Sunday, June 13, 2010

You Do Have More than One Shot

I realize I haven't posted anything since April, which does not mean I've let this blog go. It means I've been busy with the most important part of a writer's career--duh, the writing! (That gets lost sometimes--don't let it!)

I was inspired to do this post while watching a television show, in which one of the characters confesses he's had a dream of writing something his whole life and never did it. The other characters encourage him to go for it, and he finally finishes his story and sends it in.

Very nice, right?

Then I started laughing. The character haunts his mailbox for TWO WEEKS, and then is devastated when he gets a rejection. "Oh, well," he says. "I guess I'm just not cut out for this. I'm an average Joe, not someone with talent." The other characters pat him on the back and say, "At least you tried." And he goes back to his life.

I'm sitting there with my mouth open, going--what kind of a stupid, messed-up message was THAT?

OK, I do get the point of the (rather cliche) story. The theme is "You have to go for your dream. Even if it doesn't work, at least you tried instead of saying 'if only' your whole life."

That's not a bad message.

But the execution--oh my goodness! OK, I do also realize they had to tell this story in half an hour and keep the character and the series status quo.

But now I can use it to send my own message:


Well, you can, but if so, you weren't really in the game in the first place.

Becoming a career writer, which means making a living off your published books being bought by (a huge gob of) strangers in bookstores or online, takes TIME AND HARD WORK.

The idea that you're a failure (read, untalented loser) if you don't find instant success is simply not true.

Success comes from trying and trying and trying again until you find what YOU want. This is true in any career--most people learn all they can about their chosen profession then start at the bottom and work their way up.

We do the same thing as writers.

As writers, our "education" is either getting an MFA in creative writing (the way you'd go if you want to be a literary writer) or reading tons of books in the genre/style we wish to write and then writing them.

Our job application is the query letter to an agent or editor, our employment agency is our agent (though we can bypass an agent and sell ourselves--see my post "Why You Need An Agent" ).

When we sign our first contract, we've landed our first job. It may be a great job that lets us quickly climb the career ladder, or it may be a dead-end job that we need to quit after a couple of books and try again in another place. You might end up rising to the top at that publisher, or getting fired (that is: dumped, contacts cancelled, it happens).

All of this takes time and work.

Even self-publishing, which people think is a great way to bypass all the pain and suffering of finding an agent or a publisher is still WORK! and TIME! and STRESS! and add in MONEY! Self-publishing means essentially becoming your own publishing company--hiring people to edit and proofread your book, create book covers for you, format your books, and either print and distribute them for you or upload/distribute them to e-book sales sites, and then it's up to you to do all the marketing and sales. You are now a small business--with all the work that entails!

To be a published author, you have to keep writing, keep submitting, keep trying, keep selling. It's a never-ending game. It's not easy money. If being an author (whether you're published and stressed or unpublished and stressed) doesn't make you happy in and of itself, THEN, you give up and do something else (which will likely lower your blood pressure).

Have I shouted enough? Writing is a tough career. I don't care if you decide to publish yourself or go the agent/publisher route, it's still tough (each is tough in a different way).

The bottom line is: Thinking you can sell a novel/story/play/whatever in TWO WEEKS and then GIVING UP when it doesn't is ludicrous!

HAVE PATIENCE, DON'T GIVE UP, and if you can't sell the first thing you finish, WRITE SOMETHING ELSE!