Tuesday, May 29, 2007

We Shall See

By Amy

We shall see.

It’s a phrase I repeat ad nauseum to my writer friends. Any time one of us is convinced a situation is hopeless – the words won’t come, the agent doesn’t respond, an editor hasn’t yet read the material – I encourage her with the one true hope: we shall see.

When a friend is convinced, absolutely certain, that the tide has turned and Fate is clutching her to Her bosom, whenever an agent is excited by the prospect of reading her work or an editor expresses interest in an exclusive, I warn my friend: we shall see.

It’s not that I’ve undertaken a Quixotic journey (more Sisyphean, I think) when I encourage my writer friends -- or that I doubt their talents when I heed caution, we shall see. It’s simply that this business is capricious by nature, with stunted attention spans and an insatiable hunger for the latest darling. It’s true of any business, I suppose.

As writers, we have control over just so much: the stories we choose to write, whom we choose to share it with, how -- if at all -- we promote it. Beyond that, it doesn’t matter. Timing, luck, politics, kismet all come into play. There are thousands of talented writers who may never see their words published, midlist authors whose names you’ll never know, all of whose writing is far superior to many of the bestsellers. I don’t know why.

We shall see tempers everything. It brings into focus my responsibility to write the best I can because that’s the purpose here, to write well, to prove myself to myself by telling an honest story. There are no deadlines for that, no bar by which to measure it. It’s incredibly reassuring to know I can’t manage everything, only the words.

Anytime the doubt creeps or the euphoria threatens to overtake reason, reassure yourself that nothing in life is ever certain. A book deal isn’t a guarantee. I know a man whose book landed in the draw, the term used for when the advance is paid, but the book is never published based on the publisher’s discretion. I know of several people who continued to work on their books for near a decade even when all of their beta readers gave up on them after critiquing the umpteenth draft. Each created award-winning novels, backlist successes. I know a woman who advised many, many writer friends with their novels, watched as they got published, hit the New York Times’ bestseller list while she wrote book after unpublished book. How it must have pained her. But she did what she could, she faced the page each day and created her own truth. I read her deal on Publishers Marketplace recently.

For all of you out there wondering about your place, do what you can to create it and in time we shall all see.

Grub Street South at Buttonwood Books: Join us tonight at Buttonwood Books in Cohasset at 7:00 pm for Hank Phillippi Ryan's workshop, "Nip, Tuck, Tweak and Polish-the Joys of Editing." Hank’s debut book, Prime Time will publish in early June.


Therese said...


What a great word, but a tough one to like when it's tied to one's career or aspirations.

IMO, the reason so many talented writers go unpublished or never see the limelight is the same reason more people eat at McDonald's than in upscale gourmet restaurants even when they can afford both.

A writer must understand the marketplace and set her goals accordingly, because that's one of the things she can do to direct her fate. And the rest, of course, remains to be seen.

Larramie said...

I giggled with delight at your post's title and philosophy, Amy, because that's my other well-used phrase after, "You just never know..." *sigh* It's always amazing how individuals jump to reach out for their highest expectations when -- in truth -- they likely need to put more work and patience into their efforts.

However, there is also another deal breaker when anyone talks too much about an immediate successful event. I've termed this: "Open mouth, insert jinx." This must be one of the Universe's Laws because it never fails to come true...unfortunately. ;o)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Therese, your McDonalds analogy is apt. In truth I have the eating habits of a child, but, thankfully, my appetite for literature is varied: anything from a simple love story to memoir to literary fiction. I agree it's so, so important for a writer to understand the market.

Larramie, I love that saying and will officially adopt it. Funny how much you and I have in common.

Lisa said...


You've hit on another of my mantras and "open mouth, insert jinx" is almost closer to my heart. My husband and I are both in sales (of radically different products) but our unspoken rule, borne of superstition is that we never congratulate each other on deals that aren't carved in stone. I feel the same responsibility you've so beautifully expressed -- to myself only right now, to write something truthful, as well as I can. It sometimes feels as if the world is much more impatient with me than I am with myself, but I march on to my internal drummer and I'll know it when I get there. In the meantime, I am enjoying the journey with no illusions about the final destination.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Lisa, it's true about sales, the ones we think will never buy do, and the others who appear to be sure things, never are. There's something about you, though, that makes me confident you'll produce something wonderful.


jennifergg said...

