A little freeform blogging on a calendrical adjustment.
Feb 29th is an unusual day. Partners propose, workers appear to work an extra this month for no extra pay (I used to ask my boss about it, but I never got a straight answer) and there's a certain sense of being out of step with the norm. Add to that the controversy over the Oscars this year - brilliantly addressed by Chris Rock's storming monologue - and I can't help thinking about expectations. I speak from the perspective of a white 'emerging author' (I made that term up) so I can't say anything useful about diversity and inclusivity in the entertainment industry, or comment meaningfully on when an expectation is reasonable and justified. What I can talk about is a writer's expectations, and how valid they might be.
My first 'break' was a contract offer from Samhain publishing for my magical fantasy, Covenant. Some of you may know that Samhain has recently decided to close its doors. It would be hard to describe my utter joy at receiving that acceptance email and my expectation was that editing and publication would be followed in due course by some degree of success and further books. What actually happened was that the editor died and her replacement didn't like the book at all and the offer was swiftly withdrawn. These things happen.
That same novel went to an independent European publisher who both liked and understood the book. However, owing to personal and professional challenges, the main editor was unable to edit it in a year. We parted company on good terms. Finally, a UK publisher wanted to take on the book but only if I made an author's contribution amounting to over £5000. That, believe me, was certainly unexpected! I like to think of it as five thousand reasons to self-publish a book.
Our expectations can be based upon many things:
- Feedback from readers, editorial reports and fellow writers.
- Bright optimism.
- Our needs as a writer.
- What the course tutor said.
- What those 'how to write a novel' books told us.
- What we think we see going on around us.
- How our peers are doing.
The truth, rarely spoken but commonly acknowledged - often in the presence of alcohol - is that no one really knows and there is no cast iron or solid gold guarantee. And while we may be frustrated by that and occasionally devastated, it also offers the possibility of possibility.
Because sometimes our expectations can be exceeded.
Readers champion our books, publishers invest in our creativity and editors ask to see the full manuscript.
I know of which I speak. A little over a year ago I approached Joffe Books with one fully completed (novelists know there's a difference between completed and fully completed!) thriller. Thirteen months later I am busy on the fourth book in the series and there's every possibility (that word again) that a producer may read the first novel. It could all go south tomorrow or I could get a TV series. Those are the two extremes. Neither of them are real because they exist only in my head. What matters is how I behave in the light of those expectations.
Do I write?
Do I edit?
Do I submit material?
In the end, irrespective of what is or is not going on around us, we have very few actual choices. Maybe that's a good thing.