What writing and getting published is really like…

The insanity starts innocuously with an idea, a thought of ‘what if’ or a snippet of a scene, or an imaginary person, or a place real or fictitious. It refuses to go away and knocks around in your head demanding release. So innocently, you start to scribble or type and the idea takes form and shape and becomes a story. It’s fun, fulfilling to put words on paper or computer screen. It draws you away from your other “hobbies,” like reading, watching TV, crocheting toilet paper cozies. There’s no pressure, no urgency, just satisfaction and story. You write when you feel inspired, fitting it around your day job, feeding the kids, helping hubby find his lost socks.

And maybe it happens while you’re still writing or maybe at the end of the story, but a little voice inside whispers, “you should try to publish this.”

And that voice gets louder and begins to sound like a “good idea.” So you polish up the book you wrote for your own amusement and query publishers. And the day arrives when someone says, “We’d like to read your manuscript.” And you get excited, and off you send it.

And then comes the email, the letter, the phone call with the news, “We’d like publish your book.”

“Yes! Yes!” you scream. You sign a contract.

You just opened Pandora’s Box.

Your first book is a gift of yourself to yourself that is produced with no urgency, expectation or demand. It’s a luxury you will never have again if you pursue writing as a career or even a part-time job. Writing and its subsequent promotional demands will rapidly consume your entire life.

In writing the first book, you have a single point of focus and no pressure. Writing comprises 100 percent of your “writing” time.

Then the book is published. And you begin promotion. If you’re savvy and smart, you start promotion before the actual release (but that’s another blog topic). You blog a little, you tell your friends on Facebook, you tweet, maybe send it out for review. And you start writing your next book. At this point, with one book published or about to be, writing/editing takes about 80-85 percent of your writing time, promotion maybe 15-20 percent.

And then your second book is accepted. Now you have one published book to promote, a second book in editing with a publisher and you’re trying to write your third book. Sales aren’t what you want on the first book, so you step up promotion. You blog more, tweet more, join blog hops and “reader” chat loops that turn out to be mostly frequented by authors promoting their own books. You  search out more ways to get the word out. Your daily email has grown, requiring regular maintenance to keep it under control. You start to get invitations to join this or join that.

Family begins to grumble at this point. You’re spending a lot of time at the computer locked in your office or cubbyhole. They see you “chatting” on Facebook or Twitter and think you’re wasting time because they don’t realize how social social marketing is.

Go you! Now you’re two or three years into your writing career and have three or four books published, you’re in editing on your fourth or fifth and are writing your sixth. Promotion now consumes 50 percent of your “writing” work time, which has increased exponentially. Not only is social networking consuming a larger slice of the writing pie, the size of the pie has grown. Writing is no longer a hobby that you fit around other things. It’s become a thing in its own right.

You begin to feel overwhelmed by the promotion demands: blogging, guest blogging, reviews, contests, interviews, Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, blog hops, chat loops. Each of your published books demands equal time. You feel like a plate spinner on the Ed Sullivan Show, dashing from project to project, activity to activity, trying to keep everything spinning.  You want to write, but you have to write a blog or do a board on Pinterest or visit other authors on a blog hop. You want to write, but you just got the edits from your publisher. You want to write, but the kids are killing each other in the next room. You want to write, but hubby is glaring at you because he rarely sees you anymore. You want to write but you still have your day job because you’re not yet earning enough by writing to support a family.

You begin to compare yourself to other authors. They seem to be writing more, publishing more, have better sales figures.

You feel like you’re not doing enough. You’re not producing enough. You’re not promoting enough. The total of what needs to be done has become a huge, hulking elephant.

If you start to feel like you might have handle on writing and publishing or might have a chance at success, life intrudes. Kids get sick. You get sick. A close relative dies. You’re trying to sell your house. You move. Hubby loses his job. Family visits. Holidays. Graduations. Birthdays. Soccer games.

Aiyeee!!!

But here’s the jewel of hope at the bottom of box: the worst day writing is better than the best day doing something else. Being an author offers personal fulfillment like nothing else. It’s worth every hair-pulling moment.

