I returned to creative writing in 2013. The last few years have been joyful, as a direct result of producing short stories, novellas, novels, poetry and song lyrics.
All the same, there are a few things that I wish I’d known before I put fingers to keyboard.
1) No one wants to read my writing. Steven Pressfield crudely summed this up as No one wants to read your shit!
I smile wryly when I think back to my naive optimism in uploading a dozen short stories and novellas to Smashwords, hoping to make a little money in time for Christmas, 2013.
Whatever the worth of my stories, it wasn’t financial, and they disappeared like snowflakes in a blizzard of other writers doing the same thing.
I quickly learned, that half of the battle to get anywhere as a writer was gaining attention through self-promotion. Nobody knows who I am, so why should they want to read my work? Writers are part of a branding process these days. Reclusive authors are virtually extinct. It sometimes feels to me, that reading novels is a form of nosiness for some people. They want to find out more about the author through their work.
In this way, the book world has become more like the music industry and Hollywood.
2) Writing a book is actually the easiest part of the whole process. I love the planning, background research, specific fact checking and seeing a new story take shape.
For me, editing is quite the most tedious task I’ve ever done, confirming what Garcia Gabriel Marquez observed:
I had no idea how time-consuming and soul-destroying it would be.
Querying is like crawling on broken glass to the tradesman’s entrance of a fortified castle full of carousing gatekeepers, the literary agents who know what’s what…and they sure as hell don’t want to know me!
That leaves selling the book, the self-promotion, the flogging of my precious story as a commercial product—see point 1).
Learning that publishing, more than anything, is a BUSINESS was tough. It’s not an arena for gently showing off how clever I am as an author, it’s more becoming the manufacturer of a commercial product. My book may as well be a new flavour of baked beans.
3) What sells best isn’t necessarily the finest writing by the most talented authors. We’re advised by writing gurus to labour carefully to produce a brilliant manuscript, an intriguing story that’s correctly punctuated and free of flab. I take a lot of care in creating my novels, devoting thousands of hours to each title.
It’s galling to realise that someone who’s already got a public persona (and piles of cash) can throw a story together and instantly get a publishing contract. Invisible ghostwriters will knock things straight. Had some nitwit celebrity submitted my novel it would have been published to acclaim.
Readers buy books by people they already know. They also buy stories that are so basically worded, that the language wouldn’t trouble a 10-year-old child. Bestsellers are often not highfalutin literature. Instead, simple yarns sell in their millions.
It makes me question why I’m trying to produce high-quality crime novels, when, if I want to make money, I should simply scribble off a piece of crudity that appeals to mouth-breathing, knuckle-draggers who move their lips while reading to themselves.
Dumbing down has won. That’s something that I didn’t fully comprehend before entering a new era as a writer.
4) Competition writing is an art. Another thing that I wish I’d known, in my early stages of creative writing, is a greater awareness of the rules of writing competitions.
In a burst of enthusiasm and naïvety, I uploaded 44 titles to Smashwords and Amazon in a short period of time. This was the best of my work, including short stories and poetry. Self-publishing in this way, making an ebook available for sale, means that it disqualifies the work from eligibility for most writing competitions.
A few competitions allow entry by stories that have previously appeared online, but not many.
In retrospect, I wish that I’d held onto them, and tried my luck by submitting to competitions. Even if I hadn’t won, being short or long-listed is a better way of raising a writer’s profile, not just to readers but literary agents who keep an eye open for potential talent.
Wise words from the first writer to become a billionaire from her work:
What do you wish you’d known before starting out?