My mind is a big ol’ pile of mush right now. It’s good mush, steaming on the plate with a dollop of butter and a splash of B-grade maple syrup.
The Novelists, Inc. conference in New York blew me away. I’m still processing. My brain hurts from the massive effort.
It’s astoundingly powerful to hang out with a group of novelists where the average member has had sixteen published books. You know I’m on the low end with three. Think of how many were on the high end.
I went to the conference with no game plan, no highlighted list of agents or editors to pitch, no stores to visit or people to impress. Having such an open mind made the experience even more pleasurable and valuable. I learned so much about the business even my toenails are smarter.
Some of you have heard the sad tale of my two devastating experiences with lit-fic folks days after I signed my first contract with UNM Press in 2003. I won’t go into details publicly, but can say that they shook me and that I worried about being part of the book biz, part of any writing community.
Shell-shocked and nervous, I went to my first Left Coast Crime and was met with pure generosity and warmth. From that, I concluded that mystery writers were the kindest anywhere. This conviction has proven true time and again.
But I’m starting to rethink its parameters.
At the Novelists, Inc. conference, I met writers who’d seen and done it all. Everything. They’d watching publishing lines born, crest and die. They’d had editors buy, leave houses and die. Agents had lauded their work, dumped them . . . and died. (There’s a book in here somewhere.)
Many of the attendees had reinvented themselves so many times they’d forgotten most of their pseudonyms, even the titles of their books.
You know what? They all still love to write. Every one feels there is more to learn, that his or her craft can be honed.
I didn’t witness an ounce of snobbery or self-satisfaction during my three days with them. These romance, science fiction, fantasy and mystery writers talked openly about their lessons learned rather than hold them close or keep secrets to get the upper hand.
On the plane back to Albuquerque, I wondered if my paradigm about mystery writers needed to be expanded.
Novelists — at least those who write genre fiction — are in the business of entertainment. It’s a glorious profession. And, IMHO, we’re in it together.
We’re the key to continued literacy. Without good, compelling fiction — books that a large audience wants to read — written works will go the way of the Edsel. (This, of course, extends to some nonfiction as well, but that’s another discussion.)
I think there are writers who lose sight of this commonality. They wear a kind of genre or subgenre superiority. Worse, many of them feel like they’re in a life/death race with every other novelist for the much-touted decreasing pool of readers, of book buyers.
Here’s my simple analysis:
There are sharer-novelists and competitive-novelists.
The sharers realize that information is indeed power, that the more we work together for readers, for our rights as creative entrepreneurs, for mutual success — the more we’ll all benefit.
The competitors start from the same place: information is power. Only, they want to keep it all to themselves. They belive it’s only possible to succeed by pushing the competition down. These are the people who denigrate other writers or genres in order to make themselves look better. Frankly, they spend a lot of time spreading negativity and worry.
We can learn a tremendous amount from each other across genres. Together we can either turn, or slow, the destructive tides and trends in publishing. We can unite for our common good AND readers’ good.
I’ve met far more sharer-novelists in my life. I hope others feel that way about me.
So, what do you think? Does this super simple perspective work? Is it way too naive?