A look at publishing from the eyes of a newbie author

You realize that you must do all the heavy lifting to market your book and even at the end of it all the payday is not what you had expected.

I really like it when someone calls me an author and I ‘m sure you do too, or rather you will if someone called you that in the future. The thing is that it’s not easy being an author. It can take months or even years to write a book and then you must go to the hassle of getting the book published, approaching publishers, sending out manuscripts, writing concept notes and query letters and then, well then nothing. You wait and this wait is the most excruciating and heartbreaking part of the publishing process. Finally, when you have honed your manuscript a thousand times and you finally find a publisher who is willing to take a risk with you, the newbie about to be added to the ranks of authors, you may have to wait a year before the publisher is satisfied with the editing and you have a book cover and everything else that you could possibly need. You do get a lousy advance being a first time author but hell it’s something. Then the book comes out and you get a couple of positive reviews. You tell your friends and your family, hell you tell the entire neighborhood. You realize that you must do all the heavy lifting to market your book and even at the end of it all the payday is not what you had expected.

If this does not work out you do have a couple other scenarios. The first one is that you are already a celebrity and publishing houses are lining up to profit from the big chunk of your followers. They offer you huge advances and your book is out there in no time. Well, good for you.

The second one, and the more likely scenario is that you turn to self publishing. You have heard the stories of successful indie authors who keep a major chunk of their royalties and get to make millions, authors like Christopher Paolini, Amanda Hocking, J A Konrath and John Locke. What most people going down this path don’t realize is that it is equally or even more tough to be a self publishing success. The lesson here my dear readers is that writing is a dismal, low profit and highly unappreciated profession but we still do it because at the end of the day there is nothing we would rather be doing with our lives, because we love to write and to be appreciated for what we write. As unlikely as success is, it is still possible and the rewards our huge. My only advice to you is to keep your head down and keep writing.

This Post is Contributed by Shitij Sharma

Memoir or Fiction?

A Fiction writer considers writing a memoir. What does it involve?

JR-cover-photo1I guess it’s an age thing. Looking back, remembering incidents from the past, key moments in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, reviewing your life. I write fiction and have always been adamant that I would never write a memoir. But maybe there comes a time in every writer’s life when the idea of a personal account seems a tempting project. You want to put the record straight, separate reality from fiction, write the definitive version of your life.

Stop. Think carefully before embarking on any kind of undisguised autobiographical project. It may be therapeutic for you to write it, but most authors write to communicate. However interesting your life, however dynamic your ideas, who would want to read your memoir? I suggest that if you are not famous enough for the name on the cover to attract unknown readers, it is doubtful you will sell many copies. As with any genre it’s important to think of your possible readership.

You might aim your memoir towards a smaller close-knit circulation, a memento solely for family, colleagues and friends. Think about it. Would such people be interested in reading your version of your life? I say “version” because any memoir is told from one perspective only, that of the writer. Others may remember the same events differently and have different responses.

That’s all right you say. They are welcome to their opinion. But consider this. If you do decide to write a memoir I’m sure that, like me, you would want it to be an honest one. Any writing involves selection. You could choose to withhold incidents too personal for public consumption, or details likely to hurt others. Or again, you may want to hold back certain information for fear of being sued for defamation of character. If you feel obliged to censor your work by omitting certain events, either to protect the feelings of others or to hide your own emotional responses, the result would not only turn out to lack honesty but is also likely to be excruciatingly dull. After all, don’t we all read biographies and autobiographies in the hope that they will reveal personal details about the lives being explored – information that we didn’t know, or only suspected, before?

If I were to write a memoir it would have to be a candid one and perhaps that’s why I’ve shied away from it. It would take courage. Are you brave enough to do it and not flinch from the consequences? Do you really want to disclose certain incidents or thoughts that might show you or others in an unfavourable light? If you are not confident enough to be faithful to your memories and reveal what you believe actually took place and how you felt about it as truthfully as possible, I suggest the memoir would probably not be worth writing.

