25 June 2017

The Question of Dooooooooooom!



I was told your [sic] an author and I was curious how you started out as one ?



Hi, Jack.

Wow, nothing like introducing yourself with an easy question.

Part the first: am I an author? Sort of. I write stuff. You can find me on Wattpad as Walkyrjenny. Of course, I write Star Trek fanfic with a cooperative writer's circle. And I have a book in print, Flowers of Luna. But... anyone can put stories up on Wattpad, you also write Star Trek fanfic with a cooperative writer's circle, and my book isn't traditionally published, it's through KDP, which basically means it's self-published. I don't have an agent, I don't have a publishing house, no publicists, no distribution outside Amazon. So does that make me an author? Well, yes, but not the same kind J.K. Rowling is, or even Melissa Scott.

Part the second: how did I get started? I think I was five or six years old when I realized that the author's names on books were people; people who had created these stories and presented them. Since I was often the only child of my ethnicity in the schools I attended, I had also made the discovery that I could keep from being abused if I kept the bullies entertained, so I started telling stories. My second-grade teacher was seriously worried about my grip on reality, and asked my mother at a parent-teacher conference if I truly believed I was from outer space. (My mother: No, Japan).

This progressed to writing down stories, and eventually typing them. I had an old manual typewriter which I hauled around the globe with me, even before computers. My mother would tell you that many of my early stories were highly derivative of things I'd been reading, or watching on television.

But I think what you're actually asking might be considered the unwritten Part the Third. To whit, How Do I (which is to say, you, Jack) get started on becoming an Author? And the answer is, you're already doing it. You're writing stuff. Keep writing stuff.

And read. Read like there's no tomorrow. I have read 35 books this year (Goodreads keeps track for me ), which is actually low for me, but I've had health issues which kept me from reading as much as I would have liked to. When you read, don't just be a passive recipient of the story. Look at how the writer has crafted that story. What do you like about what they do? What do you dislike? What can you emulate? And then go write something, consciously trying to use the things you liked.

And then comes the hard part. Share your writing. Share it with friends, share it with a writing class at your local community college, share it with strangers on the internet. And when you get feedback, the least useful feedback of all, though the most comforting to receive, is "it's good; I like it." That gives you nothing to strive for, nothing to improve. And I've sat in critique circles, and know that having your story criticized can feel like a crucifixion. But don't shell up when you receive those critiques. Listen to them. Think about what's being said. Is the criticism justified? Is there something you can improve, based upon it?

At some point, if you want your stories to reach a wider audience than the other people in your fanfic circle, you have to start submitting them to publications. That's hard. Even if you don't get the ashes of your story back in your own self-addressed stamped envelope, unless you're Robert Heinlein, you're going to get rejections. Many, many rejections. So many rejections, you may well start feeling like it's you, not your stories, which are being rejected. And it's okay to quit at that point.

But if you want to be J.K. Rowling or Kate Milford, you won't. Ms Rowling had nearly a thousand rejection letters before she found a publisher. I haven't asked Ms Milford, but I imagine she has a similar tale to tell. They persevered, they worked on their writing, and they kept submitting. And eventually, they found a publisher.

But the publishing world is different than it was even twenty years ago. Many small and mid-list authors don't go the trad pub route. I didn't. My book is as niche as smurf porn1 -- it's not for the masses, but for those who like that sort of thing, it's exactly the sort of thing they like. And I looked around at the small, Sapphic romance oriented small presses, and discovered that many of them wanted sixty or eighty percent of the profit from the book, while expecting me to do my own marketing. In essence, they would only be providing a cover and a distribution channel. That didn't seem like a good deal to me.

So I got a few friends whose literary judgement I valued highly, and showed them the manuscript; asked them to pick it apart. They did, and at times, that was a painful process. But the most active of them are thanked on the dedication page of my book, because it's true: without them, the book wouldn't have been nearly as good. Based on what they said, on the feedback they gave, I massively rewrote entire chapters, added an entire character and sub-plot, and changed the way various things were expressed.

And then, I published the book through KDP. If you choose to go that route, don't expect fame and fortune. Flowers of Luna peaked at 10,042 on the Amazon bestsellers list. Since February, I've made less than two hundred dollars in royalties. Every cent of that has been turned around and used to promote the book, mostly in thank-you and promotional copies and postage.

So. There you have it. A much longer response than you were probably looking for, but I hope that it provides you with some insight and guidance on your path.



[1] No smurfs were sexually involved at any point in the writing of Flowers of Luna; this is merely an illustrative example.

1 comment:

Susan - No-reply by choice. said...

That was an interesting response. I especially liked that you have mentioned what hard work writing is. Yes, sometimes it just flows, but that's not the hard part. Polishing and honing every word is the hard part, after you've slapped the story down. My students never liked the editing part. I once played an interview with Cynthia Rylant, one of their favorite authors. In it, she said writing was the hardest work she'd ever done. It's true. But it's so rewarding!