The Tao of the Author: The Recurring Question

I’d like to talk about a question that I get asked a lot:

How do I get published?

My reply to this is another question which, in the moment and out of context, might sound harsh but I promise that I deliver it kindly: “Have you finished your book, yet?”
The amount of people who reply “no” is overwhelming. This might seem like an odd place to talk about this subject. It’s only the second post, after all. But this is suuuuper important.

You see, lots of creative folks like us are freaking themselves out, heading themselves off at the pass, getting bogged down when they should be flying. Everyone has a different opinion of where the fun comes for creatives. Is it in the creation itself? Sharing what you’ve made? Meeting new people? Getting reviews? No two people feel the
same way, I’m sure. But one thing we can be certain about is that we love what we do. We also get a bit ahead of ourselves, sometimes. All that imagination power has to go somewhere, right?

Imagination

I had this exact same problem. Hell, I still have it! I get carried away. As soon as I have an idea, I start thinking about where it’ll end up. Let’s use Aethertide as an example. I always wanted to write a comic. Eventually, I finished the script but, from the first moment of having the idea, I was thinking about what artist I’d love to draw it, which comic publisher I’d love to print it. I had to slap myself on the wrist and mutter: “Cool your jets, hotshot. You haven’t written the damned thing yet!”

I get carried away. I get ahead of myself. With that comes fear of the unknown and undue pressure. I’ve led myself to think “I can’t do this” before I’ve even grabbed a notepad. I’m bonkers, is what I’m getting at.

Becoming the full package

When I first started out, I wish someone had told me to think about “first things first”. Maintain the dream of becoming published/exhibited/having a ton of followers but don’t bog yourself down with the mechanics of it. You aren’t ready if your product isn’t ready. Your author self and your book come as a package, you see?

Approaching a publisher with a head full of dreams and a handful of scribbled-on napkins won’t get you very far. If it did, I’d have a hundred books out by now. However, if you’ve made your work the best that you can with the resources available to you, if it’s sat in front of you and you think “I can’t do anything more with this on my own”, then you’re ready to start thinking about getting published.

Research for authors

There is no single path after this. You have to find your own way. What’s essential, is research. If you come to my signing table with manuscript in hand and ask “how do I get this published?”, I can’t tell you. I wish I could. I don’t know you, your work, your vision. Only you can know that. Even if I did, I don’t know every publisher in the world. I only know a handful of the ones that are kind of around my area, and rarely on a first name basis. All I can tell you is how I did it. And we’ve already established that was bonkers.

You have to do your own research, folks. It sucks and it’s mind-numbing. It can feel like a huge comedown after the high of creating something, but it’s essential. Stalk people in a similar line of work on social media, read articles. Look up publishers and agents who specialise in what you’ve written. There’s no quick way, really. I’m sorry, but there isn’t. I wish there was.

Querying publishers

I still go through this process all the time. What it all boils down to is that you have to find your own path. Published authors aren’t gatekeepers to the world you want to live in. We’re just like you. We are still very much at the whims of agents and publishers. We still have to send out queries for our next book and hope the pubs like it, we still have to worry that no one will read it. You see us as ahead, but we’re right by your side, looking at the same view.

I know, I know, there wasn’t much solid advice for you there other than “finish the book” and “do your research”. I know that’s frustrating but, as we talked about last time, there is no Magic Bean. But focus, finishing the job and putting in the leg work really are three of the very most important things an author can have. With those three things under your feet, you’ve set yourself on the path to really getting published, your way.

Thanks for reading!ask-blackboard-chalk-board-chalkboard-356079

 

Tao of the Author posts are shared with my patrons a whole year before reaching the blog. To get the latest posts as they come without delay, head over and check out my Patreon page.

Patreon is the only way that I can get to book signings and meet new readers. It also helps me to release new books and collections so please do check it out.

The Tao of the Author: The Magic Bean

Welcome to the first Tao of the Author column!

