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The actors’ union has now joined the screenwriters’ union in striking against the Hollywood studios, and, kids, I have feelings about this. Big feelings.
Regular readers of the blog are familiar with what I feel is one of the greatest injustices of creative industries: that in the business of art, the person with the least amount of control—and often the least power—is the artist.
Striking actors and writers are asking for considerations like pay raises commensurate with any other industry, the opportunity to share in profits from the work they are doing in streaming and other formats, and protections from their work and likenesses being devalued or pilfered by AI.
Read more: “Will AI Replace Writers? It Already Is.”
In a comment about negotiations with the actors’ and writers’ unions, one powerful Hollywood executive—most of whom are currently making hundreds of millions of dollars in salary—said, “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.”
Studios are prepared to wait out creatives in the hope that they can’t afford to advocate for themselves—and the unions are hoping they have enough collective bargaining power to stand firm until they are fairly compensated and protected.
How the Hollywood strikes pertain to authors
Those of us who create often want so badly for our work to be shared, to have the chance to be meaningful to others—and because of that we are uniquely in position to be taken advantage of.
While our field’s main writers’ union, the Authors Guild, has done wonderful and much-needed work in advocating for authors—like establishing that agents should not charge to read submissions, offering guidelines for more author-favorable agency/publishing contracts, and protecting the rights of writers—to a very large degree it’s up to authors to advocate for themselves.
But how do you protect yourself on a practical level, in an industry where authors are often those with the least powerful seat at the table?
When to Advocate for Yourself
Advocating for your writing time
The first way you can advocate for yourself as a writer is by daring to claim the time you want to dedicate to your art.
That sounds almost remedial as a concept, but I know firsthand how easy it is to feel guilty about taking time for our creativity, especially if it’s not yielding an income. All of us have so many calls on our time, and it’s easy to relegate writing into the category of luxuries that can be cut when it’s scarce.
But I’d argue that creating is essential to our well-being, and even our humanity. There are many “reasons” you could use to justify why it’s important: that you are building a career, that you are honing your skills, that you want to set an example for your kids of pursuing things that are important to you.
But I’d like to suggest that you need no justification, and that the desire you have to write is sufficient all on its own as the “reason”: You want to do it because you want to do it, and that’s enough.
Honor your creativity, honor the stories that are inside you, and honor yourself by carving out what time you can to dedicate to the craft that matters to you.
Read more: “Are You Just-ifying Your Writing?”
Advocating with critique and feedback
Feedback is a necessary and important part of honing our skills and our stories, and soliciting feedback that will be constructive and useful to you is often within your own hands, as is what you do with that feedback.
Know how to ask for the kind of feedback you want when offering your story to beta readers and critique partners. I’ve created an example Beta Reader Template of specific questions you can ask readers when sending your manuscript that will help them offer their thoughts in a way that will be most productive—you can find it on the Editing Toolbox page of my website here.
Once you receive feedback, there may be varying types, degrees, and insightfulness of it, and advocating for yourself and your work means knowing how to decide what serves your story and your vision and what may not resonate or serve you.
It means understanding that in a subjective business like art, anyone’s feedback, including that of professionals, is only an opinion—and being able to value your own opinions as well.
Yes, it’s very valuable to see how what you have on the page may be coming across to readers, but ultimately this is your story, your vision, and it’s up to you to know what that is and be the one championing that.
Read more: “How to Handle Critique of Your Work”
Advocating with professionals
Speaking of professionals, hiring an expert to help you in the areas where you are not an expert can help elevate your writing and your stories and be more competitive in a crowded market. But while these folks may have extensive knowledge in their fields, ultimately it’s up to you as the work’s creator to advocate for what you want to achieve.
When I published Intuitive Editing, I had a very clear and specific idea what I wanted the cover to look like. I chose an expert and very experienced cover designer, the marvelous (and marvelously named) Domini Dragoone, who offered five different mockups of potential covers as part of her services to help authors choose what most closely matched their vision, which she would then hone and fine-tune from there with their input.
Readers, none of them were the specific image I had suggested. It wasn’t that they weren’t good—Domini is the best, and any of her ideas would have made smashing book covers. I just had a concept in mind that reflected what I felt the book’s spirit was and I wanted to convey that on its cover.
Domini was kind enough to mock up several more covers, but when I still wasn’t feeling the vibe of any of them, she was confident enough to advocate for herself and point out that several of them contained the specific elements I had asked for, just not in the exact image I had suggested. She rightly pointed out that I had hired her for her abilities but also her aesthetic and knowledge of the industry, and delineated why the covers she mocked up would be more effective in the marketplace than the image I had requested.
