Tuesday, September 26, 2017

So You Want to Be a Writer?

So you want to be a writer, do you? Awesome! For me, there is no better way to make a living. Believe me when I say that I have tried many other professions – from working on offshore supply boats to selling cars. I even traveled around the country playing music for a time. But nothing holds a candle to the life I have as a professional novelist. It’s not just the writing; it’s the people. The fans are wonderful, as are the other writers I’ve met. I have gone from day in, day out toil and monotony to spending my time inside my own head, thinking up new and fantastical worlds.
But it’s not all fun and games. Though the rewards are tremendous, the cost is high at times. For those of you interested in what it means to write novels for a living, I will give you a brief insight into what it is truly like and what you should expect if you are determined to pursue a career in writing.
First of all, I should explain that my experience is as unique as any other writer’s. Though there are similarities, each person travels down their own road. Moreover, I am limited to my own perspective. There are many ways to write for a living; being a novelist is but one.
As many of you know, I am an independent author. Though my audiobooks are produced through traditional publishers, the production of my kindle and paperback editions are solely my responsibility. This means hours of mind-numbingly tedious work that is added to my already heavy schedule. But it is either get it done or watch my career circle the drain. Many new authors go into indie publishing with the expectation of it being somehow easier than the traditional route. They soon learn that nothing could be further from the truth. Both methods are an uphill climb. And you are no more likely to “make it” as an indie than through traditional means. Is it quicker? Yes. You succeed or fail in far less time. But the obstacles you face are no different. It is a continuous battle to keep yourself productive and maintain focus on your goals. And even should you have a strong launch and quickly attain your sales objectives, you discover that it’s only the beginning. 
When I launch a new series, every word I write is a risk. I depart from what I know people like and throw the dice, praying that I get lucky. You might think that my previous success would ensure future sales. If only that were true!
In the world of indie publishing, two things are the key to continued success: production and quality. It is the first aspect that many find discouraging. The amount of material involved in building an audience is staggering. This year (2017) I have written four books and am scheduled for six by the end of December. You would think that after a time, I would have enough of a backlist to be able to relax somewhat. But nope! In order to remain relevant, I have to keep pumping them out. Readers of indie demand that we give them stories at a pace traditional publishing cannot keep up with. That’s the very thing that propelled indie to prominence in the first place—and it’s why readers keep coming back.
But you simply can’t bang out a bunch of words every day and expect people to read them. Maintaining quality is essential. This can really put your mind to the test. Coming up with new adventures is not as easy as one might think. A novel is more than a concept; you can’t just think of a neat plot and expect it to magically transform into a book. As they say, the devil’s in the details. Individualizing characters and then outlining a political and social structure, magic systems, and even the laws of physics all have to be taken into account. This takes time. And when time is not your ally, the pressure can mount.
It is important to have in place an editing and proofreading team so that you can move from one project to the next without missing a beat. These people need to know your work and what you expect from them without needing to bombard you with questions.
Of course, you have cover art, interior designers, and bloggers to deal with as well. But that’s another topic. For the purposes of this piece, we are focusing on the very base essentials for indie success.
The popularity of indie relates directly to the fact that we give readers an abundance of good quality stories – and we don’t overcharge. So, when you ask yourself, “Do I have a book in me?”, you need to then ask, “Do I have 20 more?”
At this point you might be saying, “Why are you being so discouraging?” I’m not. In fact, before you gain an audience, you’re in a position to take much of the weight off your shoulders before you get started. You can do this by understanding one simple thing: there is no hurry to publish. None whatsoever. 
I see all too often a mad dash to the finish line; new authors chomping at the bit to click on the “publish” icon. Are they ready? Usually the answer is no, and for many reasons. The one that relates to what I am talking about pertains to the possibility of initial success. What if your first book sells like crazy? Are you ready for that? Do you have a follow up? Do you have the time to write one? How long did it take you to get the first one written and edited? Because let me tell you, once sales start happening, you have about 90 days – then poof. It’s over. Sure, there are exceptions. But typically, that’s your window. After that, sales begin to dwindle, and you lose your initial push. Why not wait and have three or four books written ahead of time? Put yourself into a position to take full advantage of that initial momentum. You can use this time to expand your network and build yourself a solid foundation on which you can launch a career that has both stability and longevity.
Quantity and quality are not the only factors, but they are the most fundamental. Before you dive into indie publishing with the hopes of quitting your day job, you need to have the relevant information. You need to know your own capabilities. Can you write four or more books per year? That single question is enough to tell you if you should consider traditional publishing.
I know indies often frown at the idea of going traditional. Mostly it’s backlash from years of being looked down upon by the “real writers” who are signed with one of the Big Five publishers. We’ve spent so long taking veiled insults and defending our right to publish without the gatekeepers standing in our path that many of us feel somewhat bitter. But there is nothing wrong with a writer who wants to go the old-fashioned route. Is it slower? Yes. But not every writer is cut out for the breakneck pace of indie. It can be absolutely soul-draining. There are times I just want a break – a few months of…well…not writing. But I can’t do that. I have chosen my path. I’m not complaining. But there are realities I face that can’t be ignored. And my family depends on me.
I think all I am trying to say is that before you embark on your journey, do your research. Make sure you are going down the road that is right for you. Indie sounds very appealing, particularly when you know that with traditional publishing you will face rejection after rejection. But make no mistake, with indie you face it too. Instead of agents and publishers, it’s readers. But unlike agents and publishers, readers reject you in a very public and sometimes cruel manner.
Whatever course you choose, know that becoming a writer is a wonderful thing. Despite all of its pitfalls and heartaches, there is nothing quite like the feeling of hearing a reader telling others how much they enjoyed your work. The sense of personal validation is like nothing else I have experienced. I hope you find in writing all that I have found…and more.  


  1. Wow, talk about slamming that nail on the head, this is it. I talk to so many "authors" who think success is possible from the one-and-done model. Write one book, watch readers beat a path to your door, retire rich and never write again. Hell, if it was that easy I'd be rich several times over. Great article. Good to find another Alabama boy with good old fashioned common sense. ;o)

    1. Sadly, I am ignored more often than not. People think I am trying to crush their dreams, when all I’m doing is telling them the way it is. There are more professional athletes than professional novelists. Achieving ones’ goal of making a living at this is not easy. Nor should it be. I love what I do. And I feel great pride that I worked hard for it and beat the odds.