Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Jamie Wyman: The Author, One Year In

Author Jamie Wyman — @BeeGirlBlue on the Twitters — wanted to talk a little bit about her first year in as a professional author, and I thought that’d make for an interesting post. But I also add some of my thoughts throughout, if you care to hear ’em. Here’s Jamie!

*she breaks through your door with an ax* 

* * *

So, as of 30 January, 2014, I have been a professional author for one year. That is the day I signed my first contract of sale to Entangled Publishing for my debut novel WILD CARD (nee “Technical Difficulties.”) At the time, I knew this wasn’t some golden ticket leading me into a chocolate factory of dreams. I didn’t expect editorial oompa-loompas to whisk me off for pedicures and bon bons or anything. However, with a year gone, I see that there were things I didn’t know about being a professional writer.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned that I wish someone had told me a year ago.

1. It doesn’t get better.

This can be taken two ways: It gets worse, or it stays the same. I’m going to err on the side of optimism here and say it stays the same. Basically, you’ve just arrived from the land of querying obscurity that comes with submission. You’ve been popping antacids and checking your email 30 times a day and your house reeks of unwashed clothes and peanut butter. Your hair…? Well, we won’t discuss that. Everything in your life has been on hold while you’re waiting to hear, waiting to know!

Now that you’re a published author, though, you’ve traded one set of anxieties for another. Now you have editorial deadlines and market expectations and publicity and readers and Goodreads and social media. You have reviews to say you’ll ignore but read anyway (at least at first). And you probably have some day-slave grind you use to farm cash and pay the bills. You might have kids, too. That’s an added bonus, right there. Point is this: all you wanted to do was write, right? You can’t do that. You’ve got this other stuff to add to your life. Writing, no matter how much you love it or treated it as a job before, has now become a profession and needs to be treated as such. There are a lot of little things that will try to mire down production. Keep your head down.

But not all the time…

Chuck’s Thoughts: “I’d say it falls under a third axis — ‘it gets different.’ I do still smell of peanut butter because that’s how I exfoliate, but I will say that becoming a professional author is a little like leveling up in a video game, or like watching your child grow up a bit. You master older, smaller challenges but and you think, ‘Oh ho ho, now I’ve got the Sword of Editorial Dominance, the Save Against Query spell, and armor made from all the rejections.’ But of course what you’re going to face are new challenges. New deals, new contracts, book marketing, fans who form cults around your work and kill in your name. THE USUAL.”

2. Have a hobby.

You need something that isn’t writing, or work, or family to refresh you. As much as you love your art, you need something else because there are days where writing will be work. It will be aggravating and you’ll be ready to throw your computer into the blazing heart of Mt. Doom. On those days you need something else. Something to calm the mind. Yoga, painting, meditation, cooking…these things work for some people. Me? I play with fire and other circus tricks. I also game with friends. Which leads me to the next one…

Chuck’s Thoughts: “For me, writing is always work. But not ‘work’ in the dirty four-letter-word way — ‘work’ doesn’t have to be a bad word. It can be clarifying. You can love what you do for work. I mean, writing as work? It’s a lot better than filling potholes or hiding bodies. Or filling potholes with bodies. Either way, she’s right that mitigating this has real value. Through hobbies and through #4, below.”

3.  Make friends in the business.

We talk all the time about how writing is lonely. Fuck that. Make friends. You need comrades, partners in crime. You need other published authors in your corner, people you can vent to who understand. People off of whom you can bounce ideas or concerns. People you can drink with at conventions. Don’t try to be some crazy hermit…it doesn’t build character or make you enigmatic. It makes you lonely, insane and unprepared. A lot of stuff is going to happen–mostly little things, really, but some big things–that you just can’t talk about publicly. When I’ve tried talking to friends who have no clue about publishing, they stare at me like I’m a hagfish with rubber ballgags for eyes. Or, if you’re venting steam, you get the, “why are you complaining? this is what you wanted.” You can try vaguebooking, but it only scratches the itch to rant so much. Enter your writer friends. Peers. A friends list: build one.

Chuck’s Thoughts: “Yep. We like to think that we can go all Ronin-Writer-Without-Clan, but that’s tough. You write your book in relative isolation but then that book goes out into the world. And you go with it. And it needs friends and cohorts the whole way. Further, it’s nice to have folks in the business off whom you can bounce questions and concerns.”

4. Don’t forget to have fun.

At some point you will find yourself finished with edits and wondering what to write next. For the past weeks you’ve been immersing yourself in making something fit to sell. Take time to say fuck that shit and write what gets you off. Don’t write for a market or worry about if/where it will sell. Just write the story for the hell out of it. It’s like swimming in a pool of Jelll-O for your muse. You don’t do it for any reason other than to do it and have fun.

Chuck’s Thoughts: “I’ve long said that the important territory for a writer is the intellectual space in the Venn Diagram of WHAT I WANT TO WRITE and WHAT READERS WANT TO READ. The better you thread this needle, the happier you’ll be, and the better your book may do. Or so I suspect. Oh, and I don’t do anything for my Muse. That jerk works for me.”

5. Shit happens.

At some point someone will rain on your parade. Sales will be lower than you want, you’ll get a shit review, you’ll get a rejection…something will happen that will take you right back to those horrible insecurities you experienced when agonizing over querying agents. It will happen. When it does…don’t stop. Don’t give up. Write more. As Chuck would say, “Art harder, motherfucker.” You don’t just get back on the horse, you brand that bitch with your mark and ride it over a tank full of ravenous great whites.

And when the inevitable shit doth happen, there’s something else you need to do: remember. Remember that you worked your ass off to get here. You have created a world (or worlds!) inhabited by people who breathe and eat and weep and need. You’ve made strangers give a damn about fictional characters. YOU, my friend, have done the impossible and are made mighty thereby. Do not forget that when you are knocked down and start with all the author existential questions. Shut up. You do belong here. No one is going to take away your Author Card and kick you out of the clubhouse. (Well, unless you’re a douche.  Don’t be that guy, k?)

So do what you do.  Take a day to drive fast with the top down or hail to the beauty of the lotus or spew flames out of your face. Whatever rocks your boat. Then pucker up, buttercup, and kiss the words. You’re a professional now.

Chuck’s Thoughts: “They kicked me out of the clubhouse because someone, I won’t name who, but someone who looks like me, ate all the food and drank all the liquor and threw up in the fishtank. But that’s neither here nor there. Point is, Jamie’s only in the first year, here — I’ve been at it a bit longer than that, and I’ll confirm already that This Thing We Do has peaks and valleys and you gotta enjoy the heights but always find a way to climb out of low places or you’ll never make it. My best advice to writers is to cultivate calluses. Keep your expectations in check. Have a thick skin — don’t just be a raw nerve squirming out there, or every hit is going to feel like the apocalypse. Thanks, Jamie, for coming by.”