Thursday, March 27, 2014

Truths and Misconceptions for the New Author

When I started writing, I knew with confidence (naivety) that within months I would be making millions with my vast collection of traditionally published (by none other than one of the top publishers in the industry, of course!) novels that every Walmart, Target, Books-a-Million, Barnes & Noble, Fred Meyer (etc, etc, etc) would stock up on to fill their shelves. Before they had them all up and displayed, loyal customers would charge into the store, demanding "Brittany Jo James" books and fighting in the isles over the last few copies. It would be a stampede- and as long as no one was "too critically injured" I would be fine with it. Every literary agent on planet earth would call me (begging for a chance to represent me, no doubt!) and I would have an enormous selection in my own "slush pile" to choose from. You know, they'd have to be brilliant because all the big Hollywood directors and producers would be in Oklahoma, knocking on my front door about media rights.

Needless to say, reality hit me pretty hard... not between the eyes though, more like directly to my heart. To this I respond, "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one..." Since finally independently publishing my first two novels (seven months ago) I've learned a few things (firstly, that there was a reason for my first few books being rejected) and unfortunately, one of those things is that there are a lot of new writers out there having their hearts crushed just like mine was. It's because there are a few common misconceptions (and truths!) about finding success as an author.

  • Misconception: If you're talented enough to write a book, you'll easily find a literary agent. Wrong! If God places the dream on your heart to write, and blesses you with the creativity to come up with a 60k-100k word story, as well as giving you the english/grammar/writing/vocabulary skills to compose the aforementioned novel, and on top of that you miraculously have the opportunity (in this crazy world, "opportunity" translates directly to "time." When I started writing, I still had a full-time job, full-time college courses, a husband, two dogs, a car that broke down a lot, a house that <although we only purchased for $40k> we could barely afford payments on and I was pregnant with my first child.) to write, then finding a literary agent to represent you ought to be a walk in the park. Wrong! It's not easy at all. In fact, it feels pretty impossible sometimes.

  • Truth: If you're talented enough to write a book, you'll find success. I would like to say that you'll even "eventually" find a literary agent but, after five years of writing, I still have not... so I can't say that. However, I can say that I remain hopeful and everyone else should too. If God gave you the dream, creativity, skill and opportunity to write a novel, he's going to bring that good work to completion in His perfect timing and according to His will. We don't know what He has in store for us. Perhaps His plan is for you to start writing now, growing in experience, learning the trade, and find your success a few years down the line when you're "mature enough" to handle the "pressure" involved with being an author. Or, perhaps He has one specific literary agent in mind to advance both your career and his/hers and that agent isn't ready yet. We just have to trust, be still, and know that He is God.

  • Misconception: If you want success as an author, you must have a literary agent and be traditionally published. Now, I haven't made a fortune yet but I know a lot of talented authors who have done quite well for themselves without an agent or traditional publisher. It's not the only way to go! There are options that I didn't have a clue about until mid 2013.

  • Truth: If you want success as an author, you must do whatever it takes to get your novel published. Welcome to the world of indie authors and self-publishing! This is the age for ain't-nothin'-gonna-break-my-stride'rs in the writing world. Self published authors have absolutely dominated the market lately and, although I'm not a world-famous-superstar-writer, I know a few who are. I couldn't have said that seven months ago. Do you know how much I've learned from these industry-moguls who have created a career as an author from the ground up with no representation or publishing contract? A ton. Am I a better writer than I was last year, because of them? Absolutely. No comparison at all! The first thing I learned from these indie authors is that sometimes publishing is trial-and-error  where you learn as you go. Every negative review helps you on your next novel, every fan who points out a grammatical error in the middle of your book makes you more determined to do well, every returned book, low rating or poor best seller's rank turns you into that author you want to be. Only in a few amazing freak of nature circumstances (Yes, K.A. Robinson, I'm talking about you!) does your first independently published novel become so immediately successful that literary agents stalk you down.

