The lonely profession
I’ve had some conversations and interactions lately that have reminded me that writing is truly “the lonely profession.” Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining nor is this posting a rant. Being an introvert, I’m very comfortable in my own head (where all my characters live!) and I don’t often feel the lack of human interaction because of friends, my church, and my awesome family.
But I do remember what it was like before my big break happened. I remember and even sometimes still feel the loneliness and the self-doubt that plagues so many of us who spin worlds with our words. Most of you reading this aren’t writers and wouldn’t understand. But I know that there are some reading this blog who are aspiring writers themselves. This one is for you.
My first advice: Stick With It.
In all the literature I’ve read, all the motivational talks I’ve listened to, all the interviews I’ve watched, the common thread of success can be summarized in one word: persistence. Being a writer, you have to be able to tolerate criticism, relentlessly write, read a ton, and interact little with other people. As my wife likes to remind people, I worked in the tech industry for 20+ years before my writing took off. If you are writing for any other reason than you positively, absolutely, cannot not write and your head will actually explode if you don’t, then it’s probably not a hobby or career path you’ll survive. There is a lot of waiting, a lot of waiting anxiously, and a lot of uncertainty. The market is totally saturated with authors in all genres right now since self-publishing became viable, if you hadn’t been able to tell! We’re all competing for the same readers, which means author royalties have been trending down. If you can handle this then by all means proceed to my next paragraph.
My second bit of advice: Create a Mastermind
Before I signed with 47North, I thought writers had an “editor” they worked with. What I didn’t realize was that it truly takes a mastermind to produce a novel. Let me introduce you to mine. First off, there is my wife and best friend Gina. I use her for a sounding board for my ideas and she’s one of my early readers who gives me very critical and helpful advice, especially around dialogue and characters. If any of the character relationships in my books have left you all tingly inside, you can thank her. I also have been lucky to have support from some very important people who help me during my process. One is my sister Emily who has read practically every story I’ve ever written. I think she hasn’t read my high school garbage, but that’s a good thing. She’s been through the wilderness and watched my writing style grow and mature. I also have a few kind-hearted friends from church named Karen, Robin, and Shannon who always get the first crack at early versions of my books before they get submitted to my publisher.
Once I’ve submitted a manuscript, the size of the mastermind increases. I have a great editor at 47North named Jason Kirk who reads my books fast and provides some directional feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. It’s mostly very high level and always helpful. After he’s read it, the next person who looks at it is my dev editor, the talented Angela Polidoro. I’ve nicknamed her “Eagle Eyes Polidoro” because she has an absolutely uncanny ability to spot consistency errors not only within a book, but within a series. She keeps me honest and provides the line-by-line, page-by-page comments that every author really needs. I didn’t even understand what dev editors were (it’s short for ‘developmental editing’) before I started working with them at 47North. They are super, super important. They really help bring the manuscript to the next level and are absolutely worth the cost, in my opinion. But that’s not it. After the dev edit, which catches and fixes a lot of problems, the next step is the copy-edit. Part of my team is a fantastic editor named Wanda Zimba who has been with my books for a while now. She knows my style, knows my books, and finds the pesky grammar mistakes that made it past everyone else. I don’t think I’ve ever published a book that was 100% free of errors. That may be impossible. But you should see all that we do catch. It’s impressive.
There are others who are part of the mastermind as well, which I don’t want to ignore but don’t have time to write about presently (like marketing, publicity, etc). Most self-published authors have to play many or all those roles themselves. But I highly, highly encourage you to get professional editing services (dev editors and copy editors). You can listen to your early readers and that’s helpful. But what an author really needs is someone who doesn’t pull punches and offer concrete advice, page by page, to improve the flow of the story. I wouldn’t have made it without these folks.
My third bit of advice: Stay Home and Write
There is a lot of misperception about the life of an author out there. Very few do book signings. I’ve only done a handful myself. There are some authors I know that wouldn’t write books if they couldn’t meet fans at a signing booth at a convention. I’m perfectly happy staying at home and writing, so I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to this area. Here’s the brutal truth. They are costly and rarely provide the return on investment (ROI) for the publisher or the author. The nice thing about them is meeting your publishing team and fellow authors. When you get a bunch of us together, it can get pretty rowdy. But they are an expense, not an activity that generates much, if any, income.
My last bit of advice: Say Thank You
Now this post was targeting those who want to be authors someday. What about the rest of you? You, my friends, are the audience. You cannot know the good your words can do in lifting up a lonely author’s spirits. A piece of advice I’ve heard regularly and totally ignore is “never read your reviews.” I disagree and I read every single one, the good, the ugly, and the vague. I really try not to let my head get all puffy with the praise and I shrug off the criticism. I try to appreciate all the feedback I get as a gift. If you particularly enjoyed reading a book, take the time to post a review on Goodreads or on Amazon’s website. Your feedback actually helps sell more books. Take a moment to write a personal note to the author if you really, really, really like a book. We all love hearing from our fans. Even better, help spread the word. You are the single most important factor in whether more people read a book. You have tremendous power.
I cannot tell all of you how grateful I am to you, my readers, for allowing me to have this new career. I love being home when my kids get home from school and hearing about their day. I love researching new book ideas and creating new stories to spellbind and entrance you and keep you up at night WAY TOO LATE. You cannot know how much it means to me to have you as a fan.
Thank you for being on this journey with me!