In the interests of mixing things up and bringing you great information, here’s a post from author and writing coach Susan Sloate for all of the writers and would-be writers who read Auntie M Writes. Welcome, Susan~
When You Can’t Do It Alone…
By Susan Sloate
If you’ve ever spent time dreaming of being a writer, it’s inevitable that you’ve also begun to collect depressing writer stories. You know the ones I mean. They’re either those terrible stories of writers being disgustingly productive, or worse, writers who produce one book and shoot to everlasting fame and fortune.
About the only thing more awful than productive-writer stories or overnight-fame stories is the meant-to-be-soothing comment from some idiot friend when you point them out: “Isn’t that inspiring? See, you can do the same thing.”
Anyone who has heard such garbage and restrained themselves from reaching for the nearest shotgun, in my opinion, qualifies for immediate sainthood.
In the overnight-fame category is Margaret Mitchell, whose first (and only) novel, Gone with the Wind, became an overnight success, selling five thousand copies on the day of publication and going on to sell a million hardcover copies in less than six months.
Put it in perspective: the little lady from Atlanta wrote her enormous book (1,037 pages) on a rickety card table over a span of ten years, showing it to no one except her husband, who acted as her editor. She then sold it (for a $500 advance) to the first publisher who ever saw it, and to add insult to injury, the publisher had to beg her to let him see it. (True story: Mitchell didn’t think the book was any good, so when Harold Latham of Macmillan came to Atlanta looking for new authors and books, she met him socially but refused for several days to show it to him. Could you just puke?)
As if that isn’t enough to make you gnash your teeth, because of the book’s length, the original hardcover edition sold for $3—which was significant because 1936 was the height of the Great Depression, and a loaf of bread cost six cents. Yet before the end of that year, Margaret Mitchell earned almost half a million dollars in royalties. (God help her accountant.) And she was the leading celebrity in Atlanta, and one of the most famous in the world, for the rest of her life.
Much as that story makes me want to weep, what brings tears to my eyes faster are the productive-writer stories. Consider this (and please, if you have suicidal tendencies, stop reading right now. I won’t be responsible for your actions):
Walter B. Gibson, under the pseudonym Maxwell Grant, was a ridiculously prolific author of pulp fiction, best known for his stories about The Shadow, the crime-fighter Orson Welles famously voiced on the radio show based on Gibson’s character. The Shadow was so popular, and the demand for his pulp-fiction stories was so high, that at its peak, Gibson was writing—gulp—up to 24 books per year, of about 50,000 words each. He actually had to bandage his fingers because they bled from how often they struck the keys of his (manual) typewriter.
When I read that, in Max Allan Collins’ brilliant novel, The War of the Worlds Murder (highly recommended—it’s wonderful), I had to lie down with a cold cloth on my head. Just thinking about someone writing 24 novels in one year (when I’m happy to write one during Nanowrimo), is enough to make you want to smash your computer, burn your notebooks and maybe bite your dog.
So before you slit your own wrists, remember this: these stories are out there because they’re the exception, not the rule. Most of us can’t write that fast, or that well, or for that long. Most of us don’t become fantastically famous, even if we’re genuinely wonderful writers and have well-reviewed books that pick up accolades, awards and move high up on the bestseller lists. And honestly, if Mitchell and Gibson were writing today—I’ll bet even they might have some trouble getting noticed as well. It’s a different era.
As an author who speaks before aspiring authors, I’ve found myself answering a lot of questions: how do you get published, how do you market your books, how do you get noticed, how do you navigate the whole crazy maze of the book world without losing your sanity or your ability (and drive) to write more? How?
Obviously I can’t answer these questions in a single blog post, and after years of answering them with hundreds of writers, I’ve realized I can’t answer them to anyone’s satisfaction in a brief conversation. But I do feel for all the writers embarking on their paper journeys, and want to help as many as possible. What I’ve learned is that despite the solitary nature of a writer’s life, what we often need as much as inspiration is a coach—someone to lay out a game plan for both publishing and marketing, hold us accountable for working it and encourage us every step of the way. Once upon a time, a writer could just write, and rely on others for the rest. It’s a different world out there today, and you need to be prepared for it.
I took on my first clients as a writer’s coach this past spring and now offer my services (with limited spots available) on a one-on-one basis to writers everywhere. Some writers want help with structuring or revising their novel. Others are looking for practical advice on publishing. Still others have navigated those waters but are now looking for a step-by-step marketing plan to announce their book to the world.
As the author of 20 published books, I’ve been involved in traditional publishing with major houses, small-press publishing and self-publishing. I’ve been through revisions, the editing process, the galley process, creation of the book cover, the writing of the blurbs, the press releases and the book launch. I’ve made two of my books Amazon bestsellers (there’s a whole strategy for that, which is great for enhancing your book’s credibility). As a story analyst for more than 30 years, I’ve helped hundreds of writers with structure, characterization, plot, theme and more.
I may not always know all the answers, but I sure am familiar with the questions.
If you’re struggling and wishing you could be the next Margaret Mitchell or Walter Gibson, and you feel as though you’ve hit a wall and can’t go beyond it without some help, please check out my website at http://susansloate.com and click on the tab ‘Coaching for Writers’, which explains my services. Or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
It used to be writers could be solitary. Now they either need a team—or have to become their own. Either way, turning over all the decisions to someone else is no longer an option for us. There’s greater opportunity than ever on the road ahead—if you can avoid the pitfalls and stay on your path to the end. I’d be happy to help if I can.
Susan Sloate is the author of 20 published books, including three novels published in a single 90-day span last fall: STEALING FIRE, FORWARD TO CAMELOT (with Kevin Finn) and REALIZING YOU (with Ron Doades). STEALING FIRE became a #2 Amazon bestseller and took finalist honors in the 2014 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards. The original 2003 edition of FORWARD TO CAMELOT became a #6 Amazon bestseller, took honors in 3 literary competitions and was optioned for film by a Hollywood production company. All 3 books earned five-star reviews from Readers’ Favorite book reviewers.
Susan has also written 17 young-adult books, fiction and nonfiction, which have been honored in literary competitions and led to her 2009 TV appearance on The History Channel (as a result of MYSTERIES UNWRAPPED: THE SECRETS OF ALCATRAZ). She has founded an authors’ festival in her hometown of Mount Pleasant, SC and has recently begun coaching writers to success in book publishing and marketing.
Visit her at http://susansloate.com.