What’s the one thing you can’t live without in your writing life?
Quiet time. The world conspires to distract us all, which fragments our ability to read or write in the longer forms. My remedy is to fight back with peaceful but determined resistance by willfully creating a bubble of time and space sequestered from the chaos. Timothy Leary told the hippie generation, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” I would reverse that to, “turn off, tune out, drop in,” meaning to turn off the communication devices and entertainment media, tune out the endless sources of distraction that plague us all, and drop in on your own most uncluttered and lucid thinking.
What message do you find yourself repeating over and over to writers?
I’ve yet to meet one writer who came out of the womb a published author. Every one starts from the same place—some have more luck or talent, but the starting line is the same.
Would you mind sharing a success story from a writing critique group you’ve been a member of?
My writing group at the American Film Institute was monitored by Hollywood writer David Shaw, and his group was the best of any I’ve known. I felt freer and more inspired in that group than the handful of others I’ve worked in and around. The odd thing is that I do not recall a single rule, regulation, truism, or “writer’s law” that came from him. David’s noteworthy talent was to create an atmosphere of such love and respect for the writing process for its difficulty in the struggle as well as the exuberance in the doing of it that the work flowed out of us. He was no pushover in critiquing, but he eschewed any sort of condescension and never stooped to telling a writer what they were “supposed” to do. He took the Socratic method and pushed us with challenging questions.
What piece of advice have you received over the course of your career that has had the biggest impact on your success?
Many years ago when I started out working in the entertainment industry with writers, I had a mentor who was a very highly placed studio executive…in fact the first female president of a motion picture studio. She advised me never to give up about something that I was passionate about. If I couldn’t get their attention by going in the front door, climb in through the window. Just refuse to take no for an answer. It may account for why so many of my clients, in their testimonials on my website, refer to me as “tenacious.” In fact, I even had a client present me with a gift—a bracelet engraved “Tenacious S.”
What’s the worst kind of mistake that new writers, freelancers, or book authors can make?
I believe that it is a big mistake to personalize the inevitable rejections that every writer encounters. It feels intensely personal each time because it is something precious to you that you feel is being disrespected or unfairly ignored. While the pain of it is real and endemic to the profession, the intent is not malicious and not focused at you. The occasional lapses in manners or consideration are an analog of what we experience in heavy traffic: unpleasant but inevitable, and an unfortunate trend in our culture. None of that is about you or your writing.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Normally I’m up and at my desk by 7am to be available on ET when New York starts the day. I read my emails, couple of online newspapers, industry blogs, check my Facebook, and so on. My day is spent reading submissions, answering queries, talking to editors, collaborating with my clients, strategizing with their publicists, editing proposals, and pitching the right projects to the appropriate editors. On really good days, I’m negotiating contracts, issuing advance checks, paying royalties, and updating my website with new sales.
If you could change one thing about publishing, what would it be?
The antiquated way publishing has not caught up to the 21st century in not being able to turn books around expeditiously. In this age of instant information, most books take a minimum of 12 months to come to market once sold and if it’s a timely subject, that’s way too long a lag time to continue to expect the public to wait.
In what way (if any) has your writing/publishing life changed in the past 5 years?
The internet, internet, internet. It has heavily impacted upon every aspect of the writing life — except for the head work. One of the many author’s sites that I frequent has an illuminating discussion thread about how much time is being leached out of our writing lives by the fact that writers must maintain a professional presence on a host of book related websites, and somebody – either the author or a publicity assistant – has to maintain and supervise the accuracy of the content for all those places. Even though the internet is essential to the 21st century marketing platform, it’s use can easily become another dangerous intrusion upon available writing time — something few writers have in adequate supply.
Do you have any advice for new writers on fostering strong relationship with their writing group?
I am passionate in my view that every writer has to have access to intelligent and informed opinions about the writing process and about one’s work – but only so long as the ultimate result in your membership is that you get more writing done and feel a genuine sense of progress in your work. Groups can turn negative, nurturing and projecting subtle jealousies and heightening the neuroses of certain members. My rule of thumb is that one’s sessions with any group must leave you feeling energized and inspired to get to work. If you walk out feeling drained in any way, get the hell out of there and don’t go back. Not everyone around you wishes you well. Seek the company of truly supportive people and begin that process by being one yourself.
What about advice for writers seeking agents?
Do your homework/research before you ever contact an agent. Know what they represent, that their time is valuable and that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Make it count. And don’t call to pitch your book—we can’t tell how well you write by the sound of your voice!
What do you see as your biggest publishing accomplishment?
No question, it’s finding an audience of readers — and having the privilege to hear back from them when the things that they have to say are smart or funny or insightful. Their reactions are often heartfelt and can be deeply moving. It is amazing to think that they come from every part of the world, often from places that I have to look up on Google Earth. It’s a wonderful thing.
Any final thoughts?
Sharlene and Anthony answer:
Dare to dream. BUT also remember that daring to dream is the easy part; the magical winnowing of losers from winners happens when we stick with this dream regardless of any and all distractions that appear.
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