10 things writers wish that non-writers understood

OneDoesNotSimplyExplainTheBook

Being a writer is a profession nobody seems to understand. Do you sit around all day in your pajamas? Do you use a fancy pants typewriter? Are you just making elaborate fantasy maps all day?

The answer to all of these is “usually no.”

So what’s the deal? Well … let me clear up a few misconceptions.

Nobody has time to write

We make time. That’s how it happens. Magic, right?

Pretty much all of us have day jobs, social obligations, errands to run, and various other life responsibilities.

Writing the book is the easy part

You heard me. Writing the book is the easy part.

What’s hard is revising it multiple times based on feedback from critique partners and betas, perfecting your query, snagging an agent even after they request a partial or full manuscript, staying motivated / patient while you receive a lot of criticism and rejection or radio silence, getting a book sold to a publisher, etc. etc.

It takes more than an idea

Trust me, just because you have cool ideas and great life stories and your friends love them does not mean they will be golden when you sit down to write them out.

Telling a good story out loud and writing a good story are two very different tasks.

Sailor Moon Writing

We don’t do it to get rich

There’s very little money in writing. The Stephen Kings and J.K. Rowlings of the world are the 1 percent.

Nobody becomes an author to make millions. Most don’t even make enough to quit their day job. We write because we love it — because writing, though incredibly hard most of the time, gives us an incredibly genuine sense of fulfillment.

Mental illness is not a prerequisite

We all know the stereotype: Writers are loners, losers, drunks, cat ladies/guys, and all-around crazy people who stick their heads in ovens.

While many famous authors have suffered from mental illness, most research on the link between mental illness and creativity is lacking. Writers can be gorgeous, happy, social people. They can be short, tall, skinny, fat, gay, straight, white, black, and every shade in between. Yes, they can also have depression, anxiety, or any other number of mental health issues. And yes, there’s a lot of self-doubt, self-criticism, and self-loathing that accompanies the writing life.

But it’s important not to glamorize mental illness or position it as a prerequisite to being a legitimate creative person. A mentally ill person won’t “lose” their creativity if they get better. If anything, their illness is as much a detriment, if not more so, to their writing (and their life) as it is a factor in their success.

Asking us what we’re writing is a BIG question

Um, so, I don’t know if you realize this, but asking writers what our books are about is a question that FILLS US WITH DREAD.

Summarizing tens of thousands of words into a few sentences and making them sound cool is super hard. So hard that writers call that summary “the elevator pitch,” and it takes a lot of thinking and effort to make it good.

Of course, that means we need to actually create and memorize our elevator pitch before we can tell you it. So try to be understanding and kind if we’re not quite ready to share.

We work even when we’re not feeling inspired

Key word being “work.” Writers have deadlines. Yes, sometimes, if we’re un-agented, we set deadlines and goals for ourselves because otherwise we’d never finish our books — but rest assured, these are real deadlines and goals, and we appreciate when you respect them.

What we don’t do is write only when we’re feeling inspired or are on vacation or enjoying a perfect day or the kids are out. “This shit is easy,” said no writer ever. We write whenever we can, as often as we can, even when the words don’t want to flow and we’d rather be watching Netflix because writing is fucking difficult.

Writing is actual work. Legitimate work. Like, there’s business involved and stuff.

Being unpublished doesn’t mean we’ve failed

Probably one of my biggest fears — and I think a lot of writers’ fears — is that if we don’t have a big agent or a three-figure book deal and our books aren’t being made into movies (reality: 99 percent chance all that is not going to happen), then people will think we’re hacks and that we’re cute for trying but we should probably give up now and find a nice office job.

This is not a realistic measure of our success.

1) It takes years to write and revise a manuscript. Years. It’s a slow process.

2) Most writers’ debut books are not the first book they’ve ever written.

3) Sometimes, after you get an agent, your book goes on submission but then nothing happens.

4) Even if a publisher picks up your book, it takes years before it’s actually in print.

So if we don’t have “good news” or any real update for you and it’s been months since we last talked, please be patient. We have to be.

We really, really wish you’d buy our books

If we are lucky enough to get our book published, you buying it means more than you know. After all, as you just learned, we work on these things forever.

If you buy and read the book, extra points!

If you leave a review online — we’ll love you forever!

There are a lot of real, meaningful ways you can show your support beyond a simple congratulations.

