First you get the agent, then you get the . . .
Even on my darkest days, I must remind myself of one inescapable fact: I pretty much have the best job in the world.
I mean, I’ve never been a Genius Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist and I suspect that would be quite flash, as far as gigs go. But it doesn’t really count as a job. And I imagine the never-ending cavalcade of exotic locations and sports cars and swimsuit models would get old after a . . .
Okay, so I have the second best job in the world. And having done it for a few years now, I’ve learned a tiny bit about it – certainly not enough to be earning kick-backs on the highly lucrative Rockstar Author Lecture Circuit, but enough to find my figurative zipper in the dark. So in the hope that Future Jay (who will own a time travel hovercar, if I have any say in it) finds a way to get Past Jay into the present, I leave these jewels of wisdom for Past Jay to find, so he spends a little less time worrying about publishing, and more time trying to become a Genius Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist. Because tbh, that’d be a pretty sweet gig.
TEN WAYS BEING PUBLISHED WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE
1. You now have an awesome job.
To avoid coming off like a curmudgeonly bastard, I should stress this point before I get into the more Serious Business™. Because essentially, you get paid money to make things up. That’s your gig. And while a lot of people can claim they make a living by making things up, very few of them get to walk into a bookstore and see the hardcover fruits of their wretched deceit sitting on the shelves afterwards (unless a callgirl was involved).
Being an Author beats Working In An Office. Being an Author beats Working In An Office like the bank was about to foreclose on Being an Author’s house, and Working In An Office owed Being an Author money, and Being an Author walked past a stripclub and found Working In An Office drinking Cristal and stuffing hundo bills into some young lady’s unmentionables.
…are unmentionables still unmentionables once you’ve mentioned them?
Ok, onto the Serious Business™.
2. As awesome as your job now is, it is a JOB.
Writing For Fun and Writing To Deadline are two completely different beasts. Now, understand, I’m not pretending Writing For Fun is some magical unicorn from wonderland who shits Skittles and pees malt liquor (mmm, malt liquor unicorn pee…). They’re both beasts – one just has a few more venomous proboscises than the other.
(Yes, “proboscises” is the plural form of proboscis. I’m informed “proboscides” is also acceptable. But who the hell would know what I was talking about if I wrote “proboscides”, really, fuck you ancient Greeks).
Writing For Fun can actually be as much fun as a flying kick to the love factory – the self-doubt, the constant rejection, the online “advice” that says the complete fucking opposite of the “advice” you read yesterday – it’s hard work. But you always have the option of taking a week off and bingeing Firefly eps and whiskey when things get a bit much.
Once you’re published, you have deadlines. You have expectations from readers and publishers. You can’t just do it “when the muse is upon you”. You have to do it on demand. With everyone watching.
NO FIREFLY FOR U.
3. Actually, writing becomes two jobs.
It’s commonly accepted that authors these days have two fulltime gigs – the job where you write stories, and the job where you sell them. Shilling your warez can take any number of forms, be it con appearances, social media, interviews, guest posts, appearances on Celebrity Death Match—but all of it takes time away from your real gig, which is writing your next frackin’ book. You’re spending words on blog posts, not novels. You’re using brainpower to think up cool tweets, not your next cool plot twist.
As time rolls on and publishing evolves, more and more responsibility shifts to the author to publicise their own work. Back in the days of big shoulderpads and bigger hair, all an author needed to do was write a book and turn up drunk to the signing appearances. With the rise of social media, it seems an absolute necessity for authors to have an online presence.
Being drunk still helps.
4. You’ll realize nobody in publishing really knows what they’re doing.
It’s hard to come to grips with, but it’s true. Publishing is not an exact science. If it were possible to simply make books successful, we’d see a new 50 Shades of Grey every year. Even people who’ve been doing this for years have only the vaguest understanding beyond the fundamentals. There is no golden rule. There is no One Way to Do Things. Anyone who tells you different is selling you something. Usually a book entitled “The Golden Rules of Publishing”.
When you realize this, it’s an earth-shattering experience. It’s like the moment you discovered that the ice cream truck playing music is NOT a warning that they’ve run out of ice cream – it’s bullshit your dad told you because he was too cheap shell out for a frackin’ Choc Top.
Still, we muddle on.
5. Reading becomes homework.
You’ll find yourself no longer reading for fun. You’ll instead find yourself poring over other author’s line breaks and chapter structure. Over imagery and syntax. Over plot and twist. Books become an exercise in craft. Reading becomes study. Once you understand the essential forms of story, you’ll begin to see them everywhere. You’ll be Dorothy with the curtain pulled back, staring at the wrinkled little James Franco behind the curtain and wondering where the magic of the great and powerful Oz went.