This will be a series of posts on the more philosophical side of being an author. We’ll cover organisation for the sake of your sanity, dealing with rejection, comparing yourself to others and a host of other subjects. This is the kind of advice I wish I’d had when I started out. I think it would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights.

So let’s get start by talking about The Magic Bean.

 

How do I become a successful author?

Every author, and possibly every creative, at some point in their careers has asked the same question whether aloud, internally, or of Google. How do I become successful? (We’ll talk about what “success” actually means in a future newsletter ). We’ve all wondered how we get from where we are to where we perceive others to already be. What magic formula, what golden ticket, will get us that status?

The fact is, unfortunately, these legendary secrets don’t exist. Despite how many “overnight success” or “they did it all themselves on the internet” stories you read, they’re not real. Because the people who are the subjects of these toxic media stories aren’t overnight successes. They didn’t rub the Lamp of Publishing and a genie appear to answer their wishes. Every creative person begins the same way, the same as me, the same as you. One day, the voices in their head got too much to ignore and they sat down to do the work. Then, they finished it. After that? They belly-crawled, persisted, tore their clothing on razorwire, persisted, got smacked down and infuriated by themselves and others before arriving at a finished project. Because that is the journey of the creative. Then, and only then, did they succeed.

What is an overnight success?

Yikes, that was a heavy start, wasn’t it? Let’s go with an analogy that doesn’t sound like a monochrome war movie tableau. Those creatives planted their magic bean and cared for it.

Ah, magic beans. That’s better.

You see, there’s no fast way to grow a beanstalk. You plant your magic bean; you water it and tend to it; when it begins to wilt you strap it to a bamboo cane; when it rains too much, you shelter it, and when the sun comes out, you rest in its shade. The magic beanstalk is the hardest plant to grow, which is why it grows the highest. You have to be prepared to tend your beanstalk (is that a euphemism? Possibly).

For us creatives, that can mean simply finishing your project. That book, painting, fan film or piece of music can’t go anywhere until you’ve finished it. Then it could be spreading the word about your work, getting friends and family involved, or sending manuscripts to publishers. All creatives, everywhere, go through this process. J.K. Rowling was dubbed an overnight success after years of struggling and an avalanche of rejections. It finally took a publisher’s 8-year-old daughter to see the potential of the Harry Potter series. J.K. tended her bean, and slaved over its growth for years to become an “overnight success”.

What do I need to be an author?

The beautiful thing? You already have your bean. All you have to do is place it in the earth.

That idea you have (you know, the one that keeps you up at night) is your bean. You hold it in the palm of your hand, the tip of your pen, the bristles of your brush. Just plant it.
Of course, there comes a warning. Not everyone’s beanstalk will reach the clouds (there be giants). Some people’s beanstalks stop growing around head height. Some people end up with a field of little shoots. But you should always be proud of what you have grown with the soil, the sunlight, and the rain that nature affords you. Looking at other people’s beanstalks just distracts you from your own; they had different soil, sunlight, and some have greenhouses. It’s pointless to compare. J.K. had hard work and luck on her side, if the tales are to be believed.

Being an author

Still, when growing a beanstalk, it doesn’t matter how high it goes, or how you got it there. None of it matters. It’s that you planted it in the first place. Everyone’s beanstalk makes the world a little greener.

I hope that all makes sense. Analogies can get strained sometimes, and generalisations can be the work of the devil. But I hope that you can see what I’m getting at. Your work is your work. Your journey is your journey. No one can tend to your garden for you, or tell you how. But you can be fulfilled, and have a great sense of pride and self-worth from the work that you do, no matter where it goes or how many people read it.

That kind of mentality is how an author survives, and that is what I’m hoping to promote with these Tao of the Author posts.

See you next time!

Thanks for reading.

 

Tao of the Author posts are shared with my patrons a whole year before reaching the blog. To get the latest posts as they come without delay, head over and check out my Patreon page.

