“I’ll put my heart and soul into my novel, work hard to get an agent, and everything else will fall into place. It won’t be easy, but everyone I know will be rooting for me.”
That’s what many aspiring writers think.
I was one of them.
It wasn’t long before reality hit me head-on.
When I started out on my literary journey nearly five years ago, I naively assumed mostly everyone I knew would back me up. Sure, there were those who said they believed in me, but their actions proved otherwise. People grew distant and soon the only sounds of encouragement I heard were from a few loyal supporters and the echoes of my inner ambition. Even so, I consider myself one of the lucky ones since there are so many artists who receive no support at all.
A long, tumultuous road usually occupies the distance between an individual and their success. The arts in particular have always been considered frivolous compared to other industries, yet with so many people clamoring for the limelight, it’s also among the most competitive arenas. It’s also one of the few fields where it’s legal for a writer to spend years slaving over a product only to receive less than a dollar for each year worked (if even that much). But, I digress…
Over the years I have been humbled and have learned many hard lessons.
Here are some things I wish I knew going in:
1. Be prepared to do absolutely EVERYTHING yourself (especially if you self-publish).
Everything? you might ask. Well, virtually. I know I’m pulling back the curtain by admitting this, but contrary to outward appearances I don’t have people handling these things—neither do some of my fellow authors. In addition to writing and conducting research for my work, I also do the following:
§ Web design for my author and book websites (the latter is still in progress)
§ Print book layout and digital conversion
§ Cover design
§ Designing promotional materials (press kit, bookmarks, business cards, posters, etc.)
When do I find time to sleep? Rarely.
2. Don’t expect people to care about your dream as much as you do, if at all.
3. Your success is your responsibility. Quitting will not help you achieve it—it’ll only prove your doubters right.
4. You may be faced with a decision to choose between friendship/family and your career ambitions. Choose wisely. Always keep in mind what you’re willing to sacrifice or compromise. Try to find middle ground whenever you can.
5. Genuine help is rare. Appreciate it whenever you receive it and always express your gratitude.
6. Everyone has bad days. A little complaining is okay when it’s due, but only in moderation—and never let it impede your progress.
7. The higher your goals are, the steeper the hill and therefore the more exhausting the journey. Don’t expect to get there overnight and don’t overexert yourself.
8. If you cannot afford to purchase certain necessary services to support your endeavors, expend time to research and learn the skills to do them yourself if possible.
9. Find author/writer groups on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads. Pay it forward whenever possible. Don’t just ask for help, give it as well.
10. Chances are, you’ll have to work at your dream for years without making a cent of profit. If anything, you’ll have to shell out money to get started (especially if you plan to publish independently). Still, this fact has nothing to do with the level of your talent. It’s just business, and business is rarely fair. Talent doesn’t guarantee success, no matter how great it may be. Fact is, there’s a degree of luck and social intellect that comes into play. That said, if you’re planning on writing full-time, make sure you have a stable way of maintaining your basic needs; you know, food, clothing and shelter.
11. Closed mouths don’t get fed. It’s okay to ask for help when you really need it. Sometimes, people will assume you don’t need assistance because you don’t appear to be struggling. Still, always do what you can for yourself first, or at least try. Sometimes you’ll surprise yourself and there’s a certain type of pride that comes with the ability to say: “I did it, myself.”
12. No matter what, keep writing, keep learning and keep growing!
It’s very demanding, transforming one’s ambitions into reality. Yet, if your desire is to leave a mark of your most genuine self on the world, it’s worth the attempt. At least it is for me. In the years prior to embarking on my literary journey I worked for organizations and causes that didn’t align with my spirit or contribute to my happiness. If anything, some of those businesses contributed to my misery. Now, even though I’m still fighting the good fight, I understand the driving force behind my struggle. I’m finally dedicated to something I believe in, something that makes me truly happy.
To my fellow authors and artists enduring the uphill battle, know that though the road seems lonely at times, there are people out there who understand exactly how tough it is since they’re going through similar trials. When you feel too weary to continue, reflect on how far you’ve already come. Just by taking that first step toward your goal, you’ve traversed onto a path only the strongest dare to travel. The road will not always be smooth, but the journey will become more manageable once you break it down into simple steps. After all, marathons are won with one step at a time.
Shykia Bell’s latest novel, CAMILEON: Beyond The Veil is available through Amazon.
What a beautifully written blog. Once again, you express yourself with such aplomb and grace, and you know how get right to the heart of the matter. Over the last four and a half years, I’ve gotten to know many writers: self-published, independently published, and traditionally published. I’ve talked to many people and heard their stories.
So that this comment doesn’t turn into a another blog, I’ll limit my comments to those who are self-published and independently published. This is a great time to publish and it’s an impossible time to publish. The means are there to get our work out and the competition is ridiculous. Just as it is in all fields of endeavor, it’s about a lot more than talent. It’s also about perseverance and a big heaping spoonful of luck. And so much more.
Like you, I am blessed to have some great supporters and I cherish each and every one of them. It is because they believe in me that I keep going. I can’t think about those who don’t support me; I’ll go crazy. Instead, I think about the gratitude I have for those who do.
What you wrote in #11 really struck a chord with me. I’ve had many people mention to me in passing that they loved one of my books. Yet, they never thought to tell me until it came up in conversation. Some people don’t really understand just how much it means to us. Positive feedback (and reviews) keeps us going when sales are less than grand. It tells us that someone out there appreciates our work and it gets us through that day. And the next.
I love helping other authors. Despite the competitive field, we all have unique products to sell. But I go right up the wall when I meet the authors/artists who just want to talk about their own work and never think about anyone else. C’mon, we’re all in this together. You can’t expect support if you’re not willing to give it. And mean it.
Shykia, I wish you all the luck with your newest book, CAMILEON: Beyond The Veil. As is evidenced in this blog, you are a brilliant writer and a fine human being whose work deserves to be read and appreciated. Kudos for a superb blog.
Wonderf blog and very well written! I have lived what you shared in my own life. And though it is a lot of work to live the dream, I have found that it is a lot more work to work someone else’s dream.
Wonderful post and great advice. Thanks!
I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I hope to see you back here soon!
Thanks for the kind comment. I’m glad my words resonated with you. I wish you all the best in your endeavor to live your dream! Please visit again soon!
It touches me to know that you were so moved by my words. With so much adversity plaguing the industry, it’s always refreshing to encounter fellow authors who realize that you don’t have to be cutthroat in order to succeed. I have found that camaraderie truly works wonders in not only increasing one’s exposure, but also forming a support group of sorts among fellow wordsmiths. Thanks for the well-wishes. I truly appreciate that, and the many kind sentiments you expressed! All my best to you as well!
Warmest regards to you all!
What a fantastic post – you have inspired me this morning. I have my first precious draft as a result of NaNoWriMo (and beyond), and was really struggling with making the next step, as well as continuing earning my crust!
Thanks, Kristy! I’m glad you found my post helpful. I wish you all the best in your literary endeavors.
True words beautifully put together.
Thanks for the kind comment, Peter.
Great post! … And very on-point…many truisms in this. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your perspective, and identifying with your pragmatic approach to the indie/self-publishing business.
Regards / Gareth
Thanks so much for your lovely comment! I’m pleased to know that my words resonated with you.