So you imagined yourself as the future Stephen King. Isn’t it funny how that name is synonymous with fame? Whenever I hear of anyone who is an aspiring author, writer, poet, etc talk…they always reference Stephen King. Not Dean Koontz, not Heinlein, V. C. Andrews, Terry Pratchett, Orson Scott Card, Anne Rice, Arthur Golden, Norah Roberts, freaking Shakespeare, nope. It’s always Stephen King.
Have you seen how many authors are out there? I took a few minutes to peruse my likes on my Facebook page, I’ve watched the threads on various writing groups. Isn’t it really intimidating how so many people have reached out and harnessed the English language? Doesn’t seem like there’s much of the capital pot to go around these days when everyone is trying to get their slice.
Remember the days of traditional publishing? When we’d send out our query letters, and wait months for a response? Remember signing up for workshops, reading every book on writing and the craft that we could get our hands on? Remember that?
Oh my goodness, how much time and energy I put into practicing the fine art of writing and cultivating beautifully intrinsic sentences and clever turns of phrase. Oh, my content is so original, it sings to the rafters where the angels play their harps and shine down that beacon of hope that envelops every fiber of my being and oh how majestic it will all be when suddenly I’ll be discovered and millions of wads of hundred dollar bills will rain down upon me like Charlie Sheen’s Ice Water Challenge video. But I’m getting carried away here (as was the previous run-on sentence.) …pardon the sarcasm…
When you stop and think about how many writers are out there trying to make a living doing what they love; building reputations on sites such as Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and the hoard of writer’s groups, can feel so daunting and irrevocably heartbreaking. Let me count the ways I’ve daydreamed of my success. I dreamed about it since I was a wee little authorling plucking away at a yarn I’d thread through my typewriter into the wee hours of the night, much like how I operate now that I’m approaching the first stages of my fossilization. Okay, so I’m not that old, but sometimes I feel older than I am. I think it’s when reality hit me like a cast iron pan to the back of my head. Even now, I can hear that dulcet tone of the crack and the reverb of the metal. My ideals and expectations were so bloody convoluted, I began second guessing myself and became so unbelievably butthurt over my rejection letters, that I felt that I had received ‘Life’s Seriously Bad Hand.’
Oh puh-lease! Success is going to simply fall into my lap! The angels said so! You know, the ones with the harps singing their chorus of my awesome! This cannot be so! It mustn’t! I was destined for fame, fortune, and glory! How could these literary agents and publishers squelch my dreams like that!?
Seriously, that’s not how it works.
As writers, we all start off somewhere, right? Rock bottom. The novice. Think of it in terms of video games. If you’re just learning the ropes and haven’t gone through the educational tutorial or the practice, advancing into the Literary God mode right off the bat will end up causing you to fall right on your tail.
There are some who expect, and they’re serious about it, too-that an agent will respond with a glorious letter of acceptance, showering their work with praise even though the author hadn’t studied up on the market or even bothered to peruse their websites. There are writers out there who will think that it will only take a handful of rejection letters before they start raking in millions upon millions of dollars. They imagine themselves being extras in the cinematic adaptation. They imagine interviews on Conan, Larry King, Ellen, and reputable literary journals. Huffpost will take special interest in them. So will BuzzFeed and Upworthy. They believe that they will travel the world and people on the street will stop just to take a picture with them and ask for an autograph. If the author is a male, a fresh set of breasts will be exposed to him once a day so he can autograph them. They think they will write by candlelight and the first draft is absolutely flawless; they’re so good they don’t need an editor. The epic masterpiece they create will be coveted by millions to where they can no longer sustain the humble demeanor and have to *gulp* sell out and make profit for *gulp* products based on their book.
Oh, and forget about education and reading to improve writing skills. Who has time for that when that time could be spent writing a literary masterpiece-a timeless contribution to the literary world and humanity as a whole!? You can hold a pen in your hand and write your way out of life’s biggest issues. Your writing inspires and will be adored and studied in great depth in major universities across the country…no….the world!
Don’t listen to me, though. Listen to Peter Dinklage. Although he’s an actor, he’s also a creative mind who dreamed big and worked his tail off. If we can dream it, we can be it, but don’t become so convoluted in your ideas that you forget to work.
Yes, I realize I’m laying the on sarcasm thicker than the entirety of the online yellow pages in print form. I’m a horrible person for doing that. Please excuse.
But no, I’m not sorry because it’s true.
Yes, you heard me. It’s true! When I first started out, I was convinced that this was my reality. Okay not to the degree of sarcasm I laid out, but pretty damned close. That was almost twenty years ago, though. I was still a high school kid.
