The Rigors of trying to become a full-time Novelist in a Post-Apocalyptic World

It’s desolate out there. Overpopulation has ruined us. We ran out of food, squandered our natural resources. The sun scorched us, aliens harvested us, Godzilla stomped the crap out of our cities. The few survivors fight over scraps. It sucks being in a post-apocalyptic world. That is if you are a first time writer.

By post-apocalyptic, I mean post-Twilight/Harry Potter. Also post-NaNoWriMo.

I know you’re thinking that it’s a bad analogy. The success of Harry Potter and Twilight should have been good for writers. A whole new generation was learning to love to read. Books were selling really well. It was good for writers that were already established.

For new authors, it was more painful. All the agents and publishers were high on Twilight fumes. Suddenly all they wanted was the next vampire romance or teen Harry Potter-substitute book. It is hard enough to get noticed as a first time writer, but trying to get noticed in the current climate when your book doesn’t fit into one of these categories is nearly impossible. Your submissions get put aside without being read because they don’t follow the trend.

This is the mess I fell into when trying to get Eye of the Moonrat picked up. Over sixty form rejection letters from agents and publishers. No feedback whatsoever. I knew that my book was good. Everyone that read it told me so. Still, it wears you down. Makes you feel like crap. I’ll admit it soured me. I stopped submitting at all for a while. It seemed hopeless. My big dream was to become a published writer. I wanted to see my book on a shelf with the logo for TOR or DAW or one of the other big guys on the spine. They rejected it too.

I joined a writer’s group. That was painful. It was one of those stereotypical cases of lunatics running the asylum. A room full of writers in the same position as me,  many of whom had been trying to get published for many years more than I had.  Some of the input was helpful, but twenty different writers looking at your manuscript one chapter at a time, each making notes, each with their own idiosyncrasies and pet-peeves, will make you go crazy. If I didn’t doubt myself before, that did it.

I looked into alternate avenues and tried to get advice from where I could. Most of it was a bit depressing. “Keep trying.”, “Don’t give up.”, “It’s a one in a million shot, but don’t let that get you down.”, ” try rewriting it again.”

The sad thing is that when you are trying to get published for years, it’s hard to get someone to care. People on the sidelines that know you have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get published think that your writing must stink and avoid reading your book because they don’t want to have to pretend they like it.  Even your staunchest supporters lose their energy. They get tired of hearing you talk about it. Their advice gets more and more hard to hear. If you ever get the dreaded, “Maybe it isn’t meant to be,” it’s like a dagger in your chest.

One of the hardest pieces of advice was, “Maybe you should give up on that series for now and write something they want to read.”  Probably good advice. In fact, I know it is good advice. If I make myself write a story that fits the template they like and they accept it and it get’s my foot in the door for the story I want to tell, that is great. But the prospect sounds horrible for a person that had this one burning story that he wants to tell. When you work a full time job and have a wife and four kids, it would take a long time to finish a new book, especially when it’s not the one you want to write.

Eventually I had some new friends read the book, and their enthusiasm helped me get reinvigorated, along with constant pressure from family and friends that were prior readers and wanted to know what was going to happen. For a while I just wrote without thinking of submitting my work. I had a few people suggest self publishing on Amazon, but I dismissed it out of hand. I had been told long ago, not to self-publish. When you do that, your work is already out there and no major publisher will ever pay full price for the book again.

Then one day I decided to look into Kindle-Direct publishing again. I heard stories of people that put their book out there for 99 cents  and that 20,000 people downloaded it just because of the price alone. It sounded like a dream and really it was. Amazon’s marketplace had been flooded by NaNoWriMo books. The sheer amount of new authors meant that the quality of the work available was really hit and miss. There are some great new authors out there, but also many that needed a lot more editing before they were released to the world. It takes some convincing to get someone to take a chance on new work, even if you put it out for 99 cents.

Finally back in May, I was up late at my computer and thinking about how to make my dream of being a full time writer come true and I said, “Screw it.” I put my first book out there. I did it fast just so I wouldn’t back out.  It was done.

Rushing it out wasn’t the best idea. I tried to follow the instructions, but the format was a little wonky when translated to Kindle and I didn’t even have a working cover yet, just a stock photo of some spooky trees. It took a while to figure out and fix those problems, but I told my family and friends and they began spreading the word.

I began getting downloads right away and it was a high. I had new readers. Strangers were reading my book, most of them from a family member’s post on Facebook. Of my meager twitter followers, (90% spam bots) a couple downloaded it.  I was feeling pretty good. Still, in the great scheme of things, it was light progress at best. I started getting positive reviews and did anything I could think of to promote it. I have an Amazon Author Page, a Facebook Page, and a Goodreads Author Page. I’m starting to annoy myself saying, “Please download my book!” everywhere I go.

Then last week I went ahead and put book two out there. This time I knew what I was doing. It went a lot smoother. Downloads have been alright, but I’m not making any substantial money. That’s not what it is about at this point, though. The main thing I am doing now is trying to get noticed. I hope to be able to sell enough books that I can give a publisher a reason to pick up the series.

It also has gotten me back writing on my blog again. This is quite different fare from the jokes, reviews, and parody articles that I wrote here in the past. Some readers are going to be quite CONFUSED.

At any rate, that brings me to my current state: Technically published. I have a hard copy of my first book in my hand right now and it feels good. Still though, there is an asterisk next to that title of  “*Published writer”  (*= the word SELF). In the big picture, self-published means semi-professional. I’m like an actor that does community theatre for free. I’m like a comedian that does stand-up only during amateur night. I’m like a treasure hunter that basically just searches beaches with a metal detector. I’m like a guy that got his degree online after a twenty minute questionnaire. I’m like a TV personality on a cable access show. I’m like a fashion model for my aunt’s line of second hand women’s clothes. It’s kind of hard to feel proud about telling people you are a writer when they go, “Oh, so you’re self-published.” You can see their estimation of you go down fifty percent.

Still, it’s progress. This is the path I have chosen. And I have reason to be optimistic. My stuff is good. I know it’s good. People who read it, tell me it’s good. I haven’t had a single bad review. (Though I know you can’t really please everyone. Someone’s going to hate it sooner or later.) I love this story. I love these characters. I want to share it with everyone. Life is good. I hope it gets better. Thanks for reading.

To go back to my apocalypse analogy, “Hey, look what I found! A case of pork and beans. The cans are  a little rusty, but my geiger counter says they’re safe! I ain’t starving tonight! Now if only I had a can-opener . . .”

P.S.  Oh, and by the way, “Please download my books!” and “Please tell your friends!!”

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