Everything seems impossible until you do it.
When I was a kid, I often dreamed of going to the post office with a large stack of printed pages to drop in the mail, to await a response from a publisher. If rejected, I would do it again, and again, until someone out there finally recognized my genius. There’s something romantic about the whole process, occupying a physical space, with that treasure born from your imagination stuffed into a manila envelope. This was long before e-mail and blogging, when typing was still taught in schools, before everyone in the world started thinking they knew what it meant to tell a story. Nowadays, publishers are torn between whether to request solicitations by e-mail or traditional post. With e-mail, they can simply hit the ‘delete’ button to reject you, but electronic submissions are exponentially more numerous. Mailed submissions are fewer, but require more handling.
Of course, the world of publishing has changed in many more ways since I was a child. Not only do I have to compete with every Tom, Dick and Harry who thinks they can write a masterpiece with little to no-effort, but the market has been flooded by 1 cent unedited e-books, and worse, predatory soft-scam agents and POD publishers who prey on the desperate, who get your books online but never into the hands of readers. What is particularly depressing, for me at least, is seeing the number of books catering to would-be writers with titles like, “Five Steps to Getting Published,” when what most people should be asking, but rarely do, “How Do You Write a Good Story?” It’s frustrating, because true greatness can only come from a lifetime of work. I could never have written The Princess of Aenya without first writing Ages of Aenya, and I couldn’t have written that without The Dark Age of Enya, which could not have been made before The Nomad, which was dependent on The Metal God, which I learned to write only after The Dark Temple, and so on and so forth.
As if these hurdles aren’t discouraging enough, modern day writers must compete with new forms of entertainment, like YouTube and Playstation. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it is for me, hearing endless praise for the Game of Thrones TV show, but never for the books the show is based upon. And booksellers have taken note, taking far less chances with new authors, and turning a blind eye to anyone with artistic ambitions. Gone are the days when something like Watership Down, a 400 page epic regarding the life of rabbits, can make its way to print. Today, if it doesn’t involve teens or zombies or an apocalyptic scenario, your manuscript will get thrown into the “not trending” bin, no matter how masterfully written.
Another sad reality I’ve come to realize in my 41 years on this planet: LIFE IS NOT A MERITOCRACY. What does this mean, you ask? It means that the best people don’t always get the job. This is why we have so many idiots running for president. So much of success boils down to dumb luck. George Lucas just happened to be in film school at the right time and place, befriending the men who would become giants in the industry, like Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma and Steven Spielberg. Originally, Lucas was only interested in film editing, but Coppola encouraged him to turn his short student film, THX-1130 4EB, into a feature length movie. It was considered a critical and commercial disaster, but the artsy sci-fi dystopia paved the way for Star Wars. Had Lucas been born far from Hollywood, say, in Florida, he might have ended up like me, an unknown, probably a car mechanic (I work in a restaurant, but he loved cars). Stan Lee is another great example. Having grown up in New York City, he was much more likely to land a job at Timely Comics as a mail clerk. Like Lucas, Lee never dreamed of becoming a storyteller, but when two of the head writers at Timely, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, were terminated, Stan was the only person left to fill the position. Spider-Man was born from a fortunate accident, but it wasn’t a radioactive spider.
For someone like myself, reading about George and Stan can be terribly discouraging. I feel I was born into all the wrong circumstances. There are no publishers in Florida, my parents outright ignored my literary ambitions while constantly pushing me into the restaurant business, and nobody in my family reads (seriously, none of my siblings have read a single book outside of school). All this means I have to work harder to get noticed, and that my work has to be twice, maybe three times as good as those who have it easy. But there’s a plus side. If life is not a meritocracy, it means that I do not have to forever fret about being “good enough.” There are some truly abominable works of fiction out there (I could name names, but I won’t) that sell like hotcakes, so it doesn’t always take a literary genius, or a perfect story, to find success. Another encouraging fact to consider is that, despite the advent of the Internet and video games, books still sell like crazy. Just look at this chart:
These authors are far from scraping by. But my ambition is not to become a millionaire. I could honestly die happy if I were to earn, say, 50k a year via royalties. So what I need is a foolproof, five point strategy, and here’s mine:
- BELIEVE IN YOUR WORK: Yep, you’ve got to believe in your work like a suicide bomber believes he’s going to heaven (OK, bad analogy) but you get what I mean. So much of success boils down to hype and salesmanship. You have to regard your book like the precious gem it is, because if you doubt it, others will too. Now, this isn’t exactly something I’d recommend to new writers, simply because if you’re new to all this, your writing probably sucks. I know mine sure did. Even back in ’04, when I was sitting at my local B&N hawking copies of The Dark Age of Enya, I knew in my heart of hearts that I wasn’t quite there. What I was offering was far from my best, or rather, the best.
- DON’T TAKE ‘NO’ FOR AN ANSWER: The advice I have seen, in most ‘how-to’ books, is to be as polite and reverent as possible (as though agents and publishers are gods or something), and then wait patiently for their approval. If rejected by everyone out there, throw your life’s work in the trash. Well, screw that. There are a number of problems with this method, aside from the obvious. First and foremost, big name fantasy publishers are rare. I can count them on one hand, actually. So, if I am rejected by 5 editors, is that it for me? Sure, I could go back to the drawing board and spend another 3 years on another masterpiece, but if you believe in step (1), that isn’t an option. So, unless all 5 editors genuinely read through my manuscript and conclude it’s crap (or simply not trending), I’ll be calling, resubmitting, and showing up at their offices until someone calls security.
