Daily Archives: May 19, 2012

Writing Fiction Career as Anthropological Fieldwork

About twenty plus years ago I tried my hand at making a living writing fiction fulltime.

I had had the privilege of studying with some very fine fiction writers; I also studied anthropology and saw this a chance to do some fieldwork in a new field. What an eye opener!

I did everything, from bookdoctoring, ghosting, scriptwriting, story consulting and developmental edits…critiquing hundreds of manuscripts for agents, film producers and authors seeking help.

Sometimes the money was good. I had one client whose revised novel became a New Age bestseller (more than six months) and got a movie deal. I got a few intermediate writers up to speed to sell stories and novels. A couple of short fiction clients won awards or nominations for prizes like the Pushcart Prizes or little magazine awards.

But whether as a consultant or actual writer, there are a lot of people who think they can and should write a novel. Professional people like lawyers and doctors and hedge fund advisors (!), you name it, lust after the stay-at-home novelist’s hermit existence. Most talk about it.

It’s hard work learning the trade. And one of the oldest saws in the biz is first drafts are almost always “sh-tty”. Start over and rewrite…and rewrite…ad nauseam. Many many are called but few get to the promised land of quality genre or literary writing. Agents have long held the 2% rule of thumb: only about 2% of submissions in the slush pile will stand the test of genre or literary quality.

Sadly, many people are dazzled with the absurd notion they’ll become bestselling authors and live the high life. Oh my goddess…it’s a sad landscape of ambitious dreamers. People really think sitting in a room all day writing and re-writing is some kind of dream life (truth is, for genuine fiction writers, fiction is mental health; the worst time for them is between works; there is no choice; it’s a kind of addiction to doing life).

My goodness! Don’t get me started! There’s a reason writers are mistrusted by publishers…they’re unpredictable, aggravating and “whack jobs” (another agent’s remark); as one publisher said in the 1970s when the big corporate mergers began…if we could only get rid of the writers, publishing would be a great business!

Well, the scribes are still here and still annoying the unpredictable revenue stream of trade publishing. They can’t engineer best sellers or classic literary works, the latter bringing less profit than prestige.

(to be continued)

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