Once upon a time I told a guy I was dating that I wanted to be an author. At the time I was in journalism school and I had already completed three novels, and while I knew I had a ways to go and didn’t dare to presume myself already an author, I knew it was the path I planned to pursue.
“You write novels?” he laughed. “I just can’t imagine you sitting at your little computer typing away little stories..
Yeah. We never went out again after that.
But this kinda reaction is one that a lot of novelists encounter, no matter what stage in their career they’re at.
If you are working toward publication you get condescending smiles and things like “Well that’s a nice dream to have.” or “What is your real job?” and the general sense that people think you are sweet and delusional.
If you are self published you hear things like “Oh, so it’s not really published” or “Yeah, people can publish anything they want these days!” Insinuating that your work, no matter how professional and successful is somehow worthless because you chose a different route.
And it even extends out to traditionally published writers. “Has anyone actually read it?” “I’ve never heard of that book.” and “Do you actually get paid anything for it?” Because if it’s not a well known bestseller, it apparently doesn’t exist.
So for many years now, when people have asked me what I do, I shrug and say, “Oh I’m a stay at home mom.” suggesting my days are spent cleaning boogers, cleaning house, and and wiping butts (to be fair, the boogers and butts are a large part of my days).
Certain friends and family have given me the raised brow, smile and nod and move onto the next subject when I have had the delusional optimism to mention that I am spending my time querying, editing, social media-ing on behalf of my writing career.
But I am done hiding. I may not be on the bestseller list this year. I may not even be published for a while yet. But this is my career, just like an actor, an artist, musician or a director. I am working my way into it. I am learning. This is the arts and it is an industry I am working hard at it as I refine my product, make connections and learn the market.
A few months ago, a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time asked me what I was doing with myself besides being a mom. I told him, a little sheepishly, I’m working on getting my first novel published. His eyes lit up and he responded with, “That’s AWESOME!”
Wow. That felt good. Because it is awesome. It’s frustrating, it’s exhausting, sometimes it’s completely depressing, but it is awesome and I am proud of the work I am doing.
So I decided to stop acting like it wasn’t awesome. I am pursuing a career I love and, while I know there is a stereotype of the wannabe writer who is always talking about writing and never actually getting their work out there, that isn’t me. Is it you? If it is, that’s okay too. You will get there.
The holidays are coming up and I am owning my career path. And if are in a position like me, whether you are working on your first publication or preparing to release your eighth book, here is how to handle the skeptics you encounter.
- Your book is a product. You are working in an industry. Refer to them as such. In fact, throw some industry jargon in there. Suddenly the slow nods and the “oh, that’s nice” will turn into “oh, that’s impressive.” Because you are doing something they can’t do and you know things they don’t know.
- Be proud of your work, whether it’s a serious historical character study or a wildly unique take on YA paranormal romance. You wrote an effing book and you’ve had the work ethic and maturity to refine it, to kill your darlings, to cut out large sections that you loved because they weren’t working. No non-author is going to understand the blood sweat and tears you put into your work, so don’t expect them to. Just don’t let that discourage you from beaming with pride over what you have accomplished.
- Don’t downplay the work. You know how long it took you to write the damned thing, Researching, editing. Editing again. You know how much time you have spent learning the industry, going to writers conferences, pouring over articles, researching agents, editors, publishers, marketing, writing blogs, creating an online presence. Non-writers don’t know this. Many people think you just wrote down some sloppy thoughts for a couple hours and want all the glory of Stephen King. Tell them. People put value on hard work and you have worked hard.
- Mention the professionals you have worked with, whether it’s editors, published writers, bloggers, reviewers, designers, whatever. It lets people know you are serious about your product and about not only getting it out there but calling on established professionals to get it right.
- Give a realistic projection of your timeline. Realistic doesn’t mean bleak. Don’t say “I don’t know if I’ll ever make it.” or “It’s so hard to make any money in this industry.” Realistic means, “It might take some time, but I’ll get there.” or “My newest self published book brought in twice as much revenue as my last. I think the third one will be my best sales yet.” You are putting in the work. It is only going to get better. Will you be a millionaire next year? I don’t know but I don’t suggest you tell people that as a certainty. It might be years before you can quit your day job. But realistically, you will get better with each novel you write. Your novel will get better with each draft. Your chances of getting an agent get better with each query you put out, and so on and so on.
- Don’t let it get to you. When your date still insists on making little digs about your “little stories” accept that he’s just a bag of horse crap and file him away for future villains. Many people wish they had the courage to pursue a career in the arts and are going to project resentment out at anyone who does.
Of course we all know that we have to make the distinction to ourselves first that we are awesome because we are authors. Other people will catch on eventually, but don’t let them deter you in the meantime.
You are an author. That means you are a salesperson, a researcher, an online personality, a professional reader, a marketing director, and a creative genius. Own it. You deserve the title.