Saturday, August 13, 2011

Reality Check: The Truth About Writing

When I first began writing six years ago, I thought it would be a miracle to finish the novel I was working on at that time. I was surprised to discover that writing the first draft of a book was easier than I thought, for me at least. I had the main idea emblazoned in my mind and could see the events unfold as if I were watching the movie. I was excited. I thought I'd be the next Stephen King! I was naive.

Editing that first book was a lesson in perseverance. I'd never edited anything that big in my life and spent several weeks just trying to determine how to tackle the monumental task. I'd grown lazy. I would look at the stack of printed pages and wonder how I could possibly get through it all. Then I would walk away, turn on the TV, and leave my worries in the room with my manuscript.

I eventually finished editing the book. As of this post, it's still not 100% complete. I gave it to my wife to read and received a lot of constructive criticism. My wife is brutally honest about my writing, but she's also my biggest fan. Despite the flaws in my writing that make me sound mildly retarded, she still loves me and it makes me love her all the more.

Since that first book, I've written three more books--many still waiting for their first editorial pass--and loads of short stories. I always daydreamed of sending out my manuscripts to agents, publishers reading what I'd written, and receiving that elusive book deal that would set me on the path to join the ranks of famously successful authors. I was naive.

I followed blogs of literary agents, editors, publishers, and other established authors in hopes of gleaning all the knowledge about the industry as I could. I read books on the craft of writing and discussed the semantics of writing and grammar with my wife, an English professor. I read voraciously, both in my genre and more broadly. I read the classics that I had neglected to read in high school when I thought I had better things to do than read. I tried to be a sponge, soaking up as much knowledge about reading and writing and publishing as I could manage. After polishing my short stories--often running them though nine or more revision cycles following the input of my beta readers--I sent them off to print magazines who were looking for stories like mine. I was giddy and confident in the submission stage. I received my share of rejection. Too many, in fact. I was naive.

After subscribing to many different magazines and reading what they chose to publish, I began to grow callous and convinced that the editors wouldn't recognize good writing if their lives depended on it. I pushed those toxic thoughts aside still convinced that they were true. I tried to convince myself of the opposite. Writing is very subjective. Some people absolutely love heavy hitters like James Patterson and Stephen King as evidenced by their millions of dollars. I'm convinced either of them could publish their laundry list and it would land them on the best-sellers list. I've read books by famous authors that went counter to many things I'd learned about what not to do in your writing. How could that be? How could their book get published by disregarding some of these most basic rules? I learned that when you've built a loyal following and have a good track record under your belt, editors tend to be more lenient with your work. You have more creative say so. I was naive.

A couple of my stories managed to find homes in a few magazines. I continued to follow what was happening in the publishing industry, feeling that if I didn't hurry and create my masterpiece to get published I was going to miss the boat. A digital revolution was underway. Electronic books came on the scene and there was talk of how it would change the publishing landscape. Agents and Publishers scoffed. Physical books were still the dominant force. eBooks were just a fad. I scoffed right along with the big boys and turned up my nose at self-publishing. Self-publishing at the time was taboo, usually proof that an author had admitted defeat and sought to publish his/her book at a vanity press. I wasn't going to quit. I knew I had talent as a writer. But, still, I was naive.

Since the digital revolution, the publishing industry has changed dramatically. Digital media has taken hold in a big way, major book sellers have gone belly-up in its wake. The stigma of self-publishing has changed. Many talented authors--as well as those who are truly bad--have embraced self-publishing, opting to forego the traditional path, bypass the gatekeepers standing in their way, and reach an audience directly. I've watched this trend take hold and evolve. I've read extensively about self-publishers who have gone on to be successful. Many of them post their sales numbers and preach the gospel of doing it yourself. No longer was self-publishing a taboo thing. Although some still associate it with bad writing, self-publishing, like the publishing industry, has evolved. Now, I'm not as naive as I once was.

I still believe I'm a talented writer. I decided to try my hand at self-publishing. I experimented by taking one of my shorts and published it myself. This way, I thought, I could experience how the process works and determine if it was worth pursuing. If nothing else, I could get my name out there and possibly build a following. My first published work, the short story, Hush, Hush, My Love (available for free on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords) was more successful than I would have imagined. On Smashwords alone, it has been downloaded more than 300 times and received 4-star reviews. It was also reviewed by Red Adept Reviews, garnering three-and-a-half stars.

Following the success of Hush, I decided to release something larger. I put together a collection of short stories that magazines had rejected and sold it as An Adverse Anthology: Strange & Disturbing Short Stories (Amazon, B&N, Smashwords). I've received accolades from many readers I know who have purchased the book. In my ability I am not naive, but I also know that my writing can always improve. Neither am I naive to think I will reach the writing pinnacle to stand with the likes of many of my favorite authors. I've learned much during the last 6 years and I'll continue learning, improving, and hopefully entertaining my readers.

In the beginning, I was intimidated by the task of editing something as large as a novel. Today, that's not daunting at all. Finishing a book--ending up with a polished gem--is just the beginning. There's still marketing to do, formatting, uploading, pricing, etc. I'm currently teaching myself how to edit videos in hopes of creating studio-quality book trailers as promotional tools for my future work. Maybe I'm still naive, but this is reality.

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