Gather around the fire, and I will tell you a harrowing tale.
Once upon a time, there was a young woman who aspired to be an author.
Cue scary music: Dum, da dum, dum…
One day, all bright eyed with ideas of fame and fortune and a New York Times best seller, she said, “I’m quitting my job to become an author!”
And so she did.
The young woman started writing. When her manuscript was finished, she whooped with joy, visualizing those network interviews on TV morning shows and the all-expenses paid book-signing tour, where throngs of adoring readers shower her with accolades on that breakout novel. A Pulitzer was surely in her future.
Cue Wiley Coyote sliding to a dust-spewing stop.
Here’s the thing, folks, and I can’t say this too adamantly: Do not quit your day job to be an author!
The publishing world today is a black hole that, more often than not, sucks books and authors into a void. With the advent of Amazon and the Internet the entire publishing world tilted on its axis, leaving the industry in catch-up mode, a race that may never end.
To the aspiring authors out there, here’s the truth. The vast majority of us will never make any money on our books. The agents and publishers who take us in will never recoup the time and effort and publishing costs they’ve expended. Which, in turn, leads to the continual demise of independent publishers. So, when you sign that contract with a publisher, understand that, on any given day, the company might fold.
How do I know? I’ve had several publishers close their doors, leaving my books without a home. Sometimes, other publishers come along and may re-issue your orphaned books, but that is not common. The publishing business eats its young.
So, what’s an aspiring author to do? First, if you believe in your work, fight for it. That means living with the withering rejections you will receive by the thousands. I’m talking here about agents, editors, publishers, book reviewers, and media outlets who will shake their collective heads and say your manuscript is simply not worthy of publication, promotion, or praise.
And, think about this: Most of the time, they’re right.
It’s important to understand that writing one book is not enough to hone your craft. I have a couple of manuscripts in a drawer that will never see the light of day. The reason? They’re not very good. And, when you hear of best-selling authors who “came out of nowhere,” realize they didn’t. Take Colson Whitehead, who won the National Book Award in fiction, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Underground Railroad in 2017. It was his sixth book.
If you’re the author who says, “I’m afraid to send my manuscript out, because they might not like it,” please burn all your pages now. You simply don’t have the stomach to dip your toe into the publishing waters.
I sent out queries to 100 agents for my second book and was soundly rejected by all. I decided I should give up writing. Later, I gave it one more try. The 101st agent signed me to a contract. But did that solve my problems? No, though it’s my agent who gets to field the rejections, now. She is, however, kind enough to send them along to me for light reading. And here’s the funny thing about rejections. Sometimes, the folks doing the rejecting say nice things about your writing, and you’re so happy someone praised you, the rejection feels almost like acceptance. But, of course, it’s not.
If you think being rejected by an agent, editor, or publishing house is demoralizing, try getting a no from online book-review bloggers. Should you have the delightful opportunity to be seeking reviews for that young-adult-fiction work of genius, bear in mind you will have to play nice with 17-year-old, unicorn-loving, “my favorite color is purple” kids who somehow have 30,000 social media followers. Begging them to review your book can be, um … depressing.
So, what are aspiring authors to do? Write. A lot. Read. A lot. Study industry trends. A lot! Be brave. Smile in the face of rejection and give it another go. And, if no one likes your book, shelve it and write another.
Should you get a contract, remember it’s your job to promote your book, no matter the size of the publisher. That means, if you loathe public speaking and social media, step aside. Your book might be the best thing ever written, but publishing companies are going to check out your Internet footprint before offering you a contract. If you’re not robustly tackling social media – which includes having a website and a blog – your book will be passed over for an author who does.
For those who like a nice, tidy life – like me – understand that publishing is messy. Right now, I have two books out with one publisher. In the last month, I signed contracts with two different publishers for two other books, and I have another novel my agent is shopping around. I have no idea when these books will be released, but I must be ready to work with editors and artists and do the promotional work when my time comes. My worry is this will happen all at once, and I’ll be juggling three books simultaneously.
Here’s the thing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be an author. I’m suggesting you write because you love to. Should the publishing world offer you an opportunity, great! Then, be courageous. Be flexible. Sport an emotional coat of Teflon. And, most importantly, don’t quit your day job.
Anne Montgomery’s novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other? The Scent of Rain is available at https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780996390149 and wherever books are sold.