A few things I learned after I wrote a novel

A bit of a rant since I am feeling surly this morning.

A little over a year ago I decided to write a novel. It was to be a fantasy story with horror elements mostly to entertain me and my wife. As time crept by and the novel put on weight, I learned a few things.

Word count matters. It is important to write ever day to keep the thread alive in your head.

First drafts are crap. Your first draft will be crap. Accept it and get to editing.

Your second draft will probably be crap too.

Your third draft might be readable. If you are smart, nobody but you has seen anything up until now. Maybe only show this to your spouse or best friend. That’s it.

Your tenth draft is probably when other people can start reading it.

Writing is a lonely process. You want to tell people about your project but you can’t because you have to show them. In order to show them, you have to make a compelling story that makes them give a shit.

Your spouse will probably start to hate you. When I told my wife I wanted to write a novel her first reaction was “Cool! My husband is going to be a writer!” A month later and she was rolling her eyes and telling me I was an asshole since I started writing.And it was true.

This is because writing is frustrating. You are putting your thoughts down and they have to be just right. Your thoughts are a reflection of you, so of course you want them to be non-crappy. But this sometimes takes a lot of introspection and sulking to make happen. Oh, and booze.

Other writers will hate you or laugh at you. I won’t lie. Myself included, most writers are sort of jerks. If they are successful, they get about a dozen emails and comments on their blig from “aspiring writers”. If they are unsuccessful, they will see you as a competitor. Hell, even if they ARE successful they will probably see you as a competitor. There are only so many readers out there and unlike movies and MP3 garage band songs, books take weeks to appreciate the completed work. If someone is reading Harry Potter, they won’t be on to your book for another month, assuming they don’t get sidetracked by some other author. You know. Someone who is published.

Did you finish your novel? Is it awesome?

Nobody cares. Well, not really. Your friends and family will care. or at least they will act like they do. You will get congratulations on finishing it. They will tell you how they never knew you had it in you. They will tell you about how they had always thought of writing a book. etc.

They don’t really care. They may be impressed that you wrote something, but most of them are not really readers or are not your target audience. A lot of them prefer TV and movies. But still, grats on that.

Nobody cares, especially if they barely know you. Sharing with a coworker or acquaintance that you wrote a novel will usually result in a nod and awkward glance. Congratulations. You just came off as a pretentious prick.

A lot of people write books. You’ll find this out the more you spout off on how you wrote a novel. “Oh yeah, I am working on a book.” “Oh, yeah I wrote a book a long time ago just to see if I could.” “Oh yeah, my friend writes crappy fantasy novels.” The best one I got was from a friend on Facebook who said “I don’t have time to read your shit.” I applaud him for his honesty at least.

Everyone will ask if you are published. And you will have to tell them you aren’t. All this means to most people is that you threw 150,000 words of pure garbage between two covers with a beginning and an end. if you aren’t published, save yourself the pain of telling people whom you hardly know.

It is damn near impossible to get published. I have mentioned this before, but most agencies get about 10,000 queries a year. They end up choosing about a dozen books to  represent out of that stack. Of those dozen, maybe one or two will actually be sold to publishers. Save yourself the trouble and tell people you won the lottery, because if that happens you have experienced the only thing harder to do than get a book published.

Why don’t you self-publish? You will get asked this a lot. With the Kindle and everything else out there, it seems obvious that everyone should be self-publishing. Screw the middleman! I had three friends send me the recent article about a girl who MAKES MILLIONS selling her novels on Amazon.

Most self published novels are terrible. And I mean super terrible. Without the feedback and support of editors, publishers and agents, you can quickly be the subject of this article on Why Your Self-Published Book Might Suck A Bag of Dicks. Because most self-published novels are so bad, they have created a stigma for any decent self-published book out there. Anyone who has seen examples of these books will probably give you an uncomfortable giggle and run away as soon as you tell them you are self-published.

So take this advice. Congratulations on finishing your novel. No really. Buy yourself a bottle of wine, watch a movie, get to know your spouse again. You deserve it, as do they. But be careful who you tell about it, because that novel is your best kept secret.

Success in writing is largely subjective, but I feel that it falls into two groups: recognition and money. If you have achieved either of these in a volume ending in three zeros, then by all means, tell the world. Otherwise, shut the hell up and get back to writing.

That twentieth draft isn’t going to write itself.