- SELF-PUBLISH TO GET “REAL” PUBLISHED: Self-publishing only works if you want your friends and relatives to read you. It in no way makes for a career, and it isn’t what I have dedicated my life to do. But sometimes, the selfie route can be a backdoor to the big leagues. It worked for Christopher Paolini of Eragon fame, as well as for my friend, Michael Sullivan, author of Theft of Swords. So, if someone does end up calling security on me, I can go the selfie route, if only to prove that my story can sell. However, unlike these 1 cent e-books you see on Amazon, I am going to invest in a professional editor and in professional artwork.
- THE JOHN KENNEDY TOOLE APPROACH: No, I don’t plan on killing myself to get famous (I’d like to be around to see if it works), but I might consider doing what Toole’s mom did after his suicide, and send my book out to some famous writers. Hopefully, a Martin or a Rowling will peruse the damn thing and pass it on to his agent.
- IF ALL ELSE FAILS …: If none of these approaches work, there will be other books. The Children of Aenya comes next.
First, let me just say I am not about to approve of the rude comment that you sent me. I’ll not give you the satisfaction. However, there are a few things I would like to address:
#1. You said something very mean to me. But it was not constructive in any way. So what was your intention? Was it to hurt me? I would assume so, because such a comment could have had no other purpose.
#2. If your intent was to hurt me, the question then becomes, why? Did I hurt you in some way? I do not think so, because I do not know you. So we can rule out vengeance. Therefore, we are left with schadenfreude (go ahead, look it up if you have to). Basically, it’s a German word that means, “pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.” I suppose it makes sense, this coming from the German, but I won’t call you a Nazi, that’s just lazy. At any rate, you reached out to hurt me in order to give yourself pleasure. But why would you choose to derive pleasure in such a perverse way?
#3. Do you know what gives me pleasure? Writing fiction and getting praise for it. It makes me feel good, knowing that people love what I do. If I were not creative or ambitious or skilled, I might feel very insecure. I might get jealous that other people could do things I only hoped to do. In such a situation, I, too, might take pleasure in hurting others. But I have never felt the inclination. I have worked with many, many writers, some of whom did indeed ‘suck.’ But I was never so insecure as to want to insult them. Rather, I did my best to encourage them and to help them improve. The fact that you find yourself in such a place, makes me honestly feel sorry for you. You have sunk so low, that you cannot find the strength to lift yourself up.
#4. What is perhaps most depressing about the state you are in, is that you are not allowing yourself to learn. Based on your comment, I am confident about a number of things about you:
— You have a poor work ethic: You stated that I would ‘die waiting’ to be published, because, as you put it, ‘I suck.’ But people are not born good or bad at things. They work hard, and then they get better. Perhaps, your lack of understanding this simple fact is what is preventing you from improving the things in your own life. Whatever it is you want, you have to work hard at it. Assuming you are correct and I do ‘suck’ as you say, this does not mean I will suck forever. I have a good work ethic, I am dedicated, and this is what accounts for success. Learn this, and you won’t have to waste your time trolling people’s blogs.
— You are sexually immature and you lack body confidence: You stated that I will spend my days ‘perving at nude beaches.’ So, right off the bat, you do not understand what nudism is all about. A hint: It isn’t about sex. But the fact that you brought it up at all means that this bothers you in some way. Perhaps you dislike yourself? I am guessing you have a weight problem. You would never dream of going naked in front of anyone, especially strangers. It takes a lot of confidence to do that, confidence you are sorely lacking. I bet you even shy away from the bathroom mirror when taking a shower. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume nudism is all about sex. So what? How is that even an insult? Sex is to be celebrated, especially within the context of a loving relationship, which I am lucky enough to have. The sooner you find love in your life, the less you’ll feel like being a troll.
— You’re pretty stupid: If you had even bothered to peruse this piece, you’d understand that I am far beyond doubting my abilities. I’ve been getting awards since I was a child. Even in graduate school, I was a favorite of my professors and most of my classmates (this was 15 years ago, mind you, and I have greatly improved since then). In 2000, I won all three top spots in a fanfic contest (1st, 2nd and 3rd place) each for a different story; I was a finalist for the Wollstonecraft Shelley Award for my short story, “The Gorgon’s Lover;” and in 2004, when I published “The Dark Age of Enya,” I was featured in a number of publications, and I was highly recommended. Just last week, I received a very positive review for a book I wrote in ’06, “The City of the Drowned.” Want more? Just go here: https://writersdisease.net/fan-mail/
But let’s assume, for a moment, that you are right and I suck. In that case, you missed the point of my article ENTIRELY, in which stated, “life is not a meritocracy.” This means that YES, you *can* suck, and still become a success. Nobody thinks “Fifty Shades of Grey,” is a masterpiece, but it sold millions. In this context, your negative comment makes no sense. If you had bothered to understand what I was writing, and really wanted to hurt me, you could have said, “Hey, getting published is like winning the lottery; you’ve got no chance.” If it’s a matter of sucking, on the other hand, then I am likely to succeed, because I can always work to get better. So, THANK YOU!
I would like to close with this. You may be smiling right now, assuming that you got to me because, hey, look at this lengthy response! I really fed the troll here! So, yeah, your comment stung a bit, but only because I am so used to praise. Honestly, I saw you comment and thought, “Oh great, more praise!” But here’s what you don’t know about me. If I have failed in any way at life, it’s only because I have set the bar so incredibly high. The worst book review I ever got was a 5 out of 10; that crushed me. Most people would be satisfied simply to finish a book. Me? I am gunning for George R.R. Martin. Maybe I do set my sights a bit too high, but MY FAILURES WILL BE GREATER THAN ANY OF YOUR SUCCESSES. You think the worst thing that can happen to me is getting stuck in a restaurant? Yep, for me, that is the worst case scenario. It’s a million dollar business, however, and I am doing very well financially. I also have a loving family. What have you got? You got me losing 30 minutes of sleep writing this shit. Congrats!