|Newbies, always discreetly check the credentials of people offering you writing advice. (See My Novels, in case you're wondering.) People who have never published a book, or only published one, or whose entire oeuvre is digital erotica, may not be best placed to help you.|
However, feeling 'born to be a writer' does not make you a writer - or so conventional wisdom tells us. Most people would agree you have to write something and get it published to be a writer. Vast swathes of dewy-eyed attendees at Creative Writing courses would argue the opposite, of course, insisting that you can be a writer without ever being published. After all, a staggering number of Creative Writing students have tutors who are new, unpublished or obscure writers, so it is probably a doctrine they learn early on. That you should fake it till you make it.
Evangelical mission strategists have a catchphrase for this progression from outsider to insider: 'Belong. Believe. Behave.' That is, the important thing is not for you to be a brilliant writer from the outset, but to join other writers and learn to self-identify with the group. This very act of belonging, of membership, rapidly leads new members to believe in what the group represents as a whole, and consequently to behave the same way as all the rest.
In other words, if you tell yourself you are a writer, socialise with other writers, and most importantly join writers' groups and organisations, then apart from all the insider knowledge you are soaking up, you will be better placed to believe that you are a writer, and produce something of publishable quality.
And so we're back to publishing. I apologise, but you really can't get away from it as a writer. Whatever those lovely CW teachers may have told you.
To publish means to make one's work public, for your novel to be read beyond your little circle of intimates or the other students in your class. In most cases, the very act of being read changes the way a writer sees themselves, and that's a big step towards becoming a professional novelist.
I'll come back to that issue in a future post.
It is my personal view that you need to publish a novel in order to be considered a novelist - whether traditionally or digitally is less important, so long as it is for sale - and therein lies the rub. Because publication is not easy.
|It's not easy to be a novelist. But at least you're not a poet. They have it REALLY hard.|
It's not easy to write a novel, but if you manage it, that's just the start of your journey. It's not easy to get an agent. It's not easy to get a publisher. It's not easy to persuade a retailer to stock your book (bizarrely, this can be the case whether you're with a big five publisher or a small press). It's not easy to get signings and publicity. It's not easy to write a second book after the first. It's not easy to keep writing novels and settle into a strong mid-list position as most novelists have to if they are to continue paying the bills. It's not easy to keep publishers interested if one of your books - the last one - sells poorly, even if those poor sales had nothing to do with you but were the result of marketing or promotional choices, or other external factors.
It's not easy to be a novelist. You're getting that, right?
But if it's still easier than everything else in your life, if you still sit down to your latest manuscript with steely-eyed determination and the occasional flash of excitement, despite all the setbacks and disappointments, then it's probably what you're meant to be doing.
And here's another question for you. You can leave your answer below, if moved to join the debate.
|QUESTION: does belonging to a writers' group or professional body - such as the Romantic Novelists Association, pictured here at conference - make success in publishing more likely, for published and unpublished alike?|
So to add to the complicated business of writing a novel, if you lack the Midas touch, you must possess certain qualities instead to make it as a novelist: speed, competence, stamina, grim determination, flexibility, a bombproof disposition, more than usual cunning - and of course charm.
Never underestimate charm. It will serve you far better in the publishing world than haughty reproof or a hissy fit, even when faced with the most startling incompetence. After all, we have all been guilty of that on occasion.
And those huge advances? (I know you're still thinking about them.) If you don't sell enough copies to earn out what they gave you up front, my starry-eyed friend, I hope you have a nice alternative career lined up. Something with a pension plan. Because you're going to need it. There's only one prospect harder to sell than an unknown would-be author, and that's an author who didn't earn out their advance.