So what do we do to get the pressure to let up?
1) Realize the "rush" is an illusion
If you're feeling pressure to rush, remember it's all in your head, like my "ironclad deadline."
Yes, at the beginning of the e-publishing revolution, some of the biggest self-publishing gurus said stuff like "every day your book isn't published, you're losing money." I think the gurus intended to speak to traditionally-published mid-listers who had out-of-print backlists.
Unfortunately, it became a mantra for all the beginning writers with practice novels in their files.
Whatever the reason for the advice, it's not wise to follow it any more. The "bubble" in which the random amateur's 99-cent self-pubbed ebook could make the big time has deflated
You're probably making better money working at the coffee place than what most writers make
, even if they're traditionally published, so if you're writing because you're pressed for cash, choose another profession. It takes years to build the readership that can provide you with a living wage.
2) Get lots of feedback
There are many ways to get free feedback before you get to the editing stage, as we detailed in our August posts on editing
, critique groups
, and beta readers
. Most of them didn't exist when I was starting out. There are now online critique groups and beta reader connection sites. There's also self-editing software. Use whatever technique works for you, but don't write in a vacuum.
Another great innovation is story-sharing sites like Wattpad
. Some of the work on those sites is polished, professional stuff by well-known authors. (Long-time trad-pubbed author Elizabeth S. Craig has taken to Wattpad with good results
.) But a lot of the writing on these sites comes from beginning writers who are still learning their craft. It's a way to be read and find fans while you're in that awkward stage I was in for so long.
If you're looking to go the traditional publishing route, preparing your manuscript by using any of these may be all you need to polish your work for an agent. In fact, some agents have picked up books right off Wattpad
I have to stifle myself when I see comments from new writers who say they won't use a beta reader or editor, and they won't even query an agent because, "I'm not going to change a word of my novel for anybody. I write to please myself, not follow a bunch of phony rules."
Then they lament that agents or reviewers won't "give them a chance."
These people are deliberately choosing to remain amateurs and not enter the professional marketplace. Not that there's anything wrong with that. As I have blogged before, writing can be a wonderful hobby
But for goodness' sake don't take up the time of agents, acquisitions editors, or reviewers with raw, unedited stuff you're not willing to work on.
I'm not saying you should change your book after every comment you get from a reviewer or critiquer. Far from it: you should ignore most of it
. And even professional editors can fail to "get" every kind of writing. But do be aware that readers have expectations, and if you want to be read, you need to write for the contemporary reader, not just your own ego.
Musicians need to learn to master their instruments. Truckers need to learn to drive big rigs. Golfers need to learn to swing a club. Writers need to learn to craft words and sentences into a story. Learning takes time.
3) Practice, practice, practice
Easy self-publishing doesn't mean the learning process has been shortened. Learning to write narrative takes way longer than most people realize. (It took me about a decade longer than I expected.)
Self-publishing guru Kristine Kathryn Rusch
put it this way:
"Do you remember how much work you had to do to learn how to read a novel? It took you years to get to “big” books of more than 20 pages...It’s much easier to read a novel than it is to write one. Why do you think that writing a good one is possible on the very first try? If you want overnight success, this is not the profession for you. If you want a writing career, then learn it... It takes practice, practice, practice, learning, learning, learning, and patience, patience, patience.
And the wonderful Kristen Lamb
also reminds us of this a lot. She often points out that Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours
equal pretty much the length of time it takes to write three books. (That's how many polished novels I had before I got my first publisher.)
" ...all you indie/self-pub authors who put your first book up for sale and you haven’t sold enough copies to buy tacos? Keep writing. 10,000 hours. 3 books. Traditional authors? Three books. Rare is the exception."
4) Write and publish short fiction and creative essays
Remember you get great practice from writing short stories, essays, and novellas. They are the best way to get yourself noticed now and they'll be a goldmine later on. One of the biggest regrets of my career is that I spent so much time working on unpublishable novels instead of short pieces that would be valuable to me now.
Short fiction is having a renaissance
and we should all be writing more of it. (I have an article on this coming in the November issue of Writer's Digest
Short stories and creative nonfiction pieces are easier to get published and you may even get paid or win a money prize. Which can get all those pressuring voices in your head to shut up.
This can include guest blog posts, which will get your name known and make you Googleable: all-important in the digital age.
5) Learn the business
We don't just need to learn to craft book-length narrative, which involves a steep learning curve. We also also need to be savvy about the business we're trying to enter. These days, being an author means not only knowing how to write, but understanding the business of publishing as it exists NOW. (As I say above, this can mean different things depending on how you publish, but every business path has rules.)
For all of you who are screaming "No! No! I just want to write. I'm not going to corrupt my soul with any of that crass commercialism," scroll up to my link to the post on writing as a hobby.
You're choosing to be an amateur. Many happy writers have good reasons for writing for recreation rather than business. Just be clear on your goals.
I wasn't. I queried for years without having a clue about genre or where my books would fit in the marketplace. I was firmly entrenched in the delusion that somebody could "just write" and be a professional author.
I knew you couldn't run a restaurant and "just cook" or a own a dress shop and "just buy pretty clothes." But I didn't want to accept that writing is a business.
So now I'm grateful that all my rotten queries got rejected. Even when I got those seven rejections in one day.
This is the simple truth: we have to become professionals before we join an industry. Any industry.
This post isn't meant to discourage anybody. It's meant to urge you to learn to be the best writer you can be—so you can have that career you've always dreamed of—not one unpolished book languishing in agents' slush piles or on book retail sites, unwanted and unloved.
You owe it to your book to do it right.
What about you, Scriveners? Do you feel pressured to get published? Did you self-publish before you were ready? Have you decided to be a happy amateur and leave all those pressures behind? If you're farther along in your career, what advice do you have for newbies who feel the pressure to publish before they have several books ready to go?
BOOKS OF THE WEEK
I got a crash course in the publishing business when my first novel, Food of Love
was accepted by a small UK publisher in 2001. Not only did I have to learn about promoting my own books, but I was invited to live and work with the company, which was located in the English Midlands, near the legendary Sherwood Forest. The setting and colorful cast of characters provided the perfect backdrop for a mystery novel. That novel became Sherwood Ltd.,
published by MWiDP in 2011. It is now available in a brand new e-edition, from Kotu Beach Press.
This second book in the Camilla Randall Mysteries follows Camilla's hilarious misadventures with merry band of outlaw indie publishers in the English Midlands. Always a magnet for murder, mischief and Mr. Wrong, she falls for a self-styled Robin Hood who may or may not be trying to kill her. It follows Ghostwriters in the Sky, but can be read as a stand-alone.
I like this book. I REALLY like this book. It's not yer typical whodunnit, nor is the protagonist anything like a cop. Ms. Allen has crafted a wily tale of murder, deceit, and intrigue that can stand with the best of them. Her characters are all too real and her dialogue took me from laughter to chills to suspicion of everybody in the book. Good on her! Editorially, the book is also refreshingly well-done and all but devoid of grammatical or other such gaffes. This was obviously written by an intelligent woman who is also a fine story-teller. My congratulations to her...David H. Keith
And TA-DA!!! NO PLACE LIKE HOME IS NOW IN PAPERBACK.
It's #4 in the Camilla Randall series, but it's easily read as a stand-alone. Set in the gorgeous wine country around San Luis Obispo, it's what one reviewer called
"A fun, witty and charming novel about the rich and the less so."
Amazon has it on sale right now for $10.79 and £5.99