Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Big Questions

Not just on Twitter, but out there in the real world, people ask me questions that stop me in my tracks: “How do I become a writer?” - “How do I get a publisher or an agent?" or nowadays “How do I publish an eBook?”

On all of these questions, the problem is that they are huge! I could easily give some one-sentence answer that in later years – when I become rich or famous or both – would be quotable. That would be cute and witty, but would do the questioner no good at all. Neither would a sincere half-answer filled with “you shoulds.” The problem is these inquiries are too big to answer, and here’s why:

· Becoming a writer, finding a publisher or agent or even self-publishing, takes years of trial and error, writing, hard times, writing, disappointments, writing, do-overs, re-writing, studying, and editing.

· There is no way – beyond penning a book about writing or any of the other big questions, each separately – that any of them can be adequately answered. Even then, the manuscript would simply reflect the author’s own journey plus whatever opinions of others are also included.

· How-to books are always subjective. There are no hard and fast rules about how to do anything anymore. What makes one person a gigantic success doesn’t work for the next.

· The most important reason of all is that if a person asks a question as all encompassing as these there is every indication that a basic understanding of the world or the process is missing. As much as I hate this analogy, it holds true – it’s like being at a restaurant with no prices on the menu: if you have to ask what the prices are you can’t afford to eat there. The same is true of a question like “How do I become a writer?” If you ask that question, you may lack the basic drive and curiosity required to break it down into questions you can answer a bit at a time for yourself.

When people ask about becoming a writer - I’ve learned to point people in the direction of Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way. Her book outlines such a simple process for awakening the artist inside that I figure anyone can read it and figure out if they are truly a writer (or painter or musician, etc.).

Regarding getting an agent or publisher – I point out that years ago, I actually obtained and chose between two different agents for my screenwriting and collected 127 rejection letters in the process, which I point out here to prove 1) it can be done and 2) it ain’t easy.

If there’s a definitive book out there about self-publishing or creating eBooks I don’t know about it. I would recommend two books, however, to get a feel for the culture of self-publishing – John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! and The Path To Self-Publishing Success by William R. Hicks. Both of these books taught me a lot about the process from concept to marketing.

I’m spending the next two weeks developing a YouTube video list for "how-to" in Social Media, which I hope will help other writers. I will publish the list here.

I believe the best strategy when answering the “Big Questions” is to lovingly offer a starter tip and hope the person who wants to know will take it and run with it. And perhaps, learn to break these giant queries into much, much smaller chunks.


  1. I've always liked the answer I think I heard from Ray Bradbury (no citation, and I might be attributing it incorrectly) on how to be a writer:
    You write. You spend time every day adding words to your story, then editing them, changing them, tightening. But every day, you write.

    I always thought that summed it up nicely...

  2. Thank you! That's very well put (whether you got it right or not) and helpful, too. Thanks for commenting.

  3. All you say is true, Kathy. It's not easy. I think the real answer that sounds so simple. To become a writer you must write-- everyday that you can. I wrote four manuscripts before I started the learning the entire business. don't know if that's the right way but one must know if it's what they want to do.

    I always tell people who asked me that question. If you want to make money write a How To book. As a novelist I write because I must to release the words in my head.

    Great post as usual.

  4. I've always thought that "being a writer" was more an affliction and less a talent. Normally, one is born of such an affliction, but there have been those who have caught th bug along the way.
    As are as finding an agent and/or a publisher (I am an expert because I am unrepresented and unpublished) I believe that all it takes is hard work and abundant patience.
    And a goodly amount of trusting in the Lord.

  5. You keep writing and trying and submitting and writing more . . .