Saturday, July 19, 2014

Encouragement for Aspiring Writers

I discovered On Writing by Stephen King shortly after it was released about sixteen years ago. I'd never liked his novels, because I hated his genre. (I'd discover later he wrote many great stories, like the ones behind the movies Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me) But I'll never forget he advice he gave in the beginning of the book. If I wanted to be a writer, I needed to write a thousand words a day, and I needed to be reading and writing, in some form, 4-6 hours a day. If I wasn't willing to do that, I would never become a writer. Writers write, and writers read.

I took the advice to heart, and for the past twenty years or so, I've pretty much kept to that schedule, the only exception being the two years after my first(and only) literary agent abruptly stopped calling me back or contacting me. The devastation of that rejection took a long time to recede. But, as King said, writers write. And I was a writer. By that time I'd worked as a youth worker for a number of years, as well as a plethora of low paying jobs like telemarketing, door-to-door sales, and retail. At the time, it didn't matter, because I was a writer first, even if I was only getting paid for a few articles here and there.

As the years wore on, I remained as steadfast as ever, and kept to the schedule. But I started to get more finicky. (Consistent rejection will do that.) I even finished an entire book, and refused to send out a SINGLE QUERY. Not one. Finally, in 2008, I started Second Blood, an epic fantasy. Many of the books I'd written in the past were thrillers, but when it was done well, nothing beat a comfy chair and a good medieval yarn. I'd begun to doubt the literary gods would ever see fit to give me another magical phone call from the Captains of the Industry, so I figured I might as well write the type of book I loved to read.

The first two years were exciting. I could feel it coming together. With help from my writing friends, I felt satisfied with my work and sent it away. I'd spent a full month crafting the query letter, knowing that I only had a 0.4% chance of being asked for pages. I waited anxiously. Within a few days, the emails began to come, and every time I opened one that held "RE: QUERY, Second Blood" in the subject line, my stomach did a little dance. Some agencies wrote me back, some didn't bother, but they were all form rejections. Not a single personal note. (A sign of interest)

Even accepting my bias, I'd thought my book to be as well written as many I'd read on the market, so I kept trying, revising and editing until my fingers could hardly form a fist and my eyes were blurry from the strain of the monitor. Every year I sent out new queries. Every year I wrote a new synopsis. Every year I received a resounding NO from the Captains of the Industry (Really, it was probably a college student working as an assistant editor with one eye on her phone. Unsolicited queries are slush piles.)

for five years this pattern continued, and during that time I never considered publishing the book myself. "Vanity" publishing was for people unwilling to walk the hard paths, the ones who weren't good enough. it never occurred to me that luck and knowing people in the industry mattered as much or more than talent. My arrogance rested on my naivete.

(I'm not always a pompous jackass,
 but when I am, I prefer Dos Equis)


I came across Wool, by Hugh Howey, and everything changed, even as the industry began to shift. Self-
published books were no longer the field of vain lawyers writing yet another self-important memoir. The discrepancy between what the publishers charged and royalties paid to writers (about 1$ for a 15$ trade) was shifting the playing field. So were e-readers. Amazon tapped into the market first, and soon writers were uploading their stories, and charging customers a fraction of the price they'd have paid in the bookstore. And the writers were finally (let all gods be praised) making money, even though the books themselves were being sold for a fraction of the price.

This past January I started to seriously considering publishing my work myself. It'd long been known that most writers had to market their own work anyway, even through a traditional publisher. I investigated for months, reading different sites, combing for information.

And as of now, it would be insane for me to consider pursuing a traditional publisher. In the next few months, I'll publish Second Blood Part I. And while I'm hard at work finishing the edit to Part III, I've also started two other novels, both urban fantasies. Knowing that I am not going to have to scale a wall to get my work out has changed everything. I'm turned forty a couple of years ago, and in the traditional route, that's a bit old to think about having a writing career. But now? Well now, I have to write. And read. And write some more. The work is going out, and I need to be ready.

These days, I've upped my words ante to 3000 a day. Plus this blog. Plus the social media activity. It's a lot, but for the first time in many years I'm excited about the process again. I'm excited about sharing my work. And I'm excited that I might be able to provide a little more for my family. Be encouraged my friends, Stephen King was right.

Writers write.

Writers read.

And now, writers publish.


NOTE: For my writing friends, self-publishing sensation Hugh Howey has a great blog. Here's his post on his advice to young writers. And JAKonrath has a great blog as well.