The last time I published a novel, a colleague gave me some advice on promoting it.
“You should get on Facebook and share the news with your friends!” he said.
My response? “Uh, what’s Facebook?”
That was 2007, and What’s Facebook? was more common a question than not, so don’t judge!
It’s been almost 10 years now since I first published Solstice. And though I’ve been writing fairly steadily all this time, I finally decided to take the plunge back into publishing. My new novel, The Perfect Teresa, will hit the Kindle bookshelf on February 28, 2017.
But why the delay? Why now? Why bother? Why do I keep asking questions? No, seriously, why won’t I stop? And did I leave the coffeemaker on?
Typically, publishing jitters are more of a first-time author phenomenon. The first time is when we’re most nervous about putting ourselves and our work out there, maybe because we’re afraid of the trolls who’ll have no inhibitions about eviscerating us, our writing, our significant others, our families, our sexual history, our dietary choices, and our presumed approval of the Star Wars prequels on forums or blogs.
Ironically, I don’t remember having that many jitters back then even. I just wanted to publish a book, and I didn’t let anything stop me. Even though Solstice wasn’t a great book, I didn’t care. I just wanted to publish a book and present it to my family as a gift. I did, and felt a fair sense of accomplishment afterwards even though the book never sold more than a few hundred copies.
But all those jitters I didn’t have about publishing a first novel? I had them, and then some, about publishing a second novel.
I never stopped writing after Solstice. I completed four drafts of a 900-page novel called Inventing Vazquez. I completed a screenplay for Equinox, the sequel to Solstice. I began serializing another novel, Space Churros. I got about 34 pages into a novel called The Mourning Syndrome, and another 42 pages into something I was tentatively calling Mad Hat. I started and stopped several novels and short stories in between.
Yet through it all, I kept telling myself that none of it was good enough. Well that, and things along the following lines:
- Gee, is this science fiction scenario set in some distant alternate future really plausible?
- Will anyone really want to read this story about the long-term effects of mass deportations?
- Is my lead heroine swearing too much?
- No, really, is she swearing too much?
- Is it wrong that all of my heroines are these kick-ass Mexican women?
- I don’t know. This story is good, but shouldn’t it be great?
That last one was probably why it’s taken me 10 years to publish again. I’d filled my head with not only doubts, but expectations of greatness. Like, unless I wrote something great, then it wasn’t worth the effort to write at all.
But Stephen King has some interesting things to say about the three kinds of writers in his excellent book, On Writing.
The short of it is this: most of us will only ever be competent writers. And that’s not a bad thing. Because you know what’s worse than being a competent writer or even just an average one? Being someone who wants to write but who doesn’t because of fear and insecurity.
For 10 years, I’d fallen into the latter category. I was too afraid to publish