This year will mark the 3-year anniversary of my first big acceptance letter. I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs in that time, learned tons, not just about writing, but also publishing and everything that surrounds it. I’ve also learned a lot about life in general and my life in particular.
I am not one of those people who can take a wild leap and believe everything will work itself out. When I approach that ledge, I make damn sure I have a parachute strapped to my back and a safety net at the bottom just in case it fails. That basically means I didn’t drop everything the moment I found out I was getting published. It also means I didn’t just hand in my manuscript and wash my hands of it. Below are a few lessons life as a moonlighting writer/novelist have taught me. And I apologize in advance for the long rantiness…
1. Nothing exists in vacuum.
Seems obvious, right? But until you actually experience it, the idea is too abstract to truly grasp. I happen to be on both sides of the spectrum–an independent contractor, so to speak, and a member of the support staff in my day job– which means I have a pretty good view of what’s on the other side of the two-way mirror. There is a divide between authors and the publishing staff who make their books shine which people either don’t know about, or pretend doesn’t exist. In short, authors deal with one publisher with their books (maybe more if they have several books published in different places) but publishers deal with dozens, maybe hundreds of authors, each of them with a number of releases at any given time. It is an unbalanced equation which strains both sides. As an author, I would submit my manuscript and get confused and impatient when it wasn’t edited right away. I would think, “It’s just one book, what’s taking so long?” and not realize the editor probably had six or seven other books on her schedule before she could get to mine. It has taught me a great deal of patience and respect for the people taking care of me and my stories. It can’t be easy opening your email inbox each morning to ten messages from disgruntled authors who want to see their edits right away. And this leads me to lesson number two.
2. Perfection is an illusion.
Or in some cases, a self-delusion. One of my high school teachers taught me that writing is not as important as re-writing. What she meant is that the moment you finish writing/creating something, you fall in love with it. It is an achievement and it’s beautiful, and all you want to do is pat yourself on the back and show it off. Yes, it is an achievement. But it should also be only the first draft. Going into a new story, I know that there will be multiple re-writes and edits on my part before I even submit it to a publisher or editor. The Royal Wizard, for example, was reworked twice (from start to finish) before I resurrected it last year for a third huge re-write and I added more to it after suggestions and comments from my editor. What I have learned, however, is that people expect me as an author to take exception to criticism and won’t tell me if there is something about the story or my writing that bothers them. While it is a wonderful ego stroke to hear, “It’s great! I loved it!” I get very frustrated when there is a lack of useful feedback because –one– it makes it difficult for me to not get full of myself and –two– it leaves me flying blind to issues I could have fixed if only they had told me about it. Nowadays, when I hand my manuscript to an editor or beta reader, I tell them flat out that they need to be brutal. It’s the only way I will ever get better.
3. The journey doesn’t end on a release day and the work doesn’t stop, either.
I’ll admit, I hoped otherwise. There is no word to describe how lucky I was to get a book accepted by a publisher when I did. There are so many people who struggled for years and got rejected so many times before breaking through that wall and even more who never do/did. So, yeah. When I finally saw Blood Moons on the Liquid Silver Books storefront, for a second there I thought, “This is it! My life is finally taking off. I’ll hit the bestseller lists and will be able to retire without ever having to hold down a 9-5 day job!” Umm… not so much LOL. But in my defense, I was only a slightly disappointed when it didn’t happen. My lesson from this one is I don’t have the luxury of sitting on my laurels. Mostly because I don’t have any, but also because it would defeat the purpose. I may have lost sight of it for a while there, had to remind myself several times, but eventually I did remember that the reason I write is not to strike it rich, but because writing is in my soul. I do it because I can’t not. I would do it even if I never got published, but it brings me so much more joy to be able to share my stories with the world this way. The other lesson (going back to the leap only with a parachute analogy) is I can’t put my life on hold to chase my dream. That 9-5 day job I was trying to avoid turned out to be unavoidable. Yeah, it’s hard to juggle the two. Yeah, it takes a lot out of me. There were several months last year when I felt like crying every time my alarm woke me in the morning because I was stuck in a job I hated and couldn’t afford to quit and look for another. I had little to no experience, and the unemployment rate was so high I was lucky to have a job at all. During that time, writing wasn’t just a dream or hobby for me. It was my therapy and my escape. For that alone, it was worth all the late nights, the sore wrists, the bleary-eyed mornings and the miserable days when I could not bring myself to even look at the computer screen. I am still at the same job. It’s changed a lot in a short amount of time and I am happy to report I no longer hate the work week sunrise.
4. The only constant in the universe is change.
Not that many years ago, it was next to impossible for a new author to get the much coveted acceptance letter from a publishing house. I know–I’ve tried. A large publishing house didn’t even accept submissions except from an agent and agents wouldn’t accept them unless an author had an established backlist of publications. And then came the internet and the invention of eBooks and the system imploded. Making eBooks is easier, cheaper, and faster than print books. eBooks have no shelf life (literally life on the shelf before a store decides to cut their losses and send the unsold copies back for a refund), they can go global with a single click, and can be read on any number of devices which are already so popular it’s a rare thing to see someone on the bus without an iPhone or tablet. The world is still changing. Writers are learning that having the backing of a publisher is a vanity title when compared to what they can do on their own. It’s a lot of work. In this, again, I am on both sides of the fence and can tell you that the grass is just as green everywhere, and needs just as much pruning and cutting to keep neat. But the feeling of accomplishment you get is ten times greater because you’ve done it all yourself. You can publish a book at little to no cost to you other than the time you are willing to invest in it, which means you can set the price much lower than the big publishers do, which means more readers will be able to afford purchasing your book. You can expand your mind and learn the art of creating cover pages, formatting eBooks and marketing them, or you can find services online who do it for you for a one-time fee (as opposed to taking a cut of your royalties). It all depends on how much of a control freak you are 😉
5. No one can define you, except YOU.
Another self-evident truth I sometimes need to be reminded of. People have pushed me in the past, tried to put me in boxes to make their own lives simpler. They looked at me and decided which facet they liked best, then chose to ignore the others. Defining someone makes it easier to deal with them, and the way they define you will script the way they treat you. You have to be able to define yourself, otherwise you risk someone else doing it for you. If you let that happen, I can guarantee you will go through life being absolutely miserable. As someone who’s been through a few major life-changing events, moving to a new country, learning a new culture, trying to find my place in a new world, I will admit I have lost sight of myself several times. I have let others tell me who I was or should be, and it took me a long time to realize they were wrong. All of them. Because I am not just the foreign girl, the science geek, the nerd, the new kid on the job, or any number of things. I am all of them. I choose to embrace each and every part of me which has the capability and the willingness to create. So I am the writer, and the cover artist, and the web designer, and graphic designer, even a jewelry maker and video/music editor. I am the marketing department, recruiting/HR, tech support, librarian, walking encyclopedia, science geek, historian, sociologist, psychologist, astrologist, bloody wizard of all that was and will ever be. I don’t fit in a box; I refuse to be contained. I am multitudes. The greatest mistake I ever made, the one I most regret, is telling myself I have to choose between one thing or another. What I count among my greatest achievements is breaking that mold and expanding my hat collection to everything under the sun that I find interesting and worth while–which, admittedly, is a LOT. So if you see me ranting about a new software toy I discovered, imagine a ten year old in a toy shop on a sugar high. If you hear me talking about a pain-in-the-ass character who doesn’t want to get on the page, imagine me talking to them (out loud) while glaring at a blank page on my computer screen. I am not crazy (much). I am simply … air. As Wash said in Serenity, “I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar.”
And I also have elf ears.