Taking the Reins

Taking the Reins

It’s great to be an amazing writer with a gift at prose and beautiful sentences, but you have to be equally as talented as a businessperson if you’re going to truly make this insane choice of a career a reality.

I got serious about writing after I finished my MFA from The New School. For two years, we were taught the mechanics and aesthetics of writing, learning how to take criticism and sharpen our prose, but it was during a lecture when we were told that only about three percent of us would go on to have successful publishing careers—I knew that penning beautiful sentences wouldn’t be enough.

I had to learn to become as good a businessman as I was a wordsmith.

Ideas and writing have always come easy to me. I’m lucky I don’t often experience Writer’s Block, mostly because I’m working on so many projects at the same time it’s hard to get bored. The true challenge for me comes with selling these works of art we create.

I have a great agent who has gotten me many deals and launched my career, but when one of my books didn’t take with editors, I decided to try on my own to find a publisher. This meant scouring through indie presses for the right fit. Luckily, when I did, my editor for that book wanted a different novel of mine for his own imprint. and then my next book, too. So what would’ve initially meant that the book was dead in the water, and potentially my next one as well, now both of those have been published, with the latest coming out this fall (2021).

Something important to learn is that you care about your own career more than anyone else will. You can have an amazing agent and wonderful editors, but they have other clients, too, and unless you’re Stephen King, you have to learn how to take the reins of your career, if need be.

This is even more true in terms of Hollywood. I had a novel that had interest from producers and was even adapted into a script, but the script wound up being terrible, and ultimately the project fell apart. Taking my own advice, I decided to adapt the script myself and find new producers on my own. And while they liked my novel, a deal would not have happened if there hadn’t been a script attached.

Sometimes an initial rejection can become the best thing if you are proactive enough.

It’s a mantra I’m applying to another venture of mine, as a publisher now as well. I’m starting a press called Fringe that will be for books “on the fringe,” ones that a big publisher might be afraid of because they don’t know how to market, but books that deserve to be just as successful in their own right.

The idea for this venture came about when I had difficulty selling my novel, The Ancestor. My agent had sent it to editors at big publishers, and we came very close to deals with these dream editors, but the book was ultimately too unique for them. Their marketing department rejected it because they didn’t know how to handle it. The Ancestor is about a man who wakes up with amnesia in the Alaskan wilderness but believes he was frozen in time for over a hundred years from the Gold Rush era. The novel is genre-bending, mixing thriller and mystery, historical and literary, and even sci-fi. It can’t fit into a box, and that became its undoing.

I thought it was over for the book until I found its publisher, All Due Respect, who wanted it for exactly those reasons. It was different than anything they read or published before, and therefore deserved to be out there. Now it has over 7,000 ratings on Goodreads, and I believe would have been a hit if a big publisher would’ve taken the chance. Maybe one day I’ll write the sequel and find out.

Rejection is the hardest part of a career in writing, but you have to learn that you shouldn’t always take no for an answer. If you’re having trouble landing an agent, maybe it would be best to publish it on your own at first. If you have an agent and they are having a problem landing the book with a publisher, do some research on your own about indie presses that might be a better fit.

It’s all about being proactive and not expecting someone else to solely handle your career. You have the most invested in it and know your own work better than anyone else.

For Fringe, I want to discover writers who have these hidden gems, or even better: publish authors who’ve been writing in their lane and want to flex their writing muscles and try something different that might scare their publisher.

There are all these rules in the publishing world that were created a long time ago, and they aren't always in the writer’s best interest. The rule I have is to throw out all those rules and never limit your capabilities. Try your hand at different styles, genres, mediums. If you believe that your book should be out there, then it should be out there. So many classics had a million rejections, but you only need one "yes."

If I had stopped every time I was told no, then my career wouldn’t be anywhere.

Just remember that if you take control of your work, you have the power to make the decisions. And while it’s very important to have amazing agents and editors in your corner, it’s even more crucial to have the ability to sell yourself.

You are the brand.

You know yourself and your worth better than anyone else does. Keep on plugging away until you get that yes, and then wallpaper your walls with all the no’s, as not only a big fuck you, but a testament to show how tenacious you can be.

*Feature photo by ArtHouse Studio (Pexels)

Lee Matthew Goldberg is the author of six novels: The Ancestor, The Mentor, Desire Card, and Slow Down. He has been published in multiple languages. Runaway Train and Orange City forthcoming in 2021.
More posts by Lee Matthew Goldberg.
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