Saturday, January 10, 2009

Busting The Writing Myths

I am amazed when I hear about people who believe they can sit at a typewriter for a week and produce a novel that will make them millions of dollars. I’m sure the success of the Harry Potter series helped inspire many of these fantasies. The truth is, writing is hard work – even if you love it. Most writers spend years producing one manuscript after another before even getting the first one published. Like most professions, you start at the bottom and work your way up. There are exceptions, but those are rare and that is why their stories end up in the newspaper.

Now that I've busted that myth, I'll move on to others. Know the truth before you decide to spend all of your free time typing away. If you are going to become a writer, do it for the right reasons.

Myth 1 – Writers don’t have to work outside the home. Most writers have day jobs because they cannot live off their advances (money given upon acceptance of a manuscript) and last I heard royalties for any publisher were usually around 4% of each book sold. Advances for beginning writers are usually $0 with small presses and $1,000 - $5,000 for the bigger houses. You have to earn back the advance before you are paid any royalties. It may be a year or so before you see a check. Also, if you have a three-book contract, you may not see any royalties until after you earn the advance back on all three books.

Myth 2 – Writing a book is easy. Anyone can write a book. Writing a good book is a different story. Many writers spend years learning to plot and bring their characters to life. I’ve heard of some authors who produced 16 or more manuscripts before selling. Some writers are never published. I was fortunate to have my fourth manuscript bought by Wild Rose. If you are serious about becoming an author, join professional organizations like Romance Writers of America and read craft books.

Myth 3 – Writers sit around in their pajamas all day, typing and eating bons bons. I’m not really sure what a bon bon is, except for the ice cream filled ones. I will admit one afternoon I started typing and at 9:00 that night, I realized I had only eaten pretzel rods and sugar free Popsicles. (Not exactly a nutritious dinner.) Several of my friends and I confessed there are times we had worked on our manuscripts throughout the morning, and into the afternoon, without getting dressed first. This is not usually the norm. We all have places to go and people to see.

Myth 4 – Writers are famous people with glamorous lives. Several coworkers have called me a celebrity and I know I must have looked at them as if they were crazy. I’m not really sure how many people have seen my penn name in print, but I can assure you the vast majority of authors are not recognized in public – even some famous ones. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments that are exciting. The first time I saw my book at the Arrowhead Barnes and Noble near my home, my eyes fluttered and my pulse raced. I was interviewed for an education magazine and couldn’t believe they gave me a full-page. That was surreal. I was shocked when I received fan email. Also, whenever I receive a good review, final in a contest, hear my book was nominated for an award, or someone says they enjoyed my story, I am thrilled. It feels like Christmas morning. I am also star struck when I have conversations with well-known authors, agents, or editors. On the other hand, the first time I mailed a manuscript to an editor, I thought I was going to be sick. No one looks forward to possible rejection. At least no one I know. Book signings may look impressive, but I hate them. I feel like I’m on display. I will do workshops for the promotion, but they make me nervous, even with speech and debate experience. If you add up all of the days with thrilling moments this past year, there were about 20, which isn’t bad after six years of learning my craft. I just don’t want anyone thinking every day is like riding an amusement ride. Most days, I am just plain ole Tina. I teach, try to avoid cleaning and cooking, type my stories and my blog posts, spend time with family and friends, read or watch movies, and marvel at how lucky I am that I have learned to enjoy the simple moments in life.

So, why do I write if it isn’t usually exciting, glamorous, or making me a lot of money? Because it fills a void. I need the challenge of plotting twists and turns. I am thrilled when I make myself laugh, come up with a good line, or when the scene practically writes itself. If you are going to write, do it because the process excites you. This business is too difficult to do it for any other reason.

Good luck,
Tina LaVon


Terry Odell said...

Writers write. That's about it. Published or not, writers write. Yesterday on the radio, the DJs were spouting some odds -- like winning the lottery, etc. One of the ones they mentioned was 'the odds of writing a Best Selling novel are 223 to 1. Excuse Me? Is that if you're already a big published author? Because otherwise, those numbers don't make much sense. They're hardly even signing on new authors these days, what with the industry going down the tubes.

Tina LaVon said...

Those odds cannot be accurate. I'd like to know how they came up with that number, too.