by S.C. Barrus
I have heard many times that the most terrifying moment for a writer is staring at a blank page. This is absolutely not true. While for some a blank page might be a creative black whole, for me and others like me, a blank page is awash with mystery, like an introduction of a femme fatale. I have looked many a blank page in the face and turned it black and white with the pitter patter of my keyboard.
What is terrifying, on the other hand, is the moment you finish drafting your first novel and wonder, “what do I do now?”
There are so many avenues of entry, all of which are more or less foreign to the uninitiated, all of which need a combination of practice, tenacity and timing. While in the past there was but one path to becoming a published novelist, today there is the traditional method, self-publishing, e-publishing, or any combination of these.
In order to tackle the traditional route, I bought a two year old copy of The Writers Market from Half Price Books, and its breadth is daunting. 1169 pages of madness, of faceless agent listings, foreboding multinational publishers, unheard of indie publishers, and brief overview articles on writing queries, on submissions, on building your platform, on networking, and so on. Just looking at it makes my head burst into a whirlwind of psychosis.
Self-publishing has its own risks, and the more I learn about it, the more wary I become. There is no filter separating the murk from the real talent, instead just a torrent of messy novels floating through the cyber stores, often pocked with simple grammatical errors and, worse yet, generic plots or uninspired characters. In this tsunami of filterless writing, how does one rise to the top, how does one get taken seriously? That’s not to mention the full time job of selling and promoting your work.
Last we have ePublishing, or ebooks, which are a rising trend in today’s market. It’s clear that ebooks are becoming increasingly more popular and affordable. But publishers are still experimenting with ebooks, changing the playing field, some embracing it whole heartedly while others still remain confused by this new platform.
For the young novelist, money is often a weighty factor. Married with my first child on the way I sometimes wonder, ‘how can I continue to wade through this difficult, lackluster, yet heavily romanticized life of a starving artist?
All these things can get the up and comer down in moments where their work feels unproductive. God, give me a blank page and I will conquer it unflinchingly like a conquistador fully armed and ready for battle! But this war?
The point of all this is not to dishearten the writer or spread an air of hopelessness. Of course there is hope, thousands have done it before us and have succeeded brilliantly, why not we? Others have blazed trails and left markers along the way. I too am beginning to blaze my own trail, following the work of others, diverting where it suits me, and playing to my strengths. If we work for it, this will be another battle we can win.
So, what do you do? My suggestion, build your platform. Here is a list of tasks which have led many other authors to publication, and which I personally employ.
- Build a successful blog (mine is www.awayandaway.com) for you to champion your work. You’ve heard the phrase, “never judge a book by it’s cover”, but you also know that everyone does, so make your blog look as best as you are able. If you’ve published any work, let the world know about!
- Once you have your blog, write in it! Some authors have been “discovered” by publishing their novels on their blog, but if you do this do it wisely. Publish no more that a thousand or two words a week so that people keep coming back for more. I am doing this with a novella I wrote for the 3-Day Novel Contest (http://www.awayandaway.com/rem-and-the-big-case-part-1/ ).
- Reach out to other artists. They don’t need to be writers, simply people who share similar goals. Build a network of artists around you, especially those who maintain their own blogs. This may sound difficult, but an easy way to start is simply asking artists you like if you can interview them for your blog. They are generally happy to be interviewed because you are giving them free publicity, and they will nearly always link to the interview, giving you free publicity as well.
- Don’t forget to do the other stuff. This work will definitely build your readership but you shouldn’t passively hope the right person will stumble upon it and shoot you an email. Continue to explore your options in terms of traditional/self publication, and don’t be afraid to get creative with it. Send out those queries too.
- Finally, never forget that writing is indeed a craft, an art, one with supreme importance in our culture. No other art form survives through the centuries like writing does. Through all this work, through all this pushing for publication, searching for readers, never forget the craft of writing.
S.C. Barrus is a Seattle area writer of fiction and non-fiction who is working on his debut novel The Island and the Sea. To learn more about his up and coming novel, please visit his website Away and Away. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.