Monday, March 23, 2015

What Cupcake Wars Taught Me About Getting Published

I am a self-professed Cupcake Wars junkie. I love the inventive combinations: applesauce cake with cinnamon goat cheese frosting, double-shot mocha latte with espresso cream filling and chocolate frosting, salted caramel cake with pecan coconut brittle crumble and caramel Swiss buttercream. I would happily devour them all.

Each show, for those unfamiliar, begins with four bakers. After two elimination rounds, two finalists duke it out in a bake-off that requires them to produce 1,000 cupcakes in 90 minutes and shelve them on a display of their design, executed by one of two bearded, flannel-clad carpenters. They also get four baking assistants.

When the winner is announced, the audience is generally treated to a tearful acceptance speech. "I've worked so hard to get here. It's so nice to have that recognized."

Right. And what about the other contestants? Did they not work hard, too? Could we not acknowledge that in some way?

Writers are in constant competition. I'm not talking here about actual writing competitions. I'm talking about the competition for agents, editors, reviews, publicity budgets, shelf space, and sales. 

Most of us are aware that we're competing for agents and editors, but might not be aware that, once we have representation and a signed contract, we're in competition for the rest. There are elimination rounds, and most of us won't win. In publishing, winning means national advertising, a book tour, a major online publicity campaign, lots of social media outreach, a floor display, and wide galley distribution. By your publisher. 

The non-winners must do our own publicity and, no matter how hard an author promotes her own work, very few can compete with the marketing muscle of a major publisher.

It's usually clear long before the judges decide, who’s going to win Cupcake Wars. It’s less clear which book will be chosen as the winner of a big publicity campaign. Obviously, one that is expected to earn a big return, but which one's that? Not even publishers know for certain. 

What is certain is that a quiet book without an obvious “commercial hook” doesn’t necessarily take less time or thought to write than one with the potential to be an international best seller. Most authors bring their best game to every book: an original combination of ingredients, quality workmanship, a few fanciful twists, reduced fat... They work very hard and give it their all.

Clearly, not everyone can be declared the winner in Cupcake Wars, nor in publishing. There is only so much space on the dwindling supply of bookshelves, only so many readers divided by the dollars they’re willing to spend, divided by the hours they’ll devote to reading. 

Here’s what watching Cupcake Wars has taught me: Acknowledge the journey. To all you writers, bakers, and everyone else out there who’s worked hard to deliver a great product and wasn’t declared a “winner.” Congratulations on a job well done. Thank you for your effort, time, and dedication. You are a winner.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

March in Vermont

Here's what I like about winter in Vermont: I can curl up, without apology, in the over-sized armchair in front of the fire and read at 4:30 in the afternoon because there's only darkness beyond the window.

Here's what I don't like about (this) March in Vermont. It is no longer dark at 4:30; darkness now doesn't fall until after 7PM. And yet, snow still blankets our field, and today the wind is whipping up snow devils and rocking trees. The ambient temperature hovers around 20.

My biological clock is telling me, urging me, to stop reading and start looking for signs of crocuses making their way through newly warmed soil. (Theirs is probably telling them to get growing.) I can barely see my garden, let alone anything small and green making its present known. Let's not even discuss purple. Or yellow.

I could shovel and scrape some of the snow from the garden. At Fenway and the Esplanade in Boston, MA, they are sprinkling dark soil on top of the snow to attract heat and encourage melting. I could do that. But what self-respecting crocus is going to poke its nose out in weather like this anyway?

I don't have a date such as Opening Day, or the Fourth of July, by which my garden must be green and lush. I have only my need to dig in dirt, to welcome back my foliated friends, and to be reassured that the cycle of life will, eventually, make its way around.

Nature teaches us patience, forbearance, and acceptance if we're willing to listen. And so I keep curling up in that chair and reading. It's not what I want to be doing right now. But it's a pleasant way to pass the time until spring.