glad y'all enjoy my silliness. I knew there HAD to be a link between publishing and chocolate somehow. =)

Charlie Rice said...

I'd like to add something about Jodi Meadows. I queried Jenny Rappaport in January and recieved a polite rejection letter from Ms. Meadows the same day. The letter was very encouraging and made me feel like I was on the right track. I thanked her and she responded back. Of all the contacts I've tried to make in the mysterious world of publishing, Ms. Meadows was the nicest. I think she's a class act. I can't imagine anyone being rude to her. (or anyone for that matter)

She was right. I queried too early. My story is original and it has generated a lot of interest but it wasn't polished. When I'm ready, Ms. Meadows will be the first person I query no matter where she works!

Scott said...

Great Post! I'm also freaked because, for whatever reason, I was thinking about the Oompa Loompas from the original 'Willy Wonka' on the way to work this morning. Seriously, I was even singing the song. I love that movie.

Thanks for the post and the insightful advice.

Oompa, loompa, oompity, ay, my, oh, my what a wonderful day . . .


Elana Johnson said...

I absolutely love this! Thanks Heather! *stepping away from ledge*

JC Falor said...

I loved this creative post! Thanks for sharing.

Rebecca Knight said...

This was a great post!!! Thanks so much for putting this out there. It made me think, and the links about the "bad eggs" totally made me laugh (as well as cry on the inside for those poor agents and editors)!

Katie Anderson said...

So cute. LOVE this post! Thanks!