Adventures in Writerland: The Ugly Truth About Success in Publishing

Warning: The following contains butt-hurt and the overuse of commas. Viewer discretion is advised. 

I’m not afraid of putting my nose to the grindstone in the name of telling a good story.

I can close my door, cancel plans, wake up early, stay up late, suffer blood-letting editing session after blood-letting editing session.

I can be the Rocky Balboa of writing.

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Yet throughout this Herculean process, I’m taunted relentlessly by the possibility that all of this self-sacrifice could be in vain.

The cold reality is there are people that have been trying to publish for years and have nothing to show for it.

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When I was young and naive, I thought these people simply weren’t talented enough for their work to be in print.

They didn’t try hard enough or refused to take constructive criticism.

They were the faux-intellectuals like the ones in my creative writing classes; self-professed literary geniuses who thought they were deep because they dead-ass copied F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing-style (poorly) and gave overlong descriptions about birds singing. Their inability to find an agent was a result of their own hubris and not indicative that the world of publishing is a heartless mistress.

However, I’ve learned a hard lesson watching people with actual talent trying to make it into the writing industry: Success in publishing isn’t necessarily predicated on skill.

There are just as many “bad” writers that receive attention as there are “good” ones.

50 Shades of Grey is the most sold book in history and it is literally a Twilight fanfic that was written on a Blackberry.

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Yep.

Most people know it is total garbage and have mocked it relentlessly since it first burst into popularity. But that doesn’t change the fact that E.L. James currently has more money than both you or I will make in our entire lives courtesy of this skid-mark of a novel.

So I guess she’s the one that got the last laugh.

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In a sense, this should be encouraging.

Surely that means if something as terrible as 50 Shades can find a major publisher willing to back it, your book can too.

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Then, I remember the detective novel JK Rowling wrote under the name Robert Gailbraith made paltry returns even though it was quite good, at least in my opinion. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think it became a best-seller until it was revealed who the true author was.

So what is a writer to do?

Sadly, I know the answer.

Basically, you just have to let go and accept that your magnum opus may not be that magnum to some people. That, in spite of your best efforts, it will likely disappear into the ether along with countless other works of fiction.

You may never become a millionaire and, realistically, you’ll be lucky to make a living at all…..

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Buuuuuuuut, who wants to admit that? I would much rather live in my fantasy world where I am a revered authoress who will appear onto the literary scene like an angel from on-high and spread enlightenment upon the masses.

Idealistic image of someone reading my stories:

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More realistic image of someone reading my stories:


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I suppose one can never know what lies in store for their career. They can only cling to the hope that through hard work and dedication, they will rise above the pits of mediocrity and learn to soar amongst the eagles.

In all seriousness, it boils down to whether or not you believe you have a story worth telling. If you do, then you have to tell it regardless if you will receive high-praise for it or not.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about money. It’s about creating and sharing your passions with the world.

Or something like that, I don’t know.

Thank you for reading!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog

I’m not going to lie.

I had many, many illusions about blogging when I started The Crooked Pen.

I thought that, with enough vigor and talent I would be able to flock hundreds of thousands of people to this site. I had seen other blogs similar to this one and I thought I had them all beat. Surely, if this unoriginal tripe can get over one hundred likes, my posts, which are much more original, can receive the same amount of popularity as well….

That did not happen.

Ever.

That isn’t to say I haven’t made progress in both my writing style and my following. Nevertheless, it has never (and likely will never) garnered the sort of popularity I had hoped it would have.

This blog was created for two reasons: 1. So that I could go on lengthy diatribes about things the laymen doesn’t care about (fiction, writing, the literary merits of popular TV shows etc. And 2. So that I could create a platform to launch my writing career.

When it comes to the former, I have been more that successful. When it comes to the latter however….

I tried.

