Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Fruits of Our Fingers

by Caren Crane

Gentle Reader, I have a confession to make. Though you will hear the Banditas and others quiver at times with insecurity about whether people like our writing or how a book will be viewed by the public, we are only half insecure. As the incomparable Claudia Dain has said, "Writers are a mountain of ego, surrounded by an ocean of insecurity". Claudia nailed it.

After all, ours is an avocation - the thing we love to do. And yet, it is enormously draining, difficult and full of rejection (and the potential for rejection). Ask yourself, what sort of person knowingly takes on a job where they will be rejected 99 times out of 100? Oh, a salesman, perhaps?

Yes, like it or not, we are called on to sell, sell, sell our stories. First to agents and editors, then to booksellers and librarians and finally, Gentle Reader, to you. Such crass commercialism! Surely Jane Austen did not have do such a thing? Well, maybe at one time writers were not called upon to sit at a lonely table in Barnes & Noble and direct customers to the bathroom. To bribe people with chocolate to talk to them. To make them feel guilty enough to buy a book and - please, oh, please! - let them autograph it.

Yes, perhaps the readers and writers both were spared such humiliation at one point in time, but today it is a reality. Today, writers must produce a great book, sell it and promote it. That is rather daunting to many writers. Unlike your Banditas (*g*), most writers are solitary creatures, who would rather sit at home alone with their keyboards than direct potential buyers to the restroom. Being subjected to such things is, to them, too high a price to pay.

I, for one, will be happy to sit in a bookstore and direct people to the restroom. I will invite several friends along, who will plant themselves in the romance section and allow their conversation about that fabulous writer who is here, OMG! to be overheard by romance browsers. Ones who will pass out chocolate and keep me company. Even if unaccompanied, I will make friends. Not because I was born an extrovert, but because I can become one for the sake of getting my book in your hands.

I can sell. Heck, I can hard sell, if that's what it takes. Anything, Gentle Reader, to get the fruits of my fingers into your (perhaps unwilling, but ultimately happy) hands. I have to. I chose to be a writer.

So, what have you done that was against your nature but necessary for your survival? Gone out with a guy so you would have something to eat for dinner? Sold jewelry for gas money? *gasp* Suffered through a booksigning?


Anna Campbell said...

Great post, Caren! Until the last few months, I was one of those people who would rather face death than a public speaking engagement. But last year, Romance Writers of Australia asked me to MC their conference and although I quaked with terror, I said yes. Why would I put myself through that agony? Because I knew I needed to get over my fear as at some stage I'd need to do author talks. And I figured RWOz would at least be a friendly crowd to cut my teeth on. Not that I was forced to bite anyone in the end, mind you!

Well, day one, I was just AWFUL! I spoke like I had a stick stuck where no stick should be stuck, if you know what I mean. By day two, I'd sort of relaxed into it a bit, although I still felt very unnatural. Since then I've done a few talks and each one has been slightly easier and at least I don't have sleepless nights beforehand!

Caren Crane said...

Anna, that's so reassuring to hear! You always seem so together when I see you. It's hard to believe you don't (or wouldn't) enjoy speaking engagements. But they are necessary, aren't they?

I remember too well my first "sales" job. I was 18 and working in a retail store at the mall. For me, the hardest part of the job was approaching customers and saying "hello". Well, I was supposed to ask if they needed help finding something, but at first "hello" was a challenge!

It's funny to think about now. I have managed to transform myself into someone who is comfortable speaking to any size group of people and can strike up a conversation with anyone. But what a road it was!

When I was 18, you could never have convinced me I would be up for something like speaking at a conference. But now? Bring it on!

Joan said...

Speaking in public is not particularly difficult for me. I only froze up once....in college. Had complete brain lock which translated to an embarassing episode of stuttering.

I remember going to Atlanta for a convention. ( A nursing one...nothing FUN like RWA) and touring CNN. At one point you could pretend to be an announcer, read off a prompter and be recorded. No one else volunteered so I did. I can still remember how empowering it felt to say "For CNN, I'm Joan Kayse."

