What do most people think about writers? Aside from seeing them as quirky or possibly snobbish, most non-writers think of writers as having the dream job of working for themselves at home in their pajamas, only donning normal clothes for book signings and author talks (in which hundreds of people line up to visit these celebrities).
The reality is slightly different. I learned this the hard way, and I wish I knew these three truths.
- It’s my job to write.
Fiction authors usually have to finish their manuscript before sending it to an agent or publisher. In other words, all 100,000 words must be completed. Your book idea, let alone your creative title, is not nearly enough. Expect at least a year, if not several, to complete this first task.
Set a deadline and daily time to write. Quickly finish your rough draft—let it have plenty of mistakes to look at later. If you have a question area, leave yourself a note and keep going. Finishing the book is the best way to answer all your questions about what to keep or how all those tricky parts in the middle should go.
- It’s my job to edit.
Before I began writing my first real novel (after many incomplete previous stories), I worked as an editor at a university. And I looked forward to the day when I could write my stories and send them off to my own editor. Never did I think that I would have to edit it all myself—before anyone else would even look at it. Expect at least a month to edit your book (if there isn’t much to change in the plot), as well as several months to get feedback from others.
Depending on where you are in the editing process, here are some ideas. Again, I recommend finishing the rough draft first.
After finishing your rough draft, put it away. During that time, keep it away. Do not look at it for at least a month, longer if possible. (Learn how to play a musical instrument, begin a second novel, take your mind off it by watching a season of Boy Meets World—anything to keep away from it.)
Then, print it, read it aloud, and mark your grammar mistakes, inconsistencies, and other problems.
Next, get several critical people to read your 2nd draft and answer 5-10 questions about your book.
- It’s my job to market.
This was the biggest surprise. I was sure that by the end of all the writing and editing I could find a publisher who would love my book and take it from there. Of course, finding that kind of publisher is difficult. But you cannot expect the publisher to market for you. First of all, there are hundreds (thousands?) of people you can reach that you publisher cannot—family, neighbors, local business, connections on Facebook and Twitter. Second, it is your book. The publisher publishes. This word means to put your information in a readable format. Marketing is extra. Expect a lot of time—I don’t know how much—to get others to notice and buy your book.
Precariously balance the process of writing with the task of expanding your contacts. Join a writing group, make a blog or website, increase your social network followers. It’s difficult to know how soon you should do this before you have published, but once your book is published, you don’t want to just begin the marketing process.
The best advice here? Comment on others’ posts. Make them feel important, and they may return the favor.
Just be careful—it your goal is being a novelist, make sure your blogging comes second.
What’s your next step?