Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Career Merry Go Round - Karen Ball



Does your career trajectory look like this:

Or this:

Or this:

I think we all know which graph is the most accurate. This is one of the most challenging parts of being an author - we have close to a total lack of control over our own career paths. Luck is a huge part of the journey. The right manuscript landing on the right desk at the right time. Your as yet unsold novel hitting a trend that no one saw coming. The sales director having a headache the day of the acquisitions meeting. We need to have talent, craft, commitment and hope. We also need a massive dollop of luck.

When we get lucky, we want to stay lucky - but I haven't worked out the recipe for that one yet. The moment life feels good, the rug can be pulled from under an author's feet. The email that makes your face drain of blood, when the book you've slaved over is having its contract cancelled. Modest sales that leave you with a distinct sense of lukewarm enthusiasm from the editorial team who once promised you a glorious marketing strategy.

What control do we have over any of the above? Close to none. Is that likely to change? Well, some would argue yes with the advent of ebooks. Personally, I'm not rolling up my sleeves for the revolution quite yet.

Why do we keep writing when we're so tossed on the storm? Time and time again, in moments of angst, loved ones have told me, 'You do it because you have to.' They're right. The little girl who slaved over stories in her exercise books had no concept of sales figures or failing book chains. She's still part of who I am. And, oh, the rollercoaster ride! And the friends. Want to find a really good friend? Share some of your bad writing news. You'll soon find out who cares.

These are the type of friends you need when times become good again. I have a personal theory about book launches. The most important people present are usually standing at the back of the room, quietly watching, smiling, going largely unnoticed by all except the author. They're the husband, or the parent or the childhood friend who knows you're doing exactly what you should always have been doing. They're there to enjoy your good times, and they'll be there for the bad times, too. They could probably draw an accurate graph of your career trajectory, because they'll have been there every step of the way.

But they have more sense than that. Like us, they know writing isn't about plotting data.

It's about plotting.

You can visit my website at www.karen-ball.com.



15 comments:

Sue Purkiss said...

You put it so well!

Penny Dolan said...

Laughed wryly at this post. Thanks for a boost this morning, Karen. And may your own graph edge towards the uppermost.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

'The little girl who slaved over stories in her exercise books had no concept of sales figures or failing book chains.' isn't that how most of us started... pencil gripped so tightly that the hand ached but on you wrote! It sums up the driving force. Lovely post!

Susan Price said...

Others have said it before me (I'm a late riser.) But I'll say it again - great post, Karen! On the nail!

Marie-Louise said...

Oh dear. That was a little too accurate! Raised a wry smile here...

Sarah Duncan said...

Oh dear, I recognised this all too well. Graph 1 could be labelled, what you think will happen as you're writing your first ms, Graph 2, what you realise has happened as you write your 2nd ms, Graph 3 what you hope is going to happen as you write your 3rd ms.

Leila said...

Love this post, Karen! the graphs are so funny and true, and what you say about the little girl slaving over the notebooks: so heart-warming and true :)

Majid Ali said...

Please help me by reading my appeal on my profile

Linda Newbery said...

Lovely post, Karen, and I love the graphs! You are so right about the lack of control, and the importance of valuing the people who really matter - and ourselves. Very well said.

karen said...

Thanks for all the lovely comments, guys!

Rosalie Warren said...

I'm a bit late, but may I just say I loved this post, and feel very encouraged that I'm 'not the only only one'.

Nicola Morgan said...

Perfect.

Katherine Roberts said...

Aiee, that first graph could be my career... except for the last bit about the Carnegie! Now it looks much more like graph 3. (In fact, the editor of those first few books even said "shame it didn't win the Carnegie" before turning down my next one... hmm, I can see the logic of that comment now...)

But somehow I got a little upward curve again, and it was all thanks to amazon and Kindle. And now I have a four book deal with a new publisher. Film rights? Are they in graph 3? That'll do me... who wants a Carnegie Medal for their third book, anyway? Far too early to peak in a writing career that I hope will span another two decades at least...

Nick Cross said...

It almost seems as if life is determined to bring you back down to earth, doesn't it? Still, I suppose that when you are down on your own graph, some other writer is up on their's (and vice versa)

karen said...

Nick - the day that life stops bringing me back down to earth is the day that I stop. It's not nice at the time but it is entirely necessary!