I’m a writer. I know it, you know it, my mother knows it, my ex-neighbor from eight years ago knows it. But I don’t want to be a writer…I want to be an author.
Is there a difference? I think so. I’ve had it ingrained since I was young that writers write, but authors get published. It used to be a lot harder, before self-publishing existed. Now, if you want to get published, just go start an account on Amazon. It’s that simple. But of course, I was one of the stubborn ones who thought, No, it won’t count, I need to be validated by an experienced professional.
I had just started writing again after not putting ideas to paper in almost ten years. I was invited into a writers group on Facebook (An Author’s Tale) and it was the push I needed to pick it back up. Writing a novel had been my dream since I was eight; it was time to chase that dream again. The writers group was an open door, and I stepped through. Everything that happened after was a blur.
First, I shared. I let the group into my head and showed them the things I was writing. If I was going to write a novel for the world, I couldn’t very well hide a short story from a small group of people. It was my first test, and the constructive criticism and unexpected praise began tearing at my wall of self-worthless emotions. I can’t recommend enough just how important it is to share your writing (or, at least, excerpts and examples). Let the world see who you are and how you write. Let them get to know you as a writer, and let them get interested in what you’re doing.
Next, I participated. I didn’t think I was good enough for the other writers around me, until I joined up with them in a collaborative effort. Now, not everyone works well together, so I’m not going to tell you it’s imperative that you collaborate. But I will say this…I’m glad I did. Working alongside five other authors to create a novel was both enlightening and uplifting. Not only did I realize that my contributions were important and helped shape the story, but I came out of it with a new project in my portfolio! (Learn more about that novel on the CWPH website.)
I participated again when my fellow collaborators began working on short stories for an anthology. I was invited in on the action, and I couldn’t say no. I had already taken the first step on the journey; why stop before reaching the destination? To this day, I have three short stories in anthologies with more to come. It’s all about saying yes and letting go of fear. I let go of my fear of inadequacy and ran with it. It’s paid off.
Participation came in another form as well. I started offering critique to my fellow writers. In An Author’s Tale, every Tuesday, a new writer is featured and an excerpt of their work is displayed for the group to read and critique. I learned how to be honest in my opinions, and how to be constructive. Rather than just telling them what they did wrong, I learned to offer ways to make it better. Of course, I also told them what I liked about it, too. That’s what makes a good critique. Be honest, kind, and helpful.
Then, I bared my soul. I know that sounds dramatic, but it was. To me, it was. I volunteered to be a featured writer and offered an excerpt for critique. Not only did I willingly ask for criticism, but the excerpt was from Aspect, the book series I’m writing that has occupied my head and my heart for over three years. It was a piece of me, and I was asking people to tear it apart—to tell me I was wrong, and to explain to me, like a child, how to make it better. I expected a pat on the back and a sympathetic smile, with many shared glances, and people telling me, “Well, it’s…it’s not that it’s bad, but…maybe you should find a new dream.”
I have never been more wrong in my life. I didn’t get a single negative response to my work. It was nothing but praise and people telling me how excited they were to read it when it was finished. I have never been more thrilled—and frightened—in my entire life. My fear had gone from not being good enough at all, to being a disappointment. What if they loved this piece, but the book itself would fall flat? What if I was a sprinter, not a marathon runner? What if—
The unknown is terrifying. It is the single most feared thing in existence. When someone says they’re afraid of heights, they’re afraid of not knowing what will happen when they fall. When someone says they’re afraid of death, they’re afraid of not knowing when, or how, or why, or what comes next. My fear evolved into pure unknown. I knew I had to tackle this, so I jumped into a challenge.
I attempted NaNoWriMo. The single best way to write a novel is to WRITE. It just can’t get done if you don’t. I found a theme I wanted to explore, I planned out a basic outline, and I found a writing buddy to motivate me and keep me going. As it turned out, we started writing tandem novels; they were two separate books taking place in the same world with intertwining storylines and characters. This is how Light & Shadow began. It was a fascinating project and I was excited.
So there I was, in the middle of November, speed-writing a novel and praying it would be worth it. I loved the story—but would anyone else?
That’s when I was introduced to RRPI: Rambunctious Ramblings Publishing Inc. They’re a small, traditional publishing company. They had actually read my excerpt when I was featured, and liked my work (one more reason to share your writings—you get noticed). They were taking new queries, and I was asked to submit. [Insert my intense anxiety and self-consciousness here.] I was busy working on NaNo, but I expressed my gratitude at the offer and said I’d get back to them in December. They were VERY understanding and friendly, and I can’t recommend them enough. If you want to work with a publisher that sees you as a person and not as a dollar sign, that’s the place to query.
While writing for NaNo, I joined up with RRPI and their social community on Facebook. You can, too, by visiting the Rambling Writers Cafe. They are open to everyone, all you have to do is ask. The group is not just for signed authors, either. It is a safe, friendly place for all manner of artists to come together and relax and share themselves. I fell in love with RRPI before I even queried, and I honestly like to believe that I would have stayed in the Cafe even if my query had been rejected. That’s how welcoming they are.
November ended and December began. I was getting nervous, because I had said I’d query, and I didn’t want to turn down an invitation to my dream. But I knew I wasn’t good enough. I mean, yes, it was my dream, but being that close to it was terrifying. Especially knowing that I was just as close to having that dream destroyed as I was to having it fulfilled. In the spirit of saying ‘yes’, as I had been doing thus far, I went to RRPI’s submissions page, to see what I needed to submit. Here’s what they ask for:
I did what I had done before. I let go of my fear and ran. I ran to the internet, and looked up how to write a query letter, and more importantly, how to write a synopsis.
I’m sure I’ll write a post about this again sometime, but I’m going to share it with you now, too. Go HERE to learn how to write a perfect, flawless synopsis. This was the first-ever synopsis I had ever written, and it turned out to be 3/4 of a page long, exactly 500 words. It was beautiful, and I was proud to have created something so enticing. No one in their right mind could turn down a book that sounded so amazing (the power of a good synopsis, let me tell you). I was still nervous, though.
Aaron Hughes, Managing Director of RRPI, has a quote that he says often when people tell him they are nervous about querying. He said it to me, and I’ve known him to say it to others.
The answer is always no, unless you ask.
I gathered every ounce of courage I could find (enhanced by a little liquid courage, a.k.a. red wine) and sent it off. I couldn’t stand not knowing, and if the answer was going to be ‘no’, I was going to make sure I had given my work every opportunity to get a ‘yes’ first.
I drove myself crazy for nearly a week wondering. Finally, one week after sending off the query, I got a message back. They were interested in my book (more so, in both books that my friend and I were writing in tandem) and within another week, contracts had been signed and we were officially signed authors. I can’t even express the joy, relief, fear, and gratitude that I felt. It was overwhelming in the best way.
Now, I’m part of something more. I’m part of a company, a team, a family. My book is currently in editing, and its release is tentatively set for 2017. It’s a dream that would never have come true if I hadn’t stepped through the door when opportunity opened it.
I’m telling you this story to remind you that you can do it, too. The fear, the unknown, the anxiety…they all fall away when you look at the bigger picture. I looked at the fact that I was getting closer to being an author, and it led me to sharing, participating, writing, querying, and being accepted. When a door opens, don’t question it. Walk through. Stride through. Sprint through. Don’t stop to wonder about the door itself; just focus on what lies beyond.
Your dreams. Your future. The Unknown. Let go of the fear and embrace it. Because you never know if you’re going to start a journey that ends with achieving everything you’ve ever wanted.