The tour guide was impressed :-)

Caren Crane said...

Wow, Joan, I am impressed with you! And yet, you spend time hunched over a keyboard writing stories about delectable Romans when you could be jetting around the world as a news correspondent? Well, that's CNN's loss and our gain!

But, come on, haven't you done *anything* out of desperation? I mean, am I the only one who said "yes" to a dinner date simply so I wouldn't have to eat Ramen noodles for a sixth night in a row? The only one who cashed in a penny collection to buy gas? Who collected aluminum cans and took them to the recycling center so I could go to the $1 movies?

Y'all are making me feel bad about my past impoverishment. Okay, the movies weren't exactly a necessity. *g*

Joan said...

Well, I went out on a second date with a guy to prove to my friends I WAS giving him a chance.

You see, on the first date (a Dutch date at Shoney's)he'd enthralled me with details on how to make oatmeal...step by step...in the microwave. THAT was painful/desperate!

For the Bandita Lair, I'm Joan K

Caren Crane said...

Oh, Joan, that's just painful. The dreaded "second date with loser who has no chance"! You are courageous, my Bandita friend, courageous indeed.

And after the second round of titillating conversation (best way to trim toenails, perhaps?), did your friends finally let that one go? *g*

Deb Marlowe said...

Oh, my yes, I've been down the path of desperate straights!

On incident in college comes to mind. I had a phone bill to pay and not enough money--so I went down and sold my plasma for cash. My best friend's mother was *horrified* when she found out, but I truly didn't think it was that big a deal at the time. :-)

Caren Crane said...

Deb, that is so funny! I was thinking this morning that I knew lots of people in college who sold plasma. Plasma has filled gas tanks, paid power bills, paid phone bills, bought pizza and beer.

The funniest thing was, whenever a friend went to sell plasma, they would give her/him cards to hand out with the address and phone number. Those plasma people know where the desperate hang out: college! *g*

Anonymous said...

I go to work every day to a job where they expect me to 1) know how to add numbers in my head and 2) care about the net present value, discount rate, and revenue requirement associated with a given investment. Now for a writer, THAT'S desperation.

(Wait, aren't you an engineer, Caren? You probably CAN add numbers in your head. EEEK!)

Anonymous said...

I did work at Burger King for five years, beginning when I was 14. Never liked babysitting so much, but desperately wanted a little spending money.

In college, I lived with a couple of guys who were always doing some weird experiment for money. We had a rule of thumb--if the container in the fridge is opaque and has no food label on it, DON'T TOUCH!!

I just ate a lot of beans. Seemed easier for the needle adverse.

Donna MacMeans said...

Oh, I'm filled with desperations stories. I encountered one just last year (which I will not repeat here as it IS a public forum), but I managed to come through to the other side. As they say, what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.

I remember selling my textbooks during finals week in college so I'd have enough money to buy medication - I had mono at the time.

I took this awful phone solicitation job because we needed the money to pay bills.

I interviewed for a job with someone who was once my intern. I needed a job, and that was probably the most humiliating thing I've ever done. He didn't hire me. I think he was just as uncomfortable.

But I'm still here, doing what I love.

Claudia Dain said...

Hey, I'm a published author. Of course I've done desperate things, like spending months writing down my best take at a story and then letting total strangers read it and comment on it. No one ever actually said, "It sucks!", but I could tell they were thinking it.

They may still be thinking it, but I'm not listening. So there.

Caren Crane said...

Kirsten I feel your pain on many fronts. Actually, the whole going into engineering thing was an act of desperation. I had a small child to support and desperately needed to make more than I could at the mall. Let me tell you, Calculus 3 and Modern Physics beats working on Sunday hands-down!

And I, too, worked fast food. I was a horrible babysitter, but ace at the drive thru! The secret in fast food is, if you have any aptitude *at all* (like, you can speak and count change), they stick you on the drive thru. Worst. Job. Ever. That is a very stressful place to work when you're 16, believe me.

Now, I am an engineer working as a technical writer. At a bank. Which is much less stressful than engineering, but they do expect me to know about finance stuff. At least I'm not required to be passionate about it!

