Dan of freshly ground and the podagogue started out as a friend of a friend, but I became immediate friends with him during the shoot for The Winding City. His recent fiction output and dedication to seeking out new fiction online has made me feel very lazy indeed.
His guest post is a stirring, inspirational piece about the end.
These might be the last words we write, but it’s not where it finishes.
The End is only the beginning.
As any writer who has made it to the last words of a novel-length manuscript knows, that milestone is just the starting point for a whole new world of work. In the first place, unless you’re Jack Nicholson, nothing is perfect first time. There must be hours and hours of redrafting done. You must print and bind the manuscript and share it around with people who you can trust to critique the work well, and then you must edit and redraft and edit again. After the bright flush of sustained creativity has passed, the writer must truly assume the role of craftsperson.
And when the drafting is complete, and you can’t do anything more to polish your masterpiece to shiny brightness, is that the end?
If you’re then going to walk the traditional path to publishing, you must get onto the query wagon. (You might try the slush route, but surely your work deserves better. Surely.) But be aware of this: For the number of queries received by agents and submissions to slushpiles in any given year, and the number of books that are picked up and published, your chances of seeing your name in print are one in twenty thousand.
If you’re a gambler, those aren’t good odds.
But you’re not a gambler. You’re a writer. You’re a craftsperson.
Which means that there are all sorts of things you can do to better those odds. For starters, research the field. Know which agents represent books like yours, and tailor your query to suit them. Understand what a query letter is meant to do, and what is should not; Of the former, a query should tell the agent what the book is about, and it should do so in your own voice; of the latter, it should not tell the agent what the agent doesn’t need to hear, such as how your relationship with your dog inspired this story, or how you typed the whole thing with your toes. They want to know if your book will interest them, and if you can write. So show them.
And for crying out loud, follow the guidelines. Agents know what works for them. Do as they tell you, not as you think best.
Just by doing this, you have virtually doubled your chances of success.
Still not great odds, however. So you must build some recognition. In today’s world of online resources, the means are many, but it is still a challenge to stand out. Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest can all help, but remember that you must still be as brilliant in these domains as you are as a writer in general, because this is a face you are presenting to the world. What you say out there matters, however insignificant you may feel sometimes. And nothing that you say on the Internet ever goes away. You have been warned. But if you do well in this arena too, then you might have yet again doubled your chances of success.
What next? Podcast your novel, or something you’ve written that can help build a profile for your novel? Release a PDF of the first chapters into the wild? Make your book available as a print-on-demand release? All worthy options, with plus sides and negatives. For some, these choices have made them successful overnight, while others have found that al their hard work has been dashed as a result. Weigh the options long and well. You cannot undo these things once they have been done.
Then you are faced with the things that you can’t control: that the agent has another book just like yours on their desk at the moment; that it doesn’t quite sound like their thing; that they don’t think the market is right for that sort of book just now; or they accept a partial from you and then don’t come back to you for months on end, only to then turn around and reject it. No, this hasn’t happened to me, but I have heard that it can. In the end, writers put themselves at the mercy of the agents. We put our work in their hands and trust them to do all they can for us.
Here is where we, as writers, risk stagnation. Here is where we pin our hopes on the book we spent the last six months or three years or more writing, and can’t understand why the agents aren’t seeing our genius from the outset. Presses should be grinding to a halt to make way for our sure-to-be-bestseller.
Publishing is a strange and cruel industry.
What we writers, at this point in time, must come to terms with is why exactly we are writing. If we are writing because we hope it will make us rich and famous, then we are doing it for the wrong reason. If we think it will even earn us a living and enable us to leave our day jobs behind, then we need to get down off the cloud and smell the coffee. We can hope for these things, and we can dream about them.
But I think it was John Scalzi who said that goals are things we can achieve under our own power if we work hard enough, but dreams require other people to come to the party. And for all our powers of writerly persuasion, we swim in an ocean full of other fish with equally potent if not greater powers.
In other words, striving to succeed as a writer is about more than just hard work and a deft hand with words. It is as much about luck and networking as it is about being a writer.
So what does it all mean? It means that if we are writing, we must be writing because we love it, and because we want to write. It must be because we find true pleasure in the rush of words that fly from our fingers, and in the sense of completion when our characters have brought us to those two small, final words. We need to fully appreciate that those two words, for all their weight and meaning, mean nothing, and must not weigh on us. They must signal new beginnings.
So when you reach the end, turn over a new page and start again somewhere new. Because you are a writer, and while the publishing world will make you bend over and twist your form into things that you never thought you were as you seek to become an AUTHOR, they can never take away from you the fact that you are a writer.
The End (or is it?).