Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Getting What You Deserve

SW Vaughn confessed something probably most of us have thought: some people get handed writing careers while others, often better writers, get overlooked.

Now, I’m taking it one step further from what SW said, and putting my own spin on it here. So please don’t run over there and comment without reading the post that has inspired mine. (And despite my initial side roads here, this isn’t a Canada-US thing.)

Well, not entirely inspired it. Just prompted me to, yet again, throw all caution to the wind and have a little rant.

Part of this, for me, ties into what I posted about the Canadian publishing industry. I was surprised at how many agents felt the need to point out I was Canadian when I queried. Like I somehow hadn’t gotten that.

But what I really hadn’t gotten was that there are cultural boundaries that affect publishing. I won’t rehash the topic, but I will tell you this. I know Canadian authors that have asserted they are deliberately reading more Canadians and not reading Americans.

Which I think is just sad. It isn’t that I don’t understand… I’m not going to dish paragraph after paragraph of experiences of others I could share. It’s just frustrating that there’s such a move towards insular thinking. “We feel rejected so we’ll reject you.” Where does it end?

This is actually a big part of the reason I’ve had misgivings about the move to exclude translated works from consideration for the top Dagger prize with the CWA, but I’m not going to go down that side road either.

The reality is that some people will have writing careers simply because of their heritage, their connections, their face, their last name… Part of me tells myself to “get over it” and just move on.

And part of me is frustrated.

It isn’t any different in other industries. I remember some years ago – was it 10, 11 now? – when Paul Brandt burst on to the country music scene. His debut single, My Heart Has A History burned up the charts, both sides of the border, making it all the way to #5 on the American Country Countdown.

Which was huge news, because he was the first Canadian male singer to break onto ACC to that level in a few decades. I can’t remember exactly how many years, but quite a few.

Our women do fine. Terri Clark, Shania Twain, Carolyn Dawn Johnson. Our men? Phenomenal talents who are unable to break through on American radio.

It is, in short, weird. I don’t really understand it all.

But when it happens in music, why should it be surprising that it happens in publishing?

Well, it shouldn’t, I guess. We’ve all seen it – celebrities who think they can write, children of celebrities who think they can act.

Children of writers who get every opportunity to make it, while others slave.

One of my earliest experiences of this was with a Canadian magazine. I won’t name it. But I came close to getting something in the magazine.

I read the issue I would have been in, and I don’t think it was prejudice. There were some stories in it that were pretty good. There were others… well, I just kept telling myself they weren’t my thing.

They weren’t Kevin’s thing either. (Good husband. Well-trained husband.)

Later, I found out one of those stories that I’d thought was a lesser work had been written by a friend of the editor, the same editor I got my rejection letter from.

It completely coloured my whole experience.

Had I been rejected because my story really wasn’t as good? Or had I been rejected because I wasn’t friend with the editor?

This is why I don’t read submissions from people I know for Spinetingler. Our next issue is coming out later this week. Even people I don’t “know” but have had communication with through the blogs – Sarah Weinman, Megan Powell – I still haven’t read their stories. Someone else did their edits. I wrote up one set of the editing notes, but that’s it.

For me, it’s a way to keep my head clear of all of this… potential inappropriate influence shit.

Which is also why we haven’t finalized the stories for the fall issue yet. Again, too many I can’t read.

End of the day, we all have to accept that life isn’t fair. People get better jobs all the time, not because they’re smarter, but because their parents paid for them to go to university and someone else couldn’t afford to go, or because they know so-and-so, who’s a friend of such-and-such and a few wheels were greased.

So, it isn’t just the writing world.

For me, this is one of the reasons we need to celebrate good talent and really promote the great books out there.

And this is one of the reasons we started Spinetingler. To give people without a name a chance.

I’m pretty certain that one rejection boiled down to me having the wrong name. As in, not being buddies with the editor.

But you know what? That rejected short story was the premise for Echoes and Dust, my second book. Which I have a contract for.

So, yeah, maybe it didn’t get published for bad reasons.

But it worked out pretty damn well for me in the end.

