Thursday, March 13, 2008

Saving Me From Myself

Reading about Debi Apner's request from a stranger for her book sales and Conortje's date announcing he needed his head shrunk, I was reminded of a recent discussion of my own.

Recently I was drinking on the first floor of the Stag's Head which is not unlike sitting in someone's front room with 100 other people. (Like a wake, but without the food and weird distant relatives.) I'd been collared by a friend of a friend I'll call Dave about the progress of my novel. He fancied himself as an expert about the path to publishing so he was full of questions and suggestions. I had the measure of him; I was armoured with a trusty layer of thick skin I'd nutured after the last time we'd spoken. The conversation turned to:

Dave: So what's your market?
Me: Well the structure of my novel is very like David Mitchell's The Cloud Atlas-
Dave: *Frowns* Never heard of him or it.
Me: It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Dave: Hmm, the Booker Prize is quite niche you know. You need to be careful of these limited markets, people can be put off.
Me: Oh no, it was on the bestsellers list for ages, it's still a very popular book-
Dave: *Frown deepens* The populist market is full of pratfalls. Better to set your sights higher if you want to be respected.
Me: Sorry there Dave, the bar is calling. Cheers.

(Dave by the way is doing a PHD in Art and has never written a book let alone published one.)

I was more amused than annoyed by the above exchange, and perhaps it was just idle curiosity from a bit of a know-it-all. But I did get the impression he was testing my mettle for the road ahead, even trying to catch me out. Perhaps he was trying to save me from myself?

So here's the question - why do people do this? If, for example, I met a musician I wouldn't dare interrogate or lecture them about landing a recording contract but perhaps that's just me. I have the CV of a serial job-hopper but I have never had this reaction until I started telling people I was writing a book. Are writers a greater target than other professions? Or have I just been lucky until now?

15 comments:

Cal said...

Absolutely because everything thinks writing is 'easy' and that they could write a book if they just a) had enough time b) could be bothered.

And people read books which gives them an opinion. Obviously the same is true of music but people have a lot more respect for someone who has taken years to perfect a musical instrument and the record industry probably seems a bit more mystical than the publishing industry.

Anyway, your new aquaintance sounds like a right *insert swear word here*. Everything he said was negative! People like that are best avoided (but I get the feeling I don't need to tell you that ;o))

David said...

On behalf of Dave's everywhere, I apologise.

Yvonne said...

Hey Cal, you're definitely right that people seem to have a lot of knowledge about the publishing business! I'm constantly amazed. And yep, he was dead negative - not a constructive, supportive word came out of his mouth the whole time.

Most people I meet are very enthusiastic about my novel and only a few have been negative like Dave. I haven't met many who have said it was easy, but maybe it's because when someone says they'd like to write a book I won't accept their excuses for not writing one, which usually has them running for the door! Funny that... ;)

David, I accept your apology! ;)

JJ said...

I speak of a long time wanter writer ... as you know. I thought it would be - not easy, but easier than it is, but I still wouldn't dream of cr@ping on someone else's dreams or desires. It's a definite weird phenomenon.

JJ said...

I meant I speak AS a long time wanter writer ... which on it's own doesn't make sense, but I hope you know that it's late here in Bangkok. Perhaps it's time I went to bed, eh?

Yvonne said...

JJ, it still boggles my mind that people are like that. Yes, it is hard - this week especially, wrestling with this story has sunk my confidence to rock bottom and hiked my anxiety levels to insomniac - so when I'm out and about if people can't say something pleasant, at least hold their tongues if they think I'm a crazy person for what I'm doing!

(Luckily I'm feeling much better today, I seem to have turned a corner, and I hope your day of planning went well too.)

TextualHealing said...

It might be jealousy writing a novel requires a lot more oomph that doing a PhD - becase you don't have the external support structure. It might be a sesne that "writing a novel" is a great cop out line for doing f*** all with your life - one that has been used for years. I once knew a guy down my local bar who was "writing a novel" I imediately thought he was using that as a bohemian "hat" to justify a fairly unproductive lifetsyle. He is now on his sixth and has screen rights to one of them.....You can't always read someone right

HelenMH said...

I've found that friends vary from being wonderfully supportive to sneering and dismissive. I just try not to take any notice of the sneering and dismissive ones.

jen said...

Oh lord - everyone's read a book, so they're all experts... That is irksome and loathsome and all kinds of irritating!

My background is in publishing (a dim and murky past) but I still wouldn't go about a book conversation with a novelist in that way!

Alix said...

What a charming positive person, glad the bar called you away!
I don't know why some people have to be so negative. I think their probably unhappy with their own lives and seeing people pursuing a dream bugs them.
Glad you were amused and not annoyed.
And more info about your book! - I loved Cloud Atlas sounds like it will be good.

Debs said...

I haven't told man people that I write but when some do find out the first thing they always say is, "Why dont you get it published?" If only it were that easy.

Yvonne said...

Textualhealing, Welcome and thanks for visiting! I guess he could think a PHD doesn't have as much oomph, but I think it's a great achievement and told him so. If people ask I say that I'm a legal secretary - if I get to know them a little better I say that I'm also writing a book part time.

Helen, yeah the dismissive ones have issues that are best avoided!

Jen, I didn't know about your publishing past! Can you tell me more?!

Alix, he's quite moany anyway so his reaction was expected. Will give more info about the book when the second draft is finished!

Debs, I know, people keep asking me 'So you've found a publisher?' and looked surprise when I said that I didn't. At first it annoyed me, but now I compare the process to getting a record deal - you really need a demo to showcase your work to a record company before they give you a deal.

jen said...

Not really much of a past... I did an MPhil in Publishing and then started working as a copy editor... for a financial services company. And down the pan went that career choice.

However, the course covered all aspects of publishing - printing, history, law, marketing, design, editing and all that jazz, so theoretically I knew what I was talking about :-) But that was about 10 years ago now (eek!) and things have changed so much in the digital era.

Have you ever thought about self-publishing through someone like lulu?

Yvonne said...

Jen, the course sounds great - your job sounds so familiar, I was a copy editor for a phamaceutical company! I ran off to Australia after a year of it though...

I would definitely think about self-publishing if I couldn't get it published through the traditional way. (I'm a traditionalist at heart!) I just had a look at www.lulu.com and it looks brilliant, nice and easy. Thanks for the heads up Jen!

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