A few years ago I was on a panel with several other authors, and a teacher in the audience stood up to ask a question. It was something like, “We have several students who want to be published authors, but they’re frustrated at the amount of work and time that it takes. What would you say to them?”
And another author on the panel jokingly said something like, “I’d tell them to do something else and enjoy a long and happy life.”
It was funny and it made people laugh.
It was also kind of true.
Another story. I recently received an email from a young writer who’d gotten some feedback about his work and he was looking to pay for editorial services to help him make it better. I let him know where to find some editors, as well as giving him some advice on how to clean up the manuscript himself. He admitted that he wasn’t any good at self-editing and didn’t want to put in the time.
If this were a movie, you’d hear the screech of a record needle right about here.
Regardless of whether you publish traditionally or on your own, it generally stands to reason that writing and self-editing the book is the easy part. When you write, it’s just you and the story. When you edit your own work, all the changes are your own. You are 100% in control. If you’re not under contract, you don’t even have to worry about time limits. You can write on Tuesday night or wait until Saturday. You can write five words or five hundred or five thousand. Doesn’t matter.
When you’re publishing professionally (in the traditional sense), you have an agent who will have his/her own thoughts about your work, and you’ll have to make changes. You’ll then have an editor who will have his/her own thoughts, and AGAIN, you’ll have to make changes. Then you’ll get to copyedits, and you’ll have to make changes AGAIN. This is not a complaint, it’s just reality. I’ve said before that a book is not a child, but it makes for an easy analogy. It’s like raising a child for five years and suddenly having a bunch of people swoop in and offer commentary on your parenting. “Oh, he doesn’t know how to place a napkin on his lap before eating? We’ll have to fix that.”
Here’s the thing: all this input on your work is great. We all have the same goal: to make the book as good as it can be. I love working with my editor and my agent. I can’t emphasize that enough. My point is that it’s more WORK, and sometimes it’s hard to move beyond the knee-jerk reaction of HOW DARE YOU CRITICIZE MY PERFECT CHILD *cough* I mean STORY. Beyond that, sometimes these changes need to be made really fast. It’s not uncommon to need a substantial rewrite to be done in a matter of weeks, if not days.
But let’s get beyond the editing part of it. I think everyone realizes that the writing and editing are going to be part of the game, right? When you get right down to it, that’s what you’re signing up for. You might not be ready for the amount of work involved, but that’s not a slap in the face, really. You knew you were going to be in for something when you first set out to be a published author.
What took me by surprise was the amount of promotion required. Before selling my first novel, I was already active on Twitter and Facebook and I blogged somewhat regularly. But when your first book is released, you need to do blog tours and interviews and guest posts. I cannot say how grateful I am to the multitudes of book bloggers who have read and reviewed my books and helped get the word out there, especially those of you who have participated in or organized blog tours. Again, none of this post is a complaint. I’m talking about expectations versus reality. It’s one thing to answer a blog interview for someone who wants to help you spread the word about your books, and entirely another to gracefully field yet another email that says, “If you want to send me all the books in your series via snail mail, I’ll think about reading and reviewing them on Amazon.” (Yes, really.) Or an email that says, “I offered a full set of your signed books as a contest to go along with my review. Here’s where to send them.” (When the reviewer has never even asked if this is OK.) Or the numerous emails that say, “I found you on Goodreads and your books look really interesting. Can you send me a free copy?” (None of these are direct quotes, and they’re so frequent that I’m not singling out ANYONE.)
All of this promotion takes a ton of time and money. I don’t get free books, and any postage costs come out of my own pocket. (I spent almost a thousand dollars in postage last year. Before you roll your eyes, wait until we get to the part about financial realities.) Writing guest posts or character interviews takes a ton of time, and that’s after you actually think of something interesting to say. I spent a long time (three hours) writing a specifically requested guest post on why I added a gay character to the Elemental series. When the post went live, I retweeted it, only to get smacked in the face by a response asking why I thought I deserved special attention for writing a gay character.
Again, NOT A COMPLAINT. REALITY.
And that brings me to my next point: you’re doing all this promotion in the public eye. In this day and age, people have no hesitation expressing their thoughts on the internet. (Hi, I’m doing it right now.) They have no hesitation telling you exactly what they think of your work. Hell, people have no problem criticizing my TWEETS, much less an entire book. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but it’s one thing to believe that, and entirely another to read something online that’s absolutely trashing your book. To stick with the child analogy, it’s the difference between knowing your son isn’t going to be liked by everyone he meets and overhearing someone actually saying, “That kid is a real asshole.” I will always stand by the belief that all reviewers are entitled to say whatever they want. Once a book is published, it’s out of my hands and it’s out there for the reader. That doesn’t mean the commentary doesn’t hurt sometimes. Especially when it’s directly emailed to me, along the lines of a recent message that told me I was killing my career by pushing my political agenda in my books. (And here I thought I was telling a story. Go figure.)