What Real Writing Looks Like

What real writing looks like.

Writing is ‘boring’

If you haven’t picked up on this yet, the writer’s life is kind of boring. It involves a lot of waiting. In fact, when we’re querying or our books are on submission, we refresh our inboxes a lot. Like, A LOT.

It’s certainly not glamorous like on TV. Most of us aren’t Richard Castle.

So please, please, please — don’t ask us when the movie is coming out.


If you have any questions about what it’s like to be a writer, please leave them in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Your first novel isn’t any good

Author and YouTuber Travis McBee said in a recent video that no one should publish their first book. At times like these, I’m reminded of those old Animaniacs skits:

Doing nothing with your novel — good idea or bad idea?

Travis argued that “if it’s your first book, it’s not good. It’s not nearly as good as your third or fourth book will be. Do not publish it — you will regret it.”

He says instead to do a rewrite and then set it aside — then repeat for at least one more book after that. His point is that your skills will grow dramatically from your first book to your second, and your second to your third. Publishing that rough, early work will turn off readers who may otherwise become loyal fans if only you had waited until your skills advanced.

I … totally agree with him. Rarely are debut published novels actually a writer’s first novel. More often, it’s their second or third — or twentieth.

The first novel I completed was crap. At the time, I didn’t realize that, but I can pretty much look back on that manuscript now and shrug my shoulders and nod my head. Yep. Terrible.

Why was it terrible? Because your first novel is often your “practice novel.” You’re going to make a lot of mistakes in it. And it’s not that those mistakes can’t be fixed — if you really wanted to, you could spend years performing major reconstructive surgery on them. But there’s only so much you can do for a body that’s badly broken.

For me, the clincher was that I no longer enjoyed my novel after writing it. I was bored by it, and I didn’t care about the characters. Not really. I didn’t believe in my story anymore.

It only took me a few years of procrastinating in revisions to figure that out for myself.

Travis’s advice is to move on — shelve that novel, at least for now, and write something new. There’s a big chance it’ll be much, much better. Your first novel isn’t the only novel you have in you — it’s not your “one and only” dream book. Trust me. Your imagination’s a lot bigger than that.

When you feel discouraged about your writing

writing hard

Last week, I was feeling overwhelmed by the writing process. Finishing a book takes a long time. First, you have to write it and take a pass at editing. Then you have to enlist critique partners to point out the problems you can’t spot yourself, which also requires that you devote time to their manuscripts. Then, before you begin the querying process, which can take months, you should probably show your novel to some beta readers to gauge how regular readers (not writers) would react to your book if they picked it up in a bookstore.

It’s easy to feel like all of this is too much of an investment. If you might have to write three, five, ten manuscripts before you get published, then why waste so much energy on a single book?

You can get caught up in thinking it’s going to take forever before you get good enough to publish, and then what if you never do?

Here’s the thing. Writing isn’t about getting published. It’s not even about talent. It’s about hard work and persistence. You should write because you love to write, because you don’t ever want to stop, not because you care about whether a group of people believe your work is “marketable” or whether it’s the next New York Times bestseller.

I know that’s a hard thing to hear because, holy shit, does writing take a lot out of you. I’ve been working on my current WIP for over a year. For a lot of that time, I didn’t necessarily keep to a strict writing or revising schedule — although I’m doing a lot better than I did with my first completed novel, which took me over three years to revise and even longer to realize that I was procrastinating because I didn’t feel passionate about it (a good sign that it sucked and I needed to move on to a new project).

Now I’m setting my writing/revising schedule at the beginning of the week using Any.do and planning out my goals per quarter. Because I want to finish this thing, no matter how long it takes. Even if it doesn’t end up being my debut and attracting an agent and publisher, that’s okay. Because just going from my last manuscript to this one, I can see how much my skills have grown. And I know that I’m going to get even better — so it won’t be quite so much work the next time around. Hopefully, my next story will be even more enjoyable to read, too, because I’ll have gotten better at all the things I’ve been struggling with.

