Friday, 22 February 2013

Ditch the Snake Oil

In order to be accepted as the creative genius that we are, we have to prove ourselves a top notch snake oil salesperson first.  Marketing, on the other hand, silences the writing demons.  It’s counter-intuitive to the work, yet, if a writer has a problem with using all her fingers and toes to create, network, market and have a personal life, there’s something wrong with her.  

For fecksake, of course there’s something wrong with me.  I spend nine hours a day writing to an invisible ‘friend’.  Disparagement isn’t much of a deterrent to me pointing out that the emperor is in the buff and his butt cheeks sag. 

Ever go to one of those Meet the Agent gigs?  A group of us were taken to London but before we went, our sponsor gave us a type of Writer’s Deportment Class.  I dutifully learned the Elevator Pitch, kept my doubts to myself.

We go to London, are crushed into an historic but down-in-the-heel pub with unlimited drinks and no food.  I stood helplessly by while one of my colleagues marched up to an agent, introduced herself and gave her pitch.  The agent’s smile took on a bit of rigor mortis, eyes rolled back in her head.  As soon as my colleague paused for breath, the agent turned to me.  I hadn’t a clue what to say but I certainly wasn’t going to give my pitch.  The agent wandered off to join a clutch of other agents with their backs to the writers in the room.

The evening progressed with agents in retreat, writers getting drunk.  When I did manage to talk with an agent, I went into therapist mode, asked how they got into their field, what it was like, what they were looking for in a book.  If they mentioned a genre that one of my colleagues wrote in, I introduced them.  I ended the evening with ten queries and never once had to expose a bit of my dramatic arc.

I suppose my problem with this system is that I used to have a normal job.  I went to uni, got several degrees, passed the licensing exam, did my CPD’s, developed a specialty, took home a pay cheque.  Nobody waited until I had an internet following before they took a chance with me.  When I was still green, they threw me into the deep end.  Sink or swim, off you go, the psyches of the traumatised in my care.  If I screwed up, a client’s suicide could be a very real consequence.

If a writer screws up, it’s bad reviews, poor audience turn out, low book sales.  Pft!  As if that were on a par with a client’s death.  But as a writer, I have to prove myself a hundred times more than I did as a trauma therapist because we’ve put the money people in charge of the creativity. 

When I worked in mental health, my boss was someone with a degree in mental health.  The finance people were kept in an office with a bar across the outside of the door.  They didn’t make the big decisions.  They balanced the books and moaned a lot.

However, until our creative people take charge of the money or our society values the creative arts as much as we do paying the expenses of our politicians, this is the system we operate in.  So, here’s my advice:

  •           Do what we do best.  Communicate with honesty.  Someone once asked what I wrote and I said, in the Nobody-Wants-To-Publish-It genre.  I was the eighth person in the group to be asked that question; my publishing credits wouldn’t have been remembered.  My honesty was.
  •            Be a huckster with people skills.  Not manipulation.  People skills.  You’ve been observing people all your life.  Writing about them, creating them, putting them in tight spots, getting them out.  You know how people want to be treated.  Treat them that way. 
  •           Expect to be treated with respect yourself.  Evaluate your rejections.  Don’t interact with people who don’t respect you.  I once had a  session with an agent whom I found so rude, I wondered why he’d been allowed to live.  At the end of our meeting, he asked me to submit something.  When I did, he wrote the most scathing rejection of my thirty year writing experience. 
  •           Surround yourself with writers who support you.  Writers, mentors, tutors who read your work only so you’ll read theirs (or worse, never read yours), tell you that what you write is too mad to be in print, are intimidated by your work, steal your ideas, who have no sense of humour, are not going to help you no matter how much prestige they have in your literary community.  Dump their sorry asses.

When I was a trauma therapist, my most important tool was myself.  The writer’s most important tool is the same.  You’re not selling snake oil.  You’re a creative genius with an honest core.  Hold it as precious.

1 comment:

  1. Ah the dreaded elevator pitch! I remember the horror well...