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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Please read, but I worry you won't.

Here's a long one, but I wanted to say it. I am an author, you should know that by now. What you may not know is what is involved with being an author. Some have kindly picked up my book and some of those have read it. Few of those have left reviews. I get frustrated at that. But, I honestly don't think you know what it takes to be an author. Let me explain:

You start with an idea. That seems simple, but it isn't. Often I get people who aren't authors who explain a basic scenario that has been written a thousand times, or describe a scene with action or humor that would be neat. They explain that this would be the next big hit if only they found time to write it. What they don't understand is the depth of work goes into the thought process before the first keystroke of the story. Is the idea good? Who are the characters that make up the story? Why are they doing what they are doing? Will it make sense? Is it good? How could it end up? (That question will conjure about a thousand responses, but you must focus on the few that will make it a real story and not just an anecdote.)

Next you write. So you have come up with an idea of a story and fleshed out a few of the particulars in your head. You know kind of how you want it to begin. Mind you it probably has already been a while of thinking and pondering before you get here. But here the first work begins. This is the scary yet fun part of it. You dedicate time to write it. For me, that is at least one hour a day. I sit down and write for an hour or more each day. During this time I have to keep extensive notes outside and inside of that writing time. While I am constructing this story I have to keep up with the minor details that could come up later and I don't want to get them wrong. I also will be thinking about the story day and night while I am not writing. I will drift off into daydreams as I consider what scene will happen next, or I will come up with a new idea for something that will help build a character's story. So I scribble these notes down and keep them all around me. For me, at least three months goes into this, night after night I pour into this story. I am with the characters all the time. I dream about them, I talk to them, I hurt for them, I am happy for them. It is hardly different than reality during this time. (No I am not insane, just focused.) Often the story will lead me more than I will lead it and eventually come to its own finale that is far superior to the one that I considered when I originally went through the thinking process. Three solid months (or more) have been spent on a story just scribing the roughest draft of the book.

Next you edit. It is wise to take some time off of the book and let it rest so that you can distance yourself from it and not be influenced by the same vigor that was inside you while you wrote it. Now you have to read it to yourself and catch mistakes. You have to fix any plot holes that you inadvertently left in it. You need to make sure that that half a scene you thought you deleted is truly gone for fear of completely confusing the next editor. This process will often take a month or more just on your own, and that is only the first edit.

Next you get a friendly edit. This is my own process, but I think it wise for others as well. I get my mother or another friend to take a look at it. I don't need a deep critical analysis, just someone to pick out any plot holes I missed, glaring mistakes that I glazed over, and to give me a general review of if it holds water or not. Here is where I get the most info about scenes that make little sense to others that seemed to make sense in my own mind. So I am going back with all of the suggested corrections and putting them in. This involves a lot of scrutinizing of the messy scenes so that I can re-write them to make sense to others. This process can take another three months.

Next you get a basic editor to work on it. Here comes the bleeding on the page. The editor grabs his/her red pen and hits the grammar and spelling mistakes hard. No mercy is shown. They also catch any leftover mistakes in context that can be fixed by a few words. This is where it gets rough on me as the author. This editor will not hold back or be nice, they will tell it like it is. I get back their suggested changes and have to put them in myself. Keep in mind that I can refuse any correction suggestions, I am the author. Though I will most likely accept any technical suggestions. This will take at least three months, more if the editor has other jobs to take care of.

Next comes beta-readers. I call on friends and family to read the three times edited book and give me feedback. They too will find mistakes and offer suggestions. (Yes, even after three edits there will still be mistakes, no one is perfect) Their biggest contribution to the ordeal is pre-review. They tell me if the story is worthy. If the characters are good, the scenes are nicely described, the plot makes sense. It is here that you find out truly if the book is worthy of moving forward or is dead in the water. I take their suggested changes and opinions and look them over. I might have to go into the book and make even more corrections. This can take one to three months.

(It might seem odd to correct something so many times. But I look at it like a bed sheet. Throw it out without any effort and watch it lay on the ground. Then carefully pull, pat, spread, and tug until it is neatly flat and square. It takes time but eventually it will turn out presentable.)

Next comes query. A query is your application to an agent or publisher. Agents represent you to publishers, but some publisher will listen to you without an agent. So you need to grab the attention of one or the other. A query letter is a whole other monster. You have to introduce yourself, describe your book in a short but detailed summary
. Describe yourself and any worthy accomplishments in the publishing world. And then give them the amount of your book they require. (Some will ask for the first three chapters, others will ask for the first page. They only want to examine your style.) You send that off and then wait. More often than not six weeks is the shortest wait time, some go so far as a year. Often they will either send you a form rejection letter or nothing, you get to just assume after so much time has passed they passed on you.

(Note about writing the summery. You have just spent over a year on this book. It has been your baby, your brainchild, you devoted work. It will likely be between 80,000 and 150,000 words. But you have to condense that into a pitch of two to three paragraphs, which must be good enough for them to understand the book, its story, the characters, the feel, and the genre. Authors have given up the craft over the difficulty surrounding this. The most well know, well read pros out there hire others to craft the pitch they put on the book flap or back, because they hate doing it. We amateurs don't have the money, but are required to be no less perfect.)

For me, the next was to self publish. (Got tired of form or silent rejections) This requires the book to be formatted into the file type that will work with Kindle or Nook, or both. That takes a week or two just to get it positioned on the pages right.

After that comes the book cover. I am lucky that I have a bit of talent in art, and so I can draw my own covers. Otherwise it would cost or I would use something that isn't appealing that I just slapped together in paint. My covers can take two months of time to hand draw all the elements and then six to nine hours of time using a program to splice it all together. It still looks amateurish, but passable I guess.

Finally I get to the publishing. In an attempt to succeed you need to throw yourself a big party online to try and generate attention to the book and its author. You get friends to come and celebrate. You publish it and then say your prayers, cross your fingers, and wait to see if it sells.

Oh, wait, there's more. You have to promote. You grab chances to be on other peoples blogs, you pay for ad space on the cheapest sites you can (generally indie authors are the richest folks around.). You annoy your friends on all the social media sites until you feel like a jerk just for bringing your book up. You hand out business cards, write press releases in hopes that a local media outlet will give you five seconds of time, hold books signings wherever they will accept an indie, join countless self-promo groups online, create and manage your own pages, websites, blogs to keep your name fresh. The time spent here is immeasurable. It isn't a thing you can do for five minutes a day and succeed, you have to devote time and effort every day to make it work. Checking on it constantly, being aware of what is being said about you and your work. And even that is hardly a guarantee that it will do any good. You pray for time to write on your other stuff, or edit your other stuff, and if you have family, jobs, church, social activities, anything else, you are really spent.

Now, two years have passed since that first idea floated into your head. You check your numbers each day to find that few have even noticed you are alive and fewer still have bought any books. For those few books that have sold, less than one percent leave a review. You never really know if all of your time, energy, worry, work, and stress has meant a damn thing to anyone. And worse yet, you give some of your friends the book hoping they would enjoy it, but they cannot ever seem to find the time to read it. They act like this is a pass-time, a hobby, something done when you have “down time”. They aren't trying to be mean or cruel, you know that. But, they don't know how much of yourself you donated to the pages of that book so that it could come to life.


Do I hate writing now? No. But I want you to understand that this isn't a hobby, or a pass time, it is a dedicated way of life. Authors are traditionally hermits and/or single (me), but this is not just a personality thing, its a requirement sometimes considering the taxing nature of this beast. If I give you a book, please take time to read it. If you liked it at all, by all means leave a review. Your two minutes spent will help validate the years exhausted in the creation of that book.