Month: June 2011

The Biggest Lie in Publishing History

Last week I wrote a long, emotional post on my private blog. I put up that post on my private blog because I was afraid to talk about those feelings in public, and I was afraid to say that I’ve been unhappy lately. After days and days of stewing and whining and crying, several events have led me here to my public blog to talk about the biggest lie I have ever believed. It’s also the biggest lie I think every writer believes. This is not the post I put on my private blog. That one still seems too raw and close to my heart to let out into the world, but this post contains a few raw things, as well, so read on if you’re interested.

There are a lot of things published authors don’t talk about publicly – usually traditionally published authors. I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed in my years of blogging that once an author snags an agent, the focus of their blog usually changes. Once they sell a book, it changes even more. Once their book is close to its release date, they start to seem distant. They talk about publishing a lot. Their posts contain carefully planned honesty. Something seems like its missing, and more often than not, that missing piece is never shown after they are published. A sort of veil goes up. A wall, even, and thus we come to the division between the published and the unpublished. Even worse, there is a division between the self-published and the traditionally published. But this isn’t really a discussion between self and traditional publishing. It’s deeper than that.

I may be generalizing, but these divisions are painfully real. It’s how I’ve seen it. It’s nothing against published authors, no matter how they’re published. Heck, I’m a published author with one self-published book and one traditionally published book which is at that close-to-release-date point. Have I put up that veil? That wall? You bet I have. Except, in this post, I want to knock part of it down, even if just for a moment.

I think most writers go through a cycle. There’s the newbie phase where everything is about the book. Everything. There’s a sort of numb-like happiness going on. Ignorance is bliss, I might say. Then that writer moves into another phase, and that might include a second book or a third, or maybe they’re still on their first, but they become aware of other writers – even more, they become aware of publishing. It’s a vague thing in the background – a glittering aspiration that’s not even considered a reality yet. Then the worst phase hits. The writer feels the need to get published. They feel like they’re ready. This is where the DREAM enters in, and where trouble starts. Some writers are blind to where their writing lies, if it’s truly ready for publication, and some writers seem very aware of where their work stands. Either way, most writers themselves (whether their work is or not) are never ready for publication. It’s pretty much like becoming a parent. Nothing ever truly prepares you for that. Then there’s the next phase, the phase I’m in, and that’s actual publication. This is where the huge transitions take place. This does not include getting an agent. That was in the previous phase. No, I’m talking about actual publication, whether you’re going at it yourself or through a publisher.

I’ll be honest. Self-publishing was a transition, but it was not the same as traditional. There are many factors, but the main factor being that everything was literally coming from me. Even if I had hired editors and cover artists, etc., it was still all through me. My business. My decisions. Nobody was relying on me, and if I failed, it only affected me and maybe a few other close loved ones. That’s it. Traditional has been monumentally different because it’s not just me. It’s a lot of other people, and the book is larger distribution-wise, and it’s permanent. So, now that I’ve explained that, I can say that at least for me, traditional publication has been a completely different emotional ride. In a lot of ways, it has been harder.

That aside, I must get into the main point of my post, which is the Big Lie. Remember that DREAM I mentioned above? That dream is part of the lie. It also can’t be avoided, in my opinion. If you desire publication, you’ve most likely faced the DREAM head-on. For a lot of authors it includes grand things like a large publisher, world domination (*cough* I mean foreign rights sales), a hardback debut, a perfect agent to guide you through everything, and a large amount of cash, whether that be in an advance or through sales or, of course, both. It also includes recognition, respect, and the ability to keep publishing and writing successfully according to the world’s standard of success. Well, don’t let go of that beautiful dream because no matter what anyone tells you, it IS possible. I’ve seen versions of it happen to a lot of authors I know. However, the dream isn’t the complete lie because it can certainly happen. There’s a version of this dream in the self-publishing world, as well, and it also contains Big Huge Things that happen to only a small percentage of authors.

The problem with the DREAM? It relies on outside forces to make you happy, and as we all should know, that’s a problem. If you hang your hopes – even subconsciously (and that’s very easy to do) – on that dream making you happy, EVERY SINGLE THING that does not meet that dream is going to shove you down flat on your face and mess with your head and your happiness.

