The enormous crowds. The television and radio interviews. And, of course, the money. I know of few writers that don't dream of being as famous as J.K. Rowling, Brandon Sanderson, or Stephen King. We long to discover our books on bookstore shelves and hear about book groups discussing our carefully crafted novels.
Writing is a highly romanticized career. Like many artistic careers, those who do end up in the spotlight make it seem ideal to be a published author. Once you've published, you have it MADE. And yet, my first year as a published author has made it clear that this isn't an overnight gig, and most of it is far from romantic.
Accurate, much? Yes. As I'm typing this, I'm sitting on a rocker chair in my (let's be real, messy) bedroom while my kids are having a dance party in the living room. My inspirational piano playlist is punctuated by gleeful (and not so gleeful) screams, the toilet flushing, and music from the Trolls soundtrack. It's pretty rare that you'll find me at the library or Starbucks with a paper cup at my side, headphones in, pounding out golden word after golden word. And yet, this is how writers are thought of and often portrayed in the media.
Writing to produce a short story or novel is hard work. A LOT of hard work. And most of it is done in isolation. People often ask me how long it takes for me to write a book. I tell them that it depends on how much takeout we eat and whether I have a babysitter during the week or not. This is the reality for me as a homeschooling mom of four (almost five!) kids. "Woven" took me four years to go from concept to published. It's sequel, "Bound", comes out next month, 13 months from concept to publication. I've written a few short stories and novellas in that time as well, and started several projects. So, you can see that the timeline really varies depending on my life, my priorities, and the project itself.
Besides dealing with less-than-desirable creative atmospheres and life-interruptions, there is a host of tasks a published author has to complete in order to maintain even a modicum of success. I wasn't so naive before I published to think all I had to do was hit "submit" and my publisher would take care of everything. I had been to writing conferences and I thought I knew what to expect, but nothing could prepare me for the myriad of hats I've had to wear in the past year. Allow me to give you a glimpse.
My first book was published August 2017 by a small indie press, Phase Publishing, LLC. I love working with them, they take care of their writers very well with favorable contracts and plenty of advice for making it in the publishing world. But besides that, they don't do much in the way of marketing my books, which is becoming more and more common in traditional publishing. So, I've scheduled all of my own book signings and had to take advantage of local events. I've sent out my own newsletter to email subscribers and run a "street team" to help with releases and promotions.
I, essentially, have become a marketer. I have to think like a marketer. It is fun to learn, but definitely doesn't come naturally to me and I have to spend precious time (which could be spent writing), putting myself and my books out there because otherwise I become invisible.
Writers are interesting creatures. They are often introverts. They have a difficult time talking about their work on a good day, not because they don't know how to explain it, but because they have to deal with another person's expectations and expend energy being out in a crowd. I am fortunate enough to be one of the rare extroverted writers. I get my energy from being at writing conferences and selling my book at farmers markets and expos. It's FUN to talk about my book to readers and fellow writers! But, again, the aspect of selling is something I've had to study up on and learn how to do so I can be successful when I go to an event, and many writers don't anticipate how much "selling" they're actually going to have to do.
In addition, writers have to learn about sales tax and business licenses and all sorts of legal things, especially if they are self-published. I've learned how to price my books so I can make a good profit, and how to calculate whether an endeavor will make a good return on investment (ROI). I am currently in the place of barely making a profit with my writing, and it's really made possible by my freelance article writing work. People I know often ask me how writing is going, and whether my book is "successful". I tell them yes, despite the fact that my royalty check from last month was small change, because successful means more than just money to me, and I understand that that first book I published was an investment in a long-term game.
The truth of it is, unless you're picked up by a "Big Five" publishing company (one of the top five publishers in the industry), AND you're a "big fish" in that pond, it's unlikely that writing alone will pay your bills until you have a back list filled with books, and even that's not a guarantee. Getting noticed in the saturated book market takes an enormous amount of effort and business savvy. There are always the lucky few, but I wouldn't recommend going into this industry counting on that being how it works out for you. Expect to work hard. Expect to edit and revise and edit and revise again. Expect to spend enormous amounts of time working with editors, attending events, marketing online, setting up your business, paying taxes, emailing book bloggers, and browsing Facebook groups and online forums for success tips.
Just remember to carve out time in all of this to do the one thing you love to do most of all: write. Write the next book. Otherwise, it becomes easy to forget why you're doing all of the hard stuff, and you'll start to wonder if it's even worth it.
Writing isn't glamorous most of the time, but it has its moments. Like when you sell a book to someone who doesn't know you. Or a fan emails you for the first time to tell you how much they loved your book. Or you read a new 5-star review on Amazon. Or when you're at an event and get to meet an author you idolize and have a normal conversation with them about writing and realize that you're equals now. If not in profit or fame, then at least in status as published authors. And it's really neat when they ask what you write and take a note so they can add your book to their "to read" list. Being asked to present to a group of writers and realizing that you actually have something to say.
It's incredible when you hit your stride in the plot of the book you're writing, and manage to double your word count that day. Or when you finish the story you've spent months working on. And the feeling you get when you open that box and hold your published book in your hands for the first time is amazing.
If being famous, having your book on a bookstore shelf, or making loads of money is why you're a writer, more power to you. But unless you love writing and can't imagine your life without it, "published author" probably isn't the career for you. It's that love for what you do that will carry you through the most difficult times: the times when your royalty check comes back at $2. The times when you get 1-star reviews. The times when your latest marketing efforts bomb big time and don't bring the return you were hoping for. The times when you're discouraged and just want to quit. You can crawl back to your computer and remind yourself that this part, the writing part, is for you, and no one else has to see it until you decide, and you take a deep breath and dive back into the world and the characters you've created.
I write because I love it. The whole process, even the hard bits, is worth it in the end.
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.