Suddenly reality strikes while I’m earning my BFA. It was in my creative writing class. Now mind you, I’ve taken about five creative writing courses throughout my years in college. Yep five. Two more if you include the ones I did back in high school. I loved the classes so much, I kept on repeating them because I love to write…that much. What I loved most about the last one I took before I graduated college was that it challenged me to go beyond my standard genres. I had to bend and origami my way into writing assignments I wasn’t accustomed to. It was challenging and quite humbling. As a writer, I’m always learning and always growing. I’m going to go ahead and quote myself here from a poem I wrote for mycollegepal.com, which was the most emailed article on the site for two consecutive years thus far and still remains one of the most popular. It’s also included in my forthcoming collection of poetry, ‘Chasing The Red’, which is due out….well…soon.
“After a while, you begin to laugh at the naiveté of youth; for those who are young believe that they know everything, but those older believe that there is still so much more to learn. Those who are young tend to look for what is easy, at least in some ways. Those older know that nothing worth having ever comes easy, and if it does come easy, it is not worth having.”
Remember that Stephen King guy that we all know and love? Yep, the one I mentioned earlier. I’m sure a lot of you remember how he got his first big break with Carrie, right? Plucking away at an old typewriter in his laundry room if I’m not mistaken. No one had even heard of him back then and then WHAM, he took a chance and sent it out. I think the biggest discouragement that a lot of authors have is that they won’t take the risk and submit. Or if they do submit, they give up far too easily. Keep writing, keep submitting, even if you decide to go indie. There are so many other publishing opportunities out there for poetry, short stories, articles and the like that a single novel isn’t (and shouldn’t) be the end-all, be-all in your writing career. Take the opportunity to submit to publications such as Oddball Press, Miracle E-zine, Nostrovia Poetry, and Vending Machine Press. There are so many others as well, you just need to get up and find them.
With the Amazon-Hatchette nonsense, I don’t blame anyone for opting to go indie. I’m a huge supporter of independent publishing and often find myself backing up indies far more than the standard ‘signed’ authors who get all the fame and glory. These authors seem, from a fledgeling author’s perspective, to have everything thrown into their laps. Meanwhile, the rest of us sit here and slave away at our computers, bleeding words like we are going toe-to-toe with Vlad The Impaler
Okay, Let’s face it, kiddos-writing is hard work and I mean hard work. I try to warn people that it takes a lot more than plucking away 50.000 words in November to create a finished product. There are drafts. More drafts. Oh look, yet another draft! There are hours upon hours of note taking to make sure that the characters are consistent. There is murdering your precious little prose children that you gave birth to and fell in love with, but give absolutely no substance to the story. There’s the overuse of description here and the holes within the story that need to be filled there. There’s the description of what people look like that don’t involve cliches (or mirrors, for that matter). There’s that funny remark you heard the other day and decided upon a whim to include it in your story even though it sticks out like a sore thumb. Then there are the run-on sentences that go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and begin to not just run, but cartwheel, skip, jump, frolic, and do somersaults across the page with your clever and highly witty literary acrobatics. (Heh, see? I did it again! Take a breath and now read that sentence out loud three times fast 😉 ) So you self-edit and you get that nonsense out of the way. Yes, self-editing sucks. It’s horrible, you hate it, and you just don’t wanna, but you do and you get it all cleaned up. Now the question is, do you either A. Hire a professional editor to look over your work and dissect it so as to avoid trauma from the vultures of literature tearing it apart, or B. Have your best friend take a gander at it because he/she owes you a favor and they seem….smart. Or worse, C. You don’t think you need an editor at all!
I can read between the lines of your prose, dear and your words are weeping. They are sad that you butchered the English language like a Texas massacre. Trust me, you think editors are bad when it comes to the massacre of language, read someone’s book that’s published as a first draft and then you come and talk to me. Especially if that first draft has a listed price of $9.99 with a string of vicious (yet sadly accurate) negative reviews.
“But Julie, I have beta readers.”
Let me just stop you right there. Again, beta readers are the readers who happen to catch last minute mistakes, not point out the ones you should have had an editor fix for you. They are the last eyes that see the book before its published and an opportunity to have a string of reviews up and out.
“But Julie, I can’t afford an editor!”
If you can afford a few hundred for a cover, you can afford an editor. Most good editors will work with you on pricing and setting up an affordable payment plan.
“Eh, I’ll just do it myself. I can always hit up Grammarly.”
