Sunday, 29 April 2012

The positives and negatives of being an author

The voices in my head told me to write this :)

What's it like being an author? That's a question that nobody has ever asked me; likely no one ever will. But being an author means you like writing, and you like to spend your time answering unasked questions. So here we go.

Anyone with the ability to read and type can call themselves an author. All you have to do is write your masterpiece, submit it to KDP or Smashwords and, wahey, you're published! Does this lessen the prestige of the term "author"? Probably - but now as always, there are good, mediocre and bad authors out there.

What's the day-to-day experience like? For ease, I'll divide this into the good and the bad.

The good

1. From the comfort of my own living room, I have the opportunity of stepping into another world. I can build it, break it and bend it to my will. I can make it more beautiful than any landscape on Earth, or more revolting than an open cesspit. My ego gets to be the boss!

2. In order to properly understand motivation and feeling, I have to step inside the minds of my characters. This is almost always fun, because it allows me to see the world differently and it permits me to feel the same emotions they feel. When I'm writing a scene in which a hero is triumphant, I really do feel their triumph.

3. Knowing that someone read my work and enjoyed it. Besides feeding my ego, this is a complete revelation to me. It's always strange to think that someone consumed something that came out of my head, but it's a lovely feeling to know that you've given someone else a few hours of entertainment with your work.

4. Being in control of my working schedule. I can work where I like, when I like. I can stop for a break when I need to or eat at my desk. I have no boss!

5. I can spend the odd moment dreaming that one day my books will sell well enough for me to pack in the day job and cover my mortgage. Then I can move to the coast, spend the days writing and the evenings watching sunsets over the sea with a glass of vino in hand. Ahhh.

6. Seeing your work on the bookshelves of Amazon/B&N/iTunes etc. It does feel like quite an achievement to have a book in the stores of major retailers, especially when you've done it without the help of a trad publisher. It's even better if you manage to outsell some famous names!

7. Watching sales increase. Okay, so I don't sell very much at all, but across the year, sales have grown overall. Woo!

8 . I know what's going to happen in my books before everyone else does. Bwahahaha!

The bad

1. The hours required sometimes become silly. Toward the end of writing "Nation of Blaze" I was working on it for up to eighteen hours a day. I barely slept. The drive to write, re-read and edit was incessant and unyielding. I also had a house to keep tidy and a PhD to work on. By the time I published Anomaly of Blaze (in March of this year), I was exhausted and slightly burned out!

2. Writing can become so absorbing that you start to forget other things and people around you. When a hobby starts to turn into an obsession, it has the potential to damage your other work and relationships.

3. In addition to sharing the characters' good emotions, you also share the bad ones. Anomaly of Blaze was a real struggle for me, as one of the main characters goes through some very tough experiences.

4. Negative reviews! Yes, it's wonderful that someone took the time to read the book, but there's no denying that a negative review is like a stab in the guts for an author. Negative reviews are inevitable, even for the literary greats. Everyone has a right to air their opinion, especially when it's on a product that can take hours out of someone's life, but it still grates when someone says they don't like it. You feel a bit worthless and rubbish, and suddenly all of your fears about your book become real. I think that any good writer is their own worst critic, and to have someone come up with a whole new set of criticisms can be disturbing at times.

5. Inability to please everyone. As above. I'd like to keep everyone happy, but it's irritatingly impossible!

6. Writing in secrecy can be maddening. I haven't told any of my friends or family about my books, and that causes all sorts of tensions. Many times I'll want to tell people what I've been up to, and it's so often on the tip of my tongue. But being an author's my secret, other life. It just isn't compatible with the area of academia I'm in. This was infuriating to my mother, especially. I eventually blurted out that I'd written a book (I had to tell someone!), but didn't tell her what it was called because I didn't want her to read it. She was almost hopping on the spot with frustration every time I brought the subject up in conversation!

7. Not being able to defend your work. In academia I spend a great deal of time defending my arguments or improving research as a result of critique, but novel writing just isn't the same. When someone doesn't like something in a book, the author cannot write a lengthy defence of whatever problem has been pointed out (at least, not without looking like a total idiot). Once a book is read by someone else, I think it becomes an item where the ownership is mediated between the author and the reader, and that the reader has a greater share of it. I would like to write defences of my work and have that 'final say', but it's a bit inappropriate for novels in a marketplace.

8. Bad sale days/weeks/months. I'm pretty thrilled if I manage to sell anything at all, but sometimes I get stuck looking at sales reports that don't move for a while, or rankings that seem to spiral downwards! Though the overall pattern for my books is good, it is very easy to focus on the negative details.

So there we are. Being an author can be fulfilling, thrilling, depressing and frustrating. Just like any other job, really :p

I'm thinking about writing a thing on Mary Sue/ Gary Stu and author idealisation fantasy next. Watch the space over there <--

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