Tuesday, April 25, 2017

So You Think You Can Author

Coming out of a rather long blog hiatus -- same old story. Been super busy with all kinds of things meaning I barely have time for any of the extras, including this blog. Social media? Pft. Pretty sure my computer can't remember how to find facebook. Speaking of computer, mine died, and I'm currently working on my slow-as-shit five year old laptop which hasn't worked the same since it was sneak attacked by the Windows 10 update.
All these things aside, there have been some very exciting things happening behind the scenes, but until they're confirmed, my lips are staying sealed.
But, for some reason, all these happenings have made me a little introspective, leading me to remember why I wanted to be an author in the first place. Would I have still wanted to go ahead with it if I'd known exactly what I was getting myself into? Probably. Ah, who am I kidding. I totally would have still gone through with it, coz I'm stubborn to the point of stupidity.
So, in the interest of putting my experience to use, I decided to compile this list of reality checks for anyone thinking of becoming an author.

#1 - I wanna be famous, bitches. 




Oh sure. This is the hot track to being a Z-grade celebrity. The paparazzi just can't get enough... of everyone else. Last week I walked a red carpet (actually it was red with some blues and greens and golds... it was a really ugly hall runner at a doctor's office. But I totally worked it in my torn jeans, T-shirt that had Vegemite stains on it from grubby toddler fingers and my hair in a messy bun that hadn't been brushed in about two days.)
But look at JK Rowling, George RR Martin, Stephanie Meyer. They're living the dream. Yes, they are, but for 99.9999999% of all other authors, the best you can hope for to gain that kind of notoriety is to piss off a high-profile reviewer or two on certain social media sites that shall remain unspoken and then get trolled for few months. Of course, the cost of that might be any other book you ever write, but if you're in this for the fame, then I guess you technically got what you wanted.
If fame is your only goal, then you'd probably be better off auditioning for the next season of RuPaul's Drag Race or The Bachelortte. At least that way you might end up with more than a thousand twitter followers.

#2 - Dolla dolla bill, ya'll.




Money. Who doesn't like money? Apparently 75% of authors. Hah. We don't need money. We're starving for our art, living on red wine and baguettes like this is Paris in the 1920s.
Seriously, if you want to make money from writing, then get a job writing instructional manuals or political press releases. The likelihood of making a living from your books is getting harder and harder every year. Who can be surprised when something like 5 million books were published last year alone? There are only so many readers out there, and they don't seem to have much more money than authors.
Yes, there are pool of traditionally published authors who can live off their sales, but because of market saturation (among other factors) this small pool of authors is shrinking.
Of course, there are plenty of accounts out there of self-published authors making piles of money, but from what I've seen, it's either luck, or they're social media buffs and the hours they work to make that money requires a huge amount of commitment. Want to work ten to twelve hours a day, seven days a week? Want to churn out eight or ten books a year? Then sure, you'll probably make a bucket load of money. And I'm not knocking people who do this if that makes them happy. Personally I like having a life outside of my computer screen and that's part of my over all career and life choice.

#3 - I love giving shit away for free. Here, take my kidney. 



Pirates. And not the fun kind that say "arrrgh me hearties!" Some authors have committed half their life to campaigning against those who illegally share and download books for free. Some authors stay out of it with the old "I'm just one person, what can I do?" While some authors have gone so far as to argue that pirates are actually good for their sales. Whatever the case, the pirates aren't going away any time soon. Personally, I'm on the fence, but only because my opinion on this swings depending on my mood and what kind of bills I have sitting on my desk. Sometimes  I think "it's great that people are even reading my books and love them, even if they didn't buy them."
Other times, when I need money for something and don't have it, I think if every person who'd downloaded one of my books for free even paid half of what my publisher sells them for, then I could pay for my kid to go to the dentist this week. Whether you hate them or accept them, pirates come with the job description. You just have to learn to live with the fact that somewhere, someone out there is giving your shit away for free.

