Remote Control Mediocrity

The other day, amusingly obscene penmonkey Chuck Wendig posted a prompt about Terrible Minds nicknames to Google+. His note at the time was that one’s first name was the object immediately to one’s right, while one’s surname was one’s greatest fear.

Which is where the title of this post comes from, as mine was Remote Control Mediocrity.

Because it got me thinking about success and how we define it. Years ago, I thought six-figure (or any-figure) book contracts were required for validation, because I thought for sure that if one wrote a “good enough” book–meaning a book that is technically competent in all ways–one could get an agent and attract a corporate publisher like Random House.

Maybe it was because I wanted to be a doctor for so long, and in that profession there are a certain number of steps for one to complete–exams to pass, rounds to perform, residences to reside, etc.–and then one is recognized as an MD by an accredited institution and can work in a hospital.

And that’s not how the publishing industry and bookselling as a business work. Getting an MFA doesn’t directly correlate to finding an agent or signing a publication contract.

The past few years have caused me to re-examine a lot of my previously held prejudices, which new light revealed as just that–decisions I’d made and opinions I’d formed before I really could do so, pre-judgments I’d committed to before hearing all evidence. I started to rethink what “success” means, and yes, what “good enough” and “mediocrity” mean. Hence my recent posts.

Because I said that one must decide for one’s self what “good enough” means, and for me, personally, it means putting out something better every time. Something new, something interesting.

At a time when the amount of noise just keeps growing in volume, maybe what most separates signal from it is not loudness but rather quality.

I’ve often struggled with balance. Not in that I’m a klutz (though I often am), but especially, over the years, in what so many publishing people now call “building an online social media platform,” which sounds straight up exhausting if only because I’m reasonably sure it doesn’t require a drill. It would be better and easier if it did.

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In 2005, I realized I needed to be a better writer if I wanted to get a book contract with a major publisher, which, at the time, I was desperate to do. I’d queried like a good little writer and put in my time, but then realized, no, I’ve got to be better than this. And I decided to go to USC.

Looking back, my wager is that if only I’d signed on to be an assistant at a literary agency, I’d right now have a publication contract (and probably a couple of books out) and a popular presence on Twitter with thousands of aspiring authors hanging on my every word. Because it honestly seems like one of the surest ways to a publication contract with a major corporation is to first work in either editing or agenting.

I didn’t know that. I thought writing a better book would do it.

And so what has happened is that instead of getting that major book deal I’d always dreamed of, I’ve written better novels than I’d realized I could. At the same time, right now, with digital publishing exploding and so many questions coming up about rights and distribution, I’m glad I own the rights to all my books and that they’re not tied up anywhere, and even better I’m aware of those questions and that situation.

I fear a lot of authors aren’t rushing to publish so much as they’re rushing to platform, which I’m now verbifying thank you very much. I’m a writer. I’m allowed to do those sorts of things.

And what I mean is that there’s so much noise about how to market your book and whether you should and five easy ways to fix your dialogue and how to write a killer elevator pitch. Don’t get me wrong; I was guilty of the same thing for a long time, and even worse more vapid about it, which is why I tend lately to be more quiet about things. I’ve focused so much on the work.

Moreover, and going back to what I was going to say about balance, especially here . . . I neglect this site too often because I haven’t known what I want it to be about. Just another author site offering yet more advice about writing, when everyone knows that writing good stories is way more important than talking about writing good stories?

I think it can be more than that. I hope so, anyway. I guess we’ll see.

What I know is that publishing what I have has come with a sense of relief, and helped me to find a healthier mindset with regard to my personal conceptions of success. I’m sort of hoping the same might hold true here.


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