Sunday 7 August 2016

Inside The Author: Tips For Aspiring Authors


I know that as someone who has used a vanity press and someone who has had (and lost) a traditional publishing contract, since become an indie author, I get a lot of questions asking me how I did it. There has been a lot of bad feeling in the writing community that those who are not published by a big traditional publisher are somehow less worthy of the title "author". It's not just divided between those who are indie or self-published and those who aren't, it's within all the communities too. However, as someone who has been doing this for nearly eleven years, I can say that the way publishing works is changing. In the past, it was not easy to get into the book and writing world without an agent and someone to guide you. With the success of e-books and growing reliance on all things digital, in addition to places such as Amazon and Smashwords that offer free resources that allow someone to publish their work, it's getting much simpler and easier to get your work out to the public for free without the need for a gatekeeper.

The advice and tips I'd offer someone who was trying to break into the book world vary depending on their hopes and dreams for the outcome. There is nothing wrong with dreaming big, of bestsellers and making the New York Times list, of winning awards and becoming rich. Everyone has dreams like that when starting out as a writer. And I know that realistically, when you see how many books there are available on Amazon or in a bookstore, and you think about how many big names you can mention for your chosen genre, you know not everyone will make it big and become a household name in regards to their work. Still, it's nice to day dream and fill your days with wonder. But it also pays to be realistic. So, here's some of my tips for aspiring authors.

#1 - "Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go." E.L. Doctorow
When writing your first draft, you're basically telling yourself the story. You're jumping into the pool, at the deep end, feet first and hoping that you don't drown. As the quote above says, you start from nothing and then you build up from there. You have to remember though that your first draft is just that, a draft. It is not the end product and no-one, not even Stephen King or J K Rowling, published their first draft. So, take your time, stop and smell the roses and don't be too hard on yourself. Learn as you go and remember that the beauty of writing is that nothing is set in stone. You can change later, just get the story out onto the page and tell it the best way you know how.

#2 - "You only learn to be a better writer by actually writing." Doris Lessing
As with most skills, you will get better as you carry on. You will learn from your mistakes and you will go forth and produce better quality work and hone your skills. Don't make the mistake of sending your first draft to an editor, whether you intend to indie publish or not. Allow yourself time to correct and get better. And keep writing, because without practice, you won't get to the point where you can say to yourself that you have done the best you can with this story and it's time to move forward.

#3 - "Everyone needs an editor." Tim Foote
No matter how good you are at grammar, spelling, punctuation and all of that, you will need someone to edit your work. You may think you have caught all the errors and you may think that your finished draft is good enough to pass, but never forgo the editing process. That process is best undertaken by someone else, because they will be objective. They will look at your work and they will see what you are trying to say and will be able to conclude whether or not you've been successful. If the editor doesn't understand why you had your character do or say something, then it's likely that the reader won't either. A good editor is not someone who just checks the spelling and sentence structure, but someone who takes your work to pieces and puts it back together again with your help. They work with you, not against you, and do not be afraid to keep trying with different editors until you find one that fits your end goal.

#4 - "People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it." Harlan Ellison
Writing is hard, it's not a simple magic trick and it's not just like vomiting words onto a page, although sometimes it can feel like that. Don't be discouraged by your writer's block and don't be discouraged if you have to cut something that you worked on for hours and hours. When you're writing, you put your blood, sweat and tears into the work and sometimes it seems like even then, that's not enough. Take comfort in the knowledge that a good story exists in all of us, and that it can take months, years, even decades for a book to be finished from the first to the last word. As the first point said, keep going, because you're learning as you go, and there's nothing wrong with that.

And finally, #5 - "I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged." Erica Jong
Don't be afraid to say that you've finished something. There is always the temptation to keep chipping away at what you've done because you want to get it just right. That's the path to unfinished work and a ticket for the train to crazy town, because until you've gotten to the point where you can sit back and say that you've done all you can, that this is the final draft before editing (or even after editing, there is such a thing as too much editing!), you are just someone with an idea and lots of stress and anxiety. It's hard to let go of something you've slaved over and worked on into the wee hours of the morning and let someone else, someone who may not like it, read it, but it has to be done. However, just because you get a rejection letter, it doesn't mean that you should abandon all hope and cross out the word "writer" on your office door. It takes time to be accepted, it takes time to work out the kinks and to find a publishing house - indie or otherwise - that's the right fit for you work. Don't lose hope, keep going and keep dreaming big!

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