Caren Crane said...

Oh, Donna! Your mono story really spoke to me. I recall when I was poor and very pregnant, with Type 1 diabetes. I worked retail and had to spend almost every cent I made on medications and glucose test strips. Insurance back then didn't even pay for insulin (not that I *had* insurance).

Remember Phar-Mor, the discount drug store? The ladies at the Phar-Mor pharmacy felt so bad for me. They knew where I worked, because I often forgot to take off my name tag when I left work. I think I depressed them every time I came in. One would get all teary-eyed and just shake her head.

Like you said, Donna, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger! And now I have a keen appreciation for health care benefits! *g*

Caren Crane said...

Claudia, I do not for a minute believe that anyone ever thought anything you wrote was less than wonderful. Maybe it wasn't for them, but I can't imagine it was less than marvelous!

And you're smart not to listen. None of us should pay that rejection nonsense any attention at all!

Claudia Dain said...

Caren, you're right. Ignoring the sting of rejection is the only way to go. Whether it's a cute guy or an agent or a job we want, you just have to figure that it just wasn't meant to be and move on.

jo robertson said...

Okay, here's my dirty little secret (one of them, anyway).

When I was a very young mother, I had a Fresno Bee paper route --yes, I delivered 400 papers from my car, throwing them out the window onto the driveways, sometimes making the porches. I started at 4:00 a.m., on Sundays at three, picked up my papers in front of a 7-11 store, folded half and took off! Folding and driving like a madwoman, I swerved from one side of the street to another.

I did this three 1/2 years.

My friends, knowing that I had a college degree, dished about why I didn't teach instead of throw papers. Simple, I didn't want to leave my new baby. And we NEEDED that extra 1K a month because we'd just moved into a brand-new house and my husband was a lowly-paid college teacher.

At least I didn't have to collect door to door -- I did all billing by mail.

Oh, the things we do for family -- and our writing.

Trish Milburn said...

I have more of these impoverished desperation stories than I care to recount, but in college I once was taking a full load of classes (like 17 or 18 hours) while I had three jobs (the college newspaper staff, the yearbook staff, and salad bar girl at a local steakhouse). Good thing I had more energy then.

Caren Crane said...

Jo, the things we do to keep body and soul together. And the sacrifices made for the kids would fill volumes, wouldn't they? But it's so great when things get a little easier and the kids grow into wonderful people you are proud of. Hard for people not walking in your shoes to understand, though, I'm sure!

You're not Jo-Mama for nothing! *g*

Caren Crane said...

Trish, somehow you're (very) full load and three jobs story doesn't surprise me. Those of us who have watched you in action are always amazed at your energy and productivity. It may not feel like it, but you are a dynamo!

And as Donna pointed out, we should all be good and strong by now. You may be Hercules! *g*

Tawny said...

Desperation is my friend... NOT.

Lessee, I forced myself to overcome my public speaking terror when my editor said "I want you to do a workshop". It helped that I am blessed with supportive friends who sat in the audience and gave me "you don't suck" faces.

Other desperate acts... I used to iron the neighbors shirts for grocery money.

Caren Crane said...

Tawny, you are a saint, ironing for money. I think I own an iron, but I sometimes have trouble locating it the two times a year I use it! *g*

Hey, guys, speaking of money, Colette Gale popped back onto yesterday's post and posted a $1 coupon good on selected titles (including hers) at Borders and Waldenbooks. Go check it out and make sure to get over there and print out your coupon!

Helen said...

Great post Caren made me think. I try not to do things that I really don't want to no different from most people I would say but we all have things that must be done for various reasons I had a choice at work a few years ago to do a tafe course I didn't want to do it but I knew that if I didn't I would advance no further so I did the diploma course and it was hard public speaking (YUK) lots of bookwork (YUK) two good things came out of that course 1. I got a promotion and 2. was named student of the year which was really great but I don't want to do any more courses I am happy with my job now so this will do me.
I am really glad that all of you authors take the time to do book signings and talks and blogs because it gives us the readers so much to look forward to. Anna I have been to one of your talks and you were fantastic you made everyone in the audience feel so comfortable and you really know what you are talking about.
Thanks Guys
Have Fun

Caren Crane said...

