Writing advice is a tricky one.
Certainly you’ll find hundreds of sites ready to tell writers what to do and how to do it. Unsolicited advice that may be very helpful or may not.
Personally, I genuinely believe that the writing journey is different for everyone – one size definitely does NOT fit all. It’s difficult and perhaps even dangerous to tell other writers what to do, but sharing experiences and stories is always a good idea.
So, for what it’s worth, here is a little of my journey to publication…I hope it’s helpful. 😀
Right, you’ve written a book, spent years toiling over it, researching it, bringing your characters to life and building the world they inhabit. So what now?
Well, firstly, the gestation period for my debut novel was extraordinarily long, ridiculously long in fact and well outside of the norm in terms of the writing process. I initially had the idea for White Mountain back in 1997 while travelling around New Zealand. I had had a few characters roaming my imagination for a while, but slowly over the course of a four-month odyssey in that astounding country, those characters became a story.
Real places I fell in love with, became the direct inspiration for locations in the book. My world building went into overdrive. I found myself delving into countless volumes about ancient cultures, the Sumerians, Nabateans, Indus Valley civilisations, the Epic of Gilgamesh and other ancient myths. I lost myself in the intricacies of etymology, the derivation of words we all know and many we don’t. I pored over books on geology, geography, botany and other aspects of natural history. All of it seeped into my consciousness and blended with my own growing mythology.
I’ve said it in interviews, but I truly believe that research is the key. Whatever your writing, whatever the genre – DO YOUR RESEARCH!!!
Even with a brilliant storyline, engaging characters, a plot full of twists and turns, the enjoyment of your novel will be greatly heightened by your research. In short, the suspension of disbelief which is so important to every work of fiction, is hinged upon whether you have made your story realistic, believable. In the most fantastical novel, real elements will ground it, make it easier for the reader to connect and relate to the material.
Often this is actually more important with fantasy and science-fiction novels, as they more than any other genre run the risk of alienating readers if the world the writer creates is too fantastical.
So, you’ve created your world, written your novel…what now?
Well, once you truly have gone through the vital process of rigorous editing and redrafting…I must have edited White Mountain a 100 times at least, and once you are absolutely certain that your manuscript is publisher ready…then take the plunge!
A stupidly simplistic statement, but as I know all too well, when you have taken so long on your book, it becomes your baby. It has consumed such a large part of your life that it becomes difficult to let go. The danger here, is that you then sit on the novel too long, certain of its merit and appeal but fearful to let others get their hands on it. Totally understandable. But if you are ever to make writing your life, then you have to be brave and take the plunge. Send your ms out into the world and brace yourself.
You’ll either get no response at all, or most likely, a polite no. The chances of actually gaining a publishing contract are hugely against you, so be aware of the figures. Less than 1% of all fiction published in the UK is by new authors…less than 1%!
Once you really know and understand that, then you’ll be better prepared for the emotional rollercoaster to come.
As all writers will tell you…the worst aspect of this process is simply the waiting, endless waiting, wasting time, months of it, in some cases years.
I was lucky. I had finally finished fiddling with my book and decided that I would start the submission process. I started by entering the 2011 ABNA competition and to my delight, got through to the quarterfinals before being cut at the semi’s. In that time, I didn’t send out any submissions other than to agents. Had a few rejections and a few non responses from those, par for the course – agents are even harder to get than publishers.
That’s the catch-22 scenario. Agents are harder to get than publishers but most publishers, and certainly the ‘Big Six’ – Hachette, Macmillan (excluding their new writers programme), Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House and Simon & Schuster, will only take manuscripts through an agent, no solicited ms!
I was having a discussion with some writer friends recently and this topic came into the conversation. It is also popped up on my publisher’s website, and they are of the same opinion as me. That although it is certainly a very common turn of phrase on writing forums and social media sites, it is also a complete cop-out!
Why ‘Aspiring’? Yes, to be an author may well be a long-held dream, certainly in my case, it has been a lifetime’s ambition, harboured and nurtured since I was a child. So I understand the longing, the desire to achieve ‘Author’ status, what I don’t understand or agree with, is the sentiment behind the word ‘aspiring’. It is such a terribly weak statement.
You are not an ‘aspiring doctor’, or teacher, or lawyer, or dentist…you either ARE a doctor, teacher, lawyer, dentist, or you are NOT. There is no halfway house. Yes, you may be ‘in training’ to join one of those professions, but you should still consider yourself to BE one of them, even if you can’t practise on your patients! Have confidence in your abilities and in where you want to go. You wouldn’t consider yourself an ‘aspiring human’, would you? Ummm…well in some cases that may actually be true! 😀
Have the strength of your convictions and the confidence to see them through.
Putting yourself in the category of ‘Aspiring Author’, merely tells the world that you don’t have confidence in your own writing and that you don’t consider yourself to be a professional. Why should any publishing house take you on and take you seriously, if you don’t take yourself seriously. Publishing houses are not looking for amateurs. Debut novelists, new writers…YES! But ‘Aspiring Authors’? Really?
Your approach and your thinking must always be professional, from the outset. No weak ‘aspiring’ here.
Some consider the sacred term ‘author’ to be based on sales. That you cannot call yourself an author until you are published and those royalty cheques start coming through your letterbox. Again…is this right? If you are basing your status as an author purely on sales…then you are in the wrong profession! Yes, being an author is a professional endeavour, but it is also a highly creative one. Creativity should and MUST always come before hard cash.
Although it is easy to get carried away with stories of instant success and truck loads of money, Christopher Paolini is a good example. If you are writing to get rich…you are DEFINITELY in the wrong profession! These stories hit the headlines precisely because they are so rare. Most writers struggle with sales and building their fan base for years and years, there’s nothing instant about it. It’s hard graft all the way. A good mate of mine, Will, once said that writing the book was the easiest part about it and he’s absolutely right. As hard or as easy as you may find the process of writing and editing your work, that really is the easiest part of being an author.
Think of the great writers of the 19th and 20th century, few of them had instant success with their very first book. They too had to build their readership, hone their craft and get on the carousel of marketing and promotion. Why a carousel? Because it NEVER stops! If they had dismissed themselves as merely ‘aspiring authors’, when their first book languished on the bookshelves due to poor sales, then they probably would never have written a second or third book and thus deprived us readers of some literary masterworks!
Sales has nothing to do with writing or wanting to be a writer. Yes, you’ve got to be professional and yes, good sales are what you want to strive for and achieve, but it should NEVER be a motivational tool or a yardstick by which you class yourself as an author or not.
Be what you want to be. Have confidence in your abilities, your imagination and your writing. There is nothing ‘aspiring’ about it…inspiring, hell yes! Wouldn’t you rather be an inspiring author than an aspiring one?
Whatever your professional day job…You ARE a writer…or you are not. That simple.
I am and have always been a writer, an author and proud to be one. 😀