IWSG: Is It Okay To Have A Few "Turkeys"?

Hey, gang! It's time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post, a monthly tribute to the things that claw, gnaw, and snap at a writer's fragile mind--in a shiny, candy coating! But more on that in a sec...

Just a quick reminder for those of you interested in exploring the New Adult literature category, we're nearly a week into Camp New Adult--a month-long exercise in exploring the New Adult basics. It's free, open to all at any time, and really a great chance to meet some NA peeps and talk writing. Not to mention you might actually end up with a story out of it. :)

This week's camp session is all about taking that story spark or concept and building it into a fully fleshed-out idea. (I shared one for a story I'm working on in the forums...) We'll kick off the second week of camp with #NALitChat over on the Twitter this Thursday night (9 PM Eastern) by talking to several NA authors about how they brainstorm their story ideas into an actual book.

Some use Tumblr, some use mind mapping software like FreeMind or Coggle, and some use pictures and other media collection sites like Pinterest or Instagram. Whatever you use, it's likely an important part of your creative process--so come share it with others at Camp NA!




Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! Posting is first Wednesday of every month. For all the details on the IWSG, to read more posts, &  to join in the fun, click HERE!

Is It Okay To Have A Few "Turkeys"? 

I recently read an article/interview with actor David Bradley. Now, if you're a fan of movies and TV--particularly the fantastical variety--you'll know David. He played Mr. Filch in the Harry Potter movies, and recently portrayed the despicable Walder Fray in the Game Of Thrones TV series. And he has a score of other credits to his name, not to mention an upcoming appearance in the Dr. Who movie.

He's an actor who has been around the block a few times, so he's got some perspective. I thought this comment was particularly revealing: 

"For me it was amazing because four big things are coming out all at once: Game of Thrones, Broadchurch, the Doctor Who movie and the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright movie The World's End. Happily they're all good, because for any actor of a certain age you've had your share of what you call Turkeys over here. So it's a real pleasure when you've got something good on your hands." ~ You can read the entire article over on IGN HERE.

Traditionally, authors have been under an immense amount of pressure to perform well right out of the gates. There's many a tale of the debut author who didn't meet her (often unknown) sales quota, and was unceremoniously dropped by her publisher. Or worse yet, said author found her name on a list of 'unpublishables', and would need to write in a new genre or under a new name to continue her writing career. 

It was just a numbers game. If you didn't earn out your first advance, it was difficult to justify another investment on the publisher's end of things. Had nothing to do with talent or the quality of the book necessarily, just business. 

Now, more and more authors are asked to prove themselves on their own before a publisher will commit. Furthermore, many authors simply want to go it on their own--sail their own vessel, so to speak. So in many in cases, it's now up to us to decide how well a book should do, or if we want to publish another one.

But I'm not sure that's alleviated the pressure, or at least the perceived pressure, much at all. A lot of authors still nervously watch their sales on Amazon, almost trying to will their books into the top 100. We get depressed when our latest--the one we were certain was going to take off--fails to perform even as well as the previous.

I guess I'm thinking we need to have more of Mr. Bradley's mindset. A career mindset if you will. 

Look, I've said many times on this blog that writers need to be able to put all the "it's art" talk in the drawer once a story is published. It's a business, and if you want to survive longterm, you need to treat it as a business.

You've created a product. Like your favorite fabric softener or brand of shoe, people are going to buy your book as a product, they are going to consume your book as a product, and lastly judge your book as a product. (This sounds bleak and overly consumeristic, but trust me, it'll help you cope when the reviews do or don't start coming in...)

If you're very, very lucky and talented, a literature class fifty years from now may examine your words with collected awe and admiration. But for now, you should feel really blessed to have someone tweet, "OMG this book is #AMAZEBALLS!!!! Totally read it on my potty breaks this week!"

But that doesn't mean that creativity and exploration doesn't still burn at the heart of what we do, because it does. 

We can't be afraid to explore a cool concept just because there isn't a market for it. We can't shy away from trying a new writing technique or twisting a genre trope just to see what happens. 

