Tuesday, April 03, 2007

So, you want to be a writer?

I’ve had several people come to me and ask me how one goes about becoming a writer. The simple answer is that you write a book and get it accepted by a publisher.

Actually, that’s not the simple answer. That’s the only answer.

If you’re really focused on being an author, let me give you a few words of warning.

During the first step, you’ll be in one of two places in your life. You’ll either be working a job that pays the bills until the royalty checks come in or you’ll be fortunate enough to (be fired, on unemployment, living off a family trust, living off family, or whatever) be writing full time.

Most likely you’ll be working some kind of job. This means you will have to squeeze in writing whenever you can. When you get home for your 9-5 and you’re tired, you’ll have to reach within yourself and find the right mindset to write. And this will need to happen in between feeding the kids/cat/dog, doing laundry, spending time with the kids, making dinner, getting the gum out of your youngest’s hair, getting the dog out of the trash, taking the trash out, dealing with the phone calls for your oldest child, going to the grocery store, doctor appointments, therapist appointments, chatting with friends, dinner with your mother-in-law and all of the other wonderful things we call life.

If you’re lucky and you don’t have a regular 9-5, you’ll have a bit more time to get distracted by all the wonderful moving images on TV, internet, and life outside your window.

Months if not years will go by and your novel will finally take some kind of form. Then, you’ll tell yourself that it’s crap and you’ll walk away from it.

Then, you’ll think that maybe, just maybe, it’s not totally crap or that you might be able to fix it.

More time will pass and you’ll finally get to “The End.”

After which, you’ll be forced to nit-pick your beloved novel that contains your heart and soul. You’ll polish it, edit it, cut it, tweak it, fix it and finally, finally, you’ll reach a point where you might consider submitting it to a publisher.

That’s when you realize you have to…

1)Figure out the genre of your book that’s so deep and innovative that it breaks all genre boundaries. Your novel is oh-so-original that it can’t possibly be shoe-horned into a genre label. The publishing industry will be forced to recognize your genius by creating whole new genre’s just for you.

2)Get a reality check and realize none of that is true.

3)No, really it isn’t.


5)Yes, even your novel.

6)You’ll take a hit to your pride and realize that genre labels really do fit your story.

7)Find and create a list of publishers that handle your genre.

8)Realize that you have to create a submission package that includes: a cover letter, synopsis, part/all of the manuscript. You’ll argue with the screen about how you should be able to tell the publishers to read your manuscript and let it speak for itself. You’ll get frustrated and angry about having to take your X number of words novel—that thing you put your heart and soul into—and beat the crap out of it until you break every writing convention and TELL the story in a synopsis.

9)Finally, you have your submission package ready and you start to shake. Your breath goes short and sweat rolls down your back. You look at your composed e-mail and try to work up the nerve to click send. Hours go by. You pace for a while. You give yourself a pep talk. And, finally, you squeeze your eyes closed and you send your baby off to those evil manuscript eating people called publishers.

10)You wait.

11)You wait some more.

12)You wait even longer.

13)You get rejected. Sometimes in very rude ways and sometimes for idiotic reasons. You cry, scream and tell everyone you know how stupid Publisher X is.

14)You go to your next publisher on the list.

15)You tweak the MS (manuscript) to fit their house style. You change margins, indentions, where the page numbers are, and what marks to use for a scene break.

16)You submit and this time it’s a little bit easier.

17)You get rejected.

18)You submit again and yawn while you do it.

19)You get rejected and this goes on and on. Until…

20)You get accepted.

As a side note: I should mention that submission hell (as we so lovingly call it) isn’t necessarily bad. Full Circle, Selling Foxx, Tainted Past and By Invitation Only were accepted by the first publisher that received them. With About to Sin, the publisher tracked me down and asked me to turn it into a series. So, yes, it can happen the first time out of the chute.

Then, editing starts.

You’ll spend the next few months hearing about (mostly) what’s wrong with your pride and joy. Pick your battles here. This is very important. Yes, you can push back against an editor, but if you fight them too much you’ll risk getting a reputation as a PITA (pain in the ass) author. If you really do disagree with your editor tell them so and tell them why. But, pick your battles.

It’s a well-known fact that I don’t like dialog tags and I especially don’t like the word “said.” My editors will put that in my stuff. I don’t fight them on that. It’s a little thing and a personal pet peeve. I will fight them on using the masculine forms of blond and brunet (versus blonde and brunette). I will fight for occasional bits of verbiage. But, I won’t fight over a stupid dialog tag. There are other things where I’ll push back, but for the most part, I try to defer to their experience.

Once the editing is done, you realize that your pride and joy that you tried so hard to polish was quite rough and now you have a golden novel that’s waiting for readers.

This is where the real hard work kicks in. Yes, writing the novel is the easiest part. This is where you start networking and marketing. It’s not enough to write the novel, you must sell it. You get on every board you can find, join every yahoo group you can snag, learn about promo items, loop chats, live chats, and book signings.

You register your copy right with the copy right office. You DO register it, don’t you? You’d better.

Finally, readers and reviewers grab your manuscript.

You wait for feedback that never comes. (This is another place where I’m lucky. I have a very dedicated and awesome readerbase and many of them drop me lines telling me what they thought of my story.) A few reviewers hate you and a few love you.

You continue your marketing and networking efforts.

Then, the first royalty check comes in.

You cry.

A lot.

You just realized the kid working at McDonald’s makes more money than you. You just spent X number of months/years working for way less than minimum wage.

Yes. Expect to be broke.

I know, I know, King isn’t broke and Rice isn’t broke. Well, you’re not King and you’re not Rice. And you don’t want to be. You want to be yourself with your own style, but you do want their royalty checks.

After you realize that you’re not quitting your day job for a while, you experience a stroke of insanity and start the process all over again.

And that’s how you become a writer.


Nicholas said...

That's an excellent account! And so true. I hated having to decide on a genre for my novel and deep down inside I still think it is a mould-breaker, though I keep that to myself. I'll be visiting your site a lot.



IM Cupnjava said...

Hiya Nicholas!

I think we all go through that. When it comes to picking genres it's not really about summarizing the book, but where would they shelve it in the store or list it in the online catalog (or cross-list it). It's also a quick way for publishers to see if your book is the type the'd carry. If you've written a fantasy book and they only carry sci-fi, then they know they don't really need to consider you. And, they wonder why you even submitted it. LOL!