Helen, congratulations to you. Student of the year and a promotion to boot! Well, we knew you were special. *g* It's especially nice that you did so well when you were reluctant to take the challenge on.

Your rewards were hard-earned and well-deserved. I felt like that about my much-maligned (by me) engineering degree. There was blood, sweat and tears on that diploma! *g*

Rest on your laurels, Helen. You deserve it!

Helen said...

Thanks Caren I love coming to visit The Bandits everyday you all make my day and show people how persitence and hard work will pay off in the end. The net has opened so many doors for so many people my auto buy authors list has grown dramaticly since we went on the net about 10 years ago I love it (not perhaps my pocket). I have read so many wonderful books by heaps of new authors. Thanks
Have Fun

Anna Campbell said...

Tawny, they couldn't pay me ENOUGH money to make me iron!

Helen, that was a fantastic story about your TAFE course. Congratulations! Actually, the weird thing about facing our fears is that often that's when we grow as people, do you find? And please keep coming back to the Banditas! We love having you here.

Suse said...

The thing I HAVE to do to keep body and soul together, but that goes against my very nature, is work. Seriously. I was not cut out for work. The thought of having to get up in the morning and BE somewhere seems egregious to me.

Now, what I was cut out for was waking up of natural causes and then leisurely deciding where in the world I wanted to travel that particular day. I'd write a definitive guide to, say, the kebab! (Which, of course, would not seem like work.)

Alas, such was not meant to be. As a friend of mine once so sadly put it: "If you have to wake up in the morning, it's a job."

Beth said...

Great post, Caren! The one act of desperation that pops into my mind was the time I pretended to like a guy (he'd been after me for awhile) so he'd give me a ride home from a party. Not very nice of me but it was late and I didn't want to miss curfew *g* I had to dodge his calls for something like two weeks afterward.

Caren Crane said...

Suse, you know I agree with you whole-heartedly! I sympathize with your plight. Yes, if you have to wake up, it is indeed a job. However, if it is not just a vocation (like my paying gig) but an avocation (like writing for me or kebab evaluation for you *g*), it's worth waking up for!

I hope your dream of leisure is one day realized. After all, we could use a definitive guide to kebabs!

Caren Crane said...

Beth, there is no shame in pretending to like someone in order to scam a ride. Or a dinner (in my case). Yes, dodging the phone calls afterward was a bit shame-inducing, but really, who was harmed in the long run?

In my game of self-justification, I like to think these guys must have suffered at least mild delusions to believe someone like you (or me) was interested in them in the first place. I mean, classy Banditas like us don't hang out with just anyone. You know, unless they're buying us drinks at the bar or food when we're starving or offering rides home when we're stuck at parties...

Oh, okay, I have no excuse. I used men for free meals. I only felt marginally guilty about it. I am probably a bad person. But you know, weeks of Ramen noodles can lead you to a very dark place.

Beth, on the other hand, is practically a saint and probably went to confession after scamming her ride home. *g*

Tawny said...

*snicker* Saint Beth...I love it!

Caren, I'm modeling a heroine after you, I swear I am.

As for the ironing... what can I say, I was poor and I had a hungry kid *g* I haven't touched an iron since, though!!!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Okay, here's one of mine, I have a few I don't intend to ever repeat in public.

We'd moved to Florida for my husband's work and I got to spend one entire summer being a stay at home mom. I'm telling you, that's a job I know I would've loved, except by September, my checking account said I had to go back to work.

Well, living in a rather elderly area of Florida there weren't that many obstetrics jobs. So I took a position at a local hospital where the mean average age of my patients were about 69. Luckily for me I'd had very elderly granparents and great aunts and uncles as I grew up. To this day I love to talk to older people.

I spent four months learning about heart medications, the best way to solve intenstinal issues, (if you know what I mean), and sadly watching people take their final breath from the ravages of disease. Despite the friends I made, the learning experience I gained, and going from taking care of four patients a night to 12 patients with the help of an LVN and an aide, I knew I'd never been cut out to continue that line of work.

