When Others Don’t Understand What You Do

This is a light humor post, but one that will resonate with many writers who have gone through similar situations. It is written in the spirit of encouraging new and aspiring writers, as well as the veterans in the field whose work have not been found or given recognition. Consider this scenario, very common.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Hum, a car dealership writer, an underwriter?” (Fill the blank on this one)

“No, I write books.”

“Oh …” (followed by a blank stare)

For most people, unless you last name is King or you live at a coastal mansion, you are not a real writer. You are “playing writer” or are going through a phase. In their minds, Writing books = $$$, and a real writer is supposed to have status of some kind. You become one when you achieve this. If not, why do it? Sometimes, we entertain those same thoughts and feelings; you know what I mean. It seems to go deeper than that.

I would like to share a funny story, a conversation I had along those lines. About two years ago, a nearby neighbor had someone fixing her roof. She knew the person since he was a kid. He was starting his roofing business and she needed a new roof, so it was a perfect match. I was at her home when he arrived for that day, and since I had some questions about metal roofs, we began a casual conversation which centered on the type of roof for my 1910 farmhouse, which has an old style construction (beams) and an original stone foundation. The weight of a new roof on the structure was my main concern. After a few exchanges, he asked me what I did for a living. I told him that I was a writer, without going into much detail. Immediately, he shared that he always wanted to write a book and that he knew someone who worked at a local radio station “BUT” she was a “REAL” writer. (Imagine my polite smile). I asked him, “Really, and how many books does she have under her belt?” He answered that she had written a book sometime ago. I smiled, but could not help myself and said, “Oh, just one? I am in my sixth, and it doesn’t get any easier.” I thanked him, waved a goodbye, and walked home. Now we know who will not get my business when it is time for a new roof. I will hire a real roofer.

This is a perfect example of how writers are viewed based on status, which usually equals money in the mind of many people. Which brings another issue – fame before talent. These days, if you are a celebrity a publisher is ready and waiting, and your celebrity name/status precedes your book. You can write about anything and it will be published, promoted, and praised, because in most minds, celebrities can be writers. Ask a Cover Girl model what she thinks about that.

At another level, the sting is more bothersome when it comes from someone closer, who is viewed as a line of support, such a family or a close friend. A friend related to me how annoyed and hurt she was when her mother became very excited about someone’s first book, a person she barely knew, but not hers (many) because her books did not sell much. OUCH!

When I published my first novel, I was excited and proud of myself. I had prepared and waited years for this. I gifted a copy to someone I truly thought would be happy for me, and whom I knew for over 30 years, and for whom I had been there always as needed. Her response baffled me. She threw the book on top of the dinning table and said, “I won’t be reading it; I don’t have time for that.” I was shocked. I did not have a quick comeback for that one. It is different when it doesn’t come from a stranger.

People had asked, “Do you make any money?” or “How much money do you make doing that?” One of my favorites is, “Oh, you should write a book about this or that; I bet it will make money.” We know it doesn’t work like that, and for most of us, it is not even about the money. I am sure you have many similar stories as well. My point to all this? Many people don’t understand what writers do or why we do it. In truth, it is not about how many books, or how much money you make … it is about perception, people’s values, and about what it is important to them, ultimately the reason why they don’t understand what you do. Hence why you should be above it all, don’t give it two thoughts, and keep on doing “your thing.” When people don’t understand what you do, it is inconsequential as long as you know why you do it. Never judge a book by its cover?

When Indie Publishing is Not For You

Thanks to the way technology has developed in the last few years, and the companies that made use of it to broaden the publishing arena, independent publishing is now more effective and affordable. Writers who are serious about their work and are in it for the long run have embraced independent (indie) publishing with excitement and gratefulness. Other people have jumped in looking to make a quick buck, soon to discover that it is not possible or easy, and have left the arena. Many use indie publishing as a way to “be discovered” by the traditional industry in the hopes of obtaining a contract. Some authors who have published via traditional channels have decided to join in and publish independently, while others may consider the movement a heresy. Exciting times for writers, no doubt about it. However, choosing you path to publishing is a very important and personal issue and you must inform yourself, weigh both sides of the industry, and do what is right for you according to your standards – working style, time, work ethics, and future goals; money has little to do with it in the beginning, and a lot later on. The same reason why the traditional industry has not embraced it, and is a bit nervous. Royalties – the forbidden word.

As promising as it sounds, indie publishing is not for the faint of heart; independent authors who have published way before technology reached this capacity know this well. They are the unseen precursors, the ghosts behind the curtain. Many so-called overnight successes have worked at the craft for 15 years or more. Others have been rejected by traditional publishing a lifetime, for not writing what the publishing industry was looking for at the time. These last group found their readers by publishing independently, after many years of rejection and hard work; these too, are called overnight successes.

When is indie publishing wrong for you? It requires a very personal answer, but in general, if you are not willing to work hard, be patient, and grow with the industry as it continues to develop (this is just the beginning) indie publishing might not suit you. In addition, if you are looking for quick money, crave instant recognition, and are not willing to learn, then indie publishing might not be for you. If you feel strongly about pursuing your writing career via the traditional publishing guidelines, independent publishing is not for you. If you are not willing to work long solitary hours at your desk, educate yourself and observe the trends, while working hard to present a decent product to your readers thus honoring their time with the best book you can write, then, indie publishing is definitely not for you.

The Learning Process Sets You Free

This post is for aspiring writers who want to write but are fighting demons of fear and thoughts of indecision, many times due to dated beliefs. I have met people who are passionate about writing and want to publish their works but will not act on it because they do not feel ready. However, I’ve noticed some misinformation clouding their thoughts and preventing them to act. Some of it has to do with the dated concept of “the self-publishing taboo,” and with the indecision or ambivalence of not knowing which road to take – traditional or self-publishing. It is true that they might not be ready, but only because they are not well-informed. While time goes by, and indecision grows, passion is dormant.

It is true that the publishing industry is undergoing a fast and furious transformation, as we speak. However, it has broken many chains and developed other pathways giving new choices to writers. Despite the turmoil (different in many countries), one thing is for sure – the old model is broken, and change will be continuous from now on.  Aspiring writers who do not embrace learning about the changes and believe only one side of the story may be missing opportunity but only because of lack of information or failure to research and learn. By learning as much as they can about the many venues, pros and cons, writers broaden the picture, and can make a better decision. For some, traditional publishing will be best. Other writers will discover that self-publishing fits more with their personality, work ethics, and writing goals.  It is impossible to discover this if one does not research both industries. Following a crowd (any crowd) while misinformed is not the answer.

Writers who embrace learning do not rush into a decision, but consider all sides and possibilities. When they know the path that best suits them, they embrace it. They have no doubt that they have made the best decision, they don’t regret it, and become free of preconceptions and the damage that misinformation causes.

I want to distinguish between self-publishers and independent authors/publishers. The later group is well-informed, have clear and specific goals, and treat their craft as not only their passion because they approach it with entrepreneurial spirit, and with a long-term vision. This is the case because they did their due diligence well. They know what they want, they know were they are headed, and are happy with their decision – they are free. It is this freedom that lets them deal with the consequences of their decision, despite of whatever the industry is doing at any particular moment.  It is not about the industry anymore; it is about their vision. They are free because the industry does not dictate what their vision must be. They are free to act, to write, to be.