It will be stressful and pressure-inducing. But there are steps you can take to manage the hulking elephant:

  • Set finite, obtainable writing goals, i.e. a daily or weekly word count. When in editing, do the same by setting a certain number of pages per day. Decide how many blogs you want to write, etc.
  • With respect to promotion, don’t try to do it all. Pick three or four activities and focus on those. There will be trial and error at first as you learn what is most suitable for you and what is most effective.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other authors. They might appear to be more successful (or may in fact be more successful), but you don’t know what their situation really is. Don’t mistake activity for success.
  • Learn from other authors, but don’t mimic. Take note of what works and what doesn’t and act accordingly. Know that what works for one person may not work for another.
  • Target your promotion activities to your audience. This sounds like a no-brainer, but writing a guest post on a blog that doesn’t draw your audience is a wasted effort. If you write bdsm fiction, having a guest interview on your friend’s “sweet romance” site isn’t going to do you any good. Likewise so is promoting your book on a “reader” chat loop attended only by other authors promoting their books. Your time is limited. Don’t waste it.
  • Use your “windows of opportunity” to get ahead. When you experience short periods of reduced demands and activity slows, use your time wisely. Write a bunch of blogs. Schedule your tweets. Get your list of reviewers together and write some draft emails.

And finally, remember, you have achieved your dream. Enjoy it and revel in it because it is the best job in the world!

Questions for you:  If you’re a published author, did your writing career turn out to be what you expected? What tips do you have for managing time and tasks?

 

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20 Responses to What writing and getting published is really like…

  1. Wonderful post, Cara. And you’re right, even a bad day as a writer is still better than all the other options. Thanks for the reminder.

    Before I started writing, I assumed the words just magically flowed from the fingertips of writers who automatically knew how to plot a great story. When I started writing and critiquing for others, I learned that it’s really a lot of hard work.

    I’m still working on the time management part. I think I need to set time limits for blog visits, facebook and twitter and stick to them.

  2. Love this. Really, really love this. Great advice and great perspective. The part about the first book not selling as well as you’d hoped is my fear and why I pushed so hard to get Mrs. Claus out before Kat. I’m not as invested in Mrs. Claus, and I hope that the momentum of Mrs. Claus will help to build a readership for Kat in the spring. I hope.

    One thing I’ve found most helpful in writing is learning to trust my instincts. I love having this community so I can ask other writers (at different stages of their careers and with different styles for writing, promoting, etc.) what they think. It’s pretty wonderful to have that kind of support and mentorship.

    Thank you for a great blog post and for all of your advice.

  3. Cara Bristol says:

    Sounds like a good strategy, Ana. The other thing I’ve do is to put my time and effort behind my winners. You can promote til the cows come home and still not move a book that’s not selling, yet that same effort applied to a book that is selling can have huge impact.

  4. Sue Lyndon says:

    Cara, you just described the last year of my life! LOL

    I look back and wish I could feel as free as I did when I wrote my first book. No pressure and it was so much fun. Once I started promoting and social networking, this cut into my writing time. It also made me feel very inadequate. I’d look at other authors who sell more books and write faster and think, “what the heck am I doing here?” Then I tell myself to stop being a baby and go write! I also try to limit my online time to an hour a day, but I almost always go over…I’m working on it:)

  5. Awesome blog, Cara! Just shared w/Twitter and my local RWA group.

    Here’s the thing: It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others. But it doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s almost impossible not to do, I know this as well as anyone else, but do try to resist. You are you. Your writing is yours and your situation is unique.

    I work *a lot*. People ask me how I do so much. I’ll tell you. I work probably sixty hours a week. I do not have an “evil day job” because I am lucky to have a supportive spouse with a great job.

