Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Roads not taken

Recently, the Chicago Tribune carried an article by Emilie Le Beau titled "When to surrender." In that feature, Le Beau quotes literary agent Michael Larsen as saying "The reality is, agents and editors reject nearly 100 percent of what they see."

At least they're consistent.

What follows is not the usual "keep writing and keep at it and one day you'll make it" pep talk, because that pep talk is just so much verbal balm.

As novelists we go on submitting to traditional publishers because that's where the most money is, at least for fiction. But we know the odds are against us, especially first-timers. We keep doing so because we wrote the damn book, and we think it's good, we want it published, and we want to get paid at least something for our work. So we drive straight ahead down the lane of getting an agent and getting an editor's attention, convinced that our combination of brute force and determination will get us through and get us published.

There are several interesting things about riding a motorcycle, but one comes to mind as most relevant here.

Motorcycling makes you much more aware of your surroundings. When you're on a bike, you're not as insulated from the world as you are in the glass and steel confines of a car. And while there's been many a cold morning when I've been on the bike and wished for more insulation, even as I focus on the road, I can't help but "see" more of what's happening around me. Indeed, key to a biker's longevity is to "see" farther ahead , "see" threats coming from behind, and "see" potential dangers and escape routes ahead and to the left and right. A biker sees the environment differently too. Bikers do see the world differently in terms of threats, possibilities and opportunities.

Writers would be well advised to look around and see the writing and publishing world differently as well. If you see only the lane of traditional publishing, you'll likely find that lane full of traffic. Which is not to say you have to either drive off-road and self-publish, as driving off-road and self-publishing fiction both have low probabilities of success. The number of alternatives to traditional (often known as "New York") publishing are very substantial and in fact greater than any time in US history, if only novelists would see them.

And who says you have to stay in the US?

As a biker, I've learned to stay away from Interstate highways. Supposedly the fastest, most direct, and cheapest methods of driving from point A to B, I've found them crowded, boring, dangerous, slow, and mind-numbing. I can travel 500 miles and see the same fast food restaurants as I saw in the place I started.

I now see the world not in terms of Interstates, but in terms of good back roads. The back roads are often slower, twistier, more challenging, and sometimes harder to find. However, that trip is much more rewarding. And, I end up at my destination feeling like I've seen much more. I have to watch out for speed traps, but on the Interstate I have to keep an eye out for overzealous state troopers anyway.

If you are a novelist, consider seeing the publishing world differently. You may find your journey much more rewarding if you get off the toll road.

Enjoy the ride.


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