Right from the start, you’ve got to make a decision: you can read reviews and acknowledge that there’s nothing you can do about them (What are you going to do, change someone’s mind by protesting? Come on.) or you can completely ignore reviews and pretend they don’t exist.
While we’re talking about social media, it’s both a blessing and a curse. I love (LOVE!!) being able to communicate with readers and other writers. I have made so many friends on Twitter and Facebook that I’ve lost count. At the same time, it can be really, really, REALLY discouraging to go from glee over a five figure advance — and then five minutes later seeing someone post that they got a six figure deal. Or that they hit the New York Times Bestseller list. Or that they’re going to be a featured speaker at a conference that you can’t even afford to attend. Or how about feeling proud that you got the kids to bed and wrote 1,000 words before falling asleep on the laptop, then seeing someone tweet that they wrote 10,000 words today?
You run into this in all walks of life (like when you buy your first home and think it’s stunning, but then six months later, your college roommate buys a home that costs twice as much). But when you’re a writer on social media, you see this all day long. I love seeing people celebrate their victories, so this isn’t a dig at those people AT ALL. I’m sure people see some of my tweets/posts and feel the same way. Again, this post is all about the reality of being a published author. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard about being a writer was “Keep your eyes on your own paper.” So true. If Twitter and Facebook is starting to get you down, step away from the computer. There was a recent article about how you shouldn’t be “that writer” on Facebook who talks about her successes. That’s bullshit. Talk about your success. Better advice would be to not be that writer who lets someone else’s success tear her down. Books are not vacuum cleaners. If someone buys a book by another author, it doesn’t mean they can’t buy yours. If someone writes 10,000 words a day, that doesn’t mean that your 1,000 words suck. If social media is getting you down, TURN IT OFF.
Money. I’ve talked about the financial realities of being a writer before, here. (All links in this article open in a new window.) Jessica Spotswood did a fantastic post about managing expectations here. (Definitely worth a read if you think the six-figure book deal is the answer to all your prayers.) I just had my third baby. Combined with my amazing stepson, I have four kids. I also have a full time job aside from writing. I don’t watch a lot of television (Though I’ve been watching a lot of Property Brothers while nursing the baby. Hot twins AND home renovations? Sign me up.) and I don’t have much of a social life. This morning I realized that I went to Target yesterday wearing the SAME CLOTHES I HAD WORN TO BED THE NIGHT BEFORE. (Look, a nursing tank and yoga pants are totally day-or-night wear.)
Wait. I lost track of my point. OH.
People ask me all the time why I haven’t quit my day job.
This is a really frustrating question. I’m not shy at all, and I’ll happily tell anyone anything they want to know about anything. But how do you answer in a way that doesn’t make you feel like shit? Because the bottom line is basically, “I can’t afford to.” While I absolutely love my day job (really!), I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d love the opportunity to be home with my kids. Anyone would. Being asked over and over (and over) again why I still can’t do that just drives home the point that I’m not successful enough (YET!). When you get asked this question enough, especially when you’re basically working two full time jobs, you start to wonder if this is all worth it.
And what’s funny is that you’ll get people wondering why you’re not making enough money, and then on the flip side, you’ll have people who will treat your writing career as a hobby. People ask me all the time if I’m still writing books. Do people walk up to doctors and ask if they’re still dabbling in medicine? I was floored when, in a public venue, in front of fifty people, one person said, “On top of her day job, did you know Brigid is also a published author?” (which made me feel great!) and before I could say anything, someone else brutally mocked that I write paranormal romance for teens. That quickly, just cut off at the knees. I wasn’t there in a writing capacity, so I wasn’t prepared to defend myself. It was years ago, but I’ll never forget how that felt.
At the beginning of the publishing journey, so much is in your control. Get a query rejection? You can send another one. Go through enough queries and decide you want to self-publish? Go for it. But once you’re out there, it’s not just about your story. It’s like poker. You can be a great poker player, but you can’t control the cards, and you can’t control the other players. Luck is part of the game, and sometimes that can be awesome, and sometimes that can be truly terrible. I always say that you have to be a little bit arrogant to succeed in publishing. Not a lot — no one will like you — but a little.
Is it worth it? It’s hard to say. I hope that’s not a downer, because it’s absolute honesty. I recently told my husband that one day my kids are going to be teenagers, and I don’t want to look back at ten years of sleepless nights and weekends spent at Starbucks and wonder why I didn’t give up earlier. At the same time, I’ve invested years of my life already. Why give up now, when things are starting to go really well, and I have such a wonderful legion of readers out there?
Anonymous commenting is always allowed, so I hope some other authors out there will weigh in with their experiences. What do you guys think?
Is it worth it?
If you could go back and do it over again, would you?