I’m pleased to introduce today’s guest blogger, A.J. Brown. You can find out more about the elusive Mr Brown at his blog Type AJ Negative. His debut e-book collection Along the Splintered Path is currently the best-selling title in Dark Continent’s Darkness and Dismay series.
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So you want to be a writer? How many times have I read that opening? Hundreds? Thousands? Maybe not thousands, but plenty enough times to know that question needs to be answered by every single person who aspires to put words to paper (or computer screen, as our day and age would have it).
I’m not here to give you advice on writing. No, there are entirely too many books out there for that. Some of them are beneficial to some folks, while not so much for others. Self help writing books only work for those who apply what they’ve learned from them and even then, sometimes when the wrong advice is given, it can be detrimental to a budding author’s career. If you are going to read a self help writing book, do what I think every aspiring writer should do: Use only what is pertinent to you. But, that topic is really for another day.
If you answered the question above, then you have to answer a second one that goes with it: So you want to be a published writer? That one word makes a world of difference in the grand scheme of things. Anyone–and I do mean anyone–can be a writer, but being a published writer takes a little–no, a lot–more work than just typing out a story and calling it good.
Editors and publishers can be a fickle bunch. Some go with their personal tastes, while others look for a certain style or genre. Some of them will tell you, ‘that will never sell.’ Hearing those words can be a blow to someone who has been at writing for a while, but could be devastating for someone just starting out.
Getting published can be daunting.
Yet, it can be done… and far easier than it used to be. We live in a time period where we don’t have to rely on the big publishers or the big magazines to put out one of our stories or novels. We don’t have to wait six months to a year for what is almost certain to be a rejection slip. We can do it ourselves if we choose to. There are plenty of places that are designed to help people publish their books–even if they are terrible. The self-pub route is seen as a viable option to being rejected by every publisher out there; it has become the way for the writer to be in control of their work from the first word of the story to the click of a button that says ‘PUBLISH THIS BOOK.’
It takes a little work, but it’s significantly easier than waiting to hear back from an agent or publisher.
Before you say anything, let me take you along the more traditional path, but maybe not with your Big Six publishers. There are a lot of small press publishers out there who are willing to take your work. Finding the right publisher can be hard, but they are out there. You just have to keep your eyes peeled and your ears open.
But, it’s a small press, you say. They can’t pay me what the big boys can, you say. They can’t market me and they can’t… blah blah blah. Maybe you’re right. Maybe the small presses can’t pay you tons of money. But, the big boys don’t pay what they used to either. And maybe the small presses can’t do the big mass market campaigns like the big boys, but if you’re not, oh, I don’t know, Stephen King or Dean Koontz or Clive Barker, guess what? They’re not going to do the mass-market campaigns for you either.
Sure, there are plenty of things the small presses can’t do that the big ones can. But, let me tell you what the small presses can (and most of them will) do that many of the bigger ones with their big boy pants on won’t do: they will care about you, the writer. Sure, they want your work, but they will treat you, the writer, like you have a clue, even if you don’t (like me). As a writer, that is what I want.
I’m going to lay myself bare here for all of you out there, writers and readers alike. When it comes to publishing a book, I have no clue. Well, I have a clue when working on someone else’s books, but for my own? I’m as dumb as any rock you can pick up outside in the yard. No, not that rock. Yeah, that one right there.
I’m like a kid being led to the school bus for the first time, Mommy on one side, Daddy on the other. ‘It’s okay, son,’ they say, but I’m still scared out of my mind.
‘What if it’s not okay?’
‘It will be.’
I’m that scared kid.
Let me clarify something about that scared boy. As a child, I loved sports. Basketball was my favorite. I busted my hump learning the game–not just shooting, but everything about the game–and practicing and I would play anyone and everyone. I didn’t care if they were older than me, younger than me, faster, better, worse. I didn’t care. I wanted to play the game. I had confidence in my abilities and playing in back yards or at park courts or in gyms was nothing to me. I feared no one and no team.
