How To Write: Am I too old to do this?

I won my first writing contest when I was 8 years old.  It was a cute little poem about my dog.  I was published at 18, and went on to have a steady string of minor publications for the next 10 years or so.

It has been my life’s goal to make my living as a writer.  I did not factor in an illness that would lay me so low it would literally carve decades out of my ambition without – quite – killing me.

JaneLooking around now, taking stock of what’s left of my ambition, I find myself closer to 50 than not.  This is the age when most are starting to really consider retirement and giving the hairy eyeball to their IRA.  Stephen King’s first novel was published when he was 27.  Interview with the Vampire?  Anne Rice was 35.   Charlotte Bronte?  She was 31 when Jane Eyre was published.

At my age my career should be firmly established, my name should be well known and I should be enjoying a comfortable income.  I should be, but I’m not.  Instead I still dwell in relative obscurity, still dreaming of one day getting published.

Damn.  Who does this when they’re 47?

This is what I woke up thinking today.  And wouldn’t you know it?  I ran across this article the moment I turned on my computer.  I like this a lot.  He’s got a great style, and it’s obvious he’s comfortable in non-fiction.  Anyone who blogs can (hopefully) say the same.  But to make the jump to a published novelist?

Yes.  He can, I can.  So can you.  GO WRITE!

Writing Journey – HOW many hats does an aspiring author wear?

When I decided to really get serious about my writing, I took several factors into consideration.  The idea for this novel is very timely, and will remain so for at least the next 18-24 months.  If I’m lucky, I should still have a socially relevant book to sell when I’m done pounding keys.  I’ve shown a few scenes to various groups with enthusiastic results.  I also have time to write just now, which can’t be underestimated.  Combine that with signing up for Nanowrimo at just the right time last year, and I gave myself permission to go for it.

That was last October.  Since then I’ve not only focused on my writing, but on learning as much as I can about the publishing industry.  I’m not discouraged by what I’ve learned.  In fact, I’m glad the climb is becoming more defined, less nebulous.  But this is not a climb for the faint of heart.

First: statistics.  As of a few years ago, 47% of American households could be expected to go out and buy a book.  Yes, that means 53% of all American households didn’t.  Of that 47%, 80% bought romance novels.  This leaves 20% to split between JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Stephen King, and the rest of us.

Wow.

If a first-time author wants to try publishing the old-fashioned way (that is, find an agent, an editor and a publishing house willing to take a chance) the first thing that author must bring to the table is (obviously) a finished product.  Finished, polished, buffed, honed and as perfect as they can get it.  While your first hat must be your “Author” cap, your second hat should be that of “Editor”.  It’s good advice to squash the inner editor during the creative process.  However, that voice is of critical importance during the polishing phase.  The word count for a debut novel should be no more than 50,000 – 80,000. If your team wants a more detailed effort they’ll tell you, but it’s likely they’ll want to hedge their bet.  Short novels have a better chance of catching a new audience, and cost less to publish.

Ok, you’ve written the greatest American novel ever.  You’ve edited it down to a nub of its former self.  Do you have a fan base?  If not, stop.  Go forth, new author.  Obtain fans.  In addition to being a fantastic writer and a whiz bang editor, the modern novelist must also excel in marketing.  Beat the bushes.  Network like mad.  Bring at least 1,000 willing and able readers with you to the negotiating table or go home.

I will NOT be intimidated! (she says, eyeing the growing pile of hats)

Right!  You’ve written the novel, you’ve polished your baby, you’ve whipped up a rabid fan base.  You’re good to go, right?  Park that right now, aspiring author!  Get measured for hats #4 & 5, movie producer.

Isn’t this putting the cart slightly before the horse?  No, not really.  There’s two ways to employ your inner director/producer/casting agent, both will serve you well.  The first really is in the form of a film.  I remember one of my favorite Ian McKellen quotes.  Coming off Lord of the Rings, moving into X-men, he was asked what it was like jumping back and forth between them.  He didn’t miss a beat.  “Darling,” he replied with a smile, “one can never have too many franchises!”  Likewise, you can never go wrong anticipating multiple markets for your material.  You’ve got a great story.  Now you’re trying to sell it.  You’ve got the readership, no problem.  But if you can throw in a potential movie, it may be one more reason to move forward to publication.  Are you supposed to contact studios before publishers?  No.  But if your project lends itself well to multiple mediums, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

unitThe second way is a “book trailer”.  I was introduced to this concept several months ago while considering “The Unit”, by Ninni Holmqvist.  It’s an intriguing dystopian novel on the subject of “disposable humans”.   As I mulled over the description, I saw a link asking me to “View the Trailer”.  What, it’s being made into a movie already?  No.  As I quickly discovered, it was a 2 minute teaser for the book itself.

According to this happily straightforward article featured in the “ProActive Writer Blog”, a book trailer is a must-have for the self-published writer.  I agree, but I’d expand that to “every single author engaged in the art of self-promotion”.  In other words, all of us.  While books are designed to appeal to a readership, a book trailer works quickly on an emotional level to promote a concept.  It also helps boost the idea that yes, your book will easily adapt to the silver screen if (when!) the time comes.

Writers are creative, or we couldn’t do this at all.  Shepherding your first project from concept to sale will require quite a bit of mental gymnastics.  JK Rowling did it.  Suzanne Collins handled it.  Stephan King makes it look easy.  I can do it!

Can you?  (the correct answer is HECK YEAH!!)

Stephen King, marketing genius

You may notice that I talk a lot about Stephen King when discussing writing.  I’m a huge fan, though I have no use for the horror genre.  I like King in spite of his chosen subject matter. I wish I could teach a class on characterization just based on his works.

CTOne of the things I admire most about King is his business savvy.  He’s not afraid to take chances.  Recently I mentioned his Kindle Single as yet another innovation in communication.  Before that I was impressed with his idea of a serial novel Green Mile, an old fashioned concept brought into the modern era.  It didn’t work as a serial, but I loved it anyway.  I own every volume of the Marvel graphic novel adaptation of The Stand.

I’m watching the Super Bowl right now, where I just saw a commercial for King’s newest project, “Under The Dome“. It’s a one season serial for CBS, 13 episodes beginning June 24th, 2013.  This is in keeping with a guy who lives to experiment – one season serial shows are common in Europe, unheard of in the US.

dome

I was impressed by the commercial, so I went to the website to learn more about the show.  The WEBSITE scared me.  In fact, my heart is still racing.  And once again, if I could stand and applaud Mr. King’s business sense I would.  An unfortunate reality of modern publishing is that any successful author must also be successful in marketing.  He can teach us all quite a bit.