Can we all grow up now, please?

Can we all grow up now, please?
I don't know when I first became aware of the treacherous nature of the word 'nurture'. Well, treacherous when applied to writers. But it can't have been all that long ago. I think it may have been in one of the many well -informed comments on the Passive Voice blog. Somebody wrote 'Nurturing is for babies.'
I read it and saw the light.

Last week a few things happened which made me think about it all over again. The word cropped up in an interview with a very big publishing name. She was still talking about 'nurturing' as one of the desirable functions of a publishing house or a literary agency. She could have used words like facilitate, assist, or partner. But she didn't. She used the word 'nurture' with all its implications of cherishing an infant or other helpless being.

At the same time, a few colleagues reported a number of professional exchanges which had been a little less than businesslike, which had involved rather patronizing put-downs. We've all had them. They range from the vitriolic to the thoughtlessly rude: the slapped wrist, the long silence after the carefully framed professional enquiry, the manuscript returned with a curt letter and coffee stains, three years later, by which time it has already been published elsewhere, the endless hedging of bets. This is the unfortunate downside of nurturing. If you allow your publisher and agent to cast themselves in a parental, rather than a professional or client role, they will feel justified in imposing a little tough love from time to time - all for the infant's own good, of course. And they will be outraged, absolutely outraged, when that same infant, aka business partner or supplier elects to stop behaving like a humble supplicant, becomes grown up and businesslike and expects the kind of basic (not fulsome) courtesy which would normally be extended in every other area of life.

But this has implications for us as writers, too. We have to stop being so needy. We have to take responsibility for ourselves and our careers. We have to recognize that there are things we can and can't do all by ourselves - and that this will vary depending upon our level of experience and expertise, just as it does in every other profession. We should be prepared to buy in the help we need without giving away control of our product for a handful or even a hill of beans. If we are contracted to do work, we have to meet deadlines in a professional manner. And we have to maintain a certain level of courtesy at all times even in the face of intense provocation.

In exchange for that, we should demand respect. For the work itself and from those with whom we hope to work in partnership. You notice I'm not saying that we all have to go it alone all the time. We have to find out what suits us, what is the best way of making and then distributing our product - for us. For some people it will involve the pursuit of the traditional publishing deal. For others, it will involve writing for pleasure and disseminating for free. Or writing experimentally, pushing the boundaries without thinking commercially at all. For some it will involve a thoroughly businesslike analysis of the market, a five year self publishing plan and a series of useful partnerships. For others yet again, it will involve a hybrid model. But even this isn't fixed. I have friends who are working happily with three or four different traditional publishers without being tied in to any of them. Others who - like myself - are working on a mixture of traditional and self publishing. People who might like to write both experimental and genre fiction or something in between. There is no single right way. We have to work out what best suits us - sometimes by a process of trial and error.

What we can no longer hope to do, however, (unless we have the luxury of a private income) is to sit in our book lined studies and dabble in a little light writing while somebody pays us handsomely for a slim volume every few years while shaping our careers and generally treating us like a special snowflake who might melt away under the glare of professionalism. If they ever did. Which I very much doubt. I reckon it was always a myth. One of those publishing carrots that justified the occasional stick around the ears.

Time to grow up, folks.

Comments

Lambert Nagle said…

"But this has implications for us as writers, too. We have to stop being so needy." Well said, Catherine. I think we also have to stop relying on Amazon KDP Select free or even Bookbub as these ultimately are unsustainable. How about we concentrate instead on writing more books?
Excellent post. You covered more than one base here. Of particular note is the responsibility of the author to properly assess and make their own decisions in terms of the furtherance of their own careers.
Excellent post. You covered more than one base here. Of particular note is the responsibility of the author to properly assess and make their own decisions in terms of the furtherance of their own careers.
Geraldine Evans said…
I can't say I ever felt 'nurtured' when I was published traditionally. Now, I thank God I was only a midlister and escaped to indie publishing with most of my rights intact.
I'm not at all sure that any nurturing ever DID go on. I think it was a mirage. The only people I was ever nurtured by was when I was a very young radio playwright - a few older producers taught me so much about the medium that I always remember them with affection and respect. It was nurturing only in the sense that they knew a lot more than I did and were happy to pass their knowledge on, while respecting the work I wanted to do. I suppose the point I was trying to make was that we probably expect too much of agents and publishers - but they too are guilty of encouraging that neediness when it suits them! If I'm honest (and with one or two very honourable exceptions) the smaller publishers were much worse than the big company I was once published by. Agents were a mixed bunch too. But somewhere along the way, I found myself becoming much too needy and much too accepting of behaviour that I wouldn't have put up with in any other area of life and work. Indie publishing - and interacting with people who had already trodden this path - allowed me to reclaim my professionalism and self respect - as well as my joy in the work itself, which I seemed to be in danger of losing!
Chiquita said…
This is awesome!