Confessions of a newbie novelist.
I have embarked on a new adventure as of late: contemplating publication, putting together a query, trying my best to keep my head above water, and sell, sell, sell.
As I research the publishing industry, and all that goes into it, I can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed; okay, a lot overwhelmed (you get how many queries a day?!). I read an article recently by J. A. Konrath called Confident or Delusional? and it certainly made me contemplate a bit. I’ve never considered myself either confident or delusional, in all honesty. I’ve written about the confidence issue at length. Most of it stems from growing up in an environment of non-writers/non-readers. And to the point, perhaps I’m a little delusional, but not entirely.
While I agree with about 98% of the statements in Konrath’s article–and have certainly moved my way from delusional to confident on quite a few issues therein–I get itchy thinking about the whole royalty check/praise issue. Seriously, I’m not even at the point where I can contemplate royalty checks. I’m just dipping my toes in, and first and foremost I want to share my story with other people. Oh, yes, I sound like Pollyanna. But, at the heart of the matter, I’ve always been a storyteller, and I’ve always looked for an audience. I’ve been programmed that way. Yes, I’ll take tips, of course. But eh. I’m just starting out. I think it’s a little bit delusional to sit there, writing your first few works, and be constantly thinking about the bottom line.
Further, in spite of the fact that we labor alone as writers, once that paltry query finds its way into an agent’s hands, we all become just another annoying writer looking for a break. “But I swear, my vampires are different!” we cry. The truth is, we likely aren’t. When work becomes product, everything changes. And this is one of the hardest things for any writer to accept: the words “you are not that special”. And either we can break through that hurdle or not. I suspect a great many people do not.
I have been so focused on the goal of completing this edit of The Aldersgate for the last year, that when I finally finished I was a little surprised. I sort of spun my wheels for a few days, decided to start a query for a laugh, and promptly gave up. Then I tried again. And I did it. I don’t know if it was a good idea, or a bad one. I’m wondering if my decision to podcast my draft was good or bad, if my decision to write so much about it was good or bad, if the the world holds up, if I am just doing the whole thing wrong. (And if it is wrong… hey, mistakes. We learn from them. I can deal with that.)
Though, I think I’m a little less worried than I ought to be, and I owe this to two experiences: undergraduate fiction workshopping and writing business copy for two years. While these two may seem unconnected, they’re not. Workshops taught me to grow a thick skin, that you can write really well and still be lacking; I learned that writers have egos, and if you want to write well you have to tear that ego down and replace it with persistence. Writing business copy and immersing myself in the marketing world for two years taught me that writing is a commodity, and that it can always be better (i.e. use what you learned from failing miserably the first time, write it again, and make damn well sure it’s better). It’s also going to be a great deal of work to get it right–but when you do, you can change the way people see things with the right words.
I also worked at Starbucks in graduate school, and I was really good at my job. I knew the exact drinks for the right customers (venti non-fat no-foam latte, grande 2% no whip black and white mocha… I still remember some of them) and made that espresso machine my bitch. During the holidays they always pushed us to sell the big stuff: the coffee makers, espresso machines, etc. I remember selling one of our more expensive models to a woman dressed to the nines, late one evening. I love coffee. I talk about it a great deal, and so selling this lady the machine wasn’t that tough; I just gushed about how well it worked, and how joyous a fresh home-brewed cup can be.
She smiled brightly as I was ringing her up at the register, and she patted my hand as I handed her the receipt. “You can sell anything,” she said. “Whatever you do in life, you’ll succeed as long as you can do that.”
At the time, I was hoping to be a professor of Medieval Literature somewhere, still believing–deluding myself into thinking–that I couldn’t make the writing work. That it was somehow less worthy of a goal because so few in my family would get it (chalk it up to being an oldest child, I guess, and always wanting validation for what I’ve done). The idea of selling stuff rubbed me the wrong way, I remember thinking to myself, “Great, I’ll be an awesome car salesman.” But she meant it honestly.
Now, I finally believe in myself enough to continue as a fantasy writer, and I know it’s time to put my Mad Hatter Saleswoman hat on. Hopefully the coffee machine lady was right.
But regardless of what happens, I have a great deal of peace knowing that it won’t stop my own process. In the last year alone I have learned more about myself through writing, and have challenged myself as a writer, more than during my entire time here on the planet. So, as Konrath concludes:
Confident writers know success is beyond their control. But they keep writing anyway, and will continue to even if success never happens.
It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.
You must believe in yourself.
But first you have to prove yourself worthy of that belief.
I’m working on it.