The tulips are out, the weather is getting predictable and I am enjoying every bit of it, especially venturing out to meet with friends over lunch.
Many conversations nowadays drift to my writing enterprise and this post is a result of one such discussion. A friend, a longtime writing companion, congratulated me on getting two books out last year. When I told her of my goals for 2015, she simply shook her head in disbelief. When I mentioned that it is not that difficult a goal to accomplish given the tools we have available now, she said, “It may seem easy to you in hindsight. But it’s huge leap between writing and publishing. Still is.”
Led me to thinking about it . . .
We, the authors of this age, enjoy a lot of empowerment. Options to publish our works are numerous–there is the traditional publishing route as always, then there are a myriad of ways to publish independently, assisted or otherwise.
The market is flooded with books/content also as authors find easier access. More than 800,000 books have already been published this year (Statistics can be found here).
However, just like my friend pointed out, there are writers struggling to get their works out. Many of these authors write well, are technically adept to a good extent, financially able to market and push their works, and interested in their craft and its publication. Yet, they are still far from the point of publication.
Which means, even with people saying how easy it is to publish nowadays (via independent publishing of course, the trad pubbing process still remains as is), it is actually not as easy. People do have more choices, but that not mean independent publishing is a walk in the park.
But why not?
What did I struggle with before I gained said “hindsight?”
After a little bit of soul searching and probing my memories, I rounded up the mightiest speed-breakers on the road to reaching my goals.
1. Inability to see the BIG picture– This was the first of many bumps. I suffered from lack of clarity–of my goals and of the projects I undertook to attain those goals.
When I started, I was not even sure how badly I wanted to write. Maybe it was a hobby, maybe even a passion, but how much time was I willing to spare from my already busy schedule, and how much of my regular life could I afford to give up? The realization that writing was a dream big enough and important enough to me, came with time.
I also remember how difficult it was to clearly visualize the structure of my stories when I began writing. There were so many chapters, or fragments of chapters strewn all over my computer. They were all inspired, but I had no idea how it would all fit together. As long as I did not know what the final shape of the story would be, I did not know what to work towards.
The less clarity I had, the less I was sure about my goals, less driven I was to work toward those “muddled” goals.
Fast forward a few years to 2015–I know how much being an author means to me. I have yearly goals, monthly goals as well as weekly and daily goals. I am currently working on 5 different writing projects as well as an independent one, all at the same time. Is my brain never muddled? You bet. Sometimes it is. But most of the time, I can see far–I can see the BIG picture. Somewhat better than before.
There are no miracles, but things do get better with practice. I am able to see clearer more quickly now. And I’m sure that in a few more years it’ll get even better.
BUT, if I gave up back in the days when I couldn’t see far, I wouldn’t get any farther than the start line. Which brings me to the next reason . . .
2. Lack of commitment/persistence-One of the biggest challenges there is to any new venture. Persistence, the ability to keep on going when the going gets tough, to slog through the dips–doesn’t come easy. There were so many times I’ve been close to giving up. I won’t lie, it is definitely not easy to go on without seeing immediate returns for every little tweak you put in place. But I’m glad I kept on trying and now I see that the tiny tweaks are adding up. Yes, the traction comes, slowly but surely.
Does everyone make it through the doldrums though? Unfortunately, no.
Way back in the late 2000’s, when I just started writing seriously, I came to know a lot of writers who were similarly motivated. Now, almost all of them have given up or still haven’t moved across the first hurdles. Same with blogging–so many I know started off flamboyantly, writing 1000+ words every other day. Then, a month or two later, POOF! They were gone. They failed to stick around, they failed or refused to give up what needed to be given up to pursue the writers’ dream.
Starting a journey is fairly easy (or should I say the easier part), but hanging on to your dreams through the ups and downs and getting to the finish line is much harder.
