“Love the writing, love the writing, love the writing… the rest will follow.”
What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear that word? It’ll differ for everyone, but it’s probably safe to say that most of you didn’t immediately start thinking about your favorite book, that novel you simply couldn’t put down until you had read the last page. Sure, it’s a very different kind of sentiment than that all-encompassing, head-over-heels, I’ve-met-my-soulmate love (erm, well I certainly suppose so, anyway, since my prince charming still appears to be lost on another planet at the moment), but it’s a kind of love all the same, and it’s important. And it’s that love – that indescribable, gut feeling when you just know something is right for you – that’s often so essential in the publishing world.
I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard authors and agents stress how subjective this business is – and I get it, I really do. Everyone has different tastes. Just like we fall in love with different books as readers, so do agents as they sort through the hundreds upon hundreds of queries they receive. A book could be written wonderfully, but if it doesn’t have that spark that grabs the agent’s interest, there’s going to be a missing factor in the equation. The love needs to be there. Authors have said it, agents have said it, and yesterday I had the opportunity to hear the same thing from a publisher. It really is all about subjectivity. It’s all about love.
When I first got the email from Arcadia’s Alumni Association saying that renowned publisher Arthur Levine would be speaking at the school yesterday, my reaction was – SERIOUSLY? Just a brief background on him: he has his own imprint with Scholastic Press, he’s worked in the industry for over two decades, and he’s the editor responsible for bringing Harry Potter to America. So yeah, he’s kinda, sorta important (how’s that for an understatement?). I was really, really excited to go hear him speak and so eager to see what information, stories, and wisdom he had to offer. I always love when I’m able to gain insight into different authors’ and agents’ experiences in the business, and to get to see the industry from this third viewpoint seemed like a terrific opportunity. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that I couldn’t wait to learn more. And even though a lot of what he talked about dealt with things I had already come across during all the research I’ve done, I can safely say that several parts of the event stood out.
– Voice, journeys, and love: these are three of the main components that are so vital. Just like most agents look for a unique voice in a novel, that tone that draws them in and leaves them craving more, so do publishers. It’s universal in that sense, it seems. And really, if I stop to think about what I enjoy as a reader, that voice is definitely high up there on the list. Then there’s the whole idea of the main character going on a journey. After all, who wants to read about someone who just stays the same? I love “watching” the evolution of the characters as novels progress, and it’s something I always strive to make a central part of my own work. And then there’s the love, which Arthur stressed multiple times. Each agent and publisher will fall in love with different components, and that’s okay. It’s better than okay, actually, because doesn’t every writer want to work with people who are equally as passionate about the novel?
– Diligence and persistence: these are beyond crucial. Being an author isn’t just writing a manuscript. It’s taking that novel into your heart and soul, giving it the time and effort it needs to flourish. This is a tough industry to break into, a really tough one. Even though I may not be there yet, I’m learning to see the beauty of taking things one step at a time, strengthening my persistence and refusing to ever stop until I turn this dream into a reality. Arthur spoke about the importance of giving your manuscript the time and attention it needs and then the persistence of never giving up on it. Check and check.
And you know what else? He was so nice – funny, cheerful, honest, and willing to answer any and all questions. I think a lot of the time, the major players in this industry can seem so intimidating, but I was struck by how completely opposite he was from how publishers are often portrayed. The same is true for many of the agents whom I’ve been in contact with. Yes, they’re savvy and smart, but they can also be so genuine and down-to-earth. I’m seeing more and more how wonderful people in the publishing industry are, which only makes me more determined to keep at this until it happens. I’ll keep working for it, fighting for it, and believing in it. Because, after all, isn’t that what you do when you love something enough?
Do you agree? Can love for your work really be the determining factor in a career choice? Is that enough?