Usually, when I tell someone that I’m a fiction writer, the reactions fall within two categories: 1) “That’s great. Will you read my book?” and 2) “Writing’s not really ‘work.’ You just put something on paper and publish it, right? Then you’re rolling in the money like Stephen King or Nora Roberts. I should write a book.”
*Collective writer cringe*
Those who give the second reaction aren’t trying to impale my heart-shaped-facsimile with a rusted cake knife – they’re just ignorant. The antidote to ignorance is, of course, education. So here you go, nitiwits. Behold – your education.
Let’s start with the statistics:
There are approximately 288,355 books published in the United States every year. Seems like a lot, right? Everybody must be getting published.
This figure includes editions and non-fiction as well. So we can safely cut this figure in half and say that 150,000 new fiction novels/short story anthologies are published in the US every year. That number doesn’t look as pretty. Wander around Barnes and Noble for an afternoon and see how many authors have multiple books to their credit. Then, see how many names you recognize. Hell, look at the NY Times Bestseller list and see how many names you recognize. Publishing a book does NOT immediately make you a household name.
But for sake of argument, let’s say that you do publish a book. Congratulations. Have a party, crack open that bottle of Gentlemen’s Jack that you’ve been saving, but don’t quit your day job. A full time (we’ll define “full time” as writing at least 200 words of publishable prose an hour for 25 hours a week) writer (fiction and non-fiction included) makes an average of $7,500 a year. That’s 85 cents an hour. Only 10% (and this is a generous figure) of writers who set out to make a living with their writing actually succeed.
Oh, dear. I’m getting ahead of myself. First, you have to have something worth publishing. Let’s explore that.
Step 1: Pick an idea from the idea tree* located in the heart of the lost city of Atlantis.
*If you’re googling “idea tree” in another browser tab, your journey ends here.
Step 2: Develop, nurture, and nurse your idea into an outline and first draft. (For tips on outlining and how to approach your first draft, see The Writer’s Companion by Renee Miller and Carlos J. Cortes. It has everything. Seriously. Go now.)
Step 3: Edit your draft. This is probably the most important step in the process, and the most arduous.
Step 4: Walk away for at least a week. You’re going to have to edit again, so for your sanity and to give yourself a fresh perspective, you need to put it away.
*Note: If you’ve been doing this correctly, you’ve spent at least a few weeks, if not months on this WIP already without being paid for it. Fifteen cent Ramen noodles are also sounding incredibly appetizing at this point.
Step 5: Edit again.
Step 6: Send out to Beta readers for a thorough thrashing.
Step 7: Edit a third time. (Noticing a trend?).
By this point, you should have a polished MS ready to send to agents for rejection. (You will be rejected at least ten times, on average, before some blessed agent will ask you for a partial. If you can’t handle being rejected, then you’re not ready to publish). I have a mantra I like to repeat with every rejection I receive (this includes being rejected by flash fiction magazines): 50, 40, 30. Say it over and over again. 50 years between Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, 40 years old is the age at which one of my favorite authors finally published his first novel, and 30 is the number of times Carrie by Stephen King was rejected before his wife fished it out of the trash to be resubmitted.
Months (or years) of work for no pay, no recognition, and inevitable heartbreak.