‘Stop wondering and start acting, stake your claim. They say there’s no place for you here, so you better make one.’
– Jason Butler.
As a writer you get asked some truly bizarre questions. People expect that your interest in literature means that you’ll know who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 off the top of your head. Or that you’ll know the title and word count of Bryce Courtenay’s fifth published novel. Or sometimes they’ll ask what inspires you, or to name your favourite author. Or they’ll ask dreaded what’s your book about question; where they expect you to summarise an entire manuscript in one sentence.
There’s a myriad of inquisitive questions that the general public throw at you in an effort to better understand you and your process. Even though sometimes you’ll look the fool when you state you’ve got no idea what novel Courtenay published fifth, or that you can’t realistically summarise your own work in one sentence (they’re not after a pitch, but rather an entire synopsis crammed into one compact, easily digestible sentence), you really enjoy the fact that you’ve plucked someone’s interest enough to ask. Those questions mean that you’re on your way to achieving your dreams. You’ve captivated someone’s attention.
But there is one question that leaves you feeling frustrated. One question that you get asked time and time again by people who are genuinely interested in your story, but who fail to understand the complexity of what you are trying to achieve:
When is your book going to be published?
That one question can come in many forms, but essentially what it does is hit you like a sledgehammer and cause you to feel like a failure or someone who hasn’t quite made it. The worst part is the person asking isn’t trying to make you feel this way. They are genuinely curious as to when you’ll be published. They like what you’ve told them, or what they’ve read from you before, and they want to be one of the first people to get their hands on your work. What they don’t realise is that you’re busting your arse to try and make that happen, it just isn’t as easy as they think.
See, these people, these adoring fans of your work, see the literary industry like they would any other. They view the transition of an aspiring writer to published author as linear. To them the process goes:
You decide to write a book. You write a book. You publish your book, and spend the rest of your life swimming in piles of money like Scrooge McDuck.
If only it was that simple. I’d forego the piles of money and live like a damn beggar if it meant that my work was published so easily.
The truth is that the transition from aspiring writer to published author looks a little more like a spider’s web. You write your script, send it to an editor; it bounces between the two of you for some time as you refine the work. From there you start seeking agents, you customise and individualise query letters for each agent and send them off. Then you play a waiting game, you wait for your talent and a little bit of luck to pay off. You sit on your hands for a few months, penning your way through a few other pieces, hoping someone accepts your work. Most agents don’t respond, a few write generic rejection letters, and maybe one decides to further review your work.
When an agent says no you start all over again, thus your spider’s web begins to take life. If they say yes you most likely edit again before your agent begins to market you to publishers, leaving you waiting yet again for that talent and luck to come through.
There’s no linear progression on your journey, you’ve got to thrash out your own path. For me that means working a full time job, studying (something I often neglect), and finding the time to write this blog, pen manuscripts, and hassle agents. It’s a delicate balancing act, and one that I’ve been trying to perfect for years.
When is your book going to be published?
I haven’t the faintest idea. But when it is finally put into print I’ll know that all the hard work and hustling was worth it.
In my previous post Ready, Set, Misfire I stated that my goal in 2015 was to see my work put into print. It’s an insanely ambitious and somewhat ambiguous goal that in some respects is outside of my control. I can’t hold a gun to the head of an agent or publisher and force them to accept my work, but I can work myself into the ground in an effort to make sure anyone who can make my dreams a reality has a copy of my manuscript on their desk. I can continue to write on this blog and haggle others for opportunities to write for theirs, and I can learn how to market myself more successfully. Fortune favours the bold (excuse the cliché), so there’s no point sitting around waiting for someone to waltz up to me and offer me a publishing deal. I’ve got to chase down my dreams and make them happen.
Luck will always play a huge part in determining whether or not an agent or publisher accepts my work. But as I continue to hustle more agencies, and convince publishers to view my work, the less I am relying on lady luck and more on talent. 2015 is all about making a place for myself in this industry. It’s about hustling, destroying the map and redefining what it means to be a writer.