by Laura Anne Gilman
I hope all the USAns reading here had a lovely Thanksgiving. I did – except for the part where my main computer ended up in the shop, and my backup refused to connect to the internet, leaving me reliant on my Nook and smartphone for three days of email and social networking. Eeek But the main computer’s back in my possession, and so here I am….
You may have noticed by now that the one thing we as writers don’t lack for is advice. Advice for writers for wanting to break into publishing? Check. There’s advice for writers wanting to expand their craft, change genres, figure out if their publisher just isn’t that into you, or anything specific you might need. Some of it’s useful, some of it’s awful, but it’s all there for the taking.
But there’s one piece of advice that I don’t think is given – or thought about – enough: advice on choosing a role model.
A role model is different from a mentor. A mentor is someone who is taking an interest in your a career. A role model is someone you look at and say “I wanna be them.”
Already have one, you say? Take another look. The most important role model you could chose… may not be who you think.
Most writers want to emulate the most successful writer they know. The one who made it right out of the gate, the one with the movie deal and the personal assistant and the full-time publicist. The one who has fans who kvell in public, who create SRO signings and readings, who hang in the writer’s every crafted word.
And hey, yeah, me too. I’ve got a best-seller in my scopes, and you better believe I’ve been taking notes.
But as much fun – and as hope-making – it may be to take a best-seller as your role model, those people may not be your best choice. Or they may be – but you’re missing the reason why. And by going for the bright and shiny, you may be overlooking the person you should be emulating.
I’m going to deviate from my usual pattern here, in naming names, and giving specifics from my own life. Aside from my usual “I wanna be X when I grow up,” I have two role models, two people I look to and say “these people. I learn from them.”
The first is Rachel Caine. Many, many people know Rachel. She’s a New York Times bestseller. Her fans flock to her, her books sell like the proverbial hotcakes, she’s an in-demand and very gracious lady (in the old-fashioned sense of the word, too). But she’s not someone I consider a role model for those reasons.
Rachel is my role model because when I’m sitting at my desk, depressed and cranky, pretty sure that I’ve done something to kill my career and I’ll never work again… I think, “Gilman, did RC give up? When her first books didn’t sell, when she had to write under another name, when her health was so bad and things probably looked so craptastic that she was ready to give it up and focus on her day job, did she give up? The hell she did. And neither will you.”
My second role model is Charles Grant. We lost Charlie a number of years ago, and unless you’re a horror reader, you may never have heard his name – which is a damn shame, because he was an excellent writer and anthologist. And, not incidentally, a lovely cantankerous SOB of a teddy bear. But he was also, by his own admission, a terrible businessman. If there was a wrong decision to make, regarding the direction his career should take, or how to handle financial decisions, odds were Charlie made it.
Him? He’s a role model, you’re asking? Yes. Because when he realized, many years ago, that I wasn’t going to be talked out of this business, he took me aside and in his best SOB Uncle way, said “Gilman, look at my career. Don’t do a damn thing I did.”
I laughed. But I looked. And I listened. Still am.
This is a damned hard life, publishing. Success is not only elusive, it’s often fleeting. Both Charlie and Rachel knew/know this. They faced career disaster – often more than once. And they faced it down, and learned from it – and kept going.
You want to survive, long-term? Remember that for all of us, it’s a ride of ups and downs. Even the bestsellers don’t knock it out of the ballpark with every book, sales or acclaim-wise. Everyone hits downspikes, everyone has off years. Dry spells come, and occasionally you have to reinvent yourself, to stay alive.
So here’s my advice: forget about following the shiny. Look for more. Find someone who was tested and survived, who came out the other end without giving up.
That’s a role model for a life in publishing, right there.
Coming up in Week 48: Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, including the THE SHATTERED VINE, Book 3 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy,, and TRICKS OF THE TRADE both IN STORES NOW! (ahem). 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)
She also runs d.y.m.k. productions, an editorial services company (www.dymkproductions.com).
And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.