You know when all of a sudden all these things converge at once and kind of spin your world on its axis a bit with the way they all play into one another to give you some sort of epiphany? That was this past week for me. All of these things happened so close together that made me think about the business of writing. Which doesn’t mean writing as a thing that keeps you busy; it means what it means to decide you want to be a capital-A Author, a person who makes this a full-time, this-is-my-life career.
For a really long time, I didn’t. I refused to show anything I wrote to anyone. The only reason I even queried when I did, after so many years of writing, is because my husband had just started law school and we were broke and I felt like I should try something. When I stopped querying that manuscript pretty quickly, I wasn’t entirely sure I would ever try again, not because I’d given up all hope but because I still wasn’t sure being a professional author was something I wanted.
As it happened, I got a job at the same university at which he attended law school, and as a result, I got to take classes for free. I didn’t take tons of advantage of that, but I did take a YA writing class, during which I learned a ton about writing and the business of kidlit and also began to write what would eventually become a contemporary YA manuscript I still love called MY NAME IS EVERETT.
MNIE became The One for me. I queried that sucker for what turned out to be over a year. I didn’t necessarily have a feeling that it would be IT, but for the first time, I knew I wanted it to be. I wanted other people to read it, to love it. I actually let other people read it, which I’d never done before. And even when I ultimately shelved it, I never fell out of love with it… or with the idea of having professional partners to help me improve it, or with the idea of sharing it or something like that.
And then I wrote BEHIND THE SCENES, and suddenly, that was all gonna happen.
But you know the first time I actually internalized that I was going to be published? The first thing that made me think, “Holy crap, I’m going to be an Author?”
Realizing I was going to get bad reviews.
It’s a crazy thing, to have a dream realized and only really get it when you approach it from the negative. But I like approaching things from the negative, because I like being ready for worst-case scenarios, and also because I am pessimistic and crazy. Do not learn from me. And the thing is, I think it’s one of the most important things that writers never want to think about when we’re starting out:
Writing is a Business. It is your job to take criticism in the form of reviews, just as you’ll take praise in the form of reviews. It is your job to do the right research, improve your craft, and keep moving forward. It is your job to somehow reach out to and show gratitude for your audience of readers. It’s your job to make deadlines, it’s your job to be where you say you will, and it’s your job to give the interviews you say you will when you say you will.
(Some things are not your job. See this great post by Barry Lyga.)
Just tonight I was discussing the concept of authors as celebrities with an author who’s quite well known, especially on this blog. (The discussion was inspired by this excellent post by Teen Librarian’s Toolbox.) And I get that it’s hard to feel like a celebrity given that authors are rarely showered with riches or featured in magazines. But as an Author, you’ll be a person with fans you’ve never even heard of. Kind of like Angelina Jolie. (Why not – let’s go for the gold.) If Angelina Jolie tried to pull off “I’m just going to be in movies and you can watch me in them but then otherwise I do not exist and do not even try to talk to me or take my picture or ANYTHING” you’d probably be all, “Um, Angelina, this kind of comes with the territory.” Because it does. Because when you get paid $20 million a movie (a figure I am totally making up), this is part of what you’re getting paid for. And though we make nothing near that, I think that whatever you get paid for writing falls under the same category.
You’re getting paid for your story, yes. But you’re also getting paid to Be an Author.
Being an Author means continuously writing. It often means networking, and self-promoting. It’s not this thing you do when you have the time; it’s something you make time for. It’s all the things in this excellent blog post by Tara Lazar that also inspired these thoughts.
It’s so important to understand what it means to want to Be an Author. And one thing that makes me wonder how much people really get it is seeing the same manuscripts by the same people publicly pitched for over a year. (More influence! Today’s PitMad!) It’s great to love your stories – you must! – but if you’re going to Be an Author, you have to recognize when the time comes that you need to distance yourself at least long enough to write another one. Because part of the job will always be writing another one. And part of the job will often be letting go – maybe of the image you had of your cover, or of your title, or of something your editor makes you take out. And no matter how much you love your book, no matter how big an advocate you are, unless you self-publish, that’s going to be true.
BEHIND THE SCENES was on submission for almost ten months. That is a really long time to be on submission. And I didn’t give up on it; I said, “Yup, sounds great!” every time my wonderful agent suggested what sounded like a great place for it, right up until we found the greatest place for it 🙂 But I didn’t hang on to it either, waiting for something to happen with it before moving on to something else. Because you can’t. Because even if it sold – even when it sold – you still need the next book. You always need the next book, to Be an Author. So I wrote THE BOOK OF ESTHER. And I wrote JUST VISITING. And then BEHIND THE SCENES sold. And now I have two more lovely books with terrifyingly undetermined futures but also possibilities.
That doesn’t mean you need to rush, or produce at a specific rate. I don’t think there’s any one right way (and highly recommend this post by Rebecca Behrens that says the same!) except for this: you do have to look forward. You do have to be able to move on. You do have to work on new things. You don’t necessarily have to let go of the old, but you might if it’s why you can’t embrace the new.
Or at least, that’s how I see the business of writing.