I got asked about that week, in fact, by a friend who relayed to me that a friend of his was thinking about doing it. So, since it’s my turn to post on the Here Be Magic blog today, I thought I’d address this very question.
First, a caveat: I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who’s specifically working in the SF/F genre, and also, someone who’s specifically working on novels. Mileage will definitely vary if you’re wanting to break into writing short stories, or non-fiction, or poetry, or articles for media sites, etc. For the purposes of this post, though, I’m going to focus on where my experience lies.
So. The very first thing you need to do, if you haven’t done it already, is write the book. This may seem self-evident, but sometimes, for some folks, it’s not.
Don’t get me wrong—it’s useful, vital even, to be looking ahead and working out a plan for what exactly you want to do with your work once it’s ready. But don’t let making that plan get in the way of the most critical thing you need to do. Which is to say, writing the book.
I wrote in more depth about this on this post over on my personal site, so rather than going into detail about that here, I’ll just give you all the link. To that other post of mine, though, I’ll add here that this was one of the most valuable things I had to learn about getting into writing: that it should, in fact, be treated with the same seriousness that you’d approach getting things done at your day job.
You get paid for doing things at a day job. And if you’re hoping that people will pay you for your writing, you should approach it with the same level of care you’d use for any other work.
Once I got to a point where I was able to start querying completed novels around, I came to learn that the current state of the publishing world had become a lot different than it was when I first started wanting to write. By which I mean, there are more options available today for aspiring SF/F novelists. No matter what route you take, though, there will be challenges. And there will be questions you’ll want to ask yourself.
If you want to go the traditional publishing route:
- Do you know which publishers you want to work with?
- Do you know what their submissions guidelines are?
- Do you know how to write a query letter?
- Do you know which publishers will take unsolicited manuscripts, and which ones won’t?
- Do you want to get an agent?
- Do you know which agents represent the kind of work you want to write?
If you want to go indie:
- Do you have the technical skills necessary to build your own ebooks?
- If not, do you have a budget set aside to hire someone to build ebooks for you?
- Do you know how to find a trustworthy editor to edit your work before release? (Because yes, you will need an editor.)
- Do you have the graphic design skills necessary to do your own cover art?
- If not, do you know how to find and commission a cover artist?
- There are a lot of vendors through which you can deploy an ebook for sale. Do you know what those vendors are, and how to deploy books to them?
- Do you want to try to sell your book in print as well as digital? If so, do you know what your options are for printing your book?
- Do you know how to do your own book promotion? If not, are you prepared to find and hire a publicist?
And this is just scratching the surface of it all.
Either way, whether you want to go traditional or go indie, my answer to the question of “what’s it like to break into writing?” boils down to this: it’s challenging. It’s exciting. Often it’s nerve-wracking, particularly if you go a while between sales, as a lot of indie writers can attest.
Because here’s the thing: just because you have a book up for sale does not mean you’re going to have money roll immediately in. The vast majority of writers, traditional and indie alike, do not make much money. Be prepared for this and adjust your expectations accordingly. I can name multiple SF/F writers who, even after releasing several novels, making it onto the New York Times bestseller list, and winning awards, still had to wait many years before they could give up their day jobs and write full time.
If you want to be a writer, all you really need to do is write. There are countless fanfic writers out there, and others who just want to write for the love of writing. If you’re writing something, anything, you’re a writer.
But if you want to break into writing as a business, go into it with your eyes open. Every writer with a novel to sell wants to make money. Few actually will. But if you can find a balance between your love of telling stories and how fast you can sell them, if you can work out a long-term plan as to how you want to deploy your work for sale, I daresay you’ll find the path easier to follow.
And no matter whether you want to be a traditional or an indie writer, good luck. You’re in for one hell of a ride.