So if you’re feeling down about your writing, tell yourself to shut up. Then pat yourself on the back and treat yourself to some chocolate or beer or whatever makes you happy. Because even if you can’t believe it right now, one day you’re going to get there — to that wonderful moment of seeing your book on somebody’s shelf. You just have to stick with it.

believe in magic

Fifty Shades of Grey is bad news for the bedroom — and cars, apparently

Fifty ShadesIf your nose is in a book these days, there’s a good chance it’s Fifty Shades of Grey, which has sold 32 million copies in the U.S. Either that, or you’re reading Twilight, which inspired E. L. James’ novel and its sequels.

We can talk bedroom dos and don’ts until the handcuffs come off, but what about cars?

Yeah, my reaction exactly: What in the name of sparkly vampires and bondage does Fifty Shades have to do with automobiles?

According to Haynes Publishing, which largely prints sought-after car manuals, just about everything. The firm is complaining that retailers are rejecting its books in favor of hotter titles.

“There is little doubt that…retail purchasing budgets were tight and that much of those available budgets went towards the phenomenally successful Fifty Shades series,” the company said in a statement, as reported on The Telegraph.

“Our books, in the most part, appeal to automobile and motorcycle enthusiasts. They are probably oriented to a male audience, and I am not sure that Fifty Shades is the kind of thing they would enjoy, but that phenomenon is impacting general publishing budget,” said Haynes’s chief executive officer, Eric Oakley.

“Many bookshops have spent so much money on these titles that their resources [for buying other books] has been stretched to the limit.”

I’m not sure I can sympathize — especially when Haynes is acting like it deserves special treatment. If the company is correct, than wouldn’t sales of fellow competing books be suffering, as well? Popular is popular — there’s not much anyone can do about that. Haynes’s statement sounds like old-fashioned whining to me.

Of course, it isn’t fair that one series of books can hog the spotlight, but the reality is, that fame won’t forever. The true battle is remaining relevant and interesting despite the constant surge of new and flashy competition. Just look at J. K. Rowling’s just-released The Casual Vacancy, which sold 375,000 copies in its first six days — an underwhelming number when you consider the predictions: more than 2.6 million on day one, which would exceed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. That didn’t exactly happen, but The Casual Vacancy still bumped Fifty Shades of Grey from the top spot on USA Today’s Best-Selling Books list, which it held for 21 weeks.

But then again, maybe Haynes has a right to complain. Its sales have fallen 9 percent recently, which could be a result of popular contenders…or maybe they’re just convenient scapegoats.

What do you think?

Self-publishing is what you make of it: an interview with the author of The Artemis Effect

A couple Fridays ago, I featured a book cover from a new author, Kasia James. She’s also a blogger, and I’ve been following her writing pretty much ever since I started this site. That gave me the perfect opportunity to reach out to her and ask about her experience, her creative process, the pains of self-publishing, and what aspiring writers can learn from it.

Kasia James (author)Misprinted Pages: Is The Artemis Effect your first book? What is it about, in a nutshell?

Kasia James: Yes, it is, although I have a couple more — which are quite different — in the pipeline. The Artemis Effect follows the stories of three groups of people based in America, Australia, and Britain as they struggle to deal with the breakdown of society sparked by mysterious changes to the moon. It’s fast-paced, character-based science fiction.

You’ve been working on this for about 9 years. During that time, you wrote the book, sent it off to publishers, and then finally chose self-publishing. To get started, let’s talk about your experience writing the book. What inspired you to write this particular story?

Well, to be totally honest, much of the science fiction I’d read up to that point dealt with ideas and technology very well, but rather shallowly with people. I thought that I’d like to have a go at doing something different. I read very widely and eclectically, so it seemed to be a possibility within the genre that could have been more fully explored.

Continue reading Self-publishing is what you make of it: an interview with the author of The Artemis Effect

Awesome book cover Friday: The Artemis Effect

I’m SUPER excited for my fellow blogger Kasia James, whose sci-fi book The Artemis Effect is now on Amazon for $2.99!

I love her blog, so I know I’ll love her book, too. Needless to say, I’m bumping this to the top of my reading list. :) Big congrats, Kasia!

The Artemis Effect by Kasia James

Here’s the description:

Three comfortable lives are shattered when a wave of inexplicable events exposes the fragility of human society. With an unprecedented celestial phenomenon, devastating high tides, a breakdown in global communication networks, and the sudden appearance of violent ring-gangs swarming through cities and towns, Kimberley, Scott and Bryn struggle to understand the vast events unfolding around them. Will they survive the Artemis Effect? Will they discover the truth behind the collapse of society before it’s too late?

