The Other Side of the Fence by Shelley Munro
Back when I first started writing, I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I wanted to write books. I dreamed of walking into a store and seeing books with my name on the cover sitting on shelves alongside some of my favorite authors.
I’d always wanted to write books, but marriage, travel and life got in my way, and I shunted the idea of writing aside in favor of other things. Then, one day I woke up and decided if I didn’t start writing soon I’d run out of time. That one decision started me on a path that is equally rewarding and frustrating.
I took writing courses, joined the Romance Writers of New Zealand and finished my first book. I edited and submitted my first book and started writing a second book while waiting for the great news from the publisher to say I’d written a masterpiece. Of course, that didn’t happen, and about three months later, I received my very first rejection.
I stared at the fence that had grown between me and my dreams—the fence that divides aspiring authors from published ones. It had grown while I wasn’t looking! I took another look at that fence and wondered how I’d get to the other side.
Meantime, I finished my second book and started on my third. I read craft books, attended meetings and conferences. I entered competitions and even placed in a few. The entire time I kept reading books in different genres and experimenting so I could grow into my voice. Some things I did well—they came naturally and the bricks at the top of the wall fell away. Some things were just plain difficult and that fence grew while I wasn’t looking.
But I didn’t give up. I wanted to climb the fence and run on the green grass on the other side so bad I couldn’t give up. All my favorite authors were on the other side of the fence—the ones I sought to emulate. I equated the other side of the fence with success.
If you’re an aspiring writer, the thing you’ll soon learn is that everyone’s journey is different. No two writers are the same and comparisons aren’t possible. My journey from aspiring to published ended after six years of learning and trying to bash down the dividing fence. I discovered e-publishing and realized this new medium fit me much better than the traditional publishing route. Once I discovered this truth, I bashed my way through the fence and emerged triumphantly on the other side.
I learned something completely new during the next month. The grass might be green on the other side of the fence, but with it came a steep learning curve. Suddenly I needed to know about contracts and edits, cover sheets and promo. I needed to think about a website and how to juggle all the new balls while writing another book. And one thing that shocked me rigid was when I learned selling one book didn’t guarantee another sale. Each successive book had to stand on its own merits. Yes, it’s true. I learned there was just as much rejection on the published side of the fence as there was on the aspiring side. Oh, the pain!
Now, six years later, I’ve learned a lot. Some of my decisions have been good while others haven’t worked out for me quite as well as I’d hoped.
I never realized what a huge beast promo is and how much time is consumed in trying to get your name in front of readers. In the past, publishers have helped with promotion, but these days, authors are expected to do a lot of the promo themselves. It all takes time away from writing. There are lots of different ways to promo and, at times, it’s difficult to measure how successful a particular campaign has been. Sometimes, it’s a matter of trying different things or picking several ideas for promo that you think you’ll enjoy. Ideas range from blogging to social networks to bookmarks and advertisements. The possibilities are endless.
COMPLETING A BOOK:
As an aspiring author, I only ever thought about the sale and the edits. Once a contract is signed there’s actually a lot more work in store for the author. Depending on the publishing house you might have several rounds of edits, then galleys. You might have to write a blurb and complete cover sheets so the cover artists can work their magic.
Website design is something you can actually think about before you’re published. Surf the net and take note of the websites you like. Learn how to design or maintain a website before you’re published and you’ll find yourself ahead of the game. Likewise, promotion is something you can think about before you hit the other side of the fence. Track the types of promotion your favorite authors undertake and learn at the same time.
Deadlines are something a published writer learns to deal with. Once again, you can get a head start on training yourself to keep to deadlines by tracking your writing before you’re offered your first contract. Work out how much you can write comfortably in a week or a month given your personal circumstances, track how long it takes you to write a book and how long it takes you to whip it into shape. It’s all good training because blowing off deadlines isn’t good for business.
JUST DO IT:
Learn to flex your writers’ muscles every day. There will be some days when you don’t feel like writing but, due to deadlines, you have to write anyway. If writing is a habit, this helps pounding out pages that much easier.
READING & KEEPING UP WITH THE MARKET:
As a published writer, I find my time for leisure reading is severely restricted. I plain don’t have time, but on the other hand, a writer needs to keep up with the market, which means some reading is necessary. Trends come and go in the book world, and while it’s important to write something that excites you, if you can incorporate new trends and stay true to your voice then you should!
Unscrupulous people will upload your books on the Internet and you’ll lose sales. It’s heartbreaking and policing this will take a lot of time, possibly time you don’t have.
Times change and sometimes we need to change our publishers and/or agents. Lines close and others open. Some publishers go out of business and a writer must have a plan B to adapt to changing circumstances and market forces.
Staying published is actually harder than bashing through the fence separating aspiring from published. There! I said it. It’s plain hard work. There will be times when you think the deadlines are going to bury you alive, times when you’re dying to try to write something new, but your publisher wants something in the same vein as your last six books. There will be times when other writers seem to be doing better or catching the latest trend while you’re left standing still. There’s no doubt about it—the life of an author is not an easy one. So, would I choose the same path again?
Heck, yeah! I might do a few things differently, but on the whole, I think my journey would be fairly similar. Ask any writer, and their answer is probably the same. Writing isn’t a choice—it’s a compulsion, a life style, and the lows are counteracted by incredible highs. I am a writer and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Heads up y’all! Shelley has generously offered to give an ebook download from her backlist at Ellora’s Cave or Cerridwen Press.
Send the answer to the following question to IvyD@manicreaders.com. The winner will be chosen at random from the correct answers.
What is the title of Shelleys’ Ghost story?
Shelley Munro lives in New Zealand and writes contemporary and paranormal romance for Samhain Publishing and Ellora’s Cave. You can visit Shelley at www.shelleymunro.com