She was entirely right to advocate for her work. But I was right too in advocating for the elements and the feel that mattered to me. Together we created a cover I love every time I see it and that I feel is striking in the marketplace.
Conversely, author Joni B. Cole in a recent interview we did talked about how radically wrong her publisher got the initial book cover design for her craft book for writers, Good Naked. Despite that others at her publishing house said they shared her concerns, Joni was the only person willing to stand up and insist on a different cover. She knew what she was selling, and she was right to ensure that her cover reflected that.
With anyone you hire to help with any aspect of your writing—editors, formatters, cover designers, coaches, etc.—it’s important to be able to speak up for what you want, even as you respect the expertise and skills that they bring to the table, and their own artistic vision based upon it.
Another important part of advocating for yourself, though, is taking the time and energy to make sure you’re hiring experienced, reputable experts who understand your work and your vision. Yes, it can be time consuming and tedious, but it’s part of honoring yourself and your work and standing up for it.
Find my free comprehensive 13-page guide to hiring a pro, “Get It Edited,” on the Editing Toolbox page of my website here.
Read more: “Three Things to Know When Hiring a Pro”
Advocating for yourself professionally includes advocating for yourself with the people who represent and buy your work. Yes, most authors are thrilled to receive an offer, but it’s okay—and I’d argue crucial—to take time to make sure the person, company, and terms are the right fit for you and your career.
(This is a good resource for how to interview agents—though I don’t recommend asking every single question, and this is an excellent overview for what to consider before signing a publishing contract.)
Advocating also applies to how you price your work, if you are indie-publishing, and how you talk about it—to readers, to agents and editors, in publicity interviews and podcasts, etc. Remember you are your number-one champion—or should be.
Read more: “How Do You Value Your Creative Work?”
Knowing when you should advocate is important—but the way you do so is crucial. Let’s look at some tips for yielding the best results possible.
How to effectively advocate for yourself
Be clear and specific about what you are advocating for and why.
As an editor, sometimes my feedback butts up against an author’s original intentions for their work. I strive to offer feedback based on what I see on the page and glean of their intentions, but there are times when I feel that something the author is chosen is not serving their story effectively and may in fact be hampering it.
My general rule of thumb is to state my opinion, support it with specific reasons, and make clear suggestions on possible ways to address it. In multiple-pass edits, where I see the work more than once, I will push twice on any element I feel very strongly about, but after that I defer to the author, as it is their story and their vision.
You won’t convince anyone of your point of view if you can’t articulate it clearly and support it with convincing reasons.
Always take the high road
This is a small industry, and word gets around people about authors who are rude or high-handed. You don’t want to work with someone like that, and nobody else does either. You can advocate yourself and still be civil, polite and respectful.
Some of my favorite books on the topic:
- Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and William Ury
- Negotiating the Nonnegotiable, by Daniel Shapiro
- Influence, by Robert B. Cialdini
- We Need to Talk, by Celeste Headlee
Know what your deal breakers are
No matter how strongly you may advocate for yourself, in a mercurial and diversified business like publishing, which is often replete with many people’s input and opinions, you will not win every skirmish. Know what hills are worth dying on.
My first four novels under my pen name, Phoebe Fox, were published by a small but at the time very promising publishing house. I had contracted for a fifth novel with them when I realized that our visions for my work and my career had diverged.
Despite that we were only months away from release, I made the agonizingly hard decision to buy myself out of the contract, not knowing whether I was destroying my career and ruining this book’s chances of ever seeing publication. But the issues were important enough to me that I decided it was worth it, even if the book moldered in the drawer for the rest of its natural-born life.
In the happy-ending department, this was the story that netted me my first traditional publishing contract, in a two-book deal with Penguin Random, which had been a goal of mine for my fiction. But there was every chance my actions could have tanked my fiction career.
Because I felt so strongly about where this book was published—and partly because writing fiction has never been my main passion or pursuit—I was willing to take that risk. Another writer might not be, although I have spoken with many authors who have done just that, most recently (and famously) Barry Eisler, who walked away from a six-figure traditional publishing deal because he felt strongly about the way the book was being marketed.
Allison Winn Scotch was told to write under a pen name when her book sales floundered. She’d spent years building a writing career under her own name and was not willing to sacrifice that. Other authors have done so to make it easier to write in different genres or to garner a publishing contract.
Whatever choices you make for your own career are entirely valid, depending on your goals and preferences. But make sure you clearly define what yours are—and then find the fortitude to speak up on your own behalf.
In the coming weeks I’ll have a post about advocating for and protecting your writing itself, but meanwhile, authors, over to you: Are you a strong advocate for your own writing and career—and for yourself? Do you find it challenging to do so, and if so, in what way? What strategies do you have for self-advocacy?
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