The first OB job that came along I grabbed. The minute I walked on the unit with my scrubs on...I knew I was home!

Trish Milburn said...

Suz, your comment is interesting because I have a good friend who is a nurse. She's a floor nurse now, I believe, but she once worked as a renal nurse doing dialysis and watching people succumb to diabetes. I told her I couldn't imagine doing that, but she said she'd rather do that than work in the nursery or labor and delivery because she couldn't handle it if something went wrong with the babies.

Caren Crane said...

Suz and Trish,

I know someone who works with Hospice, so she often with people at the end of life. She said it's an honor to be there and it feels almost holy being there. Definitely a "presence". So, while she is sad to lose patients, she really feels they are moving on to something better than the pain and illness they are suffering.

Sounds like you prefer beginnings, Suz. I can't blame you for that!

Cassondra said...

Oh wow. Caren. Great subject. Almost TOO close for comfort. Those are the best ones. ;)

My internal linkage, I think, is a little weird. I'm a natural ham, so public speaking is no problem. I've had moments of brain freeze -- Embarassing, but that's common to most public speakers at one time or another.

My moments of maximum suckage....

Lets see...Right after I was married--my job was supposed to support us. DH was in school. I'd started birth control and it was making me SO sick. The boss was horrid, called me names even, and I had to get up sick every morning and go to that job so we could eat. I cried all the way to work. NOW he'd get the business end of my middle finger, but when I was 22 and desperate, no.

Hmmmm. I cleaned house for a woman while I was in junior college. 12-hours a day twice per week--made her house SPARKLE, did dishes and laundry and IRONED hubby's shirts. For $4.75 per hour.

I was a substitute nanny for a blonde three year old HELLION whose wealth would rival that of Bill Gates. This girl saw her mother for ten minutes per day, max. So baby hellion had no discipline and ran over top of anybody in her way. It was the first time I'd ever been purposely and precisely "put in my place" as, not employee, but "servant." The distinction was made clear and it was truly demeaning. For $30 per day.

But you know what? Harder than ALL of that? Submitting manuscripts. Yep. I depend on my Bandita sisters, their upbeat "you can do it" and Auntie C's deadly riding crop to keep me at it. I can write 'em. But submitting? That's when I freeze up. I don't do it as much as I should.

Cassondra said...


I'm so with you on the whole egregiousness of "work."

I'm not lazy, but I'll tell you, I think I was best cut out for being Queen.

It's a hard life, being Queen. There are a great many sacrifices to be made. Decisions that affect gobs of people's lives. But I really think it's the only thing I'm quite naturally good at. Though I've never had the chance, I know it to be so.

I even have the wave down. I'm a natural.

Cassondra, born to be Queen.

Caren Crane said...

Oh, Cassondra, I'm not sure which was worse. I definitely have had a job where I dreaded going in every day. To the point where I gave myself headaches every morning. And to be called names. And knowing you have no choice other than to bear it. Does it get worse than that?

Maybe, considering the kiddie from hell story. The worst part is to think of how horrible that child will be as an adult. Doesn't it make you shudder to think of how horribly she will treat others her whole life? Parents who enable and encourage bad behavior should be jailed! Sorry, I have strong opinions about parenting. Cats do a better job. At least they teach their children survival skills!

Submitting. Yes, it can be a nightmare. I realized just this morning that, while I hustled my requested material off the day after I got home from conference...I didn't write REQUESTED MATERIAL on either envelope! So, definitely the one that went to Grand Central will end up in the slush pile. Probably the agent one, too. I may never hear from either place. It makes me nauseous to think of it!

But you have to keep submitting, Cassondra. If you don't send it, they can't buy it. We have to make our own luck, as far as we can. You're fabulous! You will sell! But not if the stuff stays locked in your computer. *g*

Cassondra said...



I'm serious. By the time they get to the one in the slush pile, it won't matter whether they remember they've already read it. It'll be a year or two from now! They'll never know.

Send another copy, girl.