When I was a little, I had this picture in my head of what it meant to be a grown-up, full-time writer.
It involved a lot of cozy sweaters and turtlenecks, a lovely office with a big desk and giant windows that looked out over the mountains because, of course, it would be set in a lovely secluded cabin in the woods.
And in this image that my child-mind projected, my grown-up, full-time-writer self sat at her desk – poised, pulled-together – and simply typed her stories out, printed them off in pristine black-and-white beauty, and mailed them off to New York. (My child-mind did not account for leaps in digital technology, obviously.)
Basically, if you ever saw the film adaptation of Wonder Boys, it looked a lot like that scene of Michael Douglas at the veeeeeery end in his posh office with a black turtleneck on.
I have to confess to feeling a bit nostalgic lately for Little!Becca’s vision of what being an author would be like. Just write with confidence, send it away, get it back in book form. Simple, pure authorship.
Of course that’s a terribly naive image. It was never going to survive once I had a legitimate (or so I thought at the time) book under my belt and started looking into the actual industry just after college. With that exploration came the knowledge that, for the majority of authors, that vision is a fantasy. The reality is – these days more than ever, I feel like – an author has to be savvy and involved, an active participant in building a career that has the potential to bring in money. You can’t just know writing anymore; you have to know marketing and social media and networking and you sure as hell better understand your contracts. It’s a business and has to be understood like a business in case you’re already independently wealthy and just horsing around for funsies (which most of us aren’t).
For someone like me – let’s say, a writer on the verge – who hasn’t picked a publication path yet, you pile onto that the overwhelming volume of opinions and rhetoric regarding whether one should go with traditional publishing or indie/self-publishing.
Let’s be clear: I know and love people on both sides of the line. I respect agents and editors, and I have a great many traditionally published friends who are so fabulous I would never stop hugging them if it weren’t so damn awkward. On the flip side, I have boundless respect for my copy editing clients and every other independent author who decides to take their career into their own hands. I want to buy them all drinks and tell them that I adore them for being ballsy and talented as shit.
But having friends on both sides of the line means that, more often than not, articles on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing are exhausting as shit.
If I had a dollar for every article written on this topic that manages to tackle it without – subtly or blatantly – denigrating the other side, I would have…well, maybe about ten dollars. Generally, all I’m seeing is this: One side comes out with data or an argument. The other side responds by saying that argument is bullshit. The first side then responds saying that the argument against their argument is bullshit.
Repeat ad nauseum.
And I know the advice that’s coming: “Just stop reading about it. Forget about the industry and just write.”
But I’m sorry, that’s just not practical. It’s a lovely idea, but it drives me up the freaking wall because it’s just not possible. You’re too late. The Pandora’s box is already fucking open. I can’t write as if the industry isn’t there because it is and because I want to make a career in it. I want to make a knowledgeable, educated career in it, which means staying on top of developments and analysis of those developments. No matter what path I choose, being an author these days is a form of entrepreneurship, and you’d never tell an entrepreneur to start a business without researching the market.
I am trying to read them less, especially when my anxiety is already flaring up or when I’m drafting and just need to keep my head down. I am trying to stay in the present instead of projecting into the future all the time. I am trying to find this balance between knowing enough and knowing way too fucking much ohmygodeveryoneshutup.
But I guess what it comes down to is that, this week, I’m really just missing fifteen-year-old me scribbling ridiculous original stories and fanfiction in the back of her high school auditorium. She knew nothing of the industry; she only knew about the pure joy of writing, and she was a lot more free because of it.