Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Four Stages of Your Writing Career

There’s an old joke that states an author has four stages in his or her career.

There’s the first stage when a reader walks into a bookstore, lifts your book off of the shelf and ask, “Who the hell is Scott M. Baker?”

There’s the second stage when a reader walks into the bookstore and asks the sales clerk, “Do you have the latest book by Scott M. Baker?”

There’s the third stage when a reader walks into the bookstore and asks the sales clerk, “Do you have any books by authors who write like Scott M. Baker used to?”

And finally the fourth stage when a reader walks into a bookstore, lifts your book off of the shelf and asks, “Who the hell is Scott M. Baker?”

For anyone who has been published, there’s too little humor and too much reality in that joke.

Every author has to endure that first stage. Even Stephen King and J. K. Rowling were unknown entities at one time, at least until readers became aware at how incredibly adept they were at story telling. Now they’re household names. If only the rest of us were that lucky.

The sad truth, however, is that most authors will never make it beyond the first stage. If they’re really fortunate. If they’re good at telling a story, or developing great characters, or writing catchy dialogue. If they’re lucky enough to find a publisher who will distribute their books nationally. If the day their book comes out they’re not competing with an instant best seller such as a kiss-and-tell book from one of Tiger Wood’s mistresses, or the latest Dan Brown tome, or a diet plan on how to lose weight by eating red velvet cheese cake, or the biography of a pet the cover if which is adorned with an incredibly cute ball of fur. And if, over time, they are fortunate enough to develop a small, loyal cabal of readers who will follow them regularly and read everything they write, then an author might pull in enough money annually to make ends meet (as long as they have an understanding spouse with a really good day job).

Depressed yet?

If you said no, then you truly are a writer. Not necessarily a good writer. Or a prolific writer. Or a rich and famous writer. But a writer nonetheless. Someone consumed by the hunger of putting words to paper. Someone who can listen to a quirky story on the news or spot a unique looking individual on the street, and within an hour have the plot of a story or novel mentally outlined. Someone who brings their laptop on vacation because you can’t relax and enjoy yourself if you haven’t written something that day. For us, the writing is the passion, and seeing a complete story or novel in print is reward enough (though none of us will shut the door on fame and fortune if it comes knocking).

For those of you following my blog, you know that next week I enter that dreaded first stage of the writer’s career. On Friday I’ll celebrate the publication of my first novel. On Saturday morning, as well as nursing along a hangover, I’ll also come to grips with the reality that writing the first novel and getting it published were the easy part. There will be plenty of work in the months ahead to market myself and attract readers, with the goal of reaching stage two. It’s going to be a long road, with no guarantees that I’ll reach my goal.

But I’m excited by the journey.

I’m sure I’ll be able to kick out few blog postings along the way.

[This blog was originally posted on Dawn's Reading Nook (link) on 12 March 2010.]

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