Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Write it, take aim, shoot and move on

Being an author can be a humbling career choice. Most writers (including me) head into it with high hopes, big dreams, and endless enthusiasm. They're looking for a big book deal. They dream of seeing their first ever novel front and center in every book store. And they're determined to earn all of the accolades that come with their definition of 'success' as an author.

Sound overly optimistic to you? Not really, because if you don't approach it with that kind of exuberance, you might give up sooner than you think, especially when you realize just how many uncontrollables there are in this business.

I recently spoke with an author who'd published her first and only novel in 1998. It was good, really good, yet she hasn't written anything since. When I asked why, she said, "It's too competitive for me. You either make a whack of money, like the top 20 authors out there do, or you don't make enough to live on so you can keep writing. I had big plans for my novel and then... it just seemed to fizzle away after it came out. I know now that my expectations were set too high, but after that, I didn't have it in me to write another one. It's just too hard. All of it. Know what I mean?"

I did, yet it still made me sad, and I caught myself wanting to coach her and urge her on, tell her to keep writing. I didn't, though, because I could tell it wouldn't make any difference.

Years ago, I had a discussion with another author, this one a NYT bestseller of many novels. Here's what she said: "I've met many talented writers who'll never make it in this business. Some could write circles around me. Others had huge egos that required regular feeding. Many lacked likability. Most, however, had no business sense and failed to understand this: You are only as good as your last book, which does have a shelf life, so aim high, write it to the best of your ability, shoot it out there, and move on to the next one."

Good advice, huh?

13 comments:

Larramie said...

Yes that is good advice because its message reminds the writer that what they're doing is a tough, competitive job.

Travis Erwin said...

Very good advice. I'll try to keep in especially in mind when I finally hit something with one of my arrows.

Janet said...

Nice and well-balanced.

But first I have to work on this arrow. ;o)

ORION said...

I think it takes two things. The desire to write above all else AND the business sense.
And be happy.
With each step don't be saying,"but if only..."
Be happy.

Ramona said...

Yowsa! Good advice, yes. But (gulp) a bit intimidating as well.

Forget selling it and all those other big dreams (at least for now.) I think I would be kicking happy just to walk into a book store and see my name on a novel. Any novel.

But I do get your point!

kyla-dale said...

Thank GOD you've got the guts to take on this sorta career on with gusto cause I'd cave myself!!!

laughingwolf said...

makes perfect sense, holly

persistence pays... big time!

Adam said...

I'm guessing good advice or not this would be easier said than done, though. True enough?

Melissa Marsh said...

Excellent advice!

I hope I am prepared when I finally get that publishing contract - business-wise and writing-wise. :-)

wordman17 said...

Know what I think is so interesting? How there are some authors out there who write maybe one book every 2-3 years, others who take 5-10 years to write 'the book of their life' and yet again others who manage to write 1 (or more)every year.

From a business standpoint, I'd think publishers need all of these authors, as long as their books are good quality and have a readership to sell to, but one's gotta think they're also keeping their eyes out for the rare author who does write one every year, especially because it's so hard to find authors who can think up story after good story, huh?

Dawn Anon said...

very good advice!
Thank you for sharing

Trish Ryan said...

That is powerful advice. Thank you!

Tish Cohen said...

I think, because of all those uncontrollables, the best way to stay sane in this business is by moving to the next book.

Great post, Holly.

And Pat - I love your advice. Be happy.