Wednesday, 28 May 2014

So that happened...

We all have to start somewhere, I guess
I guess it would probably be silly to surprised that Wattpad juggernaut, After*, by Anna Todd has been acquired by Simon and Schuster.** I mean, it's a perfect popularity accord: it's a sprawling One Direction fanfic in a time where One Direction are everywhere anyway, it's New Adult in a moment where New Adult is searingly hot, and the film and TV rights have already been snapped up. Basically it's free money for the publisher and author, just the same way Fifty Shades of Grey was for EL James and Vintage Books. So no, not surprising, but I guess somewhat depressing. This is a book, after all, that could charitably be described as "rough round the edges," which is now going to be rushed to print in an all-new, lean, trimmed, professionally edited format to capitalise on the fan craze for One Direction (although the PW release makes no comment on that, which makes me think a little revisionist history is going down along with the editing), and to bring in all the money.

That's...that's hard to hear. I'm 31 and I've wanted to be a published author for as long as I can remember. The minute I realised that people could have their stories published, that was my life goal. And I've achieved that. I've won awards and cracked a few bestseller lists via Amazon and ARe. I've hit my thirties and fulfilled a lifetime ambition (hell, my only lifetime ambition). That's awesome!

It's also something I find hard to remember and struggle to appreciate. Because for so long I, and probably every other writer I know, had been taught that the path is this: write > revise > edit the fuck out of your book > submit to agents > be rejected > keep submitting > maybe get accepted > maybe get published > maybe have some success. That's it, that's what you do. If you weren't being rejected, you weren't doing it right. If you weren't struggling and desperate and clawing for it, you weren't dedicated enough. And what I did was, try that path > fail > and then find my own path via epublishing. Which was not the Accepted Way at the time, although admittedly it still came with a huge helping of trying and failing. And despite everything I have achieved, part of me still yearns for the agent and the publisher and the book deal and the "real book in a real bookshop." Part of me probably always will.

Now, there's a lot to be said for rejection. Nobody learns in a vacuum, and I'm sure that I improved as a writer because I got harsh, honest critiques and because I tried and failed and then started over. But at the same time, it's really strange and discouraging to see that that doesn't necessarily matter anymore. That someone who doesn't know the difference between "acceptable" and "expectable" can be handed all the rewards you've been struggling to even get a glimpse of. And not because they're better or they worked for it. Just because...because, I guess? Because there is guaranteed money there, for however long you can surf this wave.

Yeah, that's hard to hear.

All that training and honing and fighting you did? Doesn't matter. Doesn't count. You didn't nail that magical combination of self-insert wish-fulfillment fantasy and boybands, sorry. And it would be really easy to resent Anna Todd for accidentally falling into this crazy success story (assuming it wasn't all some carefully calculated plan, anyway...). But actually, after an initial spurt of "oh god really?" on hearing this news yesterday, I felt better about what I'm doing. Much better.

I struggled for years to define myself as a writer. Am I a gritty urban fantasy author? Am I paranormal romance author? Am I a lesbian fiction author, a short story writer...Am I a writer at all? I've self-published, epublished, tried for traditional publication. I've made bad choices and written bad books and I've cried over where it's all going, or not going, and I've whined and angsted and tried to write for the market, and quit writing and...and...and...and, oh god, it looks like I'll have to cave in and write some godawful thinly-veiled RPF*** with a heavy dose of teenage angst, typos, and tattoos to get anywhere in life. What is this? Why is this happening? That was me, all last year.

And this year I just thought, "no, fuck that, I'll write what I want and I'll see what happens."

Me, 1st Jan 2014
And last night I started writing a book I've wanted to write for years, and I just teared up over how happy I was to be writing it. Will it ever get published? I'm saying yes, because there are so many more options now for writers than just write > revise > edit the fuck out of your book > submit to agents > be rejected > keep submitting > maybe get accepted > maybe get published. Will it be the book that defines me as an author? I don't know, but who cares because I'm in love with it already and that finally matters more to me than whether everyone else in the world will love it. And that is the path I want - knowing that I'm writing the best book I can with all the skill I have, and that whatever I achieve, I've done it myself, for myself. I didn't follow a trend to get rich or popular. I didn't write something I didn't believe in. I didn't (or won't again, anyway, but that's another story) submit to a publisher because I was desperate and they would take me.

So I can't be depressed over Anna Todd. I expect After will be successful and I hope she becomes a better writer as a result. But look, if you're a writer staring in despair at the Publisher's Weekly announcement today, if you're wondering why this always happens to everyone else, or if you should start writing BDSM boyband billionaire fanfic, if you're generally just shaking your head over the state of the industry and the Doom that surely awaits us all because of this deal...Please don't. All that hard work and crafting and improvement - it still counts. It still matters. Find your way. Do what you love. Write what you want. If it happens that what you love is BDSM billionaire boyband stories, now is your time.

*I really wish this book was called "After Something" and not just "After," because every time I see someone mention it online I feel like I've missed part of a sentence. "So After got picked up..." After WHAT got picked up? Use all the words!

**If you've yet to discover After, you can read Jenny Trout's read-along here.

***I have no problem with fanfic, even real person fanfic, but I am feeling a lot of second-hand embarrassment for Harry Styles right now.

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