Get over yourself: an author’s advice to writers

Mike Davies:  Roving Editor  Ω

Psychological, self-imposed barriers are the most common obstacle for aspiring authors and the reason many will never publish their work, according to Jodi Lundgren, who embarked on a book tour this past June to promote her second novel, Leap.

The English professor at both Camosun College in Victoria and Thompson Rivers University (TRU) Open Learning as well as the former writer-in-residence at TRU, read to a group of teenagers from her young adult (YA) novel at the North Kamloops Public Library on June 11, and I had a chance to sit down with her after the session to talk about writing and the publishing industry.

“I’m not sure I know any writers that make their living at it,” Lundgren admitted.

“Most of them teach or have other jobs and write because they love it—and if they make some money from it, that’s great.”

This reality of the publishing business is overshadowed in the minds of burgeoning authors by the success of a select few, however.

“Everyone wants to be the next Dan Brown [author of the hugely popular Da Vinci Code series] but what people don’t realize is that maybe three per-cent of submitted manuscripts even make it to print, let alone sell well,” she said, citing the small number of Canadian literary agents and publishers, and the overwhelming number of aspiring writers trying to break into the market.

Not only do the lofty aspirations of writers lead to disappointment, but once writers have a piece that they want to have published, the fear of rejection often prevents them from even sending it out to perspective publishers.

“They second guess themselves—wondering whether they’re good enough,” she said, but also had some encouraging insight into the process.

She pointed out that many aspiring writers are discouraged by rejection letters, taking them as a signal that their work isn’t good, which may not be the case.

“It just means that the piece doesn’t fit what the publisher is looking for right then. I’ve gotten a lot of rejection letters,” she said, citing the example of one of her creative non-fiction pieces being rejected by numerous small literary magazines before eventually getting accepted by Random House, a major publisher.

“That kind of thing happens often enough that I’ve learned not to take rejection as a reflection on the quality of the work. There’s some luck involved in finding the right fit for your work at the right time.”

Lundgren’s second novel, Leap, is the story of a teenage girl struggling with the transition into womanhood, who finds refuge in dance.

The YA market is definitely booming, and Lundgren said that aspect of the publishing business is part of what authors need to understand when getting into the industry.

“If you’re concerned with commercial success rather than strictly with your own artistic fulfillment then you have to give the people what they want,” she said, explaining that you need to study both the publishing industry and the genre you want to work in so you can find a niche you can fill.

The goal is not to copy what has already been done, but to emulate what has proven to be successful and “then to add something to the conversation.”

“Publishers want to compare everything that comes across their desk to something they’ve already seen so they know if it will sell, but they also want it to be fresh,” she said.

The recent boom in YA “vampire romance” novels is a prime example of how authors take advantage of a trend.

So to all you aspiring authors out there, be realistic about your publishing goals, but get out there with your work and “get over yourself.”

I hope to see you too on a book tour someday.

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