Wednesday, October 1, 2014

On Writing: The Four Stages of Your Writing Career

[NOTE: This series of blog posts was originally published in 2010 on Dawn's Reading Nook and in 2011 on Zombo’s Closet. I recently updated it, and was amazed at how much the industry has changed in just three years. I hope some of you find it useful.]

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

The first stage: When a reader walks into a bookstore, lifts your book off of the shelf, and asks, “Who the hell is Scott M. Baker?”

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?”

The third stage: When a reader walks into the bookstore and asks the sales clerk, “Do you have any books by writers who write like Scott M. Baker used to?”

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 everyone who has been published, they know all too well that there’s more reality than humor in that joke.

Every writer has to endure that first stage. Even Stephen King and J. K. Rowling were unknown entities on the day their first books were released. It was only after readers became aware of how incredibly adept they were at telling a story that they quickly became household names.

The sad truth is that many writers will never make it beyond the first stage, and those that do will find that marketing themselves and their books is as time consuming as writing the books. Sadly, success is not based on talent as much as it is hard work and good luck. Your novel may have a page-turning plot, compelling characters, and witty dialogue. But if the day your book comes out, you’re competing with an instant best seller such as a kiss-and-tell book from one of the Kardashian sisters, 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 with a cover photo of an incredibly cute ball of fur, then your novel will get lost in the hype. Success comes from spending years building a loyal cabal of readers who will follow you regularly and read everything you write.

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 so they can write every 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).

I’ve been fortunate. For several years I was intimately involved with Invisible Ink, the Central Intelligence Agency’s writers’ group. That opportunity allowed me to become acquainted with numerous writers, graphic novelists, screen writers, literary agents, and publishers. They talked openly about the publishing industry in general and their specific genres, and offered considerable advice. Their guidance was invaluable. I want to share some of that wisdom as well as my own experiences. So, over the next few weeks, I’ll be offering some words of advice on how to get that first novel written and published. Will it guarantee you success as a writer?  No. Will it be sobering yet irreverent? Yes on both counts. My goal is hopefully to encourage beginning authors to pursue their passion and to let you know that you are not alone. 

So get your notebooks ready. I’ll see you next week.

NEXT BLOG: How To Find Time To Write That First Novel

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant! In plain speaking terms and example, you've begun to peel back the veil between the reality and the fantasy of writing for today's market. Looking forward to the next installment!