Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
While it perhaps wouldn’t standup to clinical scrutiny the above definition is a popular (if essentially quippy) way to understand insanity. Another way to put this is to say that every action has an equal and opposite reaction and the reaction will be consistent if the action is repeated; to expect otherwise is insane. According to this line of thinking Writers intent on making early story sales or recruiting a Literary Agent are (or are perhaps forced to act as though they are) insane.
Half a year ago I listened to Jeff Lindsay (Author of the bestselling Dexter series) speak at Mysterious Galaxy, my local science fiction book store. When someone in the audience asked if he had any advice for new/aspiring Writers he said: “Learn to weld.” He wasn’t doing this to say ‘give up on your dreams.’ Instead, he was trying to disabuse us of the notion that our writerly aspirations would provide material support in anything like a timely manner. If I remember correctly, Mr. Lindsay spent seven years actively querying (pitching/applying) between finishing Darkly Dreaming Dexter and convincing an Agent to try and sell his work. I’m glad that he persevered. But frankly, I find his behavior insane. Or to put it another way (since I am performing similar insane acts of submitting my novel and short stories for publication) I find his level of his insanity crazy.
The counter example to Jeff Lindsay is Jason Hough, a friend of mine who landed an Agent with his first query letter and now has a deal with Del Rey.
I often hear advice from Writers like myself. That is to say: Writers with some skills, some completed work and the drive to try and make some money. This advice tends to be incredibly superstitious. Here’s some ‘conventional’ wisdom I’ve heard in the past month: don’t self-publish because then the establishment won’t touch you, if you can sell 1200 books on your own you can transform this into a publishing deal, don’t set your YA book series as every book is a different school year, and make sure don’t have a prologue because Agents don’t read books with prologues anymore.
Which begs the question: with all this arrayed against the prospect of a Writer breaking through the wall of indifference, what is a Writer supposed to do?
I can't speak for others. But my strategy is to become insane. But do so consciously, with all the style and intelligence I can bring to bear on the task of acting like an insane person.
But I plan to do so with a twist.
My insanity is that I’m going to keep querying: dutifully repeatedly and always striving to keep the specters of doubt and disappointment at bay. But, I will strive to bend the ‘rules’ of such an endeavor to bring attention to myself in a positive way. At the same time, I’ll do anything else (that is both ethical and satisfying) I think might further my career. By ‘my career’ I mean attracting and entertaining an audience with my stories in exchange for monetary support.
Even as I’m querying and receiving requests for my full manuscript, I’m seeing if I can use Kickstarter to raise funds for a first printing of my novel CHEMO. Even as I’m trying to make my first pro short story sale and join SFWA I’m putting together an ebook anthology about all the old, weird Dungeons and Dragons monsters: Monster Missive - 1st Edition.
I frankly don’t know how I would persevere otherwise. I don’t understand how Writers who feel that the ‘only way forward’ is to spam Agents for the next decade don’t become essentially dismayed by the resounding silence. For me, if I’m going to become insane the very least I can do is to strive to develop as many (insane) strategies as possible.
If I have to become insane, at least I can try to keep it interesting.