In a recent post, she talks about the 9-year journey to write and publish her book — it’s very inspiring, especially to someone like me, who understands how life takes hold even though you have this unstoppable need to write a book.

Kasia actually turned to self-publishing after numerous attempts to interest a traditional publishing house as an unknown. I’m glad she did — that means I get to read her book! — and she’s brave for doing it. That method isn’t any less easy; in some ways, it’s even more challenging and a lot more work.

Huffington Post has a great article about how even in the year 2012, we still have trouble discovering talented new writers. Why? Publishing houses take safer bets on people who come with advantages — and bypass those who don’t. They have to balance reputation and profit, but with self-publishing, opportunity is unlimited.

The article mentions Writer’s Bloq as a safe haven from that — and the ironic requirement that a book “conform” to what’s hot or standard in the present industry. I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds that ridiculous.

Anyway — congratulations again to Kasia. :) This is great news.

The war against sock puppet reviews and two new books for Halloween

The_Lurking_Sock_Puppet by ursulav

A number of writers have banded together against “sock puppet reviews,” or those fabricated by authors and their family and friends to praise their books and attack others, thinning the competition. If it wasn’t already hard enough to pick out the good e-books from the bad, now people are permanently smudging the reputation of public reviews on sites like Amazon.

(Reddit user “Onewatt” even thinks he’s cracked the code for identifying suspicious ratings. Beware the C-curve.)

In other words, the next time you’re browsing for books, those glowing recommendations and positive scores might not accurately reflect the novel’s merit — leading you to spend money on a falsely advertised product.

The group against sock puppet reviews includes Linwood Barclay, Tom Bale, Mark Billingham, Ramsey Campbell, and David Hewson, among others:

But the only lasting solution is for readers to take possession of the process. The internet belongs to us all. Your honest and heartfelt reviews, good or bad, enthusiastic or disapproving,­ can drown out the phoney voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalized to the point of irrelevance. No single author, ­ however devious, ­ can compete with the whole community. Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess?

Do you consider it an ethical breach for authors to resort to fake or even paid reviews? As I reviewer myself, I certainly can’t imagine this passing as acceptable behavior: Just because you have a creative license to make stuff up for money doesn’t mean you can get away with telling lies in real life. But this practice is catching on. British author Stephen Leather and New York Times best-selling author John Locke are just two who have admitted to either constructing false identities or paying for reviews, respectively.

The Hollow Man by Oliver HarrisIn other news, HarperCollins Publishers has announced a new line of mystery books under its existing imprint, Bourbon Street Books.

Blood Line by Lynda La PlanteThe launch this fall will premiere two new books: The Hollow Man by debut author Oliver Harris and Blood Line, the seventh book in the Anna Travis series by Lynda La Plante. Both will release on October 23.

Bourbon Street Books also plans to reprint several Dorothy L. Sayers titles: Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Busman’s Honeymoon, and Gaudy Night

Hopefully, none of these show up with sock puppet reviews. :P

What books will you read this Halloween season? Last year I picked up The Book of the Living Dead by editor John Richard Stephens. It collects works from a lot of the big guys (and girls) of horror: Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, and more.

Awesome book cover Friday: Drive Back the Darkness

Today’s pick is a shout-out to my fellow blogger Amy, whose first book, Drive Back the Darkness, debuts on September 14. You know I’ll be buying a copy, Amy! Congrats! Beautiful cover, too.

Drive Back the Darkness by Amy M. Newman

Here’s an official summary:

On her sixteenth birthday, Ellie Lyons discovers her entire life has been a lie. She’s kidnapped from her home and left in Alladon, a kingdom controlled by an evil man named Morfan, a kingdom that she was born to rule.

Ellie reluctantly faces the impossible tasks confronting her; like learning to control the magic that now roars through her and burns everything she touches, training to become a lethal warrior, or dealing with the fact that Devin, the guy she is irresistibly attracted to, is actually one of the assassins sent by Morfan to kill her.

Devin has a troubled past; he has spent the last five years tracking the person who murdered his family. He is dark, dangerous, and deadly serious, but Ellie can see the core of kindness shining deep within him, as well as the fear of getting hurt again that makes him push people away. Though Ellie knows her life might be at stake, she can’t seem to stay away from him, even as her feelings become strong enough that they begin to scare her.

