Friday, August 02, 2013

Guest Post by Alan Tucker

Joe sez: I'm going to be taking a blogging break during August, but I've got twelve guest posts scheduled this month, so they'll appear as slotted.

Today it's Alan Tucker...

How to Become a Successful Writer

I know what you're thinking.

*groan* Here's another post about some guy who followed Joe's advice, wrote some books and made it big *yawn* If all that stuff really worked, I'd be rolling in dough by now.

Nope. Not what this post is about. Oh, and if you're the one wondering where you left your keys, check the bookshelf by the front door. That's usually where mine end up.

No, I haven't followed all of Joe's advice (some, not all) and no, I haven't made enough money writing to pay my mortgage or quit my day job. Most days I can buy myself a decent lunch. Yet, I consider myself a successful writer.

Huh? What turnip truck did this guy fall off of? I want to do more than buy myself lunch, thank you very much!

Yeah, I get that. I'd love to bathe in a tub full of hundred dollar bills (Joe, don't tell me you haven't done that). But, here's the thing: writing isn't about the money. Joe's told us all countless times about the struggles he went through to get where he is — all with no guarantee of success ahead of time. Don't you think he would have done something different, something easier, if it was all just about making a buck?

I've run my own graphic design business since 2001. By 2009, things had tightened up. Between a poor economy and the fact that everyone who owned a computer thought they could create their own logos and marketing materials, I found myself that summer with a lot of extra time when my kids went to California to visit their mom. I had studied English in college (mostly for lack of anything else to focus on) and I'd written on and off since I was a boy, but I'd rarely finished any of the projects I'd started. My younger daughter was fourteen at the time and I mused, wouldn't it be fun to write a fantasy story about some kids her age for her to read when she got back from her trip?

It's funny sometimes how our lives can turn on a simple thought.

I had a first draft finished around October. It took longer than expected, but I hadn't completed a piece this long before, clocking in at around 90,000 words. My daughter's reaction after reading it?

"It's really good, Dad," delivered in that teenage, noncommittal monotone that those of you with kids will know perfectly well.

With that less-than-resounding vote of confidence, that winter I embarked on researching the publishing industry. The term "Young Adult Literature" was becoming a popular buzzword and visions of Harry Potter and Twilight danced in my head. I spent many hours on the Internet, reading submission guidelines, reviewing agent bios, and learning about query letters and how to write them. I wrote and rewrote my letter, sending it to a dozen or more agents, all of whom sent me rejections or never bothered replying at all.

During my explorations, I discovered Joe's blog, among others, which offered a different perspective: self-publishing. The idea intrigued me and, combined with the knowledge that even if I found an agent that day, it would likely be two years or more before my book ever saw the inside of a Barnes & Noble, I decided to blaze my own trail.

I reworked my first draft, trimming around 10,000 words, with the help of some great critique groups and creative writing books, before contacting an old high school friend, who edited professionally, to have a look. By the end of April, 2010, my book was available on Smashwords and I had actual paper copies in my trembling hands courtesy of Lightning Source.

In many senses of the word, I considered what I had accomplished to that point a success. I've seen it quoted that eighty percent of Americans feel they have a novel within them. How many actually sit down and write it? Many more now than just a few years ago I'm sure, but the number is still relatively small. To those of you reading this post who have typed "The End" on your first, or hundredth project, congratulations! I say that with complete sincerity. You've done something a huge number of people think they can do, but few ever accomplish.

Yeah, yeah, okay, but I want more.

In December of 2010, I attended an annual book fair, held locally to benefit the English Department of our small university. Earlier in the year, I edited, laid out, and had printed a memoir for an elderly client and she told me about the event. I apprehensively took a seat behind a table near the back and set out a few copies of my book for passersby to fondle. There were fifteen to twenty local authors there, and I felt like the nerdy kid in school crashing the party of the popular crowd.

The woman I'd worked for had her books proudly on display, so I went over to give her a copy of my book as a thank you for telling me about the fair. We chatted briefly and I went back to my seat. I visited with a few of the other authors around me, discovering they were quite amiable folks, even after they discovered I'd self published my book. A while later, a woman I recognized as the author seated next to my client appeared at my table.

