Sunday, March 22, 2009

What Hard Work Will Get You -- Or Not

I often hear from young writers, asking for advice. I try to answer their specific questions when I can. When asked for general advice, I have a kind of standard response that would have made my mother proud. You know. Success is all about hard work, study of craft, intensive reading of work in your genre, practice practice practice, with a seasoning of talent and luck. Don’t expect overnight success, I tell them. In order to be a writer, you have to love writing so much that you will write whether you get paid or not.
I began writing when I was a teenager, and though I didn’t write regularly in early adulthood, it took five years of constant writing (and four books) to get my work to where first an agent and then a publisher took interest in it.
I’m still learning, every single day. One thing I look for in a writing conference is a focus on craft, in addition to the usual sessions on how to find an agent or how to craft a query letter.
So it was with interest that I watched an interview with Stephenie Meyer that was included with the Twilight video. Although Meyer was an English major in college, she confessed that she just wanted a major that would allow her to read books for a grade. She took only one writing course in college and moved immediately into child-rearing after graduation.
You may have heard the story that the idea for Twilight came to Meyer in a dream. She wrote Twilight in three months, working around the demands of three small children. In a twinkling (my word) she had a three-book contract. And, of course, the Twilight series went on to be the kind of phenomenon that makes publishing history and bookseller bottom lines.
Hmmm. So much for long years of study and practice. Meyer was/is a voracious reader, but that seems to have been the sum total of her preparation for greatness.
Now, there are those who criticize the quality of the writing in the Twilight series. For instance, author Stephen King outraged Twilight fans when he described Meyer’s writing as “not very good.” Others have criticized the message she sends to young women.
But then, not everyone likes Stephen King, either. I’m not comparing myself to Meyer or King, but my books have come in for their share of criticism, too, along with some awards and good reviews. From a craft standpoint, Meyer certainly did better than I did on my first, unpublished try.
You’re never going to please everyone, but Meyer has been successful by every commercial measure. I think a lot of writers out there would gladly take the heat from critics if the first novel they wrote sold in the tens of millions.
What do you think? What’s the most important driver of publishing success for authors? Talent? Hard work? Luck? Connections?


Mitch Wallace said...

Hello! I stumbled across your blog (I think I clicked the link on Nathan-the-agent's blog, but I can't remember now...) and I was thrilled when I got here, because I see your books at Target all the time! They have such cool covers and I've yet to pick one up, but hopefully that'll change soon (damn economy).

Anyways, I'm an aspiring writer living in San Diego, and I'm just about to finish up my first novel - a YA supernatural adventure. I'm so excited about it! It's great to be here at your blog, and I look forward to reading your posts. Take care!

Mrs. Duncan said...

I think success can be a combination of luck, talent, and timing. The Twilight books increased in popularity overnight...I saw it happen in my classroom! We were ready for a supernatural love story- and Stephenie provided one that is truly appropriate for YA readers [11-up]. When readers connect with the characters, it allows them to have a literary relationship that is truly magical. [Team Edward by the way!] For me, fictional Edward is much more appealing than the Edward they selected for the movie.

Cinda- would you be willing to send ARCs of the Demon King for my classroom again? I am the teacher that you sent Dragon Heir books to , and I sent you the photo of my kids? I would love the opportunity to read your new book, and my kids would flip at the chance to read and review Demon King for Barnes and Noble. If you get this, please hit my blogspot and let me know.

Take care- and I am looking forward to hearing from you.
Beth Duncan

Nora MacFarlane said...

I think it's all of the above. Stephanie Meyer was heavy on the lucky to have everything happen so fast. I agree that some of the technical aspects of the writing weren't necessarily top notch, but her storytelling ability is so good that I didn't find it a distraction. Go team Edward!

wendijo_writes said...

For someone like me, who's just starting out (I've been writing about a year) a success like this seems great. But, when I started sending out query letters and then subsequent rejections came back, it was very disheartening. None the less I keep writing and enjoying it every minute, not knowing where an idea might come from. I'm a current member of SCBWI Michigan and have a great support group. So when I see rejection letters, I just go online and get encourement from my friends. Let's just hope with hard work and continual query letters going out, one of these times I'll have the right timing and the right luck.

Cinda, love your Heir series. Your style of writing and subject matter is similar to what I'm striving for. Thanks for writing the way you do. You're a great inspiration to me.

Nora MacFarlane said...

Cinda - Love your blog! I nominated you for an award on mine.

Aaron said...

Mrs. Chima... Er, Mrs. Cinda, whatever you'd liked to be called- I completely agree with you. You only can write if you don't care if it sells for big bucks (although it would be nice) as long as there are readers out there who want to read it. I've read a bit of the Twilight series and in my opinion they were pretty good. Great storyline, good characters every now and then it might move a little slowly but overall it was pretty good.

So what I'm trying to say is the only true writers there are out there, are the ones who just can't stop telling the story. They HAVE to get it out and into somebody's hands so they know the story too. I don't know if Stephenie Meyer or Stephen King are like that, but all I know is *that's* a true writer.