10 Things You Didn’t Know About Becoming a Published Author
By Alexandra Sokoloff
I’ve been a professional writer all my adult life (depending on what you want to call “adult”!). Before I wrote my first book, I was a screenwriter for ten years, which is quite different from writing books. There were a million things that surprised my about the author business – and life – as contrasted to the movie business. Here are just ten.
- As a published author you travel ALL THE TIME.
Really, this shocked me. As a screenwriter I would travel for research but the work takes place in Los Angeles. As an author I spend about a third of my time on the road. I don’t do as many bookstore signings as I used to, because (at least in the US) no one does as many bookstore signings anymore. Marketing has moved online, to blogs like this one! But I do go to book conventions and writing conferences all the time, for signings, promotion and networking. I love the travel – it’s a great balance to the solitude of the author life. And it’s a good thing I do love it—because now that I live half the time in Scotland (with Scottish crime author Craig Robertson), I’m doing conferences on both sides of the pond.
2. Readers want to know you.
This was another total shock. No one cares about screenwriters. The movie studios work very hard to pretend you don’t exist. But the genre communities in the book world are like a big gypsy family. Many readers want to meet authors and interact with them personally on social media sites. They are passionate supporters of their favorite authors’ careers. I have been staggered at how generous readers are with both writing encouragement and promotional support. It’s a wonderful, symbiotic relationship that I have come to cherish.
3. Writing doesn’t get easier, but you do get more confident about it.
The more books you write, the more you realize that no matter what, you will figure out how to get to “The End”. There will always be a point at which you think you’re going to have to give back the advance because you are never going to pull this thing off. But after a couple of books, or five, you will remember that you have always thought that, and usually at about the same point in every book (“the three-quarter drop-dead” is what a film development friend of mine calls it.) And you will keep going and you will finish and it will be fine. Except for maybe this one. This one might be the one that kills me.
4. The level at which you sell your first book is very difficult to break free from.
That sale price sets the price that the price for subsequent books will be based on. So if you are thinking of writing a book I can tell you – it helps to write the BIGGEST book you can think of. You only get that chance to break in once.
5. You get to dress up. A lot.
This is one of the most fun surprises of being an author. Writing conventions are almost non-stop parties, which means I can change clothes all day and all night long. A lot of people go casual, but I really like dressing up, and I like wearing slightly outrageous things, and I’ve found readers really appreciate my fashion – um, risks. It’s a great conversational icebreaker.
6. All those years of acting come in handy.
Before I started writing, I was a theater kid – I acted in school and community theater productions all the way through primary school, middle school and high school, I majored in theater in college, and I was in an improvisational theater troupe for a couple of years after college. I happen to think acting is a skill that comes in handy no matter what profession you decide to go into – who can’t benefit from learning how to engage and entertain an audience, whether it’s an audience of one or one thousand? But it is especially useful for an author since you are constantly interacting with the public – on panels, at book signings, for radio and TV interviews. I have a comfort level with public speaking that serves me well in promotion, and I know how to not be boring, and even be funny, which is what readers really want from authors, I find!
7. There is nothing so wonderful as the company of other authors.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my screenwriter friends, but the movie business encourages cage-fight competition between screenwriters – for jobs, for credit, for recognition. Screenwriters are often very angry people. Authors don’t have that same pressure to compete. We don’t have to write to the specifications of a committee of executives and producers who all have different visions of the movie. It’s harder to write novels, but it’s also more relaxing – and more satisfying. Authors are in general very grounded, generous, supportive people. And we all know exactly what we all go through every day. We don’t have to try to explain the insane process that writing is to anyone, because we all live it. It’s an instant bond.
8. At least half of your work day is about promotion.
I know, that sounds high, but I think it’s realistic. This was a huge shock. But as distracting and frustrating as promotion can be, I still prefer it to the endless runaround of meetings I experienced as a screenwriter. The promotion takes a lot of time, but when you sit down to write, no one else is trying to tell you how to do it. I’ll take promotion over that any day, thanks very much!
9. You get much more respect.
I said earlier that screenwriters are often very angry people. This is a lot because as the saying goes, “We don’t get no respect.” Screenwriters are writers just as much as authors are, but for some reason many more people have a kind of awe about authors. We go to some mystical place and bring back a book. It IS awesome, when you think about it. But also surprising that so very many people see it that way.
- You get to meet all YOUR favorite authors.
You get to thank them for everything they have done for you. You get to be on panels with them. You get to drink and talk all night with them. And often, they will actually read you. That is a mind-blowingly wonderful thing.
It’s a great life.