Why? Because I think that's how the really exceptional stories come about. In that way, I think we have to push the art to create the killer product, if that makes sense. 

The byproduct of this, unfortunately, is the occasional turkey. Sometimes the vision is there, but the little ingredient that makes it shareable with others, isn't. Sometimes the writing is fine, the bones are all in place, but it just kind of sits there. You took a chance, and it just didn't go.  

That's not advocating that you try to publish every story you churn out hoping that one of them eventually doesn't suck. That's how agent's are driven to the drink, and why some readers will pull a knife on you if you tell them you're a self-published author. 

But you'll know the difference between something that sucks and a turkey. 

A turkey is your best effort, something you've worked and reworked, but it just doesn't fly when you turn it loose. Suck is when your writing group threatens mass suicide if you don't rewrite it with ONLY "six POV characters and three epilogues" before they're forced to read another chapter. :)

In short, Mr. Bradley's statement has me feeling like it's okay to have a few turkey projects out there. That it'll just make me more appreciative of the things that do flourish. 

What do you think? Does every story that you see through to completion need to have bestseller potential, or are you okay having a few that miss the mark? Do you feel any pressure to achieve external success (lots of readers, money, etc.) with everything you write, or is the writing enough?

~EJW~




36 comments:

  1. I think there is that pressure to make the next book better than the last. There is a level of expectation from readers and we need to deliver. It doesn't have to be a best seller, it just can't suck.

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    1. That's a great point, Alex! Just work to be a better writer and bring a better story each time. That doesn't necessarily correlate to sales, but probably be our focus.

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  2. There does seem to be a lot of pressure for writers to come out of the gate with a big hit if they're with traditional publishers. I think in self-publishing there's more room to grow an audience and gain readers by reputation, but I would imagine it could be a slow process to get the word out. Blah. I guess all we can do is keep writing the best stories we can and hope they connect with someone.

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    1. Definitely the right attitude, LG! We can't get so caught up in what a story "might" be that we forget about what it is, so to speak. And I completely agree with your assessment of self-publishing. Much better opportunity to build your brand/following over a long period of time--so long as you don't succumb to the pressure of trying to build it all overnight. LOL

      Thanks for your comment, as always,

      EJ

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  3. Oh no, Walder Frey! I'm having flashbacks to the Red Wedding.
    I love this advice though and it's just the kind of inspiration I need right now. David Bradley is a fantastic actor so if he can have turkeys and survive I'm sure I can too.

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    1. Walder is a piece of work alright, and how great does David play his role! Just like I can't re-read Harry Potter and not hear his voice when a Mr. Filch scene comes up, I suspect I'll see him in Walder's character from now on. :)

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  4. I never really felt like I had a choice in the matter. I write because it is just something that I have to do in order to feel whole. If I write a turkey, it is my turkey and I will just make some stuffing for it and eat it...lol!

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    1. Love the way you think, Siv! Except now I'm hungry! ;)

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  5. I use Pinterest for inspiration. Creating storyboards is fun and fuels my creativity.

    I think it's OK. Maybe they're sleepers and not turkeys. Maybe we just haven't figured out how to market that book. Shrug. Experience is always good. We learn and grow each time.

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    1. "Sleepers" Ooh, I love that! There are so many factors that go into a story connecting with readers--many of them unknown, I think. So I think you're right, just keep writing until you figure out your own formula.

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  6. If people don't give themselves permission to fail then why would we try anything. Bring on the occasional turkey!

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    1. *gobble gobble* Totally agre, Karen! :D

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  7. This is an easy one, everything you create is worth it because you're creating. If it sucks balls, so what. Move on. I have tons of starter projects I pilfer because there were still gems in all the mess. I have a sci-fi project no one (but me and my sister) enjoyed. I think measuring success as a writer is a matter of perspective (and snacks).

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    1. Snacks?! We talking Reeses type of snack, or baby carrot type of snack? My day hinges upon this answer. :)

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  8. I think you learn from every project even the turkeys. Hopefully learning when to cut your losses is one of those things.

    mood

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    1. Agreed, Mood. You have to know when that bird is cooked and it's time move on to the next. :)

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  9. Excellent post. Agree.

