Tales from the Orphanage: Surviving Publishing Changes

Once upon a time, I had this dream. In it, I was consistently writing bestsellers my agent, editor, and millions of fan were clamoring to get their hands on. I frequently hung out in Manhattan, where I shopped with my agent of 20 years, lunched with my editor of about the same length, and was invariably assured, within hours of handing off each manuscript, that this one was my best yet and was sure to be a hit.

Oh, wait. That wasn't a dream. I think it was the plot from Romancing the Stone. But that makes sense, because what aspiring genre writer didn't fantasize about becoming a real-to-life Joan Wilder?

The truth is, the modern publishing world has changed, shifting dramatically from our fantasies and fictional renditions. Bestsellers still happen, of course (yea!), but long relationships with one's professional partners have become increasingly rare. Agents leave the business, editors move on to other houses (or jump the aisle to become agents), lines fold, publishing houses merge or disappear. Things change at breakneck speed, and as a result, security (for all the players) is in very short supply.

Certainly, this is now true in a lot of segments of the modern economy, but it's especially pernicious in the always-precarious world of authordom. So how's a writer to cope when he or she is suddenly "orphaned" by a change?

Since I've been there a number of times, I thought I'd share a few survival tips.

1. Grieve the change. The loss of the status quo is real, it's stressful, and nobody loves forced change.
2. Keep writing. Write something everyday to remind yourself you are (not were), first and foremost, a writer. This action can help keep you sane during the transition.
3. Evaluate your strengths. What do you have to offer that others don't? Talent, accomplishments, and experience are still worth something, even in an industry forever hungry for shiny-new debut authors.
4. Evaluate and address your weaknesses. Now is the time to take a hard look at your writing and career up to this point and consider making changes to make yourself a stronger, more attractive asset.
5. If necessary, ask yourself what other genre/forms of writing would be a great match for your skill set. In some cases, a lateral move may be possible, but in others, only a larger change will do. If you can get behind it heart and soul and put in the sweat equity, a complete career do-over is possible, though it may require a name change to accomplish.
6. Make a plan and take the necessary steps to carry it out. Though you can't control industry changes, it's reassuring to see the evidence that your own actions remain within your sphere of influence.
7. Take special care of your physical and psychological health. Take long walks regularly. Seek the support of friends and family rather than withdrawing. Do a kindness for someone in need. Remind yourself daily that your working life is only one facet of your life and not the only place where you have value as a person.

If you're in this business long enough, you'll most likely be confronted by an unexpected change. Do you have any coping strategies to add?


Lark said…
Did I miss the part about drinking wine?

Great post!
Joni Rodgers said…
Monday night, Gary managed to drag me away from my current workoholic binge state to take in a movie, and we saw "Up In the Air" -- George Clooney flick about a guy who's profession is laying people off as corporations downsize.

It may just be the haze I'm in, but it blew my mind a little. There's a painful but very true message in it about loyalty -- to whom we are loyal and from whom we can expect loyalty. And what is "loyalty" -- honesty, devotion, lapdoggish discipleship? I've been pondering it ever since and will blog some thoughts when I emerge from the dust cloud. It's something we as writers need to think about.

(Colleeny, we have to see that movie together and then go for gellato. Seriously.)
I'm game... though I may insist on hot tea rather than gelato, in honor of this weather!

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