So, what’s the lie? The lie is that once you reach a certain point in your writing career, you will be happy. When you finish your book, you’ll be happy. When you get a full request from an agent, you’ll be happy. When you get an agent offer, you’ll be happy. When you sell your book, you’ll be happy. When you make more than 50 sales a week on your self-published novel, you’ll be happy. When you get a large advance, you’ll be happy. When you you get an offer from a publisher on your self-published book, you’ll be happy. When you get your first gushing fan mail letter, you’ll be happy. Get the point?

The truth is, I think we all fall into this terrible trap, not only in our writing careers, but our lives in general. You have fallen into it, you are in it right now, or you have been there or are about to go there. It’s like a required stop, it seems. As for writing, though, unfortunately, I have to tell you that debuting a novel is not super fun. In fact, the stress, the emotional strain and drama and pressure, pretty much sucks the life out of most of the excitement I had going. I’ll even admit that on some days I would just take it all back and not publish at all. Putting Cinders, my self-published novella, out into the world was exciting, and I wouldn’t change that experience. It was scary and difficult, but it was exciting, and the excitement won out. Putting out Monarch…well, that has been different. It seems the more I learn about publishing, the more disappointed I am in any dream – because even if I met all those things the dream can offer, I would still be disappointed. How can I say this? Because I have some close friends who are published authors, and they are all on completely different paths – big paths, small paths, even the dream path, and every single one of them has admitted their disappointment in one thing or another, usually with a lot of pain in their voices.

The bottom line of the lie is that publishing will make you happy. It will not make you happy. It only makes things harder and more complicated to find happiness in your writing career. You’ll have brief stints of elation. I have, but in the end, it’s all fades away like a rainbow. If you want happiness in publishing, you’re going to have to look beyond publishing, I can promise you that. It’s just like marriage or having a child or landing a dream job. Just because you find your true love and get married, that does not mean you are set for life in the happiness department. It requires constant work, constant reevaluation, and constant positive thinking despite your circumstances.

One of my favorite quotes is from Scott Hamilton’s book, The Great Eight. He sure went through a lot of crap in his career and in his life in general, but in this book he talks about how he has found lasting happiness in his life. One of the key things I’ve found is this:

Many times people get tied to the disappointment of what failed rather than focusing on the success that awaits them in the next opportunity.

Using this as a base, I’ve found that no matter where you’re at in your writing career, there is always more opportunity when things don’t go the way you dreamed. Part of what makes writers amazing is our ability to be creative, and we should let that seep into every aspect of writing, including our publishing path. I’m not with a huge publisher, so there are a lot of things that I could let disappoint me in the choice I’ve made. I don’t get a hardback debut novel. I don’t get an advance. I don’t get thousands of dollars poured into marketing. I didn’t even get my book mentioned in Publishers Weekly. Woe is me. Poor, poor me. I should be disappointed. I have friends who have SO much more than me. They got amazing deals, thousands of dollars, beautiful hardback books with pearly jacket covers and embossed titles, even paid book tours. And as I’ve already admitted, I’ve felt a lot of stress in this huge life transition of writing as a side hobby to writing as something very serious. The thing is, taking something too seriously that is supposed to be fun will kill you in the end. So I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to remember the essentials, the basics of why I’m here doing any of this – TO GROW. It all comes down to that, doesn’t it?

I think one of the most important things in life is to allow ourselves to grow. Every choice we make, every step that helps us evolve into a better person, a better writer, a better friend, is something we should embrace and enjoy, no matter how difficult it is and no matter where we are at on our personal path. Publishing your novels will not bring you happiness, but embracing the changes (good and bad!) that it will bring into your life no matter where you’re at in that journey, will bring you happiness. Understand that your dreams will change as you grow, and you must learn to change with them. Failure belongs only to those who stand still as opportunities pass them by.

**follow-up on the publishing lie**

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, 77 comments

Light and Dark, Fae and Humans: A Look at the Immortal Film “Legend”

Cinderella from Cinders | Cinderella from Bonded

Admittedly, I did not first see Legend until 2003. My husband purchased the Ultimate Edition, which contains both the original 1985 theatrical release and Ridley Scott’s director’s cut version with a new score and enhanced features. I’ve heard many places that true fans ofLegend don’t like the director’s cut version and absence of the musical score by Tangerine Dream, but since the director’s cut version was the very first version of the film that I saw, I’m partial to its clearer story, more complete dialogue, and less (dare I say?) cheesy and flat musical score.

