Making the leap from hobby writer to serious fantasy author

So I followed the advice of the experts, all of whom are in agreement that it is very important that an author have a blog. And thus here we have my lovely little blog, all shiny and new. The next natural question, then, became, “So what exactly should I be posting to said blog?” To this question, the experts were surprisingly silent. Oh, there are plenty of articles out there that relate to non-fiction author blogs (which generally all boil down to, “Use whatever the subject of your non-fiction writing is as your focus, and target people with an interest in said topic.”).

For fiction writers, however, this sort of advice is sadly lacking. And if you take a look at the majority of established fiction author blogs out there, for the most part they seem to follow the path of the non-fiction writer, with their area of expertise being their success as a published novelist. In other words, they focus on providing advice to fellow writers on how to polish their craft and/or how to get successfully published (neither of which are really subjects an aspiring author is in a position to cover). So I sat down and thought about it for a bit, and I came up with two general categories I could cover in my posts:

  1.  I can use this blog to chronicle my journey towards publication, to give readers a behind-the-scenes look at the process of transitioning from hobby writer to serious fantasy author.
  2. Between those articles, I can focus on topics that I’m excited about and that I enjoy discussing, whether it be movies or music or comic books or video games or whatever else may strike my fancy (if anyone has any topic suggestions, feel free to post them to the comments).

For this post (and likely the next few posts), I want to touch on some of my early experiences in deciding to get serious with my writing. Right off the bat, I have to say that the simple phrase, “If being a writer were easy, everyone would do it,” (which I’ve seen posted a few times on various writer blogs) is a very, very true statement. But what came as a bit of a surprise to me is that most of the reason this statement is true has nothing to do with the actual writing. Which just shows how little I really knew about the huge differences between being a published writer and being a hobby writer.

Yes, finding time to write each and every day can be a challenge, along with finding that great idea for your next story. And yes, every writer needs to continuously work to develop their craft and improve their skills as a writer. But that’s okay, because that’s the fun part of the process. That’s the key reason for being a writer in the first place – the joy you get from sitting down and writing. But it’s the publishing and marketing aspects of being a professional where the real challenges start.

The freedoms (and challenges) of self-publishing

Probably the biggest motivator for me to get serious about my writing was learning about the wonderful world of self-publishing. One of the main reasons I had always been content to just be a hobby writer was the incredible uphill battle that is getting traditionally published. I’ll be honest, as much as I have always enjoyed writing – and I do believe that I’m pretty good at it – I never had the self-confidence to believe that any publisher would ever be interested in anything I wrote. And everything I ever read about the publishing industry only heightened the belief that it is truly very, very difficult for a first-time writer to find a publisher. So I just never bothered.

But then I learned recently about self-publishing, and how anyone can publish their book to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. without involving a publisher or an agent or any of that. Now this was a concept I could get behind! Of course, the more I researched it, the more I realized that there’s a huge difference between simply publishing your book (which is fairly easy to do) and successfully publishing your book – meaning getting people to actually buy and read and positively review it. This is where the challenge lies, and where the bulk of the work comes in (much of it things that a traditional publisher would do for you, that as a self-published author you have to do for yourself).

Much of what I’ll be writing about in future behind-the-scenes posts will be focused on these tasks, firstly because these are things that have taken up most of my free time and focus of late (especially now that I’m in something of a holding pattern with my novel while I wait for National Novel Writing Month to begin in November), and secondly because I hope to provide at least a little insight, both to readers and to fellow aspiring writers, as to the various hurdles I dealt with in getting my first novel published.

I will admit that at times I’ve considered just submitting my first manuscript to agents and to publishers on the off chance that I become one of the lucky few to get picked up for traditional publication. But at the end of the day, I think the true power of self-publishing doesn’t lie in the fact that you don’t have to jump through those hoops in order to get published. No, the true power comes from the level of control you have over your novels. Yes, there is a lot of work involved. But I think the freedom to choose your cover artist and your editor and your sale price and everything else normally handled by a publisher makes it well worth the time and effort that is required to make these choices properly yourself.

First steps – learning to outline

Once I was (relatively) certain that I was ready to get serious about being a published fantasy author, the very first thing I did was research, and a lot of it. I wanted to know, “What do I need to do to get successfully published?” One of the very first blogs I came across belongs to a writer by the name of Randy Ingermanson. His writing e-zine is a wealth of information. But most importantly for me was what he is most known for, which is his Snowflake Method of designing a novel. This is a method to develop a structured outline of your story before you start your first draft.

Now I will confess that I was initially very resistant to this concept. I had always been a seat-of-the-pants writer (known as a ‘pantser’ in the writing community). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this had likely been a big part of my problem. I’d always struggled to finish anything I wrote, because the story would either wander around so much I’d completely lose the point of the story, then get bored and move on to something else, or I’d hit that creative wall where I had no earthly idea where the story needed to go next, and again I’d quit and start something else.

So I finally broke down and decided to give his method a try and see how I did as a ‘plotter’ (someone who fully plots out their story before they start their first draft, the writing opposite of the ‘pantser’). To my surprise, I quickly clicked with his process. My plot outline came together, my character profiles came together, my setting started to fall into place. Suddenly I felt like I had a solid foundation to finally finish a full novel. Now the real challenge, of course, is still ahead. We will see starting on November 1st (when I start NaNoWriMo) if I can take that outline and use it to keep me on task enough to write 50,000+ words in 30 days.

And with that I will bring this week’s blog post to a close. Next week I will continue with this topic, further discussing the things I’ve been working on recently, and the challenges I’ve faced, as I began this journey to publication.

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