    Out of that sixty or so hours, what I do varies greatly. Not all of that – or, at times, very much of it at all – is actual writing. Because, like you said, you have edits, website maintenance, promotion, meetings, social media, and a ton of other things on your plate now. I’m very lucky in that I write fast. But that might not last forever. Right now I’m burned out, so I’m going easy in December on actual writing. I’ve got enough other things to keep me busy. 😉

    Thanks for posting this. Really a good reminder for all of us.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Had a new neighbor who is interested in writing ask me the other day, “How much time do you spend writing a day, an hour or two?”
      Ha ha ha ha.
      I spent more than THAT when I was just dabbling. Now it’s a full-time job!

  6. Janis Lane says:

    One of the very best summations I’ve ever read. Makes me feel very normal.
    Thanks.

  7. Loni Lynne says:

    Cara,
    Reading this post, I thought I was looking in a mirror (figuratively). This past six months I’ve gone from ‘writer’ to ‘author’ having my first book contract. Though the book doesn’t come out until June, I’ve agonized over ‘what’s next’, ‘where do I need to be’, and ‘am I doing everything I can right now’.

    I started my NaNo to settle in with my sequel but know, even if it gets picked up, there is so much left to do between now and June, before the first one goes out.

    Timing is everything and making time to stay ” in the loop” and still write, critique, blog and maintain my own personal life is becoming a juggling match even for my yellow legal pad I use to keep track of my “To Do” list.

    The advice is great and so I am printing this off for reference when I get into those periods of “Arrrrrgggggghhhhh” and want to lock myself in the bathroom again (like I did when my kids were little).

    I agree with Janis Lane. “Makes me feel very normal.” It’s good to know I seem to be on the right track. 🙂

    Hugs and Big Thank You!

  8. Great post, Cara!

    DH asked me when I could take a vacation from work, take some time off. I looked at my calendar and pointed to a date sometime after I give my editor the last of 6 books I’m contracted for. I said, “I can do a week here as long as I’m still doing promo for the backlist” (which at that point is going to be almost 30 books, I think). He said that wasn’t taking time off. I agree.

    I love being a published author, but once you step onto that wheel, you kinda feel lik. e you have to keep running! Will I ever decide I’ve written enough books or reached a certain level of success and then stop? No, I just keep reaching higher… and looking forward to that “time off” lol!

    • I’m the same way. I don’t think I have enough books out, I don’t think I’m making enough money. I’d love to go away for two weeks but there’s no way that’s happening soon. 😉

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Shoshanna, you are one of the most prolific authors I know!

      • I write a lot, but I still feel extremely guilty when I don’t write for whatever reason, LOL. I think it’s because I don’t have set “work hours.” Unlike DH, who comes home from work and knows he’s done, I have to find time as I can, which makes doing anything other than working during “free time” – ie time when I’m not taking care of our son – feel wasteful.

        Which is ridiculous, clearly. We all need to balance family, play and work. Part of the reason I’m so prolific is I haven’t learned how to balance yet. I need to though! LOL

  9. I love this post you are so right on all fronts.
    In fact, it gives me a lot of hope. I’ve been writing for a lot of my life and my second book (My second book in six weeks!) is coming out on Saturday.

    I had an inkling that the road was one of work, rather than gliding into authordom, but this makes it sound so worth it:

    “But here’s the jewel of hope at the bottom of box: the worst day writing is better than the best day doing something else. Being an author offers personal fulfillment like nothing else. It’s worth every hair-pulling moment.”

    I fit my writing around a full time job, which one beautiful day I want to scale back to write more. The job fulfills next to nothing in me, but I work to pay the bills so I can write. My advice is to squeeze the writing in while you can, and also, if you’re ‘blocked’ or busy with other projects, the story is usually fermenting away in the background. Don’t get stressed about it.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      You’re right about ideas fermenting. One of the best pieces of advice I’d gotten about writing was that sometimes you have to fill the well.

  10. Pooky says:

    Love this. I was feeling really down today. I am glad Ana found the link for me and told me to read it. I feel like I never have to write anymore bc I have to do promotional stuff or my life is going on in the background. I am glad I am not the only one. Anyway I am glad I am not alone. I will put some of your suggestions into play- today.

  11. Cara Bristol says:

    Glad the post helped you. I wrote this when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed.

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