Originally published on-line at the old Coscomment blog on November 22, 2006
Being a writer ain’t easy.
The writing aspect of it, that’s a breeze and is a most-rewarding experience. To sit down and create, to put dreams to paper, to speak one’s mind on various subjects and provide commentary on life all wrapped up in an exciting tale—that is sheer joy. There’s nothing I’d rather do. Ever since as far back as I could remember, I was always making stuff up, living in my head more than I lived in the real world. It started with superheroes and my own superheroic fantasies as Superman and Batman. When I got older, those fantasies turned into creating my own heroes (Axiom-man, for example, whom I first created the story for when I was 13) and, as I got older still, creating other stories that were non-superheroic but had more to do with life and the ups and downs thereof.
Writing is cathartic in a lot of ways. The latter part of my novel, A Stranger Dead, and the whole of my unpublished novel, For The Cause, helped me deal with some strong emotional issues I had at the time. April, my love story written as Peter Fox, was also an exercise in making a point about love and how I felt—and still feel—about the most beautiful yet complex of all human emotions. Writing those stories was sheer bliss and once I finished each tale, the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming.
Writing is so powerful and seeing your ideas and dreams realized on the printed page is just as powerful.
But that’s where it stops for a lot of writers, and for those who attempt the next step—publication—that’s a whole other experience completely.
Most writers would tell you that the creative process is what keeps them going in life, the undying need to commit their thoughts and imagination to paper. We can’t help ourselves. Even if not a single story of ours got published, we’d still spend day after day typing away, emptying our full heads onto the page. Most writers, as well, will also tell you there is one thing they hate about being a writer: the business side of it.
This is a tough field. The reality is writers—and any other kind of artist—are a dime a dozen. Virtually everybody on the face of the earth has some form of creative ability. Some are better at it than others, naturally, and some have the drive and need to create more than others as well. Regardless, artists and writers alike are everywhere and if a writer is going to take the next—and final—step in the creative process, he or she is going to go up against some very stiff competition.
Last I heard, there was close to 200,000 titles published annually (fiction and non-fiction). Amazing, and there’s also no way to know how many other books are written that never see print. Using what we know, though, that means that every year, when an author puts out a book, he or she goes up against nearly 200,000 other people. 200,000! Let me ask you, out of those 200,000, how many authors can you name? A dozen? Maybe two? That’s only 24 out of 200,000 or just .012%. It’s no wonder that most authors—the ones you don’t see gracing the bestseller wall at your local bookstore—are banging their heads against the wall trying to come up with ways to get their books and names in front of readers. It’s no wonder that a lot of writers who couldn’t break into traditional print—not necessarily out of lack of talent or literary merit—are utilizing subsidy presses or are self-publishing their books.
And thus is the challenge. How does one get their title out there?
I hang out with a lot of writers, their station on the publishing industry ladder ranging from bestsellers to midlist to small pressers and self-publishers. And, like in any other industry, you’ll get a wide variety of opinions on “what’s best” for your career. Thus where a lot of writers find themselves frustrated, especially beginning ones. The newbie author has high hopes and large dreams. More than anything they’d love to see themselves as the next King or Grisham, their first book netting them a massive advance and guaranteed shelf space on bookstores worldwide. This rarely—and I mean rarely—ever happens. As mentioned above, a small, small percentage of books put out each year are by “name” authors; the rest are by guys and girls most folks haven’t even heard of.
A newbie author will often seek advice from those in the business on how to get published and in turn gets bombarded with a myriad of opinions.
If you hang out with a lot of writers, you know there are many in the what’s been dubbed “publishing elite” category. The thinking from this group is that you must get an agent then get picked up by a huge New York firm to be considered a “real” author. If you don’t, you haven’t made it yet. Others in this camp state that you have to get picked up by a firm willing to pay you an advance and print up at least 5000+ copies of your book in order to be a “real” author. Their condescending tone is unmistakable and it’s always their way or bust. No room for negotiation or second opinion. As a result, the newbie author gets frustrated when he or she can’t land an agent, can’t land a contract and ends up going the small press route or self-publishes. I admit, I’ve been there. I’ve been fooled.
Then I discovered a little secret to success in this business, and the secret is this: it’s all about the writing. That’s the only way a writer will find fulfillment. If one is stuck fighting in the trenches all the time, he or she begins to get tired of fighting and eventually gives up. That’s why a lot of would-be writers drop out of the game after receiving a boatload of rejection slips. They’ve become so blinded by the have-to-get-traditionally-published-so-I-can-be-a-real-author attitude that they’ve lost their first love, and that is the creative act itself.
Furthermore, if you are seeking publication for your work, you have to at first ask yourself what your goals are in this business and where you’d like to see yourself. From that starting point, you can easily take a pragmatic approach to your career. Do you want to be famous? Do you want loads of money? Believe it or not, a lot of authors love their day job and writing is just a thing they do on the side. Some don’t want to be famous. Some have decided to write for niche audiences only. The idea here is goal-setting.
I know a guy who writes fulltime and is famous. That was his goal and he achieved it. I know another who loves his day job and just writes because he has to and isn’t concerned with “getting the big contract” but publishes only in the small press. I know another who writes novels and posts them on his blog. What do these three have in common? The craft. It’s all about the craft and because each had discovered what their goals were and what worked for them in this business, each of them is fulfilled in their career as an author. And, yes, I consider them real authors. A contract doesn’t mean anything. If you’re always writing something, you’re a writer. If you’re always authoring something, you’re an author. If you’re always painting something, you’re a painter.
That’s the secret. You have to find out what works for you in this business, not what works for the big names on the bestseller lists or what works for the writing buddies you hang out with. You need to know what your goals are and pursue those goals. Then, and only then, will you be happy.
As mentioned above, I once lost sight of that. To me it became a New-York-or-die attitude and that tore me up inside because I was having a hard time “breaking in” (and these days breaking into New York isn’t easy; splitting hairs with your teeth would bring a faster return). But then I reassessed my goals and formulated my own approach to this business. I decided to put my own material and build an audience. I decided to use the small press as a stepping stone. In other words, I decided to put the writing first and the business aspect of it second. As a result, I’ve had New York doors open up to me. I can only attribute this to both God’s blessing and my willingness to pursue my goal based on what worked for me and not what others said I should do in order to become a “real” author. Many who read this will probably disagree, but then I’d have to ask you what is more important: writing something solely on the basis of what sells or writing something that’s being true to you as the creator? Writing is an honest act. Why lie about it or sell out? There’s an audience out there for anything. The issue is how much of an audience, but if you know where to reach them, how you reach them is meaningless. The point is that you do reach them.
It is my encouragement to you if you’re feeling down and out about this business to reassess your goals and find a publishing method that works for you and you alone. Resolve yourself to press on ahead despite the clamor from the publishing elite and makes roads where there are none. Your confidence and drive will take you a long way.
It’ll take you to where you want to be and you will be rewarded.