    I'm not in it to be the next [insert big name author here], so I'll probably have an easier time treating it like a business and not getting so caught up in reviews and sales. But I can see how there would be pressure to make each book better than (or at least as good as) the last.

    August co-host and IWSG #110

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    1. I think we all definitely want to get better each time, M. Do we is probably the question. lol

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  10. Interesting question. i think by default, no matter how good the writer, everyone will at one time or another have at least one turkey and probably many more. No one can make it 100% every time, no matter how long the process is, or how many people are involved in it, and even if the end result is good, it still has to hit the right market at the right time... it's a lot of Russian roulette IMHO. of course, the product going out there should be the best you can make it, but I think that's all any writer can do is their best.

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    1. Agree, Jo. Your best effort has to go out each time, but to expect it to always be the best thing you've ever done is probably unrealistic.

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  11. Bring on the turkeys! And I'd be happy if I got such a tweet about one of my stories :D

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  12. My first novel resembles a turkey right now. Hopefully I can turn it into something better than passable :)

    .......dhole

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    1. That's something I didn't explore here, Donna, but I believe you can totally re-work a turkey. As Moody said above, there is a point where you have to cut your losses--but I think that has more to do with personal frustration and stagnation. Meaning: If you find you're not writing anymore because you're stuck on this one story that you really have no clue how to make better, it might be time to put it aside.

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  13. In the end I have to believe I did the story to the best of my ability. I'd rather have a book do ok that I know I did my best at than one doing well that I know is just crap. Whether Turkey or Best Seller (or inbetween), I'll be fine.

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    1. That's so key, Sheena-kay! You truly need to feel you did a good job--and believe in the work you've created. Sometimes--many times, in fact--that's all you'll have to carry you through the insecurities that crop up over negative reviews, etc.

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  14. I think there's less pressure on unknowns. Right now, maybe 150-200 people know Libby Heily. I'm grateful, but out of billions, that's not many. Right now, I feel completely free to experiment. Ask me that question after I've sold 20,000 books, however, and my answer might not be the same.

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    1. That's truth, Libby. And it probably is the same at the far, other end of the spectrum, too: JK Rowling doesn't give a flip what critics and readers (in regards to expectations) think about her next project. She has the ultimate "I Dare You To Say I Suck" trump card. :)

      You can tell by reading Stephen King's recent works he feels the same way. He basically writes what he wants, regardless of expectations. Which isn't to say he doesn't care about the writing, I just don't think he's overly preoccupied with what people want him to do, if that makes sense.

      Honestly, I hope I can hold onto that throughout my writing career. I don't want to get so caught up in the machine that I can't jump genres and so on if I want. Which probably means I'm stuck being a no-name forever, because I'm pretty certain I'm not going to be mistaken for Steve King anytime soon! :D

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  15. Sure, turkeys are part of the learning process. Some of them can be salvaged later with rewrites, and some are destined to remain on the crap shelf forever.

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  16. Do people recognize their own turkeys? :)

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  17. It's inevitable there'll be turkeys. And I'm cool with that. We have to send out some turkeys to get to the "soaring eagles" so to speak. All part of the process.
    Regarding the business side of selling books, I'm finally ready to take that plunge. Been a long time coming. :)

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  18. It is inevitable that there'll come a point when a misfire happens. I'm okay with that.

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  19. Great post. I was just talking about this with a friend. I've read some books that have never gone anywhere, but I'm so glad I read them including Indie books and published books. I think the stress anymore is as you said, to prove ourselves. You are also right. Once the book is published, it is a business. Loved this post.

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  20. I tried to response earlier and couldn't?! Great write and so much to ponder~
    Thank you EJ you always inspire me!
    I'm gathering strength, but need to take a leap~
    YOU rock and soar with eagles :D

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  21. With writing, most of us get the turkeys out of the way in the beginning. A few will spring up now and then. Actors' careers depend so much on the efforts of others, even beyond what an author faces with a publisher, but we can still have turkeys if everyone isn't giving 100%.

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“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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