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Monday, February 3, 2014

What it means to be an Author

Recently I was speaking with someone and the conversation came around to me telling her that I am an author. She smiled and eagerly replied, “Wow, that must be so exciting!” It got me thinking. A lot of people outside of the authoring world look at us and think that we are all just like the heroes of fiction writing that they have seen in the movies and on the news. We spend our time at snobby parties, going to exotic places to get material, or sitting in luxurious rooms with our coffee and a computer so we can pen our next bestseller. Worst of all, they think we make money at it somehow.
This may not be the case for you because you know the truth, or you just don't have this illusion. But, I fear it is the case for far too many people. I want to tell you what it is like being an author from my perspective. It is like being:

A Hermit: A good number of authors spend a lot of time alone. This may be actual time alone or just being that person sitting in the corner of a coffee shop staring off in the distance for hours. In either case you are truly alone. You spend hours, days, even years working on that novel and making it so that you would be willing to allow an editor/beta readers to look at it. You hate when someone breaks into your alone time, you like your alone time and others just don't seem to get that being alone as an author is not painful or sad. It is our life.

A prideful parent: Yes, we know that we aren't perfect and that what we write needs work. It might need that technical touch that will make it readable. Or it might need that story touch up to help it read better and make sense. Do we like any criticisms of our work, no matter how small or how helpful they are? NO! Do we understand that you are just trying to be kind? Yes....but at first NO! Just like that parent who will not abide any critique of their child, no matter how needed or full of truth it might be. Authors are defensive of the babies they spent years making, feeding, caring for, loving, nurturing, and praying that one day will leave the nest and be a success.

A gambling addict: Yes, I said it. Authors are like gambling addicts. This one is particularly important for me to explain. You see, as an author I am required to ask for someone else to look at my work and then hopefully publish it. Or, in the case of an agent, decide to represent it to publishers. The trick is most of the time you ask you get a no so you must try again. It can take years. You buy that first ticket, you send in your submission to the first agent. You have read his/her requirement for submission and you are more than confident that your work is a PERFECT fit for them. You get up the next morning expecting that contract to be waiting for you in your mailbox. Nothing happens. Weeks pass, months walk by, then you finally receive a rejection notice. A form email that just says, no. You are crushed but you aren't broken. You search again, submit again, and feel that surge of confidence. You didn't win off that last ticket, but his time is the one, it HAS to be. You wait, wait, wait, and then boom....rejection. Again, your spirit is crushed and now beginning to truly crack. But, you are addicted. You have done more research in the interim and you know more about how to submit and what you probably did wrong. It certainly can't be your work, it has to be the way you're writing to that agent or publisher. So, you pen a better, cleaner, more professional letter and submit again. You wait and wait, then you receive yet another form rejection. You go through this process over and over. Each time there is a broken heart, there is a surge of hope, confidence is there with each submission, but that confidence is taking a beating with each form rejection. For some reason you simply cannot quit. You refuse to admit that you don't have what it takes, your work is as good as ever and you are going to make it. Those old, worn out, faded tickets from lotteries past clutter your room, your money and time have been a waste, you have aged faster than you ever thought possible. Yet, for all this, you still go out and purchase that ticket for the chance, the one chance in a billion, that it will be you who hits it big with the next one.

To make matters worse. As you gamble away your life, others are winning each time and you fight hard not to get bitter. Not to turn into the green eyed monster. Not to allow yourself to curse them for their success that should be yours. It isn't fair to them, and it certainly isn't what you should be doing, but those feelings well up each time someone ELSE wins and it wasn't you. This only makes you buy more tickets and keep the hope up, regardless of the true hopelessness of the situation.

In the end you have wasted a lot of time and money, and for what? Nothing. Some of the people you have submitted to don't even take the time to send you back a form rejection letter. You vow to give up, to go clean and never again buy another ticket. But, your friends encourage you to keep up the hope. You think that they should be forming an intervention by now, but instead they are forming a cheer squad for your addiction. So, the cycle continues on and on.

What I have described in these three attributes, especially the last, is the truth behind 99% of all authors out there. We all contain a thread of hope that is started out strong enough to pull the QE2 but now is so small that it looks to break at any moment. Yet for all its weakness, it still holds up and pulls you back.

The moral of this story: When someone tells you they are an author. Do not judge them on their success, do not assume success, just understand that they are doing what they love. Encourage them, but understand their plight.  

1 comment:

  1. This is so right-on. Well-written and to the point. I've been a professional author for almost a half-century - not just author of prose but also poetry - and every word rings true to me.