What beginners need to know about marketing and publishing.
This lovely letter is from a writer who came back to writing after working in another field for years:
"Last year I had an epiphany, made some big changes, and realized that all this time what I really wanted to be when I grew up was a writer. So here I am. I'm confident that with some practice and time I can hone my skills as a writer, but I'm at a loss when it comes to marketing, publishing, and the business side of things.
In fact, when I submitted to a couple contests, I had no idea how to format the short stories. I'm sure I spent more time figuring that out than I did on the stories themselves! Sad, really.
Another issue I'm having is the ins and outs of using a pen name. I'm divorced, and still use my married name because I thought that would be best for my daughter when she was young. My daughter is now 15 and I'm considering going back to my maiden name at some point. I'd like to write under my maiden name, I think. Maybe I'll come up with something completely different, I don't know, I'm still figuring it all out at this point.
I welcome your thoughts, comments, and inspiration."
When you shift your perspective mid-way through your life and acknowledge that you actually want to be a writer, well, the ground may shift along with it.
Choosing a creative life after you've spent time working as a professional in another field is going to be a delicious transition. You're going to make time and space for your writing, and that's going to feel good. It might feel unnaturally good. It might feel unproductive.
It will probably also bring up lots of questions about what you're doing, and if you're doing it right.
You might feel like you missed the instruction manual for the business of marketing and publishing your work. Or that you have to make up for lost time: like you have to figure all of this stuff out fast, so you don't miss the boat.
Look, There is no boat.
Rather, there are loads of boats, not just one. Picture it: every single day, a pretty boat leaves the shore and begins sailing to its destination. Your boat leaves whenever you set sail. There's no missing it!
You're sailing it.
Do you feel like you don't know what you're doing, fear that you're falling behind or working slowly, and can't tell if your writing is good or bad?
You're feeling all the normal feelings.
When I sit down to write in the morning I feel like I don't know what I'm doing either. I'm not being glib: I honestly feel like I'm starting from scratch every day. The thought crosses my mind as soon as I pick up my pen: Can I do this? Really? How?
The thing to know is always within the act of writing itself. I remind myself of this. I remember that I love writing, and that it requires me to work with intuition, and that's why I feel so uncertain.
Once I remember that, I can feel myself relax, because I know that everything else will fall into place. The mystery of making a real story and characters out of nothing requires my full attention. For as long as it takes.
Working creatively day after day requires a different kind of knowing — it's not like other jobs.
If you're starting to explore your creative writing again and you want to be an author, for real, please try not to think about the business and marketing and publishing side of things.
Not right now.
I know this sounds counterintuitive, especially if you're coming from a field like engineering or sociology, where preparation and research is crucial for success. Why would I advise you to not prepare yourself for the market?
Because it's one more way to squander your precious writing time.
Thinking about sales and marketing will distract you from your creative exploration. It could set you off in search of external motivation, which is not where your story lives. The publishing market operates on different machinery than your story does. Protect yourself from that machine right now -- do not confuse your creative work with marketing.
The most important thing for you to do is write something you would love to READ. Marketing and publishing come later.
Give yourself permission to delve into process, and create something you are truly interested in. Read. Read more than you think is necessary.
This won't feel as productive as you think it should, and you won't have much to show for it for a while. You won't know how to talk about your work at cocktail parties.
There's no business card for what you're doing right now.
That's why pre-planning the business side of your writing career is seductive: because it's figure-outtable in a way that mysterious, creative work is not. Your pen name, your acknowledgements page, your author photo, the writers who will blurb you: whatever it is that you're planning, just leave it.
Stay in the creative, mysterious place as long as you can, until you have a solid practice that you trust, and you finish a manuscript that surprises you even when you've read it one hundred and twenty times.
As for formatting submissions: Google it. You can learn how to format in a few hours.
You get to learn how to write for the rest of your life.
Once you come to terms with this, you can celebrate it.