Top 10 myths about being an author
I missed my blog post the other day! So, to make up for it, I’m posting today. 🙂 I created the following as a handout for my talk at Barrington High School. Thought others might find it interesting as well.
Top 10 Myths about Being an Author
1. Professional authors get the story right in the first draft, leaving only minor grammatical errors to be addressed in a second draft.
False. Oh, I wish this one was true, but no. Most of us survive by writing really crappy first drafts and then making them better in second, third and fourth—or more—drafts. Otherwise, the pressure to be perfect is too much, and we won’t write anything at all.
2. You have to know someone in the industry to get your book published.
False…sort of. Some people work for years with their agent and editor without having ever met them in person. They sent their manuscript in, and the agent/editor fell in love. However, in my experience, most people find it a HUGE help to have contacts. Getting out and meeting other writers, agents and editors at conferences can make a big difference. I’ve reached this point in my career primarily because of one person: my mentor, Linnea Sinclair.
3. Once you’ve sold a book, you’ve got it made. Watch for the money to start rolling in.
Uh, false. With the exception of J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Stephen King, etc., most of us are not millionaires. Not even close. You have to write because you love it. If money follows, that’s even better.
4. If vampires are really hot right now, you should write about vampires.
False. You do need to pay attention to the market—what kind of books are selling well—but that should not be your sole consideration. The books on the shelves now were bought by publishers a year ago or more. A trend that was hot then may not be hot now. Also, writers are more passionate about stories and characters that truly interest and engage them. That passion will show through to the agents and editors reviewing your work. So, don’t write vampires just to write vampires. Write the story that speaks to you.
5. The key to being a successful writer is practicing self-discipline and being persistent.
True! There’s an old saying in the “industry” that goes something like this: What’s the difference between an unpublished author and a published one? Persistence. The one who is published just didn’t give up. Self-discipline is all about BICHOK—Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard—even when you don’t feel like it.
6. Writing is an art and a business.
True. What this means for you—you need to write a story that YOU love, but you must also understand that getting it published and on the shelf is a BUSINESS. That means, you have to keep in mind what makes a book saleable, what publishers (editors, specifically) are seeking, and that your artistic vision is subject to bottom line considerations (i.e. making money).
So, if it’s the book of your heart, write your 400,000 word romance novel set on Mars with a rotting zombie as the hero. But be prepared for a bit of an uphill battle when it comes to getting it published. (Love scenes with a zombie=ewww!) That being said, if it’s good, really good, someone will be interested. 🙂
7. Once you’ve written the book, your job as the author is finished.
Nope, not even close to true. Aside from the various rounds of edits and copy edits from your editor and copy editor, you also have to be thinking about cover concepts (if you want to have input on your cover, and trust me, you do), promotional items, websites, signings, contests, reviews, getting the word of mouth started. Your next book deal may depend on how well your previous book sells.
8. All successful authors outline their stories ahead of time.
False. This is one of the most fiercely debated topics in the writing community. Plotters vs. Pantsers. There are people who outline every single scene, and others who start off with nothing more than an idea. Typically, even “pantsers” have a vision of the end to help guide them. And plotters admit that sometimes the story doesn’t quite unfold as they envisioned it in outline form and they have to remain open to changes as the story progresses.
As a former “pantser,” I must admit my methods have changed. With contracts and deadlines a part of my writing life now, I’m much more apt to sketch out a vague idea of who everyone is, what they want, and why they want it before I jump in with both feet.
9. You need to be older before you can become an author.
False! There are many young authors out there. Christopher Paolini became a NY-Times Bestselling author at 19, and Amelia Atwater-Rhodes published her first novel at 14.
10. To be a successful writer, you need to read a lot.
True. I’ve heard rumors of writers who manage to write without reading, but I’ve never met one. And I’ve met lots of writers. 🙂 One hopes you’re inspired to write stories because you enjoy reading them. Like a musician learning to play by ear, a writer learns to write by reading. Some of this happens on a subconscious level. As you start to write, you’ll draw on this subconscious knowledge. You’ll know when your story takes a wrong turn, even if you don’t know why. It’s like hearing a wrong note in a song. Consciously analyzing and picking apart a well-written story (i.e. one you enjoyed or made you feel something) is also a useful exercise. Why does a certain story or character work? How did the author make you care about what happens?