#4 - I just want to get hit in the face over and over again for like ten years. 




When you were younger, did you ever say to yourself "I want to do a job where people constantly judge me. Where I get told over and over that I'm not good enough. I want to do a job where I'm totally alone and the only one who actually believes in me is me. I want my friends and family to be completely baffled by me and continually ask why anyone would do this to themselves. I want to spend half my life interacting with people in my head and get no medication for it. And I want to do it for free! Where can I sign up?"
Of course, I'm talking about traditional publishing. Sure, if that sounds too hard, then you can now chuck up the first thing you ever wrote on Amazon and wait for the cash to roll in (see point #2). Of course, if anyone ever found the first book (or ever first four books) I wrote, I would sell my own mother before admitting they were mine because they were that bad, even though I was under the delusion for years that they were awesome and I would soon be a best selling author.
It took me almost ten years to get published with even a small, barely known publishing house (that subsequently shut its doors) and then get an agent. Of course, I'm still small potatoes. My publisher isn't considered one of the "big 5." That's a target I'm still aiming for.
When I wrote my first book, I probably would have sat in a corner and cried for days if I'd been told it would take sixteen years (and counting) to get that "big 5" contract. I've never counted all of my rejections, both from publishing houses and agents, but it'd easily be over 300.
Even once you get that validation via your book being published, you'll still get stomped on. Some readers will hate your books. And they'll have no qualms about telling the Internet. If you're really lucky, they'll use gifs and memes to ram home their point of how much your book was like poking themselves in the eye with a spork over and over. So if you enjoy getting told "get lost, loser" on a regular basis, then being an author is definitely the right job for you.

#5 There's a book inside me. Please, God, somebody cut it out.




There are people talking inside your head. You walk around constantly narrating your own life. "As she washed the dishes, her fingers became all wrinkled and prune-like, and she realized it was an apt reflection of her failed hopes and dreams." Stories explode out of you randomly and with force like a geyser, so violent that it's starting to effect your employment, relationships, and sleep. You write fan fiction and hide it from your family like you've got a shameful addiction to drinking Hershey's chocolate syrup straight from the bottle.
This has always been my problem (the story part, not the Hershey's chocolate syrup. That's a whole other issue), and it started while I was still a teenager. I had stories inside me, but I was too young and naive to realize that by giving into these urges, I was effectively boarding a roller coaster that I could never, ever get off.
It's a cliche, but some people say writing is in their blood, and this has been true of me. Writing is more than a compulsion, it's like it's in my DNA. It's not a choice about whether or not I do it. It's more a fact of when, where, and how. Even if for some reason I decide to stop publishing, I just know that I'll still be writing stories to the day I die.
This is why despite years of rejections, despite the fact I'm still not making a living from this gig after sixteen years, why I don't go all cyber-rage over the fact that people download my books for free -- the fame I could take or leave -- despite all this, I'm still here doing this and hopefully will be for a good, long time.

Still here? Didn't run screaming into the night at the horror? No matter your reasons for wanting to be an author, and if you only take one thing away from this, then make sure it's the part about the roller coaster, because it's a pretty accurate depiction. You'll have the highest of highs and lowest of lows. You'll be scared, you'll be excited, you'll be happy, depressed and everything else in between.
And if I can pass on a single piece of advice, then that is something I heard Jennifer St George talk about at an RWA conference about seven or eight years ago. She said if you spend long enough in this industry, then everything will happen to you at least once. Your publisher will close down. You'll find yourself out of contract. You'll get glowing reviews. You'll get horrible reviews that will make you question every word you've ever written. And so much more.
So far, I've found this to be pretty accurate and reminding myself of this has definitely helped me through some very hard times and choices, including my first publisher closing its doors.
And now I'm going to finish by quoting an Aussie hip hop group, the Hilltop Hoods:
"See the haters under rate us and this status takes years. But it ain't where we're at, it's how we made our way here."

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