I didn’t exactly make a schedule, but I put it in my mind that I would attempt to make at least one blog post a week. When this didn’t attract as many people as I had hoped, I begun reading other people’s blogs and following them. I commented, liked, followed, engaged as much as I possibly could and still make time for my own personal writings. I did notice an increase…but, again, not as much as I hoped.

I decided to take a bit of a break.

I focused more on my actual writing and found that I was enjoying myself much more. When I wasn’t making a competition of it, constantly comparing myself to other writers, I  enjoyed it…quite a lot, actually.

When everything was just for the love of it and it wasn’t about how many likes or comments I would receive, I found that I felt much freer and my body of work increased in quality.

I’ve since returned to the blogging world (albeit at a less frequent rate) and I’v decided that, rather than worrying about how many like or comments I have, I’m going to focus on writing what I want to write even if it’s not popular. I enjoy putting my words out there, even if only a tiny portion of people read them.

I appreciate you guys!

How I’m Writing What I Don’t Know

Conventional wisdom says that you’re supposed to write what you know.

However, I have decided to go the harder route and try writing what I don’t know.

Why am I trying to carry out this obviously horrible idea?

Because if I never try anything new, every single protagonist I write will be an introverted middle-class white girl from the midwest.

In this particular case, I am writing military sci-fi so I have to learn more about the armed forces.

How hard could that be?

It was a challenge at first. However, once you get past all the acronyms it still feels like your brain is melting.

Once you learn the ranking, then there’s the weapons and machines/equipment they use, and the training regiment. Then there’s figuring out the difference between a fire team, a squad, a platoon, a company, a battalion, a brigade and corps.

There are 8 to 16  soldiers in a squad, 2 or 4 squads in a platoon, 3 to 5 platoons in a company, 6 companies in a battalion, 4 calling birds, 3 french hens, 2 turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.

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When I venture out into uncharted territory, I always experience paralysis. Even after I do my homework and try to get as close to the facts as I can, there’s that persistent nagging sensation that tells me I’m going to get it wrong.

This leads to procrastination and mental gymnastics, all designed to keep me from trying.

Because not trying is better than trying and failing. Or at least that’s what my ego tells me.

Part of me wants to give up, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that the best way for a writer to understand something is for them to write about it. By doing that I was able to come up with a list of strategies to use to fix my problem and yours as well if you’re struggling like I am:

1. Get a beta reader who knows more about the subject you’re writing about than you. Hopefully, you have a friend or a friend of a friend who is knowledgeable about the topic you are writing about and would be willing to provide their services. If they are reluctant to do so, I would recommend bribery: a pizza dinner for every chapter they read.

2. Get another beta reader who knows less about the subject than you. While you want to write like someone who understands the subject they’re talking about, you don’t want to get so technical that only people who are directly involved in this line of work or have studied this subject comprehend what you’re saying.

3. Reconcile yourself with the fact that you may get something wrong anyway. Try as hard as you can to make a good product. But if you wait until everything is perfect you’ll never produce anything. Take it from someone who knows.

Now go out there, my pretties, and make good work!

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Editing My Novella, or the Red Pen of Death

I’ve put it off long enough.

I must edit the third draft of my story.

It’s been a while since I looked at this novella and, to be honest, I’m kind of terrified. Is it going to be better than I remember? Worse than I remember? I have no way of knowing until I reread it.

Will it stay a novella? Will I have to hack away at it until it’s a short story, or pile on it until it’s a full-length novel?

There are so many questions.

Unfortunately, there are no answers. 

Only the Red Pen.

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The Red Pen snorts at your characters’ backstories and your obvious social commentary. 

The Red Pen cares nothing for your need to impress your friends. It scoffs at your attempts at fictionalizing yourself and rewriting your high school years so everyone thinks you’re great and you date that hot guy from your chemistry class. 

There is no hope.

Only copyediting.

Remember that character you were going to develop, but then abandoned? The Red Pen does. That awkward sexual metaphor you made in the third chapter? The Red Pen noticed.

The Red Pen sees.

The Red Pen knows.

Wish me luck…