On its face, to build a career as an author is easy as 1-2-3:
- Write something good.
- Get an agent.
- Be published.
Fame and fortune comes shortly thereafter, obviously.
Seems straightforward, right? It’s some sort of natural law that anything seemingly simple is nothing of the sort. Any process, put under rigorous enough examination, can evolve into a complicated labyrinth of best practices and advice. Let’s explore.
Write something good
This is like starting off a career as a carpenter by building an entire house. Sure, most of us hone our skills by laying flooring, doing some drywall, maybe taking on a single room. But even those tasks, as complicated as they are, pale in comparison to the entire house.
That’s just covering the “write something” part. Writing something good is a carpenter building a house on the edge of a mountain.
It’s hard to know what’s good because art is subjective. I know what I think is good. But it’s not the same as what my sister thinks is good. I can’t know if it’s what the public at large thinks is good.
So we focus on the elements that, in the alchemy of storytelling, sometimes add up to a good story:
- Develop deep, complex characters.
- Drop them into an interesting situation.
- Layer in conflict.
Assuming we nail those parts of it, what if we’re just not good writers? What if our grammar is a little weird, or we don’t vary our sentence length enough, or, gods forbid, our voice isn’t apparent? Then what?
Writing something good isn’t an easy ask. Say we succeed, though, and write something we’re damn proud of? Surely the hard part is over?
Get an agent
Now that we’ve written something good, the path is clear. Just gotta get an agent to help shepherd the work into the world, where it will be loved and appreciated. With a story as good as the one we have, shouldn’t take more than a few tries to find someone as passionate about the story as we are. First, though, the query.
How do we write a query? There are numerous ways, depending on the medium you’re writing in (prose, screenwriting, etc.) and sometimes down to genre or agent preference?
That’s fine. No problem. We just wrote something good, so a query letter can’t be hard.
Oh but it is.
And so this becomes a new struggle. Eventually, through much forum-diving, advice-seeking, and rage-crying, we write one we’re happy with.
Next, then, is researching agents. We’ll start by identifying agents that represent our genre. Do we know what specific genre our story is in? Gotta figure out which is best, science fiction or literary fiction with speculative elements? Did we write a psychological thriller or a mystery? Shit, there’s a lot of gore, maybe it’s horror?
Ok, we’ve got that all figured out and created a list of agents that will soon be fighting over our story.
Except for this first rejection. And the second. The first ten are flukes, surely. We’ll make some adjustments to the query letter. Send another ten queries…
… and that’s another ten rejections.
But it only takes one, right? Just one person to see what you see. We’ll keep going. The rejections hurt less after a while, anyway.
Here’s where I must say goodbye, for I have yet to reach this stage, and therefore cannot offer anything of substance. Hopefully one day soon I’ll be able to update this post with my experience being published.
Until then, best of luck.