Featurepreneur: Christy Ann Conlin on the Business Side of the Literary Arts
By Genevieve Allen Hearn
Christy Ann Conlin, known for her novels Heave and The Memento, is about to launch a new collection of short stories entitled Watermark. Christy Ann can be seen spinning many plates, including as an author, mother, teacher, and motivational speaker. On top of this, she takes the business side of being an author very seriously. The Grapevine* grabbed a moment of her time to discuss how she finds balance between her myriad roles.
The Grapevine (GV): How do you achieve a balance between the creative side and the business side of being an author?
Christy Ann Conlin (CC): I will be honest – it is extremely challenging. I am part of the Gen-X “sandwich generation,” with young children and elderly parents. I also have a blended family so there are a lot of elderly parents and pets! My husband travels all the time. In order to make a living, I also teach business communications, do motivational speaking, and teach creative writing. The creative writing side and the publishing side are completely different and that makes for a crazy cognitive dissonance. Writing is solitary and very quiet, whereas the business side is about constant interruption, administration, being with others, and having a very public life. Writing takes an enormous amount of time, and uninterrupted blocks of time necessary for single, deep focus. The business side is the biggest challenge to the creative side. For me, they must be kept separate, like two dogs who don’t like each other but need each other. I have times for business and times for writing and never the twain shall meet or my creative work collapses. Also, not using a smart phone or being on social media or email is key to protecting creative time. Social media is part of the business side, and most of us learn this the hard way when we can’t focus on the writing.
GV: What is a necessary part of the business of being an author that you love? Is there a part you don’t enjoy?
CC: What I love more than anything are author readings and author panels, meeting and interacting with readers and book lovers. I also really enjoy interviews. What every writer wants more than anything, after sitting alone for so long writing and creating a book, is a readership and so when you meet someone who has created time to come to a reading, to read the book, to ask questions, it’s so heartwarming and very moving.
However, there are some downsides to the business of being an author. I am self-employed so I don’t have paid sick days or vacation or benefits or a pension. It’s a hustle for sure and running a small business can gobble up the time to create the work (books). I have a spectacular publisher who provides in-depth editing, marketing, and publicity, but I still have to work very closely with them and support what they do. There is a lot of pressure to promote books on social media and that is a huge time suck.
The second thing which is challenging is always explaining the type of work I do, as most people are not familiar with the business side of the literary arts. At times it’s a bit worrisome when I realize how little many people know of the reality of a professional life in the arts versus a hobby. For a long time, the people who understood my work life best were farmers and fishermen, as they are all self-employed as well!
GV: How do you get yourself in the creative zone when writing?
CC: Before I start writing I need a quiet mind so it’s always easiest to write in the very early dawn. I’m talking when it’s still dark. The house is quiet and my mind is still. If a busy day takes over, the easiest way to get into the creative zone is to do something physical to reset my brain. I will go for a walk or a run or a bike ride or vacuum or chop wood or garden. I also have set of writing warm up rituals which involve drawing and singing and then some writing exercises which I do with pen and paper, not a computer, to create an engagement with mind and body. Then I move to the computer for the project at hand. I view writing a novel or a story as entering a forest. The path into the woods is clear when I have solitude. When life is storming all around me, it’s hard to find that path. Then writer’s block descends and I want to bang my head against the keyboard. It’s easier to avoid this if I honour my rituals. If it’s a really hard day, I remind myself that “tomorrow is a new day” and then I try, and try again.
GV: How does the creative process of writing short stories differ from writing a novel?
CC: I find it much easier to write a first draft of a short story because, as the name implies, it’s short, ha ha! The tricky element about a short story, for me, is keeping the focus. It’s like a room in a house where a novel is the entire house and the yard and the neighbourhood and the town and the ocean beyond. A novel is a massive world and complex creation to hold in your head (especially challenging when you are the sandwich generation and spinning many plates in the air). What novels and short stories both have in common is that they both involve a huge amount of revising. As writers say, the writing is in the rewriting.
GV: What advice would you give someone who is interested in getting published?
CC: Make sure your work is ready to be published. Nothing can slow down the publishing process faster than sending out work that isn’t polished. Rejection is a regular part of a writer’s life, so sending out an early draft can make it that much more discouraging. Join a writing group where you can share work with other writers and get feedback. Libraries are a great way to find a writing group. Join the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia, whether you are interested in starting writing or whether you’ve been at it for a while. The WFNS has a huge number of resources available to writers at all stages including information about how to get published, plus they have wonderful event and workshop opportunities. Writing is so solitary and being a part of a community is essential.
Find Christy Ann’s collection of short stories at Box of Delights in Wolfville, Coles in New Minas, RD Chisholm Stationery & Books in Kentville, or The Inside Story in Greenwood. See Christy Ann for an onstage interview with CBC’s Shelagh Rogers on August 10, 11am in Sandy Cove, or visit a book launch on Saturday, August 17, 7pm at ArtCan in Canning, or Tuesday, August 27, 6pm, at the Berwick Library.
photo credit: Kate Inglis