On Evolving to Survive Publishing: Why Jaws is Better than JigglyPuff

I know I’ve talked about this before, but this past year it’s kind of become a major theme in my life, so I’m going to write about it again. Here it is, children. What I’ve learned in 2015: You have to do what you have to do, when you have to do it–and not when you want to do it–in order to get it done.

Recently, at #HippoCamp2015  in Lancaster, PA, I made a joke about being a gigantic softie–when I wasn’t a shark. Because sometimes I read a submission that just makes me fangirl flail, and other times I’m gleefully crushing dreams by telling writers their story won’t sell itself. (Sorry, kids. It really takes a lot of work, a pragmatic attitude, and smart marketing. Among other stuff.) The sea life analogy wasn’t really intentional on my part, but well, sometimes when I’m talking, thoughts just come out of my mouth hole before I can stop them. It’s the zany, creative and not always socially appropriate part of my personality. (Or, in other words, the jellyfish.)

Even though it’s a ridiculous visual. I think we’re all part jellyfish, part shark in a way. Sometimes we cry at Pixar movies (or…all the time.) Other times, we reach into ourselves and find an ironclad backbone, which we use to go out into the world and fight for what we believe in–even if it’s difficult, or embarrassing, or supposedly impossible. We roll our eyes back into our heads, turning our pupils black and soulless for a moment, while we tear things up. And wow, this analogy has descended into very graphic, late night Discovery Channel territory.

Anyway. The trick is, I suppose, knowing when it’s time to be the jellyfish, and when it’s time to be the shark. Especially when it comes to your own work. Of course, we’d all like to do nothing but drink foamy lattes and cuddle with kittens and be creative and take naps. But that’s not realistic, and it’s not at all the lifestyle of a successful writer.
Sure, a lot of writers joke about that stuff on Twitter. “Isn’t my kitty cute? Don’t you wish your life was as simple and stress free as mine? Look at my fluffy coffee!” But let’s be honest, that’s just good PR.

Meanwhile, most successful authors I know are furiously writing, marketing, and giving themselves ulcers with high octane (but cheap) coffee behind the scenes. Their eyes are often bloodshot from lack of sleep, haunted by the dark memory of all the bastard darlings they’ve killed. Scary creatures of survival, yes. But creatures with an undeniable purpose: write, market, eat (to live, or maybe just stop the screaming for a moment), write, (maybe) sleep, sell stories, write, market, repeat.

And above all, their writing is lethal. In a good way. Never precious or cute for the sake of being cute. Neither frilly or decorative, it does exactly what it’s meant to do, and nothing more. It captures, enthralls, terrifies, and inspires the reader, even as it lures the reader into the depths with the intention of emotionally crippling her for life. (Hunger Games, looking at you.)

That focus, dear children, is the difference between being one more fun-colored fish in the sea, and a literary predator who will survive for centuries.