All of us dreamers with a wifi connection, an idea, and enough time to type out a few words can be now authors. This predicament is personally inspiring and collectively terrifying. A person can make their voice heard, get their story out into the public, but how many of those voices are incoherent babbling?
There is an invisible rope snare laying in wait for the would-be self-published author, many wander into it unawares and then dangle until giving up. One musters up the courage to write the story and publish it only to have it flounder. But why? Why do the vast majority of self-published authors never earn a cent from their writing?
An obvious answer is that the market is flooded by wannabes telling semi-realized stories riddled with grammatical errors and inefficient (or non-existent) marketing. But every author was a wannabe at some point, those who have “made it” did not wake up one morning with a fresh bestseller under their pillow (Nicholas Sparks might be an exception).
To be a professional in anything isn’t easy; dogged persistence is ineffectual if the skills are lacking and talent can seep away if effort isn’t applied. Professional writers work hard on their stories, endeavoring to create something that rings true, a clear note within the cacophony. My trek towards professionalism is still in progress but I can offer some personal insight from my experience of writing a novel with regards to the trap of “good enough.”
- Inexperience—It’s difficult to write an amazing story when one hasn’t spent much time writing. So write! Jot down ideas. Take notes. Try out short stories, poems, essays, novels, blogs, diary entries, etc until the act of not writing feels unnatural. A professional athlete makes it to the big leagues by spending hours upon hours honing their skills so why would becoming a professional writer be any different? Read from different genres and different styles, look for what makes different authors unique. All of this effort aids in creating your own style—no one will believe the words you put down if you don’t believe in them first.
- Discipline—Habits. We all fall into patterns that are eventually perceived as the way things are, blinding us to the fact that they are changeable. You, I, the next person you see, are all mostly water—we flow along the path of least resistance at every opportunity. Unfortunately, most times the easy route does not end in a book deal. Habits are stubborn little critters and often need to be actively altered. When you’re absently clicking through the internet and feel the jolt of an idea or the pang of “I should be writing” then start scribbling/clicking away. When you feel like there’s no time to write then make time. Nobody can lie to you better than you can, but luckily you know your own tricks (or can learn them).
- Fear of Rejection—Writing is personal and it can be scary to share with others, but sharing is a crucial threshold that needs to be crossed. Find a supportive network that is open to discussing ideas and if you trust the opinion of individuals within this network then share your writing with them. As a writer you need to discover what aspects of your story/style is working and what can be improved. This detail is key: you are not your art. Learn how to accept criticism. The critique is of your art, a creation separate from you as a person, something that can be altered and shaped in any number of ways.
- Overexcitement—The desire to “get it out there.” Rushing the process in pursuit of the dream, which results in a story not being ready to hang with the heavyweights. Don’t skip steps because publishing is only a few clicks away. Do your homework, make a plan, put in the extra behind the scenes effort
- Hire a Professional—Sometimes an opinion other than that of your unfalteringly supportive best friend is required. Hire a professional when you’re ready to make the jump from amateur to professional (you might not succeed but the odds are tilted more in your favor). Editors are book magicians, it is literally their job to make your story as good as possible. People do judge books by the cover so get an artist. Be thorough, check around, ask plenty of questions before choosing which professional to go with.
- Relax—Writing is fun! You love to write. You’re in charge. This project is yours, do what you want with it. When you’re ready, let it go. Art isn’t meant to be perfect or timeless, trying to attain subjective ideals like this can drive a person insane. Be awesome (way more fun than perfect).
- Ask Yourself Tough Questions—Everything I’ve described is meaningless without this step. The most important part of DIY is the yourself. Why are you writing? What are you writing? What are you goals? What is your view of success? Is your story realistically comparable to similar titles in the genre? How can it be made better? How do you respond to criticism? Be objective about your story whenever possible (remember, it’s not you, it’s of you). If you’re going to DIY then you better make sure that the project turns out the way you want. I’ve found that satisfaction in this regard is directly associated with excuses. Less excuses=more satisfaction.
There are entire books written on this topic and various self-described gurus out there who claim to be able to guide an author to success. This blog is by no means a replacement for those resources. I understand there is no clear path to becoming a professional writer but I think the seven above mentioned items have validity. My list is not exhaustive or overly detailed (attention spans: yours and mine). I can go into more detail if anyone is interested and would love to hear any tips other writers have to share.