3. Managing expectations-Super important stuff!
I had no idea starting out how long the road would be. And ‘m not just talking about the “writing to marketing,” I simply thought the writing process would be easier. Did I know that first drafts were supposed to be this hideous? Heck, no. I thought words would flow like fairy dust from my magic keyboard. Ha! So much for that.
A lot of writers start off dreaming of seven figure contracts and being overnight successes. Doesn’t happen, not in a day. Even the greatest success stories we hear of (even those are outliers, I know), took time to happen. A great contract came after a lot of refusals, fan fictions that took off needed working on a platform that was built diligently over weeks, months and so forth. We don’t often think of the work that has gone into making a success. And when we don’t get that instant gratification, we come close to giving up. In some cases we do give up.
4. The steep learning curve-As with everything else, learning the craft of writing and getting the written word published is incredibly difficult, more so in the beginning. Be it trad publishing or self. I have a lot more experience on the indie side (although I did have an agent during my misguided years trying to wade around the traditional pond-those could be added to my “lacking in clarity” days. During those days I had to learn to craft the query letter and the synopsis)
Anyway, I will restrict my comments to the indie learning phase.
First, a caveat. The learning phase never ends. I have picked up a LOT of skills in the last couple of years, but I have oceans to cross. Clichéd, I know, but the day I stop learning will be the day I stop growing.
Back in 2008, did I know anything about section breaks in MS Word? I’d heard of it. I had used MS Word for my technical writings, a LOT. But working as a subject matter expert in a Fortune 100 company comes with its benefits, or handicaps. I never needed to know about section breaks, because the technical writer would do all the heavy lifting for us. I thought, well, how hard could it be? Newsflash, it is a mess of a thing.
I was this close to handing my first book to a formatting service when I was getting it ready for CreateSpace. Only my ego stopped me from giving up and I persisted and I’m so glad I did.
Not saying that the formatting services offered by the zillion companies out there are bad, but they cost money. So the more authors can do it themselves, the better. But learning to handle the nitty gritty of wordprocessors? Not easy and not quick.
And that’s not the only thing you might need to learn. Among a zillion other things, there’s formatting for ebooks (I gave up on Smashwords in 2014 and stuck with KDP Select longer than I should have because of formatting challenges. I finally won in 2015.), there’s designing banners, covers etc, there’s perfecting blurbs, setting up blogs the right way to capture leads–the learning is vast.
It is easy to be overwhelmed. But the trick is to attack it one bit at a time. Chip away at the mountain, set up daily goals, persist.
5. Fear of failure-Oh yes! The thing we don’t always talk about is the fear of being judged, of being called a failure. I don’t think that fear ever goes away, but it’s HUGE when you publish for the first time.
It is my personal opinion that books we write are parts of our soul. So when it’s time to publish, we are baring our souls to not just friends and family but to millions of people out there. Some will like it, but many won’t. We will take it as a personal statement on us when people say a bad word or two about our books–it’s a truth as old as time.
I wanted everything to be perfect when my first book came out. Was it? Of course not. In hindsight, it was a mess. But I learnt. And when the second came out, it was much better. And so it goes.
So, was I afraid to hit the “Publish” button for the first time? I was terrified!
And now? I am still afraid, not as much, but still I am. I also know that failure is an option, because that will help me learn and get better.
It isn’t easy letting your creations be judged by people known and unknown–words will sting, indifference will eat away at you, insensitivity will be crushing. Can’t give up though–grow a thick skin and improve yourself but don’t change your creative voice just to please your critics.
Can’t be afraid to try new things and FAIL and try again.
Truth be told, whenever I start a new writing project I still wrangle with all of these. It gets lesser and lighter with practice, but it is far from zero. I have learned a lot over the years and the learning curve is definitely not as steep as it was two years ago. But there are more things to be tried, more skills to be acquired. The journey has only just begun.
Good thing is, we have better tools and the internet on our side. On the web, there are support groups, help forums, reviews and suggestions for better tools and services too. The author of today is rarely isolated. So, take it one step at a time and keep at it. Remember you are not alone. You’ll get there.