Vance, the second assassin and Devin’s best friend, is the opposite of Devin; blonde, charming, seductive. But his heart holds a kernel of darkness, one that makes him dangerously unstable, especially after he realizes that he has feelings for Ellie, feelings he knows Ellie doesn’t share.

Ellie can’t let her emotions for the two men cloud her focus, her quest to remove Morfan from power. When Ellie discovers that the children of Alladon have been imprisoned in a secret factory, Ellie knows she can’t fight her destiny any longer. She must claim her rightful place as princess and fight Morfan, or surrender and be slaughtered. Will she be able to survive long enough to save her people from the Darkness?

Print book collections are a statement about you and your life

Coffee table books

Digital might be the future, but a love of print books seems to go deeper than nostalgia. A personal library can say more about you than a hundred e-files can.

“When you have people over, you don’t show off your iPad library,” Josh Baker, the art director of Taschen Books, told The Independent. “There’s something about physical books that allows owners to make a statement about themselves and life.”

The quote comes from an article about the prevalence of coffee table books (including cookbooks) despite the digital revolution that’s crushing many print releases.

“Illustrated books and art books have withstood the digital decline that the rest of the industry is facing,” said Tom Tivnan, the features editor of The Bookseller. “The ‘beautiful’ books are the print books that will survive in the digital age. The latest Bookscan figures suggest, for example, that sales of individual monograph art books were up 70 per cent last year.”

Do you think coffee table books are “physical publishing’s last, best hope,” as it says in the article?

I do think home collections are a great way to show others the kind of person you are — and what you believe in. Someone who owns a lot of cooking and home-decorating books, for example, would likely be domestic at heart and value family and closeness.

$1000 writing competition at PUBSLUSH Press

PUBSLUSH Press is calling all manuscripts for a writing competition that will award $1000, “the chance to be published” (in other words, it’s not a sure thing), and a featured spotlight on their website. The submission period is open from now until March 31, so finish those manuscripts and good luck! The winner will be contacted by email in April.

Manuscripts will be judged on “style, content, and commercial viability” and include but are not limited to the following genres: “Biography, Chick Lit, Children’s, Comedy, Fantasy, History, Horror, Mystery and Crime, Poetry (compilations only), Politics, Religion, Romance, Sci-Fi, Self-help, Teen, and Thriller.”

This is a great opportunity for aspiring novelists and poets to market their book, even if actual publication doesn’t happen. Remember, word of mouth goes a lot way, and so does an extra thousand bucks in your pocket. If PUBSLUSH doesn’t pick up your book, someone else might take notice.

PUBSLUSH sounds like a good publisher to be involved with, too: According to their About blurb, they let readers decide what books get published and donate a book to a child for every book sold. That’s something worth more than seeing your book in print.

My novel’s stuck in Revision Hell, so I doubt it would be ready by the competition deadline. I’ll give it my best shot, though! I’m trying out Scrivener (on Windows since 2011 and Mac since 2007) thanks to blogger Aly Hughes, who convinced me to finally give the trial a download, and revision is already more appealing. Juggling Word documents was becoming a job in itself, and I was torn between typing in my preferred composition style (my desired font, etc.) and a traditional manuscript presentation (I’d just have to do the work later). Scrivener leaves the compiling and formatting as a final step, so you can type the way you want without worrying about the dirty details. Plus, the program gives users a generous amount of options for putting together and organizing ideas via outline or visual flowchart (aka the Corkboard, which is one of my favorite features). It’s great for getting a better handle on your structure and concept and exposing weaknesses in your plot.

The written tutorial was lengthy but very useful and informative, so if you give the trial a chance (no personal info needed), definitely take the time to familiarize yourself with all the available features.

My only problem initially was the Scrivener wants you to type your manuscript without indenting paragraphs and without skipping a line between them; otherwise it messes up the standard manuscript look, and this is the only thing that can’t be easily changed in the compiling process. I’m fine with not indenting, but not having spaces between paragraphs was throwing me off—all the text looks packed together. My solution? Go to Format –> Text –> Spacing, and set the spacing “Before” and “After” to at least 5 pts each. This doesn’t actually double space, but it does make your paragraphs a little roomier.

Are you a Scrivener wizard? Feel free to share your expert tips with me.