I am an amateur professional writer. (I’m not a professional amateur writer. I don’t make money by being an amateur writer. I’m an amateur at being a professional writer.)
It’s not that I don’t have publishing prospects. In fact, I’ve been rejected by DAW (for The Voyage of Ginger Glass, which passed first reading; funnily enough, they lost the manuscript I first sent, and when I asked, they asked me to send another, so I liked to tell people that DAW had asked me to send them a manuscrips!) and by one agent (we’re sending out agent queries a little at a time) and I have had a manuscript accepted (but I don’t have a contract yet, and there’s some mystery about when, or maybe whether, it will be published, and I’m not supposed to be more specific). I also have a self-published e-novel on Amazon (Princess of Ghosts—a bargain at 99 cents). And I keep trying.
On the other side, if you’re reading this you probably know that I blog my first drafts. I have six novels up on WordPress, all written in the last three years. And if you also write, you probably know the difficulty of getting even your best friends to read your stuff. My novels have mostly been read (and mostly praised) by:
- My 13-year-old son
- My wife
- My late mom
- A small number of friends (small means probably less than six)
Other friends of mine—I have like four hundred Facebook friends!—are aggressively literate. They post memes on Facebook and Instagram and their blogs about how very many books they own and how very avidly they read. (Clay, in Homeward by Night, has a whole rant about people like this.) So why can’t they be bothered to read my stuff??
If you’re an amateur writer, I expect you have many of the same frustrations. You want to shake people sometimes: Dammit, I’m a great writer! I kick Stephenie Meyer’s hiney! I laugh at Piers Anthony! Or whatever. Naturally, this does not go over well with people. It’s just one example of a basic fact about other people:
Your problem ≠ Their problem
Someone has to give you a break, or else your friends and all their fellow avid readers in San Diego and Sydney and Dakar, Senegal will never read your stuff because they’re just not going to plod through your 100K word MS on friendship alone. This is especially true if, as is most likely, they only know you through working with you, in which case they don’t think of you as a writer anyway, but as a [college professor, store manager, town office clerk, real estate agent, waitress, bus driver, gym teacher…]. When they think of you they see:
and that’s it. They only have one slot to put everyone in, and that’s your slot. So until you get that break, you have to accept that 98% of the people around you, though they love you as a gym teacher [college professor, lunch lady, Wal-Mart greeter, tax accountant…], will not read the proffered manuscript.
At least all the agents who aren’t reading your MS are not reading it on a professional basis. They are not reading it as part of their job. You ask their opinions, and they each have about fifteen minutes to decide, and your first few pages didn’t set their hair on fire, so they send you a nice note about why you don’t fit with what they’re looking for. Your friends won’t even do that, and really, you can’t blame them.
So why do you write? Why do I write? Believe me, I set aside four days each year to think seriously about quitting. But I don’t. Why not?