On Being Adaptable

ADAPTABILITY_TO_CHANGEIf I’m learning one thing as a pre-published author, it’s that you have to learn to be flexible in this industry. And I don’t just mean in being able to take edits, although that’s a very important skill as well.

In the last year, I’ve seen writer friends get agents, leave agents, get new ones, take contracts, cancel contracts, get dropped by their publishers, succeed beyond their wildest dreams and have to adapt to all manner of situations in between.

In that same year, I’ve written several books, been on submission, experienced the acquisitions board and been both baffled and inspired by publishing houses and editors. I’ve started projects that I thought were pure genius, only to put them on hold to focus on those that have a better likelihood of selling in the current market, and I’ve rearranged my whole TBW (to be written) list more times than I can count. And you know what? I’ve learned to be okay with that.

You see, market trends influence the business side of our craft more than we’d like to admit. When it comes down to it, what we do is art; what our publishers do is business. We meet somewhere in the middle to bring books to our readers. Publishers have to acquire stories that fit what people are buying or there is no profit in the deal for them. And their success is what pays us and enables our careers, especially when they have to take a risk on newbies like me and many of my friends. From an artistic point of view, it sucks. But from a business perspective it makes total sense.

As writers, we have to learn to see it from both sides. I’m not advocating chasing trends. You have to write what it is that calls to you. But you also need to be aware of other opportunities that may be out there. I recently opened my mind to a later period in history and, even though that’s not “my thing,” have found three lovely stories to tell, golden opportunities that I otherwise would have missed. So what if my planned books have to wait? It’s not like they are going anywhere.

But I didn’t get to that place of peace – and dare I say excitement? – overnight. I wailed (privately) for a while before I ceased the pity party, put on my big girl panties, and accepted that in order to succeed, I would need to be willing to change.

This is the tough stuff that no one tells you when you enter the big, wild world of writing. And I’m kind of glad they don’t. If I would have known six years ago that how good my story is isn’t the only thing taken into consideration by a publishing house or that I may not get to write books in exactly the order I want, I don’t know if I would have bothered to get started. This is the stuff that weeds out the hobbyists from the career writers. Those of us who are meant to have long careers learn to adapt, rather than give up, no matter how tempting it may seem.

Now, having started research on one of those three stories, a novel that has so much potential for cultural relevance and impact on women, I can hardly believe that I almost bull-headedly passed up this chance to stretch myself.  Beside the ability to weave spellbinding stories, create compelling characters and market ourselves on social media, adaptability is one of the most powerful tools in the tool box of any writer. Our careers, not to mention our mental and emotional health, may depend on our ability to use it, so it shouldn’t be undervalued or dismissed. In this changing world in which we live, it may just be what gets us through with our sanity intact (or at least not any more damaged than it was before.)

 When have you had to be adaptable? Do you have any tips?

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