Monday, 25 May 2009


I was/am halfway through writing a Very Useful Post for you, on the important subject of controlling pace. I know you must be on tenterhooks about this but meanwhile I just came across a Very Useful and Thought-Provoking Post by someone else.

I am going to post that VUTPP here, before my own words of wisdom tomorrow or Wednesday, not because I am derelicting my duty to you, but because amongst many true points in his piece, Joshua Mohr makes one in particular: "I need only concern myself with one thing: the quality of my writing. That isn’t chance at all. I can’t control marketing trends or debutantes, but I can control the amount of energy I put into my revision process. I can take my time and make sure to write the best book I can."

I cannot tell you how right he is and what a wise decision he has made. Well, in fact, I can tell you. And indeed am. Otherwise, why would I be writing this post?

One of my most trenchant beliefs is that too many unpublished writers take up too much time too early trying to find out how to approach publishers/agents, and not enough time early enough accepting that they have to improve their writing first.

Anyway, trust me, it's the writing what counts, and only when we've got that right is it worth approaching a publisher or agent. Before that, it's embarrassing, because one of two things will happen: a) you'll be rejected or b) you'll have your rubbishy writing published and be mortified when the reviews appear. Or don't appear.

Joshua also says: "Turns out, chance is a brutal part of the publishing trade. Good books sometimes vanish without a trace, and obvious, dumbed-down books with clever marketing tricks often become successful. It’s a savage reality of the business, one writers need to be aware of."

Again, spot on. Or "back of the net", as we say over here, which I once had to explain to my transatlantic friends.

So, since chance plays a big part, would any of us make that chance even smaller by not making our writing as good as possible and doing absolutely everything necessary to do so? Only the deluded idiots amongst us. And there are some, but surely they're not still reading this blog? I aimed to frighten them off long ago. Which is good, because one of them won't see what I'm planning to say about her/him in my forthcoming Very Useful Post.

(Edited to add: Sally Zigmond makes the same point over on The Elephant in the Writing-Room about the need to work more on our writing before expecting publication. She is another author who deserves to succeed. I didn't mention this at first because I am still blushing about her kind words about me in it, but I decided that it was more important that I send you over to her blog anyway. She has lots of useful insights. In fact, the very title of her blog makes the point: that the thing that is staring us in the face but which we too often don't talk about enough is the need to write better.)

Meanwhile, there's a lot we can learn from Joshua's blog post and I wish him success with Some Things That Meant The World To Me. I also wish success to Two Dollar Radio, the small independent publisher which is publishing Joshua because they believe in the quality of his writing even if bigger houses didn't think the book would sell enough to satisfy them. Which is not to knock big publishing houses either - big houses have big heating bills - but simply to say that there are plenty of readers out there who want something a bit special and I care that all types of book and reader should be catered for.

Anyway, my point in offering you his wisdom, apart from its obvious truth, is to prepare you for the fact that my next post will really be a writing lesson. Unless something else comes up, of course. I know I should be thinking about book launches, but I've got to have something to take my mind off the Litopia interviews that are going out this week. I don't know what I said - it's all a blur, largely because marauding dogs were running around behind me, dragging heavy chains in quite a threatening way, which is not something I'm used to in the genteel part of Morningside in which I live.


Barb said...

"I can take my time and make sure to write the best book I can." This is exactly what I needed to read at the moment. I'm going to let some of the pressure off myself and just focus on quality.
Thank you for this great post.

Nicola Morgan said...

Barb - good for you! Because there is no doubt that your work will become better, and you won't regret it.

aPippa said...

Very wise and timely advice. In this tight, tough economy all we can do is write and keep writing. There's not a lot of buying and selling happening (or so it seems)and I know my sanity and survival depend on working my tail off to improve. It's really a great opportunity to focus on quality.