Any writer will tell you how hard it is to be published traditionally. In fact, other writers relish telling the horrors of their literary adventures. Go to any crowded writer's conference and make an off-handed comment about pitching, querying, or general discouragement in the vein of getting published and several people will be more than happy to commiserate with you. Publishing becomes this mystical thing that may only be obtained under the most superstitious and rare of circumstances. Because it's so difficult, once the goal is achieved there's a belief that every subsequent action will seem easy by comparison. If it's so hard to get there, the rest will be a breeze. Right? RIGHT?
Not so much.
Getting over the hurdle of being published is an accomplishment that should be celebrated. It's a rush I will never forget. But as I look back, I realize I had unrealistic expectations of what it meant. I'd quit the day job, crank out three wonderful books a year, and tolerate speaking engagements with Ellen. She'd laugh at my wit. We'd become best friends and bond over our love of animals and quirky humor. Then Tina Fey and Amy Pohler would join the party and we'd create the most gut busting tribute to feminism ever.
For the benefit of others dreaming of their fast track to the best seller list and all that comes with it, here are some of my own myths that have been busted after publishing.
I Can Quit the Day Job
False. My best advice to anyone who wants to be a professional novelist: Find a day job you love.
The median income for a traditionally published author is around $4,000. It takes a while to gain that much traction. After the costs of ordering my boxes of books, paying for online advertising, taking classes, and other writerly activities, I haven't seen a royalty check in my first year. Most of my sales are online, and while the volume isn't bad, the royalties are small. I've considered trying to ghost write or query articles, but it isn't for me. I make more money as an analyst and can afford to hire people to help me with things like marketing and cleaning, giving me more time to write.
It's beyond rare to hit the jackpot with the first published book. It happens, but most of us begin our publishing journey with a book that goes largely unnoticed. Then we spend the next several years promoting the crap out of it while trying to write new masterpieces. These things are even harder to do when you have a job you hate. You'll need to work. Either find something that will give you flexibility to work on your writing, edits, and marketing, or find something you love. It doesn't matter if you love the product, enjoy the people, or like working for a cause - what matters is that you go home with energy instead of feeling drained.
Writing Becomes Easier
False. Writing is an artistic action that requires the participant to be willing to make mistakes. If you spend your time typing and deleting because the words aren't good enough, you'll never finish a book. I've found this to be especially true with a series. Not only do I worry about creating a story that is good enough, I worry about spending enough time on characters that my readers enjoy. I worry about making readers hate a character I love. I worry about my excessive usage of the words his, her, it, and was. All of these things crank through my head as I stare at the page, and it slows the words down.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and I think it will get better. Eventually. Sometimes I manage to shut off the critic and the words fly. Too often, I spend an hour moving around sentences that could be spent getting the rough motions of a scene on the page. I know my writing quirks. It slows me down. But I'm becoming a better writer. Subsequent drafts are better.
I Can Lock Myself Away to Write
False. Writing in a vacuum is a bad thing. It's so crucial to get feedback on a story to see if it works for other people. Beyond that, having a system of support is critical. Whether it's celebrating over beer and bacon or strategizing over Google Hangouts or an impromptu pitch workshop in my living room, interacting with other writers keeps me going.
The Marketing is Done for Me
False. (This made me laugh hard enough to worry the dog.)
Marketing should begin before you ever get a book out the door. Want to be published? Make a website and start learning about social media now. Start with one platform at a time, but start early. By the time your book is out the door, you should know which social media platforms your demographic uses the most and be able to use them. I should be posting to Facebook and Instagram a couple times per day. Twitter is more frequent. I blog once a week and post a podcast weekly. All of those things take a lot of time (about an hour and a half per day).
Those are just online interactions. The in person stuff involves approaching bookstores to carry books and inquiring at venues for readings. Then there's mobilizing readers to review my books, request them in bookstores and libraries, and help expand my reader base organically.
How to Get Ahead
Listen to podcasts like The Self Publishing Podcast, Nerdist Writer's Panel, Writer 2.0, and Helping Writers Become Authors. Check out Nick Stevenson and his books on promotion. Follow your favorite authors on social media and take notes on what you do and don't like. Whether you're traditionally published, hybrid published, or self-published, we can all learn a lot from other authors who are successful. Even the famous authors have to put in their time interacting with the public.
Just because getting published is hard doesn't mean it's not worth it. The best things in life are worth fighting for, and following your passion is no exception.