by Laura Anne Gilman
Practical Meerkat has a deeply Romantic side. She totally buys into the trappings of this life, the traditions and the legends that grow up among Famous Writers, and even the darker side of the traditions of less-successful careers, even when she knows they’re maybe not so smart. How else do you explain why she considers procrastination such a fine art? But there are limits….
Writers are a solitary lot, and while there’s a lot of camaraderie in the bars and the chatrooms, once we start to work – and once we start to get published – that hail-writer-well-met attitude comes to an abrupt halt. Especially when it comes to the matter of What’s in Your Contract. We are jealous of our advances, protective of our terms, and always worried that someone else is Doing Better.
That’s the myth, anyway.
It may, in fact, once have been true; I don’t know. And I’m sure that even today there are people who guard the details of their career, projecting an aura of unflappable and unchangeable success, hoping that nobody will see through to the cracks and pits that are inevitable in any career lasting more than six months.
This is a crazy business, and everyone – even the most successful of us – will have downs to match our ups. More, we each face situations that could be made better, more ‘up’ if we only had…. What? Something new? Something better? Something more?
Smart writers talk to each other. Not about craft, although there’s that, too, but business. Really smart writers – and by that I mean, writers who treat this job as a job, the business as a business, who survive the bad times and thrive when things are good – open up the door of their personal caves and gather in the common space, offering up what tidbits they know and listening to what is offered, putting together a larger, more detailed picture of the situation.
And I don’t mean just listening at the feet of an older writer, getting Wisdom Received. I mean an active pooling of knowledge in real-time. So when a publisher changes terms for one writer – the rest of us know, and can take advantage. Or when another publisher is having significant problems – payments late, or editors quitting in droves, or a steady run of mistakes being made – then we are able to protect ourselves, rather than discovering a problem farther down the road (also known as “helping your agent help you”).
Sometimes this happens in person, during scheduled meetings. Often, today, it’s happening in impromptu video chat (Google+ is already proving itself useful in that regard). But most often it’s the old-school mailing list that allows us to circle our troops and create a unified wall, to share the ammo rather than shooting at each other, to hang together so we don’t all hang separately, choose your preferred metaphor and run with it.
However it happens, whatever form you choose, the important thing is to be part of it, not left standing outside. Why?
Because when you get that image in mind of the writer as a solitary beast, keyboard-plonking away in her garret and called back to the real world only reluctantly, ask yourself – is that oh-so-Romantic image benefiting you? Or the publisher?
Coming up in Week 29: practical meerkat answers the mail (reader’s choice)
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy. Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, which SF Signal called “amazingly evocative….a potent ride through a changing future”, was published by Fairwood Press in June 2011. For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman) And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.