Monday, January 30, 2012

Author Anxiety

Anyone outside the publishing industry or even those just starting their writing journey have a distinct vision of the 'author.' The private, relaxed individual sitting in their own home office plugging away at their keyboard while downing coffee. Not that there isn't some truth to this image, most authors have more coffee in their system than blood, but TV, movies and stories romanticize this image.

The first-time author is a far cry from that idyllic vision that the entirety of the world seems to portray. In-fact the budding author is actually subject to more stress than they could anticipate.

Just starting out the writer has clear aspirations, a precise writerly dream that they want to accomplish. They receive praise and support for their work from friends, family and other aspiring writers in their circle.  The nervous anxiety that comes with sharing what was private work with the outside world is taxing but the support keeps the writer moving. 

The writer completes their work, making minor edits and revisions based on the input of those offering support. Their supporters start asking the question; "Are You Going to Get it Published?"

Constant questioning from supporters leads the writer to the publishing industry. That perfect, amazing work will now have a home, well, maybe. The writer is introduced into the confusing maze of ambitions, pitfalls, deceit and predators. It becomes a learning process, how the industry works, what is currently trending, roles of agents, editors, the author platform and the loathed query. 

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The writer needs to create an 'author platform.' This is basically a string of social media platforms that work together to help the writer establish a community. Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Dear Author etc. These need to be tended daily to develop a community and show potential agents and publishers that the writer can establish an audience.

Stress levels skyrocket as the first-time writer is introduced to the confusing logic of 'writers need an agent to reach the publishers but most agents require the writer to have some publishing credit before considering them.' Add in an introduction to Pred-editors, and the process becomes a frustrating mess. The most trusted agencies and publishing houses have guidelines that make prisons look lenient. Generic form letter rejections flood in with little hint at why the writer is being rejected. The publishing industry seems to be an impregnable fortress with a labyrinth surrounding it. Almost 80% of writers surrender at this stage.

First-time authors do have a number of options at this juncture; they can self-publish, they can try a smaller press or maintain their persistence pursuing the traditional route. Fighting their instincts, they start making changes to the masterpiece, editing and revising the work to address the rejections.

The remarkable and persistent few manage to find their way through that mess and through a small bolt of lightning receive a publishing contract. This doesn't mean any of the stress fades at all, this only changes the goals. The writer now needs to evaluate the terms of the contract, are they fair? Does the publisher have a solid distribution network? Sure Amazon and Barnes & Noble are on the list but how far is the publisher's reach? Does it include the itunes bookstore? What about physical imprints or audio? What about media rights? Do the percentages and efforts balance? The writer has a contract and they have a longing desire to just sign but the fear of being betrayed is extremely high. 

Everything balances out, the writer signs the contract and will be a published author soon. The writer can start working on the next project.

Once again the stress levels rise as the first editor dives in while you're filling in all of the necessary paperwork. It is like working for an employer after all. At this time the publisher starts their cover-artist on your project. The editor takes your masterpiece and leaves enough red on it to make you wonder how you ever made it this far. Some things are requisite changes while most are just questioning your logic. The next project is left on hold as the writer is left to make adjustments and edits to their work. Now the writer has the pressure of the publisher to make sure the work is the best. 

Just as the writer begins to find a bit of calm in the routine engagement with the publisher, the cover-artist produces the first mock-up for their title. It looks nothing like what the writer had in mind but the writer needs to fight their instincts once more. The publisher and cover-artist know what will work, the writer can make changes if they want but it may not be advisable. At this stage the writer is introduced to the Line Editor. The last editor said the work was great but the LE goes through every single line with a microscope and scarily enough knowledge about various subjects to win big on Jeopardy. 

The writer manages to endure and completes the line edits. They can turn their attention back to working on the next project. Then the final proofs come in from yet another editor. There are barely any marks on the project now and these changes are made in no-time at all. 

After the proofs are returned come the Galleys, yet another round of edits. Things that slipped by all of the editors up to this point are caught and after a couple of checks the publisher produces the ARCs, that's Advanced Reading Copies for the newbies. It's an exciting time and the writer's work is almost on the shelves. 