She smiled and said, "I picked up the copy of your book you gave to Marion [my client] and after starting it, I couldn't put it down, so I decided I'd better come over and buy a copy."

Stunned, I signed a copy and handed it to her. Hopefully I spelled my name right!

Two years and three books later, she once more left me at a loss for words. We were at the fair again and I went to her table to give her a copy of my newest book. Her eyes grew big and she thanked me before introducing me to the person seated next to her who edited a local independent newspaper. "This is Alan Tucker," she said. "Probably the best juvenile fantasy writer around."

I know there are countless other writers in the genre whose craft is far superior to mine. I did, however, believe her remark to be sincere. And I treasure it. This is a woman who earns a living as an author herself and also worked as a school librarian for many years. I shook hands and fumbled through a "thanks" and "pleased to meet you" before returning to my seat to greet fair attendees, many of whom remembered me and my books from previous years and were excited for more.

If that doesn't constitute success, I really don't know what does.

The title of this post promised a "How To", so here goes:

1) Write your book. Write it all the way through until you type "The End".

2) Edit it. Do it yourself, then pass it along to someone who actually makes money for this sort of thing.

3) Publish it. Get yourself as professional looking a cover as you can and do the things Joe and so many others have explained on this blog.

4) Repeat.

Will this lead to financial success? Maybe. Maybe not. Will this lead to becoming a successful writer? I believe so. There are literally billions of people in this world. Every one of us has an audience out there somewhere. You will never know how large or small that audience is if your work is locked up in a drawer or on a disk drive in your computer.

I'll leave you with a few quotes (unedited) I've received from reviewers on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I don't know any of these people, but their words, and others like them, inspire me every day.

oh my gods it was awsome!!!!! I couln't put it down. By the time i was done it was 1:00 in the morning:)! I reccomend this book for all ages"

this is an awesome book very descriptive definitely recommened even if it has a few confusing words"

"Love this whole series!!!so much!!!!!
So thrilling and mysterious. Even thought it rocks, the first book deserves 5000000000000000000 stars!"


I want to thank Joe, not only for this opportunity, but for alerting us to Tess's campaign. My grandmother is currently losing more of herself and her memories every day. I can't even imagine the torment and fear she experiences during her more lucid moments when she realizes what is happening to her. I pray that my small donation, and the hundreds of others, will lead to a cure for this terrible condition and others like it.

As a thank you to you, dear reader, for making it this far, I offer my latest book, Knot in Time, to you for free on Kindle August 2 and 3. My first book, A Measure of Disorder, is always free at most major e-tailers. Amazon  |  Barnes&Noble

If you'd like to find out more about me or my work, please visit my website, or contact me on Twitter or Facebook.

Joe sez: I've always believed there is a difference between being an author and being a writer.

Authors do interviews and sign books and answer fan mail and go to conferences and give blurbs and generally do all the stuff other than writing.

Writers write.

It's heady to have people gush over your work, and be on the radio, and have a one hour signing line. It's the part we all dream of when pursuing this career. 

I'd never begrudge anyone that goal, and it does feel good.

But as a guy who has achieved a bit of fame (or notoriety), I can say that I'd much rather be a writer than an author. Author stuff takes away from writing time. Author stuff also can become tedious after the hundredth or thousandth time.

So I'm just throwing out this bit of cautionary advice: don't get into this business to be an author. Praise is like candy. We love it, but it isn't good for us. And fame is exhausting. I no longer appear in public, or do interviews, and I've never regretted that decision. It was fun for a few years, but it just isn't worth the time and energy. And it certainly isn't worth trading 70% ebook royalties for 17.5%.

Again, every writer has their own path to follow, their own goals to chase. No matter which route you choose, this is a tough business. Make informed decisions. Know what you want to get out of this career. And every time something good happens, it is a reason to celebrate.

Don't do it for the money. Do it for the love of writing. Do it because you want to share your words with the world.

But never forget the money part. It's funny how priorities can change when you've been doing this for a few years. Be prepared for that.