Opportunity is a pimp. He will not wait for you and expects you to be ready regardless the time or inconvenience. There is rarely a second chance with opportunity. He will expect you to wordlessly follow wherever he may take you, despite what your reservations may be. The primary thing to remember with opportunity is that he expects you to make money for him. If you can't do that, maybe it's time to find a new career.
Sound harsh? It is. To be a professional writer, or any style of artist, you must have a devotion to your craft that is unquestionable. You must be willing to go anywhere, meet anybody, forgo sleep and food should it bring you even one step closer to your goal. For some, the road is easy, but those fortunate few are truly the exception to the rule. The rest of us mortals find that in addition to our forty-hour work week that we are focused on our art an additional ten to fifteen hours. This includes writing, editing, book signings, research, query letters, meeting other writers either in person or virtually, and spreading the gospel that is your work with flyers, bookstore consignments, and the Internet. If you have a spouse and children, you may add a minimum five hours due to the inevitable interruption factor.
It took a year of sleep deprivation to complete your version of the great American novel. Your family and friends all say its wonderful, a real writer in the family, we couldn't be more proud. Does the expression ‘standing in a garage doesn't make you a Cadillac’ ring any bells? The people closest to you are the worst critics of your work. They love you, which is wonderful, but it is not especially helpful. Until you find an editor, opportunity doesn't even know where you live.
Editors are soulless beasts that roam the earth and live to devour inexperienced writer’s manuscripts. Okay, so that is a little over the top, yet if you think your work is wonderful, perfect, the next 'Great Gatsby' waiting to be discovered like a beautiful starlet on the Sunset Strip, good luck with that. Most novels have been vigorously edited and most novelists, including Faulkner, Hemingway, and Steinbeck, have had editors. Great men and women who names if listed would be unrecognizable as names in a phone book. That being said a good writer and a good editor can make a terrific novel together. Don't be fooled though, it is work, hard work that will tax body, mind, soul. You will question and doubt yourself, your editor, and maybe even wonder why in the hell you ever thought you could do this anyway. Then one day it is done. No more re-writes, no more red ink to slosh through. Now what?
If you dislike the word no, stop now.
There are two paths that are both equally difficult to achieve the same goal: self-publish or submit your unsolicited manuscript to literary agents via a query letter. You may even do both, but do not submit the self-pub book to an agent. More on this later.
A word of warning in regards to self-publication. Do not pay someone to publish your book. This is a scam. If you pay anyone during this whole process, pay a certified, independent editor with a proven track record of published books to their credit with authors you can speak with as to their credentials. Not unlike hiring a contractor to work on your house, you take bids and make a final decision based partly on cost, partly on experience. The exception here is no matter what the outcome you cannot blame anyone but yourself if your book sucks.
Talent unlike tenacity is an organic thing. You either got it or you don't. That isn't to say you can't be skilled at what you do. Give fifteen minutes a day to any dedication and one can become a theoretical master over any subject. There is, however, a touch guided by insight that can only be described as the elusive talent. At a certain point you will have to decide what side of the coin you have landed. Do you enjoy writing? Does it give you a lift to write even if no one is reading your work? Then, by God, go in peace. If, however, you want to find fulfillment, readership, a career applying electronic ink to a digital page, and (gasp) a livable income from writing you should at least be a damn good storyteller in your particular genre. I highly recommend the low-budget film available at almost any public library titled, "The Hero's 2 Journeys," starring the amazing Christopher Vogler, author of "The Writer's Journey." If the information contained between the book and the movie doesn't make you excited as having the power to accurately predict lottery numbers, then buy a guitar.
The acquisition of an agent for a debut novelist should be a submission of a writer’s best work. If you have self-published in the past, I wouldn't mention it in your query letter unless you have sold thousands of copies. There is a stink to self-published books that smells worse than molting sweat socks to an agent. Your odds of getting an agent to take your self-published work, as-is, and presenting it to a major publisher are about as good as winning the next Pulitzer Prize. On the bright side, if you do get an agent and become a popular author, you will own the exclusive rights to a book no publisher outside of you has access to print. Literally, a license to make money. I consider my own book an ace up my sleeve, that is both an introduction to the literary world and a possible gold mine claim to be declared at a later date.
The best thing about being a writer is that your age, your looks, your weight, your religious views, your sexual orientation, or your gender will not determine your popularity. It is one of the few level playing fields still available today that is open to anyone who possesses the power to engage a reader. To initiate the suspension of disbelief so well a person will sacrifice going to bed on time to finish a chapter or the whole damn book.
Regardless the sacrifices, only you can deem if it is all worth it. The early mornings and late nights perfecting your stories. Times you could have been at parties or out with friends that you choose to stay home and work on your art. If you are in it for the money alone, you will be disappointed. If writing stories first and foremost for your own enjoyment turns you on, no matter what the world thinks, you will be successful.
Remember that opportunity asks only one question and then waits to see if you are brave, bold, or indifferent. It is the same thing I ask myself every time before I sit to write. What would you do if you truly believed you could not fail?
Opportunity is waiting. All you have to do is be prepared for his knock.
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