Some Days the Writing Business Feels Like an Endless Bad Sequel to JAWS

I’ve been lucky to have gotten to meet so many writers (both old pro, published,  and beginning) over the last nine years. I know writers in many different fields: history, memoirs, journalism, children’s books, Young Adult, mysteries, romance, science fiction, horror, fantasy, literary, westerns, etc.  And I’ve been to variety of conferences, such as Romance Writers of America, over the years just to hang out and listen to writers talk.

I started writing nine years ago simply as a way to take my mind off the difficulties going on in my life. It was something that gave me joy. And I thought about seriously pursuing publication, but I shrank back from it for a variety of reasons. Today I want to talk about one of those reasons, because it’s something that all writers end up having to deal with.

There are a hell of a lot of sharks in the publishing waters, and I’ve seen quite a number of writers end up as shark chow.

Many years ago I started to hear conversations like the following dramatization:


New Writer: Hey, Old Successful Pro, can I ask you some advice?  I just got my first ever offer to be published in fiction. It’s a great opportunity, but it’s an all rights contract for a flat fee.  Should I sign or not?

Old Successful Pro: Is it media work for someone else’s universe, like STAR WARS ?

New Writer: No.

Old Successful Pro: Don’t sign.

New Writer: But I’ll be published!

Old Successful Pro: It’s a bad deal.  Don’t sign.  If it’s a success, you’ll see none of the money. Royalties, sequels, film rights, translation rights…you’re closing a lot of doors to money by signing that contract.

New Writer: I don’t care!  I want the validation. You’re just bitter because you’re not as successful as J. K. Rowling.

… Five years later …

New Writer: Arrgh, they’ve made nearly a quarter a million on my story, and I get none of the money.  It’s not fair! They screwed me over.


What I find most disturbing about the above scenario is that if you switch out “all rights” for other issues, like “so-and-so, terrible literary agent” the same story plays out. New writer asks about the terrible agent, gets warned about the incompetence, and goes with the agent anyways.

It’s like watching an endless bad sequel to JAWS, where the same loop gets repeated over and over and over and over…

New Writer: Is it safe to go into the ocean today?

Old Successful Pro: Don’t go in the water!  Sharks!

New Writer: I want to swim to that floating platform!  There’s a rubber ducky on it I want. I gotta have that duck or my life will have no meaning.

Old Successful Pro:  Don’t do it! They’ll eat you.

New Writer: I must have that duck.  I’m swimming over. I can swim fast enough to avoid the sharks.

Old Successful Pro: (low to self) Dumb fool.

New Writer:  Aiiieeeeeee.

A few minutes later.

New Writer #2: I’m going swimming, I want that rubber ducky.  Is it safe to go swimming today?

Old Successful Pro:  Don’t go in the water! Sharks!

and on and on and on and on and….


Seriously folks, this is no fun to watch from the sidelines.  The craving for validation (i.e. the rubber ducky) is so strong in so many new writers that I’ve watched too many jump into the shark-infested waters even though the old successful pros are yelling for everyone to get out of the water.

The “lucky” new writers finally stumble back out onto the beach with only a leg or arm chomped off. The unlucky ones I’ve watched disappear in the bloody churn of sharks in a feeding frenzy.

Writer beware, indeed.

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