This isn’t to say you won’t enjoy books anymore. A great book is still a great book. But once you’ve looked behind the curtain, you can’t unsee the Franco. You will see the Franco in every book you read.
FRANCO IS OMNIPRESENT.
This is all presuming you even have time to read anymore oh SHIT, some mad segue skillz all up in here . . .
6. Time becomes money.
When you’re reading a book, you could be writing. When you’re out with your friends, you could be writing. When you’re training your legion of attack marmots, you could be writing. When you make sweet, sweet love to your . . . ok you get the idea.
Everything you do becomes an exercise in Opportunity Cost. Every minute you spend Not Writing will be spent in the knowledge that words do not write themselves, and that your book isn’t getting finished while you’re watching that gig or having that drink or making sweet, sweet love to . . . moving on . . .
And most authors realize there’s a happy equilibrium to be found, that you can have a life and be an author too. And they come to the understanding they need to take some time away from the laptop, if only for the sake of their squishy little brainmeats. And then they realize #1 NYT bestseller Brandon Sanderson has published ELEVEN FULL-LENGTH NOVELS and SIX SHORT STORIES in the last six years, many of them thick enough to beat a burglar to death with.
And out comes the laptop again.
7. You’ll realize there are some wonderful people on the internet.
I’m constantly amazed at the awesome people I’ve encountered through my books. I get fan mail from countries I’ve never set foot in. I get sent artwork and poems and songs—all from people who’ve never met me, and only know me from the words I’ve put out into the world. I see people who have no real vested interest in me doing an amazing amount of work to get the word out about my books, simply because they loved them.
And that feeling you get—that moment when someone tells you they loved this thing you created out of a blank page and a flashing cursor and weeks and months and years—that feeling is indescribable. It honestly renews your faith in humanity. It can take the worst day in the world and make it golden. Unfortunately, it’s also the ego equivalent of crack cocaine and it leaves you wanting more, MORE, MOAAAARRRR.
8. You’ll learn there are some complete dicks on the internet too.
Seriously. Utter. Dicks.
Some of them are just ignorant. Some have merely wandered into dickishness temporarily, and will eventually struggle out of that dank tuft of pubic hair when they find it not to their liking. Others still delight in their blue-veined throbbyness, fuelling themselves with it for want of something better.
You’ll encounter them all. Putting your work out into the world, be it book or film or interpretive dance routine, you’re putting part of yourself out there too. And part of your day is going to be spent dealing with dicks. Or watching your friends and colleagues deal with dicks. Or sharing stories about dicks.
The best way to deal with a dick of course is simply ignore it—eventually the dick will wander off to find another earhole in which to attempt to insert itself.
But still. Too many dicks.
9. People will assume you make Rowling-esque mountains of cash.
The average first book advance hovers between five and ten grand. Still, once your book hits shelves, people will presume that you can be found every midnight doing laps in your solid gold money pool, and the only reason you’re still living in the same house is that you haven’t found the right castle in Scotland yet. You will be expected to buy the first round. Always. Doesn’t matter if you used your advance to stop the government turning off your electricity and those loansharks from cutting off your unmentionables.
Get out the wallet, author boy.
I’m sure there are steps you can take to avoid the perception that you make more money than Rupert Murdoch. I’m currently adopting the “dress like a hobo and rarely shave” stratagem. Might be difficult to reconcile with the “remain married” agenda, but I’ll let you know how it works out for me.
10. You’ll realize you cannot write luck.
The most successful authors in the world all say the same thing: Luck was a huge factor in their success.
You need to write the right book at the right time. Land with the right editor in the right house. Get released on the right week. And yes, you can, to a limited degree, make your own luck and writing a great book is the best way to do that. But there are hundreds if not thousands of great books written every year, and there is only one JK Rowling and only one EL James. What separates 50 Shades of Grey from any one of a thousand other erotica novels released around the same time? Is EL James simply a better writer? Or was 50 Shades simply a perfect storm of hype, timing and just-the-right-amount-of-naughty?
Thomas Jefferson made a great point when he said ““I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”. This is absolutely true. The harder you work, the better your chances. But for all your hard work, the world owes you nothing.
I’ve read breathtakingly brilliant books from authors who never tasted anything close to mainstream success. I’ve read books I’d be embarrassed to use as toilet paper that hit the NYT bestseller list. And this in part comes back to #4, in that nobody really knows what makes a book break out. But the simple truth of life is this: It’s great to be good. It’s better to be lucky.
But, as the headline reads, you have no control over luck as a factor. Your only choice is to write the best fucking book you can.
Remember, you still have the second best job in the world!