  • Misconception: Your first book is perfect and ready to go. No, it isn't. You'll see. Mistakes will be found. Bad reviews are coming. Yes, you need it professionally edited. Yes, you need a cover designer. Even then, "haters gonna hate!"

  • Truth: Your first self-published book is critical to your career. Make sure it's the best it can be, brace yourself, and then publish that bad-boy. You'll grow from it. Your next book will be better. The first book I ever wrote (My Knightly Dreams) and then the second (At Least I'm Pretty) anddddd then the third (A Pirate Princess) were all complete before I "got in" with the independently published world. I knew nothing about what genres were popular, how to find an editor, the importance of a cover designer, marketing strategies, or how hard the entire process would be. I published the first two at once (my first mistake... don't ever do that!) and soon found that they were both riddled with poor writing errors. No, I didn't have an editor. No, I didn't have a cover designer. No, I didn't have a clue how to market them or what a "blogger" was. They're definitely not the best writing in the world and I'm not afraid to admit that! However, I'm extremely proud of both of them. I own them! I did awesome. Maybe they aren't perfect, but everyone has to start somewhere. One day I'll pull them off the market, change a few things, have them edited, put a fancy new cover on them and republish. Not today, however.

  • Misconception: You'll be an overnight success and tomorrow morning you'll wake to a full bank account. Please keep praying for that though and include me in your prayers because that would be soooo nice. I miss that dream!

  • Truth: You better be prepared to spend more than you make because unless you are one of those immediately successful few, you'll probably cry yourself to sleep a few nights and wake to find an empty bank account. I wrote for four and a half years before becoming independently published. That was approximately 1679 overnight successes that didn't happen. I'm bad at math, by the way, so that could be way off. Anyway, I've definitely made more money than I've spent on publishing... but not until the release of my third manuscript. My first two novels barely made their money back. My third novel has made enough to allow me to call this "my official career" but I'm still so far from having a full bank account. Ask my husband, he'll be more than happy to tell you about it.

  • Misconception: You should read this article and totally throw in the towel, deeming it "way too hard," "way too much work," and "impossible." If you're even capable of giving up on your writing dream, then you aren't meant to do it. I've "given up" about fifty times and it lasted for all of thirty or forty minutes before I was staring at a Word document again, pouring words out of my heart onto the blank screen, tears still moistening my eyes.

  • Truth: You should read this article and prepare yourself for the hard work and possibility of reaching your goal. Back to the beginning, when I stated that "You may say I'm a dreamer... but I'm not the only one" I'm telling you now to keep dreaming but do it realistically. If you want to be successful at writing (or any other huge dream) and you're prepared to pray, believe and work for it, then you can do it. It's not going to be easy though. It's not going to be overnight. --And if it is, that's absolutely amazing so don't take it for granted. One of my closest author friends made it overnight and she's the most humble, appreciative, caring individual. Appreciate every accomplishment (whether it's tiny or enormous) and grow as an author and a person with each passing day. Constantly improve! That's what makes you successful, and find your own place in the industry. Don't just write what's popular because it is. I've met successful authors who write about everything from culinary intern romance--to secrets of a cursed estate-- to rocker couples-- to bar owners named Z-- to serial killers named V-- to Christian fiction. Write what's right for you. --Or be like me and change your mind fifteen times. That's sarcasm, you truly don't want to do that like I did. 

So, in closing... There are many misconceptions and truths beginning writers have and they're natural. You'll learn. You'll improve. You'll succeed. Don't be afraid of a challenge. Five years ago I was working in a bank that I left from every evening in tears, drove to my night classes in a car that died at every stop sign, cried myself to sleep feeling like a failure who just so happened to have an aching back, throbbing feet and a protruding baby bump, counted the lack of money in my bank account every morning wondering if we would be able to pay all the bills that month or not, and never saw my husband who also worked a full-time job with full-time college courses. I sat down and prayed for God to just tell me what He wanted me to do with my life because I couldn't continue living like that for much longer. Writing was His glorious answer. Now, go do whatever you feel "called" to do. Fist bump! Yay! Power to the people!