Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Writers, you are not owed anything

Over on Formspring somebody asked Marvel Comics Executive Editor Tom Brevoort if he thought it was fair artists could simply show editors their pages to get a gig, while writers were expected to get published elsewhere to get noticed. Here's what Brevoort had to say:
Yes, in that nobody is owed work. I can take a glance at somebody's [art] samples and instantly tell whether or not there's any chance I'm going to hire this person ... but when it comes to writing, you need to read a decent chunk of material to find out if a would-be writer has got it. It's an inequity of the different disciplines, but it is what it is.

If you truly want to write comics, or anything else for that matter, you've got to be ready and willing to put the work and effort into it that's necessary in order to get that big break. And that big break may never come, depending on your actual talent - but the best way to increase your odds is by doing the things that you know you need to do.

The guys that get hired are the guys who have not only the talent, but also the drive both to improve and to get their wrok in front of the people who can hire them... I'll shed no tears for would-be writers who are either too lazy or too entitled to get out there and make things happen.
Couldn't agree with Brevoort more, and he's right to say this applies to any kind of writing. There is no magical shortcut that saves you all the hard work required to make your writing better. Canny strategy may get you noticed quicker, but getting from good to great takes time and effort [assuming you already possess some latent talent].

There's a handful of writing competitions that can raise your profile. I was a finalist in the last Red Planet Prize. That got me on the radar of a few people [the finalists are read by some significant industry figures], and helped to get agents reading my work. But it was the writing that got me represented, that got me a trial script at Doctors.

The world is not waiting for your masterpiece. The world doesn't care. You have to make your writing so compelling, so compulsive, so exciting that it makes people care. Nothing happens overnight. So-called overnight successes have been working for years, even decades, to achieve that breakthrough. You want to make a living from writing? Make writing your life. Onwards!

UPDATE: Lots of interesting contributions in the COMMENTS section. Is talent plus effort plus strategy enough? Does writing have to be a calling? How important is having something to say through your writing? Where does storytelling end and preaching begin? Feel free to chip in with your own views...


Neil said...

Well said - counldn't agree more. While a tiny bit of me is hoping that a huge opportunity will fall neatly into my lap, we all know there's only a 0.00000000000000000000001' chance of that happening. So my motto - get off your arse and make shit happen!


Lucy V said...

Aren't you preaching to the converted, though? Anyone with even half a hint of how this biz works would agree - the guy who asked the question of that other guy obviously hasn't got started yet. But also: what about the people who work as hard as you like, raise to the challenges they're set, etc but never seem to get the break? It's all very well saying hard work gets the payoff it deserves but you and I both know that can be just half the story.


Preaching to the converted? Certainly so, in some cases. But teaching creative writing and attending a lot of events in the last 18 months have shown me there are plenty of people who don't understand it yet.

Brevoort also echoes your comment: that big break may never come, depending on your actual talent - but the best way to increase your odds is by doing the things that you know you need to do.

Jim Campbell said...

(Recycled from a post elsewhere, but sufficiently relevant to be worth posting here ...)

Specific to novels, but very enlightening is this post on Charles Stross' always excellent blog:


Fantasy author Jim Hines surveys nearly 250 novelists to see whether their experience bears out the things everyone knows are 'true' about selling your novel:


It makes fascinating reading.

Also linked from Stross' blog is Tobias Buckell's 2005 survey of SF and Fantasy authors' advances:


...from which two interesting facts emerge:

1) Agents more than pay for themselves

2) You are likely to starve to death unless you can produce three or more novels a year

Lucy V said...

Sure, but over half the ppl who go on creative writing courses ad attend such courses will never get anywhere BECAUSE they have such a sense of entitlement; the other half will be made of people who give up because *life* gets in the way and priorities change, ppl who give up cos they become bitter and twisted, ppl who end up dead before their big break... Then about 10% will make half an income if they're lucky from writing and about 0.25% will make BIG BUCKS. LOL

Igor Goldkind said...

Hi Dave, as succinct as ever I see; however as you are keying in hometruths, why not walk the whole mile? Not only is a successful career of a writer dependent on talent (both latent and apparent), tenacity, courage and determination; the most overlooked and obvious component of sucessfull writing is having something to say in the first place.

IMHO, too much emphasis and paid for attention is placed on the career of the writer without accounting for the act itself. Writing is not a business or a get rich and famous quick scam or even a means for accruing more sexual experience (although writing has been used as a means to all 3, let's face it, there easier ways). Writing is basically a calling, a call to the act of writing.
My view is that we can all save ourselves the time and distraction of taking about, arguing about and writing about writing and just get
on with it: finding something worth saying.

youdothatvoodoo said...

Igor gets it right on the nose: how many writers actually have something to say? The rise of postgrad courses in creative writing has increased the amount of well formatted vacuous scripts, BBC Writers Academy trains writers to produce medical dramas consistently, and every MA course comes with its own anthology. If all this brings a few decent writers into the industry, does that justify the amount of public money spent to do so? I'm not convinced.

There are rays of light. I'd like to think Red Planet is one. Jimmy McGovern working with new talent on The Street is another. But are books and telly now any better than they were a decade ago, when the writing industry was smaller?

Matt Gibbs said...

I agree completely. The writing comes first and everything follows from that - but, like anything in life, there is arguably a degree of luck involved. Sometimes you're just in the right place at the right time. When that happens though, you need to be prepared for it. Be prepared to turn a chance into an opportunity. That's when all the hours of writing and rewriting make a difference.

If you work hard, concentrate on improving your writing and putting yourself forward, you will also make your own luck. It is all about managing the odds in your favour with the tools you have. Being positive and professional, networking with others, will hopefully mean collaborations and projects will lead to more in the future. Onwards and upwards.