Today, Wannabe Pride welcomes guest blogger, Isobel Irons! Isobel is an indie film director and TV producer with a serious writing addiction. Her debut novel of contemporary romantic suspense, WAKE FOR ME, is available now on Amazon.com. To find out more, please visit her website or follow her on Twitter.
I recently read a post on Penelope Trunk’s blog about how the biggest decision people can make that will impact their career is who they marry. (Note: Penelope is not only one of many inspirations for an upcoming character, she’s also one of my favorite bloggers because she tells it EXACTLY like it is, at least according to her.)
Because I am so fond of likening publishing to dating, (something you’ll soon find out, for…reasons) this article seemed like it was telling the story of my life. Except, instead of applying it to my real life husband, I applied what she was saying to the people I’ve “married” (i.e. partnered with, in various forms) throughout my career, on the pathway to becoming an author. And guess what? The rules are still 100% true.
“If you marry a breadwinner who expects their career to come first, then things will probably only work if you can support that. Even if you have a career of your own.” – Penelope Trunk
Let’s say you have a friend who is also trying to publish their work. This could be someone you met on the internet and began a relationship with based on your shared experiences, or it could be a real life friend. After a while, you think it’s a good idea to take your relationship to the next level. One of you starts by giving the other a sample of your work, and suddenly your acquaintance is your beta reader. Or maybe you take things a step further and become CPs, or “critique partners.”
Everything seems to be going well, for a while, and you’re so happy to have finally found someone you trust enough to share your goals and worries with, and your rough drafts. Until…something happens. And it will happen. That’s just statistics. One day, one of you will inevitably become more successful than the other. It might be because one of you is more talented than the other, or one of you wants it just a little bit more. Or maybe one of you will give up and simply quit writing. It doesn’t really matter how, because it will happen. And when it does, you’ll have to figure out what is more important: your relationship, or your writing career.
I’m sure we would all like to think that we’re altruistic enough, or secure enough, to not begrudge our friends the success they deserve. And when you’re still in the honeymoon phase, it seems like nothing will ever be more important than the things you share. But history has taught us otherwise, and if you think the divorce rate is bad, try asking a bestselling author how many of their writer friends stuck with them all the way through the journey.
“If you marry someone who is terrible at earning money, or someone who is good at earning money but doesn’t want to, then you will have to take responsibility for earning the money. In each of these cases, your career decisions are largely determined by who you choose as your mate.” – Penelope Trunk
Mate, agent, editor. They’re all in the same category when it comes to publishing. If beta readers and critique partners are the people you date, professional publishing types are the marrying kind. Is it because they’re more trustworthy or respectable, and therefore make better long-term partners? Not necessarily. It’s because there are contracts involved. An agency contract or a publishing deal is like a prenuptial agreement. Great if you’re the one being protected, if you’re the one with the assets. Not so great if you’re the one whose potential future career is on the line.
Maybe you think you have one of those fairy tale, too good to be true relationships, like Westley and Buttercup from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. (BTW, have you ever actually read that book? Because there’s a little known epilogue about what happens after they finally get together, and it’s actually pretty shocking how condescending Westley becomes toward Buttercup at the end. Sorry if I crushed someone’s childhood just now.) No matter who you are, even if you have the perfect marriage, things are going to change. Launching your first book is like having a kid. Contracts are all hunky-dory in theory, but what happens when actual money gets involved? What happens when your book doesn’t sell, or maybe it sells better than either you or your partner ever dreamed? Success complicates things even more than failure does, in most respects. Can you honestly say that won’t take a toll on your relationship?
“It’s true that who you marry is your most important career decision. But it’s also your most important financial decision, your most important parenting decision, and on and on. No one ever says that they knew what they were getting when they picked their spouse. Twenty years down the line, everyone is surprised.
So the choice is impossible to perfectbecause the information you have about your options is so poor. People change, and people don’t know who they are so they can’t disclose who they are. And life before kids does not resemble life with kids, so how do you even know how the person will react when the kids come? It’s hubris to say this does not apply to you.” – Penelope Trunk
If you think about it, the publisher/author relationship is the ultimate example of a “classic” marriage. The publisher is the Don Draper-style bread winner, who promises to love (when it’s convenient for him), honor (unless someone better comes along) and obey (hahahaha, not) his wife, or in other words, the author. In return, the author promises to do everything that the publisher asks of him/her, including producing creative content on demand and marketing him/herself whenever the publisher decides that parading their author around at the company Christmas party (or whatever) is beneficial to the publisher’s image and financial goals.
At this point, I realize a lot of you are thinking I’m coming from a jaded, feministic and/or “traditional pub”-hating place. But I assure you, I’m only using these oversimplified (and yes, okay, kind of pejorative) examples to illustrate the fact that publishing IS A BUSINESS. Agents, editors and publishers are business people. They’re not in it because they love you–no matter what they tend to blog. They’re in it to make money, and support themselves. If they don’t make more from you as an author than they invest in you, that’s bad business. Once you understand how the balance of power works, you can expect that a publisher will always act in their own best interest.
Which, in a way, is actually super refreshing. Liberating, even. Because if you go into any kind of publishing relationship, knowing full well that the other person will only support you as far as it benefits them, the whole process becomes a lot less complicated. It’s not love, it’s not marriage. It’s not even a meaningful connection. It’s just sex–I mean, business.