What does it take to be an author? One might ask.
I am living that experience. I can say it has been simultaneously exciting and disappointing, hopeful and discouraging, the best of times, the worst of times. I wrote a book, so what is the next step? No, really, what do I do next?
In my search for that answer (and an agent and a publisher), I found this blog from Brent Weeks (a fellow Oregonian) sharing his insights toward his path to publishing. If you are like me, this sharing of knowledge is such a precious jewel. And I recognize it as the gracious act it is; Brent is kindly giving back to the community he feels honored to be a part of. Thanks Brent!
I have made many mistakes, of course, from the writing side of being an author. But that’s fine, the mistake laden writing part. As with anything that requires improvement: Do, Fail, and Do Again; but do better with the knowledge of your mistakes. When applied, first write, then get feedback from those skilled in writing; edit your work, then continue writing.
Writing, I feel, is the easy part. Simple formula: Write, get feedback, write more, (hold yourself in a fetal position in bed), go back for more critique. You DO get better by doing this. In addition, read other authors or otherwise consume all other forms of media that tell stories. Study rap for rhythm and word play and all the neato slang. Watch plays for dialogue and pretentiousness. Watch cartoons for humor and space tentacles. It all informs you on the craft.
But this only addresses the artistic considerations of being an author. There is a business component that I waaaaaay underestimated as I was writing my book. I should have been a better student. Now that I want to count myself as a professional, I am paying attention.
Queries are not enough. Pat Rothfuss, Brent Weeks, Jim Butcher…all of them found success by meeting their agents, face to face. You need to practice your log line, pitch and speak about your project in 3-5 minutes. This is/was super difficult for me, sharing my book in sound bites. I would ramble on about plot and themes. When you are pitching, you are supplying just enough information that you, 1) should set your story apart from those previously pitched 2) elevate the interesting parts of your story quickly, with the hope your audience will want to know more and ask questions. Brent makes all these points in his blog. Check it out if you want an expert’s perspective on what it takes to succeed. I have more work to do.
I will confess one experience, I tried a marketing strategy that backfired. I was able to get a booktube blogger to read my book in return for a review. The idea was that when she discovered the genius of my book, she would share with her entire audience and create buzz. As it turned out, she did not like it so much. And that’s what her audience took away.
She did follow through and reviewed my book. I still have not watched it. Not because I don’t listen to feedback, I do. I welcome it. It is just that I put so much weight on this one review being successful and attracting a wider audience, that failing was a kick to my gut. The stomping of my heart was my own doing.
That is what it felt in the moment. I could probably watch it now. Actually, I will. I want to hear her feedback. She was kind enough to take the time to read my book. Since that time last year, I have met others that have read my book and enjoyed it, leaving great reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. But I will be honest, that one review shut me down for a while. That is the true reason I haven’t been blogging. I needed time to recover. I needed time to regain my confidence. I wrote a book I’m proud of, not everyone will agree with the results.
That is the worst of times that I mentioned earlier. When you are so passionate about what you do, set backs can get amplified, though really, they are just doses of reality. And the reality about pursuing success is that it takes effort, time, and perseverance. And MOXIE. Maybe, mostly, moxie, (and an eye for awesome alliteration).
I always remind myself of that scene in Fight Club, where the recruits are standing at the door and Tyler Durden yells at them, tells them they are not good enough, that they are too something that they don’t qualify. Those that walk away are the ones that already agree with the criticism. They leave because they felt like they didn’t belong when they first got there. But those that got through, they knew they belonged, despite being told no and never. Or they refused to go back from where they left.
I know it is a strange analogy (mostly because those recruits turn out to become a misguided cult of young violent men; just set that aside for a moment). For anything we want to be successful at, we need to be willing to stand at the gate and be determined to get through. And we don’t need anyone’s permission to be there but our own. Remember that.