Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When Someone You Know Is Writing a Novel

Chances are, you may know someone who has mentioned in passing that they are writing a book. Chances are high, if you're reading this blog, that that person is me.

Since I started writing in 2007, I've learned a lot about the way the publishing industry works, a lot about how other authors work, and a lot about what those things mean to my own writer soul.

I've also learned that sometimes other people don't really know a lot about the process. Or maybe you're just curious.

Well. Lucky for you, I'm here to let you in on a few things. Perhaps a better title for this post would have been What Not To Say When Someone You Know Is Writing A Novel. Here are a few things that people have actually said to me when the subject of writing comes up.

"So, you're writing about vampires?"
Uh, no. Often, when someone first learns I'm writing, they will want to know if I'm either writing the next Twilight, or the next Harry Potter. I'm actually writing about a recovering heroin addict who's chosen as his town's annual sacrifice when he returns after a two-year absence, but thanks for asking.

"So, you're going to make us all rich!"
Again, no. The average amount a first-time author makes on their first novel is between $6,000 to $10,000. Shannon Hale, a favorite author of mine, posted more about it here. I actually have a higher chance of becoming a millionaire by winning the lottery than I do through publishing my novel. And you know you're really a writer when this fact doesn't stop you from writing your story anyway. Even if I knew I'd never make a cent, I'd still be writing what I am. It's the joy in creation, the feeling that I am the only person in the world who could tell the story I'm writing that finds me in my chair at the keyboard every day.

"Your life revolves around books."
I know, isn't it great? (That was my response to the first person who said that to me. I've since formulated a better answer, since people keep saying this to me in a concerned way, with the same tone of voice you'd use when holding an intervention for a drug-using loved one.) Do you say to your tax accountant friend "Your life revolves around taxes and numbers?" Or to the grocery store clerk "Your life revolves around produce?" No. It's their work, it's what they do. Writing is the same. For me, it's a part-time job, but many authors write full time, 8 hours a day.

"Your life revolves around your friends."
I know, I have the best friends! Writing can be a lonely pursuit, and sometimes you need others to keep you on course, or to talk out a plot knot, or critique your horrible first draft, or to provide therapy when the rest of life is hard to deal with. I have a writing group that meets once a week. We don't sit and write when we meet, we can do that all by ourselves! We do all those other things, and for me, it is absolutely vital to my writing. While my life outside of writing is very full, and I disagree with the fact that my life revolves around my friends, I will say that my WRITING revolves around my friends, who happen to be co-workers, so to speak. SO many of you read early drafts of my first novel and gave me valuable feedback. And the girls in my critique group have saved my life a time or two. I would not be without the help of Meagan or Olivia. Period.

"Are you finished with your book yet?" or "I thought you finished that."
Remember how I said, a few paragraphs earlier that I am a part-time writer? And even famous authors who write full time and don't have kids or a volunteer job with their church, or a garden, or cook all their meals from scratch, or eighteen loads of laundry to do can't write a book faster than about a year. So if it takes me three years to write my first one, and a year and a half to write the second one then I am doing just fine. Also, and I'm confident this is true for most authors, each book will go through many, many revisions and drafts before it feels finished. Neither of my books feel like they're at that point yet.

"So, you're going to send your book to Rand McNally to be published?"
Um, you know Rand McNally publishes ATLASES, right? This is how the publishing industry really works, in general. Step 1: write your book. Revise, repeat until it's the best you can do. Step 2: submit query letter to agents until one agrees to represent you. Step 3: work with your agent to revise your novel until it's the best it can be. Step 4: your agent submits your novel to editors at publishing houses. Step 5: your novel is accepted at a publisher and will be an actual book in about 18 months.

"I can't wait to read your book!"
Actually, you probably should. My current novel is not going to be a book for everyone. I think a large number of my acquaintances will find it offensive. And that is okay with me. What I'm trying to write is emotional truth, and sometimes that means writing ugly things. Hopefully, if I can do it right, including the bitter will make the ending—the long-awaited redemption—that much more sweet. For there must needs be an opposition in all things.

Any other writing related questions? I'd be happy to answer them in the comments.


  1. Fantastic post and fantastic answers to those questions. :) It's so funny what people think writing involves. And, I'm glad you could squash some of the myths with your post. :)

    1. Squashing myths one post at a time. I like that imagery!

  2. I still excited to read your work someday! Offend away! :)

    1. I'm not the least bit worried about offending you dear! And I'd be happy to have you read something of mine anytime.

  3. Wait, you're writing about a vampire that's a heroin addict? And you're going to be super rich after your publish it?

    Is your book going to be more offensive than the language in "A Million Little Pieces?"

    1. I haven't read "A Million Little Pieces", but I think there are many, many more ways to be offensive to certain people than with just swearing. But there is some mild swearing in my novel. These things happen when your character is like mine.

  4. So... if Rand McNally publishes Atlases, what does Atlas publish?

    1. I thought you knew everything, Dad. Don't you know this too?