What is it Like to be an Author?
Only the Facts, Folks
I don’t believe in sugarcoating. Never have. Straight from the hip I like to shoot, and if my eyes are clear and the wind is gentle, I usually hit what I aim at.
And today I’m aiming at all the authors and author-wannabes in the world.
Those who have been through the process of writing a book already understand that there are no guarantees in this business. They feel a special kinship to Stephen King, John D. MacDonald, and J.K. Rowlings, writers who labored for years without recognition. Those writing legends wrote for the joy of writing, and hoped against hope that one day, their damned ship would arrive at port.
We are talking years, folks. We are talking those who wrote before the internet, before ebooks, and before instant gratification. They had an idea, they wrote for ten, twelve, fourteen hours per day, week in, week out, and when their book was completed they sent out hundreds of query letters to publishers and felt the lash of rejection’s whip over and over again.
And what was their response to that rejection?
They sat down and wrote again.
So today I’m going to treat you to a reality check. At the risk of seeming self-serving, I’m going to use my recently released novel, Resurrecting Tobias, as an example of what you face as an author. I do not mean to discourage you, but I do mean to open your eyes to the reality of this business.
If I haven’t scared you off yet then let us begin.
The Beginning of the Process
Yes, writing is only the beginning of the process, if your goal is to be published.
So sit down and find an idea, then outline that idea, and then flesh out the characters. Develop a writing schedule and stick to it. Allow the characters to tell the story. Write three, four, or more days a week, and keep your vision on the goal.
Resurrecting Tobias began seven months ago. It took a little over five months to write. Is that good? I have no idea. I’ve known writers who wrote an entire novel in a month. I’ve known others who took years. It takes what it takes. You should never rush the process. Rushing, or putting deadlines on yourself, will only stifle the creativity and, ultimately, cheat the story.
And then, one day, you are done. You type “The End” on your manuscript, you take a deep breath, maybe you crack open a beer and enjoy the moment, and then….you move on to the next step in the process.
Editing and Cutting Your Heart Out
They are basically the same thing.
After spending such a long time on one project, trust me when I tell you that your book becomes your child. You are protective of your child. You love your child. You will let nothing harm your child.
And then along comes the editing process, a torture exercise akin to lopping off the arm of your child with a dull knife.
It is painful and it is absolutely crucial.
At the risk of offending a few of you, let me say what I consider to be a truth: if you do not have someone else edit your book then you are a fool. You are too close to your baby to do an adequate job of editing, so don’t even try. Either pay a professional editor, or beg your friends to do the job for you, but for the love of all that is holy, have someone edit your book.
Have them not only edit for grammar, but also have them edit for flow, for consistency, and for rhythm, and ask them to be harsh in doing so.
The editing process for Resurrecting Tobias took six weeks. After I completed the manuscript, I did a quick edit myself. Then I asked friends to read it and give me their impressions. Finally, I had a professional editor tackle it, and when she was all done I made the suggested corrections.
And Now We Publish?
Not so fast my friends. We aren’t ready yet.
Your book needs a cover….and you need a website….and you need a synopsis of the book, and a tagline for the book, and the odds and ends pile up until another week or so has passed.
And then you have a decision to make.
How are you going to publish your book?
Most writers simply opt for publishing an ebook, and that means formatting the book for Kindle, and that means another week or two of formatting and downloading to the Kindle site. Some will do that plus download at a site like CreateSpace, and have them make a paperback of their book….add another few days to the process.
But finally that is all done, and the book is published as an ebook, and it is even available as a paperback through Lulu or some other site, and now your work is all done…..NOT!
This is the stage I am now at with Resurrecting Tobias. I feel deflated. The book is available and I have my next book screaming at me from the recesses of my mind, but my work is not done.
What next you ask?
Do You Want to Be Published the Traditional Way?
Well, do you? Do you want Random House or Simon and Schuster to publish your book? If so, the fun really begins at this point. Now you need to craft the perfect query letter, then start researching agents and publishing companies, then send out hundreds of query letters…and then wallpaper your study with the rejection letters.
And keep doing that until you run out of agents and publishing houses.
And while you are doing that you need to….
Making videos is part of marketing
If you would like to buy Resurrecting Tobias
Market Your Book
Hey, you wrote it, so go sell it.
If you do not have an agent then you are your agent. If you do not have a publishing house then you are the marketing team.
Of course, that means you need to carry on a social media campaign. Of course, that means you need to contact bookstores and arrange for placement of your book, and then see if you can’t get a book signing scheduled and maybe a reading. Don’t forget the library, and you might want to make some videos about your book, and when you’ve done all of that get out of bed and do it all over again.
You can just publish your book as an ebook and forget about it.
It’s your choice.
Now Here Is the Really Fun Part of This Entire Process
There are absolutely no guarantees.
The reality is this: I am a lone piece of flotsam in an ocean of writers. After my friends and family buy the book, it all becomes a crapshoot. It may languish in obscurity, a footnote in my biography, or it may take off and sell thousands of copies. Everyone who has read Resurrecting Tobias loved it. They laughed, they cried, and they celebrated one man’s triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds….but….there are no guarantees.
And so I do the only thing I know to do….I continue to write. I send out my query letters each day, I market the book as best I can with a limited budget, I begin my next project, A Season for Killing, and I hope.
Does that discourage some of you? Well, it should. I am talking about working long hours for months without any promise of a financial payback.
And I am also talking about the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from accomplishing something few can, or will, do.
Writing a book is huge. It may never be read, but you will always know that you met the challenge, and you can spend the rest of your lives patting yourselves on the back for a job well-done.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”