I had the joy and amusement (read: dripping sarcasm) of eating dinner tonight with a wannabe writer. I don’t think there are many things out there that can push my annoyance button nearly as quickly as those people who talk the big talk and make no action on it. This guy was your classic example of how to make sure you’re never published and won’t make enough money to pursue writing as the serious occupation it truly is. Let me explain.
There aren’t very many places to sit, as the dining area is rather full. I see an open spot near where I like to sit away from the televisions and crowded areas, and there’s quite a few empty seats around him. So I politely ask him if any of the seats are taken and if they’re not, would he mind if I joined him. He indicated the seats were not taken and that I could sit if I wished. As a polite topic of conversation, I asked him where he worked and what he did. He told me that he was an electrical mechanic, working on electrical systems in the trucks here. But really, the only reason he took this job was so he could earn enough money to publish his book. Oh, no. His bookS. Because, you know, he’s written six already and wants to start on his seventh.
I took the next logical step and started asking what were apparently quite silly questions. While this is not an exact transcript of the conversation that followed, you’ll get the general idea of my opinions as the conversation moved forward.
Me: Oh? You’re a writer? What genre do you write?
Him: I write in all genres. I’ve done a vampire thing, and a ghost-like story with Tonto (which he went into in mind numbing, unbelievable detail). But I combine various different genres and story styles. Some of it is written as poetry, some as prose. There really isn’t anyone out there who writes like I do.
Me: Mm-hm. You said that you took this job so you could earn enough money to publish your books. Have you looked at submitting query letters to agents, editors, or publishing houses? Because the idea of selling a novel or two is so that you can get paid to write more. Why do you need money to publish your book?
Him: So I can self-publish. My work is so different and new that I doubt any normal publishing house would pick it up. I want to be able to make posters so that I can make it look like I’ve published more books.
Me: And where would you post these posters?
Him: Around my hometown. Like at the county fairs and such.
Me: Ah. And you think that a county fair is going to be quite full of people wanting to buy books? From an author they’ve never heard of?
I don’t really remember his reply to that. By this time, I had also asked him what his word count was on any of his finished books, which he didn’t know. I asked him how many pages his final draft was and how many drafts he had gone through before he got to his final draft and he didn’t know his page count, nor did he think there was any possible way to keep track of how many drafts and revisions he’d gone through. At least one full revision, though. He also did not have anyone reading his drafts. I somehow also managed to ask him what books were most like his stuff (which, of course, nothing could possibly even come close to what he writes because it’s so new and different and blah blah blah). He listed off a couple of books and I asked him if he’d done any research to see who published those books, to which I received a fabulous blank look.
And then I made probably the biggest mistake of the entire conversation. I asked him what his goal was – why he wanted to publish a book.
Him: Why, to achieve notoriety, of course.
Yes. He really said that. I ran out of my limited patience right about then. I told him it was good to dine with him, I wished him the best of luck in his endeavors, and I left.
I have this unbelievably strong desire to list off some of the things you can do if you want to be a writer.
1. If you want to be a writer, sit your butt down and write. Get behind your keyboard, find a pen and paper, get some digital speech-to-text software, scribble something down on a napkin, whatever works for you. If you can’t find time, make time. If writing is in your blood, it’s something you’ll have to do no matter what. I’m still putting something like 1200 words on paper every single night, even though it’s not in the way I thought it would be, but I’m still writing. Trust me when I say that if I can make time for it, so can you.
2. Being a writer is a lot more than just having big dreams. You have to be willing to do the work for it. This means researching agents, editors, publishing companies, attending conferences, reading, learning your craft, networking, and even your very own marketing. A nice, juicy publishing contract isn’t just going to magically appear in front of you. No one is going to pound on your door and tell you how they just happened to need a brand new science fiction story and heard that you were a writer and you simply MUST write it for them! If you’re not willing to do the work to find people who want to represent you, then most of them are not willing to do the work to find you.
3. Even if you want to self-publish, you still have to do all the work. You have to find a market, do something like a target audience analysis to figure out who you think would be most likely to buy your books, and you have to get the word out. You have to invest in bookmarks with your front covers on them, pens with your name and book title, plane tickets and hotel bills for those conventions. You have to be willing to put yourself out there to fans and critics alike. For a lot of writers, that’s down-right frightening.
4. There have been billions if not trillions of books published over hundreds of years. Do you really think you’re so new and different that no one has ever written something like your story? Here’s one of the less publicized things you ought to do as a writer – don’t be arrogant and pretentious until you’ve earned it. And even if you have earned it, that doesn’t really give you the right to behave like that. It just means people will be more prone to overlook that fault if you’re a millionaire author. Be confident of your work, but not to the point where strangers might want to strangle you.
5. No book is ever good enough on its first draft, and certainly not ever good enough with only the author’s eyes having seen it. Find a critique group or friends or family members or someone you trust to give you completely honest feedback on how to make your story better. There’s always room for improvement, but as the author of a work, sometimes we see what our brain intended instead of the words that are physically on the page. No first draft is perfect. Find people to give you good feedback.
I think that’s about all I have time for tonight. There’s a bunch of other stuff you can do if you really want to be a writer, but the biggest one is that if you want to write, sit down and WRITE!