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This doesn't alleviate stress, it only causes more. Now come the marketing efforts both from the publisher and the author. The publisher will readily produce booktrailers, get the book to all available channels and push it out to all the review sites that they have ties with and maybe even create Pay Per Click ads on Facebook, Google or Goodreads. There may also be a book tour or blog tour (more common now). The writer can not simple 'fire and forget,' letting the publisher handle all of the marketing. Depending on the publisher, the author will need to design the PPC ads and run them or set up promotions, tours and send out their book to any additional reviewers.

The writer needs that project to be a success, they need to manage the marketing, find time to write and still maintain their author platform so they can be found.

Then it hits home, even with a publisher and a novel about to be on the shelves most large review sites pass along form-letter rejections citing that they don't have enough time or aren't interested in the book. Is the project slipping already? It hasn't even launched yet and it's being relegated to the non-important pile.

Fortunately most authors have grown a thick hide by this time but the doubts still nag at the back of the mind. Then they begin to question the marketing. These review sites are great for grabbing avid readers but they do nothing at grabbing the majority of potential readers who only occasionally read. Forcing out social marketing doesn't work, it only blitzes the same audience over and over again and traditional marketing doesn't work either. Avid readers are only a small portion of sales how can the project possibly be a success?

In truth, it only takes about 100 sales-a-week (ebook) to make the top 10,000 in sales rank on Amazon. Most books are lucky to sell 1,000 copies in their sales life. So long as the novel is available on every possible distribution channel it stands the best chance but not without marketing to push it.

The anxiety of the publishing process never lets up. Even as the book hits the shelves it becomes a concern of sales and reach while the whole cycle starts again for the next project. The romantic image of the author is never fully true. The best authors have just grown accustomed to that stress and keep pushing out their work to assure they have the best possible results.    



Michele Shaw said...

No, it is not romantic at all. Yet we keep going, don't we? We love punishment. Ha! Jk;) You've been through a lot, but I think it's all worth it. Best of luck with your release!!

PW Creighton said...

Thanks Michele but this is essentially the journey of every writer and author that dives into the industry. Sure there may be a few different twists and turns here and there but that stress never really goes away. We keep pushing, we keep moving and in-truth we wouldn't have it any other way.

LemonyTrystan said...

That's why it's important for writers to have a good support system- both to be there when things get crazy, and be there when you go crazy!

PW Creighton said...

Absolutely Lemony, without some form of support system a writer can definitely snap under the pressure. Thanks for stopping by.

Jessica R. Patch said...

As I read this, I think why in the world do I do this? The answer? Because I have to. Writers write. A great look inside the writer's mind. :)

PW Creighton said...

Certainly Jessica, it's part of us and honestly without it we would be wondering what to do with ourselves. Thank you for the comment.

Amber said...

I am so glad you made this post. I'm sure not everyone who gets into this little thing called writing knows what is really going to happen. It's good to have a handle on what comes next. It is a business. A job. I think if someone really wants it, they'll keep going. Like you said, the best, the seasoned writers, will have become acclimated to the process, or at least mostly familiar since it is in a bit of a transition with the self-pub option.

I'd be lying if I didn't say this all sounds so very exciting... :)

PW Creighton said...

Heh, thanks Amber. My point in making this post was that no one really discusses all of these aspects to writing, especially the stress involved.

Jill Kemerer said...

Fantastic post, Phillip! So thorough--I don't know if new aspiring have any idea. Frankly, I'm glad I had no clue when I first started out. Each bump in the road toughened me for the jolts in the journey. :)

Huge congrats on your debut!! And I LOVE your website. It looks really cool!

PW Creighton said...

Jill, I think that's why so many indie authors have been snapping lately. If you bypass the stress test you may not have the strength to accept what comes your way. Thank you Jill, your post goes up tomorrow. :-)

DonnaGalanti said...

I love this...laughing thru the entire thing..oh, yes, I can relate! And congrats on Nightfall coming sure a dream long awaited.

Laura Pauling said...

congrats with your release and I love the new look!

PW Creighton said...

Donna, it the way it goes for all of us. Sometimes laughing is the only thing we can do.. of course those around us may begin to doubt our sanity.. heh.

Laura, thank you for stopping by.

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