Did I mention that editors need editors, right? Even I need help with my own writing because I can’t see my own mistakes, like everyone else. A fresh set of eyes is fantastic. A professional set of eyes is your best option. Now, don’t get me wrong, Grammarly is bloody fantastic. Its an excellent program and a valuable resource. However, a machine cannot…I repeat cannot replicate the abilities of human editors. The day that a machine can improve the quality of writing, tone, voice, and intrinsic emotional detail is the day that we’re all going to be able to tell our stories telepathically. This would also be the day that Amazon is bought out by Hatchette (heaven forbid). Remember, your reviews are an extremely important selling point for your book.
This of course leads me to the fact that well, as a writer, you need thick skin. I’m talking so thick you could have a pitbull latch onto your neck and walk pleasantly around with it dangling from your jugular. Thick skin. You’re going to run into people that will seem highly apathetic to your work. They’ll seem disinterested or wanting a freebie. They’ll ask what your book is about and then nod their head and casually walk away, patting your head thinking ‘Awww, you’re writing a book. Isn’t that precious?’ There’s also the possibility of running into people who simply don’t care about tact and blatantly shred your hard work. Every author gets that, even the traditionally published ones.
You’ll want to hit the condescending jerks, but don’t. Instead smile because you can kill them off in your book. Yes, that’s right ladies and gentlemen of the world: Authors get a shiny complementary get-out-of-jail-free-card for murder. *gasp* (figuratively speaking, of course. I do not condone the murder of actual people. Mentally conjured people are fair game.) Well, at least if you don’t connect the person to the character, you should be golden, but I digress.
Okay, self-editing, editing….formatting. If you’re self-publishing, formatting is going to be a chore. I have spouted not a string of expletives, but a skein of expletives while formatting for Kindle for the first time. It got better as I’ve had more experience, but yeah. Joy. Try doing it yourself and it becomes a clusterfied mess. Most people I know pay to have it done. This is why I charge for formatting. From there, its cover design. Unless you’re skilled in photoshop, I suggest hiring someone else to do this and you’re going to need someone who knows what they’re doing. You can’t skimp on the cover; it’s one of the major selling points of your book. Did I mention it’s expensive? If you’re going to spend a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars on a cover, don’t you think you should put as much into writing your book?
Does this all happen overnight? Sure, it can, but only if you’re willing to skimp out on quality. Are you writing because you want to get rich quick, or are you writing because you have a love of the craft of writing? Do you love literature? How much? Enough to pour your soul into it, swallow your pride, and get down and actually work?
A friend of mine recently had her sci/fi book published, Christina Rozelle’s The Treemakers (which is a fantastic read-still haven’t finished the book because I’ve been working, but thus far LOVING IT!) She spent two years writing, editing, and modifying her little gem. Two years!
Let that sink in a bit…
That’s not even the longest time spent on a novel. Take my debut novel, for instance. Faces In Still Waters was written between 2006 and 2008 between diaper changes and being the proverbial dairy farm to my daughter when she was first born, to chasing her around with a bottle once she learned how fun it was to run away from Mommy. I shoved it away every so often where it would collect dust on my desktop. I’d then go back with clear eyes to revise it. I went through five drafts of that novel. I didn’t have it officially completed and published until November 2013. Writing and being a writer takes patience and endurance. You will bend your mind and exercise your vocabulary in ways you never though you would or could…that’s if you’re doing it right and for the right reasons.
Anyone can slap together a few words and throw it up on Amazon and call oneself a ‘published author’ and expect riches to rain down from the heavens. Those aren’t authors, those are just writers. They are hobbyists who aren’t serious about it and are, unfortunately, cheating the rest of us who pour hours upon hours of work into what we do. The real authors do it because they are passionate about storytelling. They do it to entertain the masses. They do it because they have to, not because they want to. It’s in their souls and part of what makes them who they are. They live and breathe words and see the world differently. They don’t look to get rich, just to write and hopefully build themselves up to their own status-not someone else like Stephen King. He earned his status on his own path-we need to earn ours by walking our own.
It’s not until we are in the midst of a first project when we realize how much work is required. You can either do a half-assed job, slap it together, call it good, and face the consequences or you can do it right the first time. There’s no rush. If you rush, you’ll miss out on the growth of your characters; your children who won’t stay young forever. They grow and blossom into the people they were meant to become, just like you, but you have to work hard to help them achieve their full potential. In doing so, you will also be one step further in reaching your own. Just don’t forget how much you’ve struggled once you’ve succeeded. The struggle is what gives others hope that they can succeed as well.