By Sara Grant — the author of edgy teen novels Dark Parties and Half Lives, and Magic Trix, a fun, magical series for young readers
Being a writer is simple. All you need to do is, well, write. Don’t worry about finishing a story. Don’t sweat over deadlines or markets. Create with abandon. Write for the sheer joy of expression. Follow your own rules. The only person that needs to love — or even understand — your work is you. You are creator, consumer and critic. Being a writer is lovely! Since my teen years, I’ve written for my own enjoyment. There are hundreds of poems, stories and even a few haikus known only to me. I often write for catharsis or company or self-awareness. I’ve always been a writer and always will be. It’s the way I am in the world.
But being a published author is different.
There are two minimum requirements:
1) a finished book — words arranged on a computer in an order that is original and captures readers’ imaginations.
2) a publisher — these wonderful, magical companies that take your words, enhance them with gifted editors, wrap them with eye-catching covers and share them with the world.
Once you have your story and your book deal, here’s what I think it takes to be – or maybe I should say survive being – a published author.
Collaboration — If you are lucky, you’ll have a team of talented agents and publishers who will help make your book better. They are investing in your work. Appreciate them. Authors aren’t order takers, but successful ones partner with smart people and listen to them.
Self-Motivation — Most authors need to write around their other job and, well, life. That often means early mornings, late nights and many weekends building a close, personal bond with a computer while struggling to maintain relationships with real, live people. I know so many brilliant writers who never finish writing a book. For days, months and most likely years, you will write in solitude. No one will ask to see your book. No one will care if you finish it. You need to care deeply and dedicate the necessary time and energy – even when logic and maybe even rejection letters tell you to stop.
Obsession — It’s not enough to be interested in your novel. I was interested in weaving potholders for a short time when I was nine. It didn’t last. You must be obsessed with your story, characters and setting. The birth of a book is a long, hard process. This obsession and passion for your story will propel you from idea to blogger reviews.
Organisation — Gone are the days of wacky, free spirited writers who believe deadlines are optional and editorial feedback merely silly suggestions. When your first book is published, you will have to manage many edits, deadlines as well as ideas for another book, interview requests, reader emails, Twitter, web sites…argh! The more organised you can be the better! It helps me to remember that sanity is optional. Which leads me to my next point…
Ever-so-slight Insanity — Are completely sane, logical, normal people writers? I think not. You may start out that way, but my advice is: embrace the crazy. If Sherlock Holmes is a high functioning sociopath then maybe authors are high functioning nut cases.
Tenacity — I believe JK Rowling has received more rejection letters than book contracts — and she’s done pretty well for herself. You must be able to take rejection and criticism. Learn what you can from these and keep improving and believing.
Luck— It takes hard work, dedication and sacrifice but finding the right agent, publisher and ultimately readers takes a little luck. How could you possibly anticipate that a celebrity was going to write a vampire wombat story too? But I believe you can make our own luck or at least give it a nudge by continuing to learn and fail and try again and network and absorb all the advice and inspiration you can.
Gratitude — When, at last, it happens and you hold a book with your name printed on the spine, be thankful. There won’t be trumpets blaring or angels descending in hosanna. Most likely you will open a package on a random Tuesday morning in the privacy of your own home with no one around to hear you whoop and holler or see your tears of overwhelming joy. You will feel a little terrified that part of your soul will soon be available on Amazon for £9.99. But be thankful because there are thousands of writers who dream of the moment you are experiencing. With all the pressure, stress and panic, you may forget that you are the ‘lucky’ one. Enjoy it.