Ha! Gotcha! The title is clickbait. I’m not a best-selling author, at least not yet.
I am a struggling author who, at the time of this writing, has five books out and who is working on number six.
Last month marked fifteen months since I quit my job and bought a cabin in the woods. I’m here to do two things: make a living as an author or go broke trying, and I’m not making a living.
So, is this post a cautionary tale? Is this a Horatio Alger story about a guy who picks himself up by his own bootstraps, thrusts his thumb up his own ass and holds himself out at arm’s length? Am I here to reveal the secrets of how you too can become a best-selling author if you just follow my proven program that costs $1500?
But wait, there’s more! But it’s not what you think. I’m not selling anything but a story, and you can buy it for the cost of your time. This story happens to be mine, and it’s about what I did to publish five books with decent ratings that earn me gas and food money.
This is the story about how I spent a year pursuing a childhood dream of writing stories that people actually read and enjoy. How do I know people enjoy the books? They tell me by giving me little gold stars on Amazon and Goodreads. I am not ashamed to tell you that my eyes are misting right now. How cool is that? I’m living a dream, and for that, I am exceedingly grateful.
While I would like to make a living from my books, the fact that I’ve learned how to create worlds for people to explore makes me grin until my face hurts and that’s good enough for me. With a ton of good advice and heaps of hard work, I’ve developed methods and skills to start writing books, finish writing books, publish books and even sell a few.
Here’s the kicker: I didn’t do anything that you couldn’t do, given time, dedication and the ability to learn from mistakes. That implies making mistakes. To write successfully, you must make mistakes, a lot of them. And by “success” I mean writing something that more than your friends and immediate family might pay good money to read.
Some of my author friends tell me that they are insulted when someone says to them, “Oh, you write? I will write a book one day when I have time.” Those writer friends take umbrage that some feel writing is so easy that anyone can do it in their spare time as if that’s all it takes. I haven’t had the courage to tell those colleagues of mine that I agree with Harry and Harriet Aspiring Writer. Those writer friends have sold a lot more books than me. They have a lot more experience. I’m prepared to have some interesting conversations if they ever read this article, but I stand by my assertion.
Anyone can write a novel, and all it takes is time. It takes time to discover the story you have the ability and desire to tell. It takes time to identify what the story is truly about; its theme, its color, its mood, substance, and texture. It takes time to hone your craft and learn things about grammar, sentence and story structure that you skipped over in school or that you never bothered to really think about. It takes time to learn how to develop the methods to tell a story that makes sense in such a way that it brings a reader fully into a world you create. Spinning an immersive reality from your wooly imagination takes time.
I’m still learning most of these things, and I don’t really have the energy or inclination to talk about sales and marketing. That is the other part of the equation that turns a writer into an author. When you become an indie author with a mind to make a career out of it, you also take on the job of being a publisher, agent, and marketer. I find those roles more daunting than writing.
Another point of annoyance I’ve heard from authors like David Foster Wallace is the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” The reason why authors don’t like that question is because; a. they know the secret and don’t want to tell you, b. they don’t know the secret but know it’s very close or c. they know the secret and it scares the shit out of them.
Stories are the air we breathe. Stories are with us everywhere and every way. We tell ourselves a thousand stories between the alarm clock and the shower, through our trip out the door and all along our commute to work. We weave countless stories just from meeting eyes that might show us love, lust or indifference. The difference between the average person and the writer is that the writer, at some level, recognizes this and develops the ability to pluck threads from this endless stream of stories and weave them by craft into whole cloth. We build the multiverse from daydreams you try to avoid.
So, my end goal as a writer is to sell books. I’m not going to spew some triteness about the destination being unimportant, and the journey of a thousand miles is the sound of one sneaker tapdancing or some such nonsense. I’ll probably commit an even worse crime of motivational rhetoric. Don’t worry about the journey or the destination. You’re cycling through countless journies and destinations every day. Pick a few, tie them together, and put them down on the page.