Tuesday, September 2, 2014

You're Only As Good As Your Next Book

     So never mind how good your published book is--the important book is the next one.
     In reporting, all of your glories and sorrows lay in the future. With a daily deadline, there was little time to enjoy it when you'd gotten off a good one. You were too busy racing to the next story. You enjoyed it even less when you discovered an issue that merited days of coverage. A story that important meant racing about like a mobile home on fire to cover every angle.
     If you did not do this, other reporters--some from your own newsroom, too--would perk up and try to chip off your story by swooping in with a different spin. I would not have allowed this as an editor myself. But cannibalism was encouraged in many newsrooms to keep reporters on their toes. Far better, I think, to have openly assigned a number of reporters to different angles on the same story. It was only ever the mediocre reporters who took up this kind of lukewarm challenge out of sheer laziness, anyway. Maybe editors just did it out of boredom to watch the fur fly.
     These days, being handed a story to do is the sum total of a reporter's life. Things have grown tame; few are left to enjoy the thrill of the kill. Thanks to the speed of internet communication, no one cares who gets the story first. For the few oldtimers left in the business, it is demotion as a big game hunter to employment behind the yogurt counter.
     Print reporting really was a dog's life. Half the time you never knew if you were going to get a pat on the head or be banished to the kennel for a few days to mull over your sins (this happened whenever you upset a newspaper advertiser with one of your stories). But man oh man--it was fun.
     Like reporters, fiction writers need to live in the future as well as the present. Oddly, I think writers are at most risk of failure after the publication of their first book. This is a landmark goal, after all. But that sense of accomplishment you feel can mutate into inertia  if you nap on your laurels for too long. (OMG can I really do this again?)
     As with almost everything else to do with writing, self-publishing demands a greater personal effort. Those with traditional publishers are expected to do a reasonable amount of self-promotion. An indie must do everything. If you can afford hired help, fine. But if you can't, you must do it all yourself. And all that while working on your next book.
     It is a difficult task--not an impossible one. And like a reporter working under a spiteful desk editor, you must never be allowed to get your hands on the golden ball or you'll lose your edge. You can see it, taste it, hear it, smell it. But you're not allowed to hold it in your hot little hands. Not ever.
     Write every day or die. Promote every day or die. Wonderful. Now there's two of them.    
     Thank god we don't need to watch out for cannibals.

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