Thank you so much! I've been working on the last revisions of my book, which will be out in 2008, and I begin to get nervous at all that lies ahead. My words out in the wide world, where really, who cares? Of course, I care. Thank you for reminding me of that. And of course, I'm assuming the worse...I might be right, I might be wrong: we shall see!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Jennifer, please tell us the title of your book and what month it will be out. Does it have to do with Downs? And thanks for stopping by, we'd lvoe to hear your success story.


Maddy said...

thank you - better than a good shoulder rub

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

McEwen, as someone who enjoys a good shoulder rub better even than a block of chocolate, that's high praise indeed. Thank you in return.


Anonymous said...

Ah, Jennifer Graf Groneberg, you're too humble. I look forward to Roadmap to Holland. Congratulations. When will be published?

Tina Ann Forkner said...

"A book deal isn’t a guarantee."

That is a sobering thought. I signed one in August of 2006. I do have faith in it's release date in 2008, but it sure seems to take a long time. And then you worry, and wonder if they changed their minds... :)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

My husband and I don't celebrate the anniversary of the day we met.

We celebrate the anniversary of the day BEFORE--and we call it: You Never Know Day.

Because you never know what life-changingly amazing thing is going to happen the very next day.

You just never know.

And that's great. I have a cartoon on my refrigerator.

It has two guys on a raft, obviously adrift in a huge empty ocean.

And one says:
"You mean, we're out here on our own, with no control, and absolutely anything could happen? And we have no way of predicting it or controlling it or even knowing it?"

And the other guy says: "Yup, that's right."

The first guys pauses, then he says "Cool."

Anonymous said...

Hank Phillipi Ryan;
Your remark is funny. Cool.
By the way, is there a shorter way to address you. These typing fingers sure are tired.:)

As for kismet; I do not ascribe to fatalism per se. Like Lisa, I am in sales and unless we have the money in the bank I tell my sales people "No Deal."
On another note, I come from a line of Sufi thinkers and one of the principal tenets of Sufism is: the overarching and hidden powers that man has; to the extent that man can force even nature to his dictates. Provided an individual is willing to make the sacrifice. This concept as opposed to 'kismet' is called 'khudi.' that's a Persian word. Oops I ramble. I'll talk about khudi someday on my site.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Tina, is your book Ruby Among Us? Please tell us about it! My friend whose book was put in the draw sold a non-fiction proposal, wrote the book, and then had it canceled when current events shifted. Heart breaking. Less likely to happen with fiction.

Hank, you were amazing at GRub South. Thanks so much for hosting and sharing your insights on the revision process. I LOVE the concept of you never know day. How utterly charmed. You and your husband could write romances together.

Reality, thanks for stopping by and teaching me something. Now I'll have to learn all I can about Sufism. It sounds fascinating.


jennifergg said...

I'm still working my way through the final revisions, and it was very heartening to read back through the comments: if I can envision just one reader, then the work is easier...

My book is ROADMAP TO HOLLAND, which is the story of mothering my son Avery, a fraternal twin diagnosed with Down syndrome at five days old. It's with NAL and will be released in May 2008. It's my first solo book project, and the subject matter alone makes it very dear to my heart. But in looking back on my beginnings with Avery, I found I had a lot to say...

Thanks again for the good advice and the interest, I really appreciate it!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Jennifer, I'll have to buy two copies; one for myself and another for a friend. She and her husban have a beloved daughter with Down syndrome. Great title by the way, I'll never forget that essay.


jennifergg said...

Thanks Amy! You, and your friend, will be in my thoughts as I finish up...

T. Forkner said...

Hi Amy. :) I guess it's a little late for commenting now, but if you still want to know about Ruby Among Us, the description is on my website www.tinaannforkner.com.