This, however, is not necessarily a look at the differences between the two films, but Legend as a whole. As a writer, I have never been partial to writing fantasy or fairy tales—that is, until I decided to write a continuation of the Cinderella fairy tale. My novella, Cinders, opened my mind to the magical simplicity of fantasy. As I watched Legend (for the first time in years!) with my four-year-old daughter last night, I realized some amazing things about fantasy and what we call the fae, or an assortment of magical creatures like goblins, fairies, and elves.

When I first started writing Cinders, I didn’t intend to introduce any sort of fae-like creatures. It was realistic. It would be an all-human cast. However, I eventually gave up that goal when the story steered me into the direction of sprites and elves and fairies – and ultimately, dark magic. Last night, as I watched Legend, I realized why my brain might have steered into that direction.

Legend is the story of the balance between Light and Darkness. The Lord of Darkness, a demon who can exist only in darkness (imagine that) seeks to banish light from the earth once and for all. He wants the world to be a place where he and his dark creatures can frolic in pleasure. How can he do this? Only by killing off the last two unicorns—the protectors of light and innocence, so to speak. These unicorns can only be found by innocent humans, however, and it isn’t until Jack (a forest boy whom I still can’t figure out where he really comes from) and his friend Princess Lily inadvertently lead the Lord of Darkness’s minions to those beautiful unicorns. This, of course, allows those minions to steal one of the unicorn’s magical horns, and the world begins its decent into wintery darkness as the minions kidnap both Lily and the last unicorn and drag them into the underworld. The only hope of light returning is that the one unicorn still lives, and if Jack and his magical fae friends can retrieve the lost horn, the last unicorn, and Lily, all might be saved.

Legend’s story is based on the simplest plot out there—the fight between good and evil, light and dark, innocence and guilt. Beautiful, innocent Lily is the one who ignores Jack’s pleas not to go near the unicorns. She believes her pure heart will not harm the unicorns, but in touching one, she allows the beast to stand still long enough to be poisoned by a dart from the dark minions. When she discovers that she is to blame for the world’s plunge into darkness, she suffers with feelings of guilt and anger through the rest of the movie. This is where I think the true heart of the story lies—this realization that innocence and light can plunge so easily into darkness, but that in the end, integrity and trust and can restore it again. Even when Jack witnesses Lily dressed as a bride for the Lord of Darkness as she is about to happily kill the unicorn, he reverts to his initial trust in her and does not shoot her as his fae friend, Gump, keeps telling him to do. Despite what he sees, Jack trusts Lily is not lost to darkness. There is still hope. That, to me, is the point of the entire story—even as we still question whether Lily has given in to her dark side or simply been bewitched by it.

Like Lily in Legend, my novella, Cinders, portrays Cinderella as a darker character than readers are used to seeing. I give her guilt and pain for choosing magic to fix her problems. I give her another man who she lusts after (an elf of all things). She has a more human and fallible side than most fairy tales show, and in doing that I believe I accomplish what this amazing film Legend portrays as well—the realization that there is duality in all of us. None of us are purely good or purely evil, and it is a shame when fairy tales present the world to us in this way. Even the Lord of Darkness, the very son of the devil, had a soft spot, a desire to be loved and love in return by the Princess Lily.

The reason I love Legend—both the theatrical version (which in the final scene makes the whole duality theme much clearer than the director’s cut does) and the director’s cut version, is because it manages to keep the innocence and beauty of a fairy tale, but also presents such an innocent story in a more grown-up fashion by showing that darkness must exist in all of us for light to mean anything. Princess Lily will make a stronger queen and person because she overcame darkness, not because she avoided it. Avoiding it altogether wouldn’t allow her to grow or see the world as anything but the overly glittery paradise it is in the beginning. Similarly, my Cinderella character in Cinders will make a stronger queen because she loses those she truly loved—because of her own dark mistakes and fears—and realizes she can love again and grow from those mistakes instead of withering from them.

Legend’s story makes it clear that darkness should not necessarily be defeated, but overcome. By embracing both light and dark, we learn more about ourselves and what truly makes us human. If you’ll notice, the fae in Legend are not the ones who ultimately save light from its demise, nor are they the ones who threaten it in the very beginning. It is the humans who usher the entire story into being. In the same tone, when I introduced the fae into Cinders, I did so to set up the legendary dynamic between humans and magic. In both my story and the beautiful, immortal film, Legend, the human element shows stronger and more brightly because of the fae. They are the glitter that allows us to sparkle.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Bonded, Books, Guest Posts by Me, 6 comments