There are no easy answers on this stuff. All I can say is, keep working. Always be open to the feedback you get, always be prepared to look for ways to improve your own writing. Sometimes, you’ll get rejected because your stuff isn’t as good as you think it is – I have a stack that fall under that category.

And sometimes, you just need to keep at it until you find the right venue for your work.

Good writing will win out, in the end. Have faith, and you’ll find your publisher. And, in the end, your audience.


JT Ellison said...

A very wise man once told me every truly good book finds a home. I wrote it down and re-read it daily so I wouldn't lose faith.
I'm glad you perservered too, kiddo!

Sandra Ruttan said...

I believe that JT. A lot of people don't get published for one simple reason: They give up.

You have to persevere, and sure, maybe if you'd "known the right people" it could have been easier, you might have gotten there sooner.

But then, you might also not have been ready for it.

And you might not really appreciate it either.

Plus, end of the day, I'd rather know I earned a deal for the merit of my work than because I was buddies with someone. It helps with all those pesky insecurities.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Odd, yes, but I was glad to get rejected by an editor who had purchased every previous submission because then I KNEW the editor was publishing the stories, not me.

Sandra Ruttan said...

And that's a good point, Stephen. Do real writers really want to get published just because they can, or because they've earned it? I think, deep down, we all want to know we earned it if we're really serious about craft.

James Lincoln Warren said...

Professional writers want to get published for one essential reason: to cash the check.

Trace said...

Sasha White, who was a Liquid Silver author, recently got contracts from Berkely! She's a Canuck, too. I was really glad to hear of it.

Brett Battles said...

It's all about persevering. If you give up, you didn't want it bad enough.

Great post, Sandra.

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL James! Yeah, there's that too.

Trace, that's great news. Go Sasha go!

Brett, thanks. And that's precisely it. If you really want something, you'll keep at it. No matter how long it takes.

Jeff said...

This is just the post I needed to read this week. Thanks, Sandra. :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Glad it helped Jeff!

S. W. Vaughn said...

Ah, Sandra, you've said it so much better than me. :-) Excellent post! And your encouragement is much appreciated. You're absolutely right: keep the faith. Good writing will win!

Thanks for the mention too -- I'm totally flattered [G]

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hey, I don't think I said it so much better! And your subsequent post about not giving up is the perfect balance. We all just have to work at doing the best we can and take it from there!

S. W. Vaughn said...

Yep, that one's atonement for my sins. :-) Thank you!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Your last two sentences tells it all!

Good for you!

For The Trees said...

THAT tears it!! I'm changing my last name to Ruttan and claiming Sandra as my mother, so I can get my books picked up for a high six-figure advance...name recognition alone will sell enough books to cover the advance -

What? Sandra Ruttan isn't taking any adopted children? Even if they're old enough to be her father? Why NOT? What is it? My beard? My enlarged gut? My Texas accent? What? What'd I say?

For The Trees said...

Actually, the "13. You have lost all of your limbs in a freak accident involving a grand piano and a shark." that's from the Wensdy post (or Tuesday, I forget) applies to the guy who plagiarized my first novel...sorry S.O.B. got what he deserved. Problem was getting that damn piano to balance on top of that door...Yes, Sandra, you can use that one in a murder mystery, free of charge. Just don't ascribe it to me, I don't want some literate police detective glomming onto the idea where I'm concerned.

Lisa Hunter said...

OK, I have to address this American/Canadian issue. Canada may be geographically huge, but it has a relatively sparse population. New York and New Jersey alone have about as many people as Canada. If you took away all the folks in 48 other states and territories from the U.S. publishing/music/art industries, it would probably be comparable to Canada's. There are only so many good writer per thousand people.

Bill, the Wildcat said...

The publishing industry does seem to encourage publication through connections. And as hungry as I am to see a book of mine in print, I'd lie if I didn't admit to being willing to exploit that part of the business... but it's a lot tougher to do when you aren't born with the connection.

I do think in some cases, the name will only take a person so far. At some point, talent has to be there, too. One of my favorite writers is Kyle Mills, and he quite openly admits he got his break in the business because his dad is a good friend of Tom Clancy's. That said, I think Mills is still pumping out books because he's also a good writer.