“A person who publishes a book appears wilfully in public with his pants down” – Edna St. Vincent Millay.
The writing world is tough and for every success story there are a thousand more tales of sorrow and woe from the writers who don’t ever get published and whose manuscripts are being used as a place mat for coffee in a publishing house as you read this. It may sound harsh, but the reality is a lot harsher for the majority of writers. Breaking through and becoming a successful published author is hard work and it takes more than good writing to be one. It takes persistence, hard work, a bit of arrogance and a lot of luck. It’s important to know what to expect when you start putting yourself out into the marketplace.
Be Realistic in Your Expectations
The likelihood of your book becoming gold dust to a publisher much like the novels of J.K Rowling, Stephanie Meyer or any of the other million sellers is extremely unlikely. The best that the majority of authors can hope for is that a small, appreciative audience can be found and that the book is remembered fondly. Then the work on the follow up begins…
There are millions of writers out there just bursting to get their novel out into the world. You are not different or any more special than anyone else as far as the publishing world is concerned. There is a very good chance that the manuscripts you send out will be returned without even being read, or they might be rejected for a host of ridiculous reasons, and some for no reason at all.
It is important to have realistic expectations. There is nothing more soul destroying than receiving a letter of rejection, but if you have realistic expectations, it will hurt a little less. The key is to keep getting back on the horse and to try and prove the cynics wrong. That is more important than having pipe dreams of fame and fortune.
Be Prepared to Build Your Profile
Commercial publishers want to make a profit and they are only likely to take a punt of somebody whose name they have heard before. This might sound confusing to first time writers, but there are ways to build a profile so that your name is a little more recognisable to publishers when you or your agent makes an approach.
More and more writers have a blog where they share their pearls of wisdom and the inner workings of their creative minds with other writers and an online readership. If you can start to build an audience through your online presence – social media can be useful for this too – then you may find that your manuscript will have a little more weight with publishers. If you can prove that you have a ready-made readership by having a wealth of subscribers to your blog, this might sway the decision of the publisher. After all, the less work they have to do marketing your book, the better (and cheaper) it is for them.
Take advantage of every opportunity to meet other writers, established authors, agents, publishers, lecturers and attend as many events, workshops, readings and networking opportunities as possible. The ‘hermit writer’ cliché is one of the past. A writer should be a social creature and enjoy being involved in the communal aspect of being a writer. Not only will it build your profile, but it could also inspire you in your own work.
Don’t Expect Fame and Riches
Stephen King is a freak of nature, and truly one of a kind. His output is immense and his success even more so, but he is not going to be emulated any time soon. The truth is, releasing one novel every year or two is not going to give you fame and fortune (if that is even what you crave). The likelihood is that you will have to subsidise your novel writing income with part-time employment or by building an income with a succession of smaller jobs – publishing articles and blog posts, lecturing, workshops, mentoring and grants, etc.
A well-respected writer I know (and who shall remain nameless) happily revealed to me that his first two novels sold 1,600 copies and 4,200 copies respectively. This writer is a part-time accountant and blogger. Without these jobs, he said, he would never have finished the first novel, let alone have the funds and the freedom to write the second one. He didn’t tell me how much money he made after all the publishers and agent’s fees came out of the profits, but he did laugh. He did however, tell me that he writes for the love of it, not for any attempt at fame and fortune. It’s the right attitude to have.
Persistence is Everything
Building a body of work that you can proudly put forward into the world can take years of writing, even longer for editing and even longer for pitching and finding a publisher and audience for it. The level of persistence required to be a writer for the long term is almost superhuman, as there are people who will be trying to batter your self-confidence and self-worth at every turn. All that you can do is create work that you are proud of and that you are 100% certain is your very best work. It may take years for you to get to this point, but it is a great price to pay if you can reap the rewards at the end and find your work on bookshelves around the world.
Read and Write Every Single Day
The only way that a writer can improve is by writing and reading every day. It keeps the creative juices flowing and keeps the writer locked in to the type of work he or she loves and wants to emulate someday. A writer that rests on their laurels and waits for feedback and responses from publishers and agents is a writer who will quickly burn out and find themselves wasting too much time that could have been spent writing, reading – and most importantly of all – learning.
Learning about writing, publishing and keeping up to date with what is happening in the writing world so that they don’t fall behind and start pitching a piece of work that was written for a niche or genre that is a boat that has well and truly sailed. Use social media to keep up to date with publishing trends and don’t let that library card expire. You’re going to need it.
Short stories, poems, blog posts or even a diary. Keep those writing muscles flexing, because you never know when inspiration may strike and take you on a new adventure that could lead you on the path to success.
Featured Image: Creative Commons – Attribution photo by Kristin Nador