Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Things I've Learned Since My First Book Got Published

Another author wrote this piece and posted it on her blog, but, man, can I relate! I've interspersed my own commentary in blue.

by Cherie Priest, author of the novels Four and Twenty Blackbirds and other stories of Victorian gothic fantasy
I got an email yesterday from a reader who said she saw me a few DragonCons ago when I did a panel on being a new writer. At that time (if I remember correctly) I did not actually have a novel out yet. I was merely in that pre-novel stage of, "I SOLD IT, AND SOMEONE'S GONNA PUBLISH IT, YAY!"* But to make a long story short, she was hoping for an update. Her email concluded, "What have you learned since Four and Twenty Blackbirds cme out? What do you know about publishing now that you wish you'd known about then?" So here's my update, just for her. Let me call it:
Things I've Learned Since My First Book Got Published

Everyone will think you are rich. Obviously, if you got a book published, someone must have given you fat sacks of cash dollars American. You now have a moral obligation to donate to charities, give to your alma mater, and consider including PBS in your will.
Yes, everybody thinks you're rolling in it, but it wouldn't bother me much to be approached by some worthy causes. However, my activism keeps gives me plenty of ideas for where to donate so I don't really need suggestions. What I don't like is the assumptions that folks begin to make about what you can and cannot afford to do as if it's any of their business.

You will not be rich. Whatever money you might have earned from an advance will have been spent fully a year before your book appears. Maybe you paid off your car, or maybe you got that leather jacket out of lay-away at Wilson's. Whatever, that money is LONG gone.
This is so damned true, I have to laugh to keep from crying!

Publishing is very exciting. For you, personally. Everyone else will think it's dead boring, and will be sick of hearing about it by suppertime -- once they figure out that you are not rich.
Well, kinda true. It's boring to those who don't aspire to be published. To those who want to be published but have yet to be, it's way less than exciting than they think, LOL!

You will probably still have a day job. This will make you look like a failure to all the people who assume you must be rich. These people can bite you.
I've been blessed to be able to avoid the 9-to-5 marketplace thus far, but don't get it twisted. I have to do more than write books to make a living and support my modest lifestyle. But there are times when the savings are dwindling and the next check is a few months off, and I'm seriously thinking, "Should I put in an application at Barnes & Noble?"

Getting your foot in the door is not the hard part. It is the first hard part.
Too true. There's a major difference between getting a break and breaking through when it comes to any artistic career. And one book deal does not a career novelist make. It's harder than ever to maintain a writing career even as midlist author now that publishing is becoming more like the film industry -- personality driven and franchise-oriented. It's becoming less about the consistent money an author earns a house over the course of a career and more about the hot commodity that sells blockbuster even if the author is a one-trick pony.
Drinking and blogging is right out. Because once you've published a book, you forfeit the right to ever make a typo in public, ever again.
I guess this depends who you are. I'm not much of a drinker, and I've been known to put my mistakes on blast in a blog so I'm pretty carefree and fearless when it comes this.

You are now the foremost authority on the English language. At least, this is what all your friends/relatives who do not write will assume, and they will treat you like their personal diction consultant. While you are at work, you will receive phone calls from Florida, where your aunt wants to know about a comma she's considering for the church bulletin.**
Not when you write urban fiction with liberal doses of slang and ebonics, you don't. :)

Everyone will want to know how you did it. This will make you feel very SMRT and like an expert and stuff, for maybe the first (I dunno) two weeks after Locus mentions it. Then you'll get kind of tired of talking about it.
Nah, I can't say I ever felt like an expert on publishing or anything. In fact, I still feel very much the amateur. But I am tired of talking about it, but it's all that other aspiring writers want to know. It makes it very tricky to join writing groups, take workshops and enroll in seminars. Often once other people in the group realize you've been published, you are thrusted into the unwanted position of teacher when you came there to be a student. It's tough because I don't want to be unsupportive or aloof, but I can get a bit resentful because I came there to learn not teach.

No one will believe you did it by writing a book that was worth publishing. Aspiring writers will be sure that you had a secret short cut, and you are a raging bitch for holding out on all those other poor folks who are just as worthy as you, but who were unwilling to flash their boobies at exactly the right people. And if you don't think people will actually say things like this, perhaps you have not yet published a book.
It's the worst when you get this feeling from folks who you considered to be your friends. They tend to be the same people who are speculating about how deep your pockets are. You hit the trifecta with those who want you to hook 'em up when they haven't even bought your book let alone read it!

