So You Want to be an Author


No, seriously, why? The question is probably more important than you realize.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” ― Lou Holtz

As an author, I’ve faced innumerable challenges to get as far as I have with no end in sight. Criticism and rejections, grueling hours of solitary work, slow publisher/agent query response times, heavy competition for a small number of opportunities and just plain old self-doubt stand in the path of everyone who wants to be published ― particularly if they want to be traditionally published. There are many would-be novelists who never finish a story because of middle-act troubles. True some of those problems are with the writing itself, some nagging little voice telling you that you’ve written yourself into a corner, but I think most often the people who toss their baby part way through do so because of their motivations for writing. So why do we want to endure all this?

In my quest to become a published author I’ve attended many writing panels. Often, someone will ask those that are already what I aspire to be for their best advice. The panelist will tell them to run, not walk away from a life of writing. It’ll get the intended laugh, but as one point I stopped to really examine the advice. Writing alone is a lot of hard work. Being rejected or criticized can quickly break down burgeoning self-confidence. The long waits to hear back, often just to get rejected are maddening. All of which seem like pretty good reasons to follow the advice and run away for happier pastimes. So, why do you want to face all this?

“I want to be rich!”

Getting rich doesn’t happen overnight except in rare cases. Lightning does strike, right? J. K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyers, Christopher Paolini, how many more names do you know just suddenly exploded from obscurity into the mainstream? Better question, how many more didn’t? I’m pretty sure you’ve got better odds of winning the lottery twice.  Sure there are other names that did it through hard work and persistence, check out Stephen King’s On Writing [one of my favorites] for how he made it the hard way, but keep in mind all the mid-list writers that never quit their day jobs. As the publishing industry has changed, the open slots for new writers have diminished, and according to a New York Times best-selling author I spoke with, those advance checks have shrank for everyone including the pros.

“They’ll make a movie of my book!”

Yeah, great. I’ll do another article later about how options work, but suffice to say good luck on getting a movie option when you’re unknown. Better yet, good luck that they’ll do more than hold that option. An aspiring author needs readers. They seldom come pounding on your door after just one book. Everything I’ve learned indicates it takes 3 to 5 years and many works to build up even a base readership. Problem is, in today’s fierce book market, the book buyers will buy progressively fewer books each time you come out with something. [I’ll write about the mid-list death spiral later.]

There are other ways to build an audience: blogs, appearances, social media, self-publish sales and giveaways, but usually these are still long roads to test your perseverance. If I figure out a shortcut, I’ll let you know.

So what is our motivation here if not money? Fame? Well, that one works pretty much the same as money. You want to quit your day job? The idea of being an unemployed freelancer when even NYT best-selling authors have books turned down by traditional publishers they’ve sold with for years downright terrifies me, but so does skydiving so enjoy your jump.

“I want to share my brilliance with the world!”

Okay, I’m with you on this one ― the sharing part at least. This motivation isn’t a bad one. It might be enough to get you through to the end of that novel you’ve been thinking about for ten years. Of course, it might also have you throwing it up on Amazon a longtime before it’s actually ready. In my case, it helped me rationalize paying to have one of my early pieces (of trash) by a less than righteous publishing group. [Money should always flow toward the writer. If you really want to be an author, be sure to check out Writer Beware.] Sharing opens us up to criticism and rejection. Without a rhinoceros skin and a stubborn streak to rival the Grand Canyon, a desire to share might not be enough.

“Because it’ll be fun!!”

Fun is worth two exclamation points. Telling stories is fun, but we don’t have to be published to tell stories. Being an author definitely can be fun ― as well as intimidating, lonely and downright terrifying on occasion. I’ve gotten to meet (and occasionally fanboy) many professional authors. It’s a blast, but they’ve all been wonderful, approachable people that you could’ve met as a reader. Trust me, for an author, readers are the best candy…wrapped in gold…surrounded by a divine aura with accompanying angelic music. The first year I had books open for public consumption was wonderful right up until I realized that my maybe 10 readers ― the wrapped candy ones I never want to disappoint ― wanted sequels the following year…and every year until the end of time (or a given series.)

“Okay, Mister GloomDoom, why?”

Does seem like I’m trying to discourage you, doesn’t it? Well, remember that advice about running away as fast as you can? It’s really good advice. It just didn’t work for me. I know. I tried, over and over. Your why will be yours, and for you it might be enough, but I’m hoping you find your motivation for being an author similar to mine. No matter how many times I quit writing, closed my laptop and soaked my sorrows in video game blood, I couldn’t not write. The stories kept coming. The dream of sitting on those panels with my long time heroes just flatly refused to die.

Why then?

It’s who I am. It’s fun. Sharing is glorious, and money isn’t bad if it happens ― though I’d personally rather not offer Hollywood a chance to butcher one of my novels. I can’t stop. I didn’t run early enough or fast enough. I’ve caught the disease. I’ve fallen prey to the obsession. I simply cannot not chase this dream. It’s its own divine light and chorus in my core driving me like a cold-fusion reactor through to the end of every book, to every nerve-wrackingly-glorious convention, through every grueling revision and sequel.

Understanding the goals, motivations and conflicts of a given character are critical to writing them well. I’ve outlined some of the conflicts for you, but you need to determine the goals and motivations driving the most important, if quirky, character of your story ― you. Your dreams (goals) and the motivations that compel you to become an author are a big part of your future success.  If you can’t figure them out, try quitting. I double-drahn dare you. If you can really quit, then go enjoy the video game blood. If not, I’ll see you on the panels.


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