How many of you have said that? Maybe not out loud. At least not to anyone except your grandma who thinks everything you do is miraculous. Or to your therapist who’s paid to convince you you’re not a worthless POS. But, come on, admit it. Haven’t you whispered it to yourself when the germ of a fabulous idea takes root in your mind? Maybe you see a homeless vagabond and imagine he’s a down-on-his-luck astrophysicist who got fired for accidentally hitting the launch button. Or maybe you pretend your phone is a tri-corder linked to the Mother Ship from whence you came. Or perhaps your own life is so supersonically amazing you think everyone wants to know how you went from a chubby, orthodontic-headgear-wearing dork into a glamour-puss-Fortune-500-CEO. Truth is, every single one of us is capable of coming up with an idea for a novel.
For many of us, that’s as far as it goes. (And I’m okay with that because, quite frankly, I don’t want your competition.) But for my non-writer friends who think maybe you’ve got what it takes, here’s a few things to consider:
The Daily Show:
Most (if not all) published authors write daily. Every single day. Not just in between errands or after Cougar Town is over. They schedule their day around writing, not the other way around. Rumor has it, the infamous Nora Roberts writes from nine to five every weekday. Now granted, she has about 150 books out there and few of us dream of being that prolific, but even so, it takes a lot of butt-in-the-chair time to draft, revise and polish a novel. And even if you get the first draft out pretty fast, revisions are where the real magic happens. It’s also the most arduous, frustrating, and time-consuming part. Imagine building a house. Of cards. Then removing ten cards without the rest of the house collapsing. Then try putting the cards back in. Arranged in order, by suit. Revising a manuscript is harder than that.
It’s Not About the Benjamins:
For most of us, writing is not lucrative. We’ve all heard stories of million-dollar deals or the plucked-from-obscurity-success of Eragon’s Christopher Paolini. But those occurrences are few and far between. That’s why you hear about it when it happens – because it’s highly unusual. For every J.K. Rowlings, there is a Jane Doe putting in just as much effort for much less cash. Advances for a debut author can be south of $5,000. Not enough to quit your day job, that’s for sure. Now, hopefully you have an amazing, dedicated agent who gets you lots more money than that, but it’s a longshot. And until you’ve built your brand and gotten a couple of books published, you’re not rolling in dough – unless your other job is as a baker’s apprentice.
And Speaking of Agents:
There are publishers who work with unagented writers, but that’s a little like serving as your own defense council. Unless you are well versed in publishing know-how and legalese, you’re better off having the expertise of an agent by your side. And writers don’t just open the phone book and pick out an agent at random. (Actually, does anybody use a phone book for anything anymore?) Literary agents are exceptionally busy people. Not only are they negotiating contracts for their current clients, editing manuscripts, and networking within the industry, they also receive thousands of emails every year from aspiring writers looking for representation. One agent posted on her blog that in 2010, she received 36,000 query letters (about 700 each week!) She requested partial or full manuscripts from about 900 writers. And took on just nine new clients. Nine! From a pool of 36,000 wannabes. That means 35,991 writers were turned down by this agency. Agents are drinking from a fire hose, so if you expect to dazzle one, you’d better be a pretty darn good writer.
One in a Million:
Well, not a million exactly. Let’s say, one in 9089. That’s how many books were published in 2009 in just the Romance category. I don’t have the stats on how many books were published in other genres. I could have done more research but it’s snowing out and I want to take my kids sledding as soon as I’m done with this post. My point is, let’s say you’re tenacious enough to finish a manuscript, lucky enough to land an agent with an eye for your amazing talent, and she in turn, gets you an awesome contract. Your shiny new book is published and sitting on the bookstore shelf. That’s a great achievement and you should feel really proud. But when Suzy Soccermom wanders by, what’s going to make her chose your book over the other 9088 books that came out the same year? Marketing and self-promotion, that’s what. Now, you might think publishers are dying to make you a household name, and they are. But they’re probably not going to spend a bunch of money to help you make that happen. Publishers expect their writers to go out and market themselves. That means book signings, blog tours, and creating a web presence, on your own time and with your own dime. Again, I’m not talking about the Nora Roberts and Stephenie Meyers out there. Publishers may spend a nickel or two on promoting them, but for the vast majority of us who toil in the writing trenches, if we want to make a name for ourselves, we are doing it by our self. We pay our own way at writing conferences, we pass out bookmarks and business cards, which we paid for with that five grand the publisher forked over. We tell our family and facebook friends that our book is ready for consumption. Then we pray, against all odds, that if we write it, they will read.
HEA (as in Happily Ever After)
Most writers know that the odds of making it rich and famous in this industry are about as plausible as me getting bit on the neck by that Pattinson boy and turning into a real vampire (Not that I wouldn’t be willing to give that a whirl. Go Team Edward.) So, why do we do it? Why not spend those hours loving on our families, working out at the gym, watching movies, climbing Mt. Everest? The answer is simple for us. We write because we love it. Because our virtual worlds are more energizing than our real worlds. Because those voices in our heads are loud, and the only way to drown them out is to put the words on paper. We write because the alternative is unthinkable.
So, if the story inside you can be silenced, if you are able to set it aside and forget about it, then by all means, give up. Your ‘someday’ will never come. But if me saying that rankles you, and you think, “Who the heck is she to tell me that?” then maybe your story is one worth telling. If you have the patience to build, and rebuild a house of cards, the optimism to throw your work in with thousands of others, hoping it will rise to the top, and if you’re bold enough to call yourself a writer, then do it. Be one.