Everyone will want to know why you're not on the New York Times Bestseller List yet. You will pretend that you're much more reasonable about your expectations than that. But secretly, you will also wonder why you're not on an important list someplace and you will feel inadequate.
Yeah, hate to admit it, but it happens sometimes, even when you know that there are perfectly good reasons beyond your control as to why Oprah hasn't called yet.

People will "helpfully" tell you what you should have done differently with your cover. When you explain that (a). you really love your cover and anyway (b). you-as-author don't get any say-so over this aspect of the publishing process, they will feel sorry for you because obviously you are a loser.
You could say the same about titles, but for the most part, I've been thrilled with my covers and titles and have had considerable input into all of them. I realize that I'm the exception to the rule, and it just so happens that I'm not a diva when it comes to these things. So long as the cover or title is not some gross misrepresentation of who I am and what I stand for, I'm pretty open-minded to what the house comes up with. I did have one experience, however, that made it very clear to me that, when push comes to shove, the house calls the shots

You now have the inside track to publishing. Everyone you've ever known -- even in passing -- who has ever written a book now thinks that it's your God-given duty to put them in touch with your agent/editor/publisher. This will get awkward.
True indeed, and what these folks don't understand is that publishing is a labyrinth of an industry that takes years to understand.

People will use your name to lie. At least twice, other writers with whom I was peripherally acquainted approached my (now former) agent and told him that I'd recommended them.
Oh, hell, yeah, don't even get me started on this shit.

You will be asked to work for free. This is because you've now achieved that career point of, Technically Successful - Yet Still Approachable. Small upstart markets, acquaintances, etcetera, will appear with offers to "let" you write for them, for "really great street cred." You should kick these people in the shins.
Well, I've been asked to work for free long before I got published so...

There is such a thing as the law of aggregate success. You will also be offered more paying gigs, and if possible, you should probably try to take advantage of them. Some paying gigs (especially short markets) do not pay much, but there are plenty of very fine venues that can't afford to offer a huge rate.
I'm just starting to appreciate this as I develop two chapters of my current novel-in-progress into standalone short stories.

People will ask you questions about stuff you wrote, and you will say, "Um ..." By the time your book actually comes out, it will have been a full year or even two years since you actually composed the material. You will have moved on to other projects, in which you are wholly immersed; and when someone asks about why character X in book one does thing Y, you'll have no earthly idea. But you'll be confident that there was an excellent reason.
Actually, I pretty much remember, but I much prefer to move on. Still if you're talking to a fan, it's not hard to be gracious and talk to the question. In fact, if it's a fresh question -- and not one that you've heard a thousand times before -- it can be a joy to rediscover your own novel through new eyes. I am, however, tired of answering, "Why did you choose the pen name Black Artemis?" but, alas, I always do because the mere thought of saying, "The answer is in the back of the book" makes me feel like an ungrateful dolt.

You will get book reviews. If they are good, no force on earth will get those reviews into your hands so you can read them for yourself. If they are bad, fifteen people will email you the text before breakfast.
True, I'm still happening across great reviews for Picture Me Rollin' and Divas Don't Yield even though they were published two and one year ago respectively. As for people jumping to send me bad reviews, I can't say that I've had that experience. Then again, in the beginning of your career, you tend to be unusually adept at finding the nasty ones with no ones help even as the raves evade you for years. If you're a "give me the bad news first" kind of gal like I am, it's better this way.

You will acquire fans. This will blow your freakin' mind
It truly does! .
Some of your fans will be annoying. Especially when they email you to say how much they love your work, and then they spend three pages pointing out all the things you did that they totally hate.
LOL, poor Cherie. First, the "friends" who leap to email her bad reviews and now this. My fans rock. On the rare occassion that one has pushed back on something I've written, s/he has done so with tremendous sensitivity and openmindedness to my explanations (hate mail's another story, but I'm not going to give that any attention.) So pointing out all the things I hate is not the way the rare annoying fan has gotten under my skin. In fact, I don't know if the people who have worked my nerves are true fans. My gut is that they're aspiring writers who are posing as fans in the hopes that if they flatter me, I'll put them on. Or go out with them. Don't get me started on that that.

Most of your fans will make you want to squee yourself to death with joy. Because holy crap, someone who is not one of your parents read your book and liked it. I am not exaggerating when I say that this makes it all worth it.
No truer words have been said.

Edit: I'll update the list as more occur to me.]
So might I. :)

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