Monday, June 30, 2014

Does It Ever Get Easier? A post by Jenny on having a long career.

The other day I was thinking about agenting and whether or not my job had gotten easier or harder over the years.   Over the course of a fairly long career (I'm not sure if I'm proud or embarrassed to say 22 years), I've gone from being the assistant to a literary agent to running my own agency with eight terrific agents repping a variety of genres. But even with all my new responsibilities, I have to say that in many ways my job has gotten easier, because I just get it so much more than I ever used to. It's still a challenge, don't get me wrong, and I still sometimes make mistakes, of course, but I just understand so much better what kind of book will work in the marketplace and that has made my life as an agent a thousand times easier. And what's hard about it is still kind of exhilarating in a way--it's that you always have to stay current, you always have to learn and challenge yourself and grow.  

And then I started thinking, well, what about writers?   Does it ever get easier for them?   And I decided to ask a few of my long-time and multi-published authors that very question. I figured it would be helpful for the readers of this blog who are possibly just starting out to hear some of their advice and insights.

Here's what I found out.  No, it doesn't really get "easier." It doesn't get easier to write a book and it doesn't necessarily get easier to publish a book.   In fact, it's often harder to sell a second book than a first one, just because if the sales figures for the first weren't good, it's that much harder to sell another one.  But what I did hear from my writers was that the process of being a writer had enriched their lives in such a way that it was still worth it, no matter how hard it was (which is also exactly how I feel about being an agent).

Here are some quotes:

"I think perhaps having a writing "career" gets easier over time. You know more people in that world, you have a track record, with luck you'e got a great agent like Jenny Bent. But what matters to writers most is the writing itself-- and does that ever get easier? I think perhaps it never should. Each blank page is a new territory. And as poet Antonio Machado said, "There is no path. You make the path--in going." 
-Liz Rosenberg, bestselling author of Home Repair and Laws of Gravity and many other books for children including Monster Mama and Tyrannosaurus Dad.

"I think the writing part gets easier in that some of the craft skills have settled in and come more intrinsically. The writing gets more challenging though in that you want each story to be fresh and unique and not be repetitive yet meet reader expectations. The more projects an author has out there or the more she/he has pitched, makes the sting of rejection not hurt so much. Also, being versatile with another idea in the works helps, so if one project doesn't work, you're always ready to move on.

That said, "waiting" to see if an editor likes your work is always stressful and resurrects every insecurity that an author has! I still play mental games, picking apart the project, bouncing between being optimistic and worrying that I'll never sell another book.

Another difficult part is keeping up with the market -- buying trends, genres, publishing, and marketing are ever changing and make selling and being successful a constant learning and growing process. Sometimes your career takes a good turn, then other times it takes a dive through no fault of the author. 

The self publishing route has definitely taken some of the pressure off the author as far as limitations for selling a project. If an editor or house doesn't pick it up, there is an option, whereas ten-fifteen years ago, that book would go under the bed.  Now, the author can still see that project in print."
-Rita Herron, bestselling author of 75 books, including Dying to Tell and Worth Dying For

"Nothing about being a career writer ever gets easier. Some things get more familiar, like remembering to bring pens and swag to book signings, understanding copyedits, racing through a first draft, or learning not to check GoodReads reviews (ever!). But other things, the things at the core of the career, at the intersection of business and art, will never get better. Honestly, they shouldn't. As a writer, you should always worry that your story could have been more complex or your dialogue could have sparkled more or your big reversal at the midpoint could have been more shocking. You should always want a better contract, more publisher support, a bigger readership, a higher sell through, a longer tail. More, bigger, better. No art was ever meant to be the easy path, and if you're not striving for everything then you'll eventually fade to nothing."
-Tera Lynn Childs, bestselling author of fifteen books for teens and adults, including Oh My Gods, Sweet Venom, and Forgive My Fins.

"The writing is harder now.  I ask a lot more of myself and my work than I even knew to ask in the beginning.  Is the business of writing easier?  No.  In some ways, it's harder.  But it all feels easier to me now.  Maybe I handle it better now because my expectations are born of years of experience rather than wrong-headed assumptions like they were in the beginning."
-Julia London, NYT bestselling author of 31 books, including The Trouble with Honor and Return to Homecoming Ranch

"Somethings get easier. You get more confident in your abilities and you learn what kind of stories sell and what don't. But your standards kept going up with your skills, the business aspect of writing grows more complicated, and it becomes really hard to maintain any semblance of a balanced life the longer you're at this. No matter what level you're at, writing is always difficult."
-Lori Wilde, NYT bestselling author of 78 books, including Love With a Perfect Cowboy and Somebody to Love

"I think it does and it doesn't get easier. 

It does because you figure you've proven that you can get through the process at least once without completely embarrassing yourself and your loved ones. On the other hand, there is a significant amount of pressure to write something that will sell as well as the one before it. When that fails to happen, you can lapse into the kind of depression that is beyond Zoloft and even Krispy Kremes."
-Celia Rivenbark, NYT bestselling author of seven books, including Bless Your Heart, Tramp and Rude Bitches Make Me Tired    

"Andre Dubus III described the process beautifully at a conference. He said that each time he writes a book, it’s like climbing an impossibly difficult mountain and each time he runs out of oxygen, his supplies aren’t quite right, he despairs, and he fears that he won’t reach the summit. And then he reaches the summit. And he gets to stay there for about 15 minutes before plunging back down to bottom to start the next book. I completely understood what he was talking about.

One thing that is different is the constancy of writing which is a wonderful part of my life. The writer part of me is ever present in a way that wasn’t possible when I had to support myself in other occupations."
-Jacqueline Sheehan, NYT bestselling author of Lost and Found, Picture This, Now and Then, and The Comet's Tale


  1. "But what matters to writers most is the writing itself-- and does that ever get easier? I think perhaps it never should."

    Love this post!

  2. Really enjoyed these insights, thank you for sharing.

  3. Great post! Feels like - truth :).

  4. Ha, I love this. Interesting to see how the experiences are so different for everyone. So impressive to see how many books these people have written! I can't even imagine ever writing 70+ books.