There are probably a number of writers out there who think (and hope) it’s only a matter of time (and getting your writing in front of the right person) before the transition will begin from aspiring author to actual auteur. They might be right or they might be a long way off.
Once an author has achieved a level of success, it’s often too late to give any advice, especially if that success has gone straight to their head. So here’s a few important things to remember aimed at the almost famous author to help avoid becoming an asshole (as famous people so often do).
Don’t Forget the People Who Helped You Get This Far
I’m not talking about agents or editors or publicists or other Johnny-come-latelys, I’m talking about all the people long before that who helped make you the writer you are.
I’m talking about teachers (shout out to Ray Mooney, my novel teacher at Holmesglen Institute of TAFE, and author of A Green Light amongst many other projects, and Anne Calvert, my editing teacher at the same educational institution, sadly now departed this earth but forever remembered and credited as an important part of making me as good an editor or possibly even better than I am a writer).
I’m talking about family (thanks, Mum and Dad, for not questioning my decisions to take extended writing breaks from paid employment and offering financial support just in case – so far not necessary – and thanks, Nan and Pa, for letting me live with you until I was twenty-eight and giving me valuable time in which to work low-paying jobs and still have time to write).
I’m talking about friends (thanks, Jess and Reece and Jane, for letting me steal your names for all my characters and reading early drafts and giving advice on where you think changes need to be made).
I’m talking about fellow aspiring writers (thanks, Kelly, for reading my manuscript even though we’d never met and the only things we had in common were one mutual friend who was also reading my manuscript and an ambition to leave the rat race and write full time).
I’m talking about writers who have already made it (thanks, Andy Griffiths, for meeting my nine-year-old nephew and posing for a photograph with him because I think he might grow up to be a writer, too).
I’m talking about everyone else who never gets a mention but plays an important role (thanks to everybody following this blog and reading my posts and to those who stumble across my writing in other ways and choose to read as well).
There are plenty of other people who will doubt you or offer little to no encouragement or forge ahead and leave you behind and then suddenly reappear in your life when your success seems assured. Make sure you have your priorities in order when they do.
You’re Only As Good As Your Last Book and No Matter How Good It Is, People Will Always Want to Know What’s Next and How Soon It’s Coming
It only took a week after the release of my debut novel, Enemies Closer, for one of my readers to read it, declare they loved it and ask how soon they could expect a sequel. It didn’t matter that I’d spent eight years getting it from concept to publication.
Now while there are ways to look at this in an extremely positive light, it’s three years later and I’ve yet to release anything else, let alone a sequel to my first novel. This is why I love discovering writers who are onto their fourth or fifth novel. I can read their back catalogue and fill in the time until the release of their next book. But new authors don’t have this luxury.
So no matter how proud you are of the book that’s about to be published, it is absolutely crucial to be half way through writing your next book by the time the previous one goes public. This is especially important if the reviews aren’t as positive as you might have liked. The sooner you can publish again and give the reading audience something else to talk about, the better it will be. After all, if you publish something second-rate and don’t publish again for another five years, the intervening period will be spent discussing your mediocrity. Or worse, not discussing you at all.
Momentum is key. I know an author whose first book was okay, a good start, but nothing that was going to win any awards. He just kept writing, kept going, and he established a reputation as someone who if nothing else always had something new to offer. He has published twenty-two novels in ten years with some of the most important publishers and has garnered a core group of readers. He always has something on the bookshelves and there are many who would say he has accomplished more than someone who writes one book every ten years that’s well received.
The other thing about having other works on the go is that the next person to ask what’s next might not just be a reader but might be a publisher interested in being the one to publish it.
Your Editor Will Always Know Better
There is one proviso to this and that, of course, is that you have been paired with the right editor. You will know pretty quickly if you haven’t because your life will be hell and the editing process will be filled with frustration.
But if you’re lucky enough to have been paired with an editor who understands what it is you’re trying to achieve, you will still butt heads but more often than not your editor will be right about what needs to change in your style, in your plot, in your characters.
I’ve seen the results of many famous and even first-time authors who don’t listen to their editors (sometimes called “sticking to your guns” but more accurately described as “a stubborn lack of being able to admit anyone else might be right”). Usually those results are books that are okay but that could have been better – hardly the feedback anyone wants to hear about something that took months and potentially years of work.
So please don’t think that an editor is suggesting change for change’s sake. The quality of your work reflects on them, too, and they are simply trying to make it the best it can possibly be.
You Probably Won’t Be Able to Quit Your Other Job
For most of us who write novels, the dream scenario is being able to quit all other forms of work, including sometimes other types of writing, and just focusing on producing books. And to earn enough money from those novels to support ourselves financially.
The truth is that so few writers earn enough from their novels to enable this. I know several writers who on the face of it would appear to be successful but still have to teach or lecture or write articles in order to make ends meet. We can’t all be JK Rowling or Dan Brown. And if we can, we can’t all do it on the back of our first book.
Your Opinions Don’t Matter More, You Will Just Be Asked For Them More Often
Being famous means more people will ask you questions and more people will listen to your answers. It’s very important to remember that success in one area does not make you an expert in others. Any time someone criticises a footballer for doing something stupid, I always remind them that they are footballers. They are talented with a football. There is nothing in being talented with a football that correlates with being smart. If there was, there’d be more footballers who finish their sporting careers and then go on to become doctors and scientists and engineers.
Same goes with writers. When asked questions about writing, particularly your writing and your process, a writer should feel confident about being able to answer them and have their opinions respected. But when writers are asked about the latest global financial crisis or climate change or the war in the Middle East, unless they are also an economist or an environmental scientist or an international relations expert, their opinions should be given no more weight than those of the man or woman on the street.
It’s nice to be asked and it’s nice to be listened to but one writer is still just one person, no more worthy than anyone else who hasn’t published a book.
Controversy Is Not the Best Form of Publicity
Getting your face in the media and your work in the spotlight can be hard and some people, not just writers, think the easiest way to achieve this is to become notorious. But a bad reputation, even an undeserved one, is a hard thing to shake no matter how hard you try. The reading public have long memories and if every time your name appears in print it is accompanied by the words “disgraced author”, there are some people who will choose not to read your work on that basis alone.
Being a nice person behind the scenes and working hard will get you a lot more in the long run than being controversial now. Just think of all the people who bared body parts on Big Brother – where are they now? Who knows and who cares frankly? Being the best possible version of yourself will get the best results.
If You Thought You Did a Lot of Unpaid Work Before, It Will Be Nothing Compared to What You’re Expected to Do Now
A lot of indie authors point to the amount of unpaid, non-writing work that has to be done in order to get their work any attention. Sometimes there is a presumption that being successful, particularly if you’ve signed with a reputable publishing house, means that there will be other people around to help you do a lot of this work. No.
Publishers require authors to do significant amounts of unpaid work promoting their books and because publishers know what is required, there is usually a lot more of it organised for you. But you’re still the one who has to turn up and perform. Book launches, book tours, store appearances, writers’ festivals, talks at schools, radio interviews, writers’ groups, library visits, local newspapers, charity event attendances and that’s only the things I can think of off the top of my head.
And then you have to repeat these events in every new city you travel to. You will be asked the same questions over and over and over until your head is ready to explode but you have to answer them politely every time, never giving any indication that this is the twentieth time this week you’ve delivered the same answer.
I suppose this is why successful authors get very good at being prolific when they do have time to write because they know so much of their time they would prefer to be spent on writing is eaten up by marketing.
Anyway, if you can remember and implement a few of these pieces of advice, you’ll be well on your way to remaining a good person and a better writer even as you become a famous author.