Patreon is the only way that I can get to book signings and meet new readers. It also helps me to release new books and collections so please do check it out.

The Tao of the Author

Hi everyone,

Welcome to a new thread of posts! I recently had the idea (well, someone told me to do it) to write up some of the things I’ve learned over the last six years of being an indie author. But, as usual, I can’t do anything the easy way.

There are a lot of tips for authors out there. A lot of tricks and get-there-fast schemes. There are a lot of online courses that will cost you hundreds and teach you nothing. There are good ones as well, but they take some finding.

So, I wanted to do something a little different. I’ll be avoiding tips on how to craft a chapter, how to pace your novel, how to make a short story really hit home, and I’ll be focusing more on philosophy.

WAIT! DON’T GO! It’ll be good, honest.

In an effort to make it sound all impressive, I’ll be calling the thread The Tao of the Author. Hopefully some of the things I share will help you to better contend with the mental and emotional hurdles that a lot of authors have to climb over. I know that I have. We’ll be talking about Imposter Syndrome, handling rejections, and how to maintain your headspace when its swimming with worlds and voices both real and imagined. We’ll be talking about some of the advice out there, how it sounds profound, but can actually be toxic to your creative survival. I’m hoping it will be useful and fun to read.

Just one explanatory note: I’m not perfect. Oh, sweet Cthulhu, I am not perfect. The Tao isn’t coming from a high hilltop where I meditate in a state of creative perfection. The reason I can share these things with you is because I have fallen foul of them and still do on occasion. But, if we keep reminding each other of these important things, maybe it’ll get easier for all of us.

The first post will be “The Magic Bean” and it’ll drop tonight. I’ll be writing a bunch of these and releasing them on Wednesdays, I think.

 

As always, thanks for reading, everyone. Your constant support keeps me dreaming, keeps me writing, keeps me going.

Go big or go home

Hi everyone,

This morning, this author has submitted a story to one of the most prestigious magazines on the planet. My novella, Emi, is winging its way to Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, as we speak (or as I type).

Now, let’s not get excited. I think that F&SF is the second longest running magazine of its kind, and possibly the highest selling. This is a huge market. Also, Emi is a little longer than they typically accept and will probably have to be serialised, which is something that they haven’t done since…well, a long time. The only one I actually know of (as a non-reader) is The Gunslinger by Stephen King. So, you see what kind of high expectations the magazine has.

With all that in mind, my chances of getting in are particularly slim. Wafer thin. Leaf on the wind light, and just as easy to blow away.

But, if we don’t try, we don’t succeed, am I right?

If I’m unsuccessful, there is an upcoming open submissions for Tor Books’ novella imprint that I’ll have a go at. That one is similarly unlikely. But after I’ve been rejected by those two, at least I can say that I gave it a go and then move on to other publications.

If any fledgling authors such as myself are reading this, then I hope you take heed of these words. Go big or go home. Try everything. By only going for “smaller” magazines etc, you’re selling yourself short. Let someone else turn down your work, don’t do it for them. You see, a rejection slip isn’t someone saying to you, “this is the worst thing I’ve ever written. You should give up.” Unless, of course, it literally says that. Generally, rejection slips are from someone who has a thousand submissions to get through, who has a very tight criteria to adhere to, and who must, for the sake of their sanity and their job, make pretty quick decisions about the fiction that they accept.

In order to be accepted to a publication, your work has to hit their eye-line at the exact moment that they’ve had their coffee and the sugar from that donut has worked its way into their system. It has to be the right time of day. Not too early that they’re half asleep, not too late that they’ve read a hundred submissions already.

Basically, if the person considering your work is not too tired, not too wired, not trudging through a fictional mire, and ready to hire, then you’re on to a winner.

And if not, then try somewhere else. Or, if you want to be sneaky, then take any advice they give, rewrite, and resubmit to the same place. You never know. Next time, you might hit their sweet spot.

I’ll keep you updated with how it goes.

 

Thanks for reading, folks.