Until I played in a league tournament. That first game I was all butterflies and I couldn’t seem to do anything right. I was more nervous than before asking a cute girl out on a date.
We called a timeout midway through the game. We trailed by twelve points at the time.
‘What’s going on?’ I was asked.
‘I don’t know. I can’t get going.’
One of the players looked me in the eye and said, ‘We can’t win without you.’
Another one said, ‘You can do this. Stop playing like you’re scared.’
‘What?’ I asked. I was mad. I’m not afraid of anything. I’m ten foot tall and bullet proof.
‘You’re playing scared,’ he repeated.
He was right.
We went back out and made a late run and ended up winning by six. The rest of the tournament we relied on each other for pep talks, for encouragement. I sprained my ankle in one of the games. Another guy broke a couple fingers and still another player twisted his knee. But, we couldn’t quit. If one of us couldn’t play we had to forfeit and drop out of the tournament. We had to encourage each other to play through all the pain.
We cared about each other. We cared about our goal and there was no way we would quit before we reached it.
Do you follow me so far? Follow along a little further.
In the writing/publishing business, we can either play scared or with confidence. It’s easy to play scared, to be timid and second-guess yourself. It’s even easier when you can’t seem to catch a break and no one wants your work. But, when someone comes along and offers to publish you, there is no playing scared. If you do, you’ll lose that opportunity.
Case in point: Recently, I had an opportunity to submit to Dark Continents Publishing. I was ecstatic, to say the very least. Someone wanted to publish something I wrote. Do you get that? Someone thought something I wrote was worthy of publishing.
I was happy… but I was nervous as well. What if they didn’t like what I sent? What if they reject the work and I lose that opportunity–an opportunity I spent a good chunk of the last year seeking out from quite a few publishers, e-mailing them, asking for a chance to be read by readers out in the world and not just in the writing community. What if I blew it?
I sat down, made a list of stories to consider. I read each story and whittled the list down to six. From there, I contacted some friends about reading them. Within a matter of a couple days, they all had e-mailed me their thoughts and I narrowed the stories down to four and spent the next several days going over them. After reading, editing, rereading, editing some more, I typed out the e-mail, attached the documents and let the mouse pointer hover over the SEND button for several seconds before finally clicking it.
That was that. The stories were sent and I… second guessed myself. Did I send the right files? I checked. Double checked. Triple checked. Even then I wasn’t satisfied I had sent the right files. Should I have chosen different stories? I reread all of the original selections and wondered if maybe I should have taken this story out and replaced it with that one. Did I do enough editing? Did I format it right? I knew the answers to all of these questions, but I still second-guessed myself.
And that is part of being a writer. Even the best writers sometimes doubt themselves.
Then the acceptance e-mail came and I was overjoyed. Then I realized, I have no clue how to push a book. Sure, short stories are easy to push, but books that have your name on it only? I had pneumonia during this process and I couldn’t tell if my chest was tight because I was sick or because I realized I had no clue what I was doing.
Ahhh… but someone was there to hold my hand, to help me to that bus and off to school. The staff over at Dark Continents Publishing was very considerate and patient of the sick southern boy with little understanding of the process. They did it all, the editing, cover image, formatting, pricing the book, copyediting and they made sure I knew what was going on every step of the way.
Not everyone will be that fortunate, but it is the type of personal touch I needed from a publisher at the right time. That scared little boy is gone (for the time being) and a little of that old basketball confidence courses through my veins. It’s a good feeling…
If you want to be a writer, go for it, but if you want to be a published writer, be prepared to work, to be rejected time and time again and, hopefully, somewhere down the line you find the right publisher for you. Don’t just go with any publisher. Go with the one that treats you the best, that lets you have a say in your work, in the cover art, in your vision. Go with someone willing to hold your hand and tell you that noise outside is only the wind. Go with someone who will give you the answers you need, honestly.
Writing is easy. Getting published is not. John Mellencamp once sang that everyone needs a hand to hold onto. That’s not just in life, but in publishing also. If you take the right hand, more than likely, the path will be well lit for you…