Sit for a moment. Close your eyes. What should you include in your memoir. Here are some of the memories that jostle for permission to be included in my life story. My first day at school when I lay on the floor screaming, arms and legs awry, refusing to be pacified – the precursor, I’m ashamed to say – of more fits of temper to come. My mother’s remark at my degree ceremony that there were so many of us lining up to collect our scroll of waxed paper that degrees must be two a penny. I found that comment devastating because I’d so longed for her to be proud of me as the first person in our family to go to university. The mixture of pain and relief I experienced the day I overheard a conversation between my aunts and understood that I was adopted. The pain was real enough because I could tell that they considered me an outsider and that hurt. The relief came later when I realised that was why I’d always felt a misfit in this family. The fact that there was a reason for my feeling of isolation made me feel better.

I’m sure you have similar emotional moments that you will never forget. Love affairs – wonderful or disastrous – the break up of relationships, betrayal and loss – all would have to be chronicled. Flaws in your character too. In my case, there was that wicked temper that took me years to learn to control and a tendency to be over-critical of others. I imagine that my belief that literature and writing poetry was more important than anything else could be considered another fault.

You would have to recall amusing incidents too, or those that appeared amusing after the event. I remember my first wedding when my first husband spent half an hour on hands and knees in his Y-fronts, picking up every scrap of confetti that had fallen out of our clothes – a sure passion-killer. An omen of trouble ahead?

As I write this list, I realise that, as a fiction writer, I already make use of such incidents and emotions in my work. The confetti incident found its way into a bittersweet poem. The death of my daughter, Vikki, at eight months old from an unknown disease, is always with me and my feeling of loss surely informed the events in my novel, After, although the loss suffered by the fictional parents took place in very different circumstances. The fact that I’m adopted and also have an adopted daughter, has led to several pieces of writing on the subject but the story is presented in a different context.

Yes, I do draw on my own experiences to write. What fiction writer doesn’t? Consciously or unconsciously, we all explore the baggage of our past, to inform our work. Readers can speculate on which aspects of our work have come from the writer’s own experience, but they have been woven into a story about invented characters. Incidents in real life are considered, changed, viewed differently, divorced from the actual, but hopefully retain a sense of truth.

Fiction gives you the chance to write from different perspectives. You’re not bound to one viewpoint as in a memoir. The content, the structure and the style of fiction offer more freedom of expression than a seemingly candid assessment of your life in a memoir. You can think ‘What if this or that happens?’ and the imagination soars.

I doubt if I will ever write a memoir. But I will continue to use the rich resource provided by my memories and use my imagination to transform them into fiction.

You may be braver than me. You may embark on that journey back to the past and decide to expose the secret crevices of your life in a memoir. If you do, I wish you luck. If you decide not to, don’t forget the wealth of material contained in your memories. Steal from them and use them to give your fiction authenticity.

Why I am Motivated to Write

I write because I once was so arrogant so as to think it couldn’t happen to me. I write to better express love and support to the people I work for.

Perhaps, early in my career as a mental health counselor, I couldn’t even see the untold story. During my second job, I worked at a day program that was connected to a 30 day crisis house.

Landing the job gave me the financial power to leave a ghetto apartment in the most murderous city on the East Coast. Since I was only just entering a Master’s Program, I felt extremely privileged. As a result, I aligned myself with my supervisor and other more experienced workers. Without credentials, I was focused on working with people who would get my back.

One day, I received a client and was ready to get to work on housing issues, when I found out that she came attached with a more experienced case manager. Though not very talkative, she did tell me very clearly that she did not want to go to a particular boarding home, the largest such facility in the county. When I talked to the case manager who would later be my supervisor when I got promoted, he was clear about the woman’s future. She had to go to the unwanted boarding home.

“Wow, that girl is really sick!” I heard the coworker who worked the graveyard shift at the crisis house say.

“I don’t get it,” I said, “I don’t see why she can’t live where she wants to. I help other people find housing, why can’t I help her.”

“That girl is very sick, I can just tell by the way her eyes roll to the side” said my co-worker

I deferred to experience. Sure I had been hospitalized for six months myself, but I knew better than to make waves. The woman was shipped away to the very place she most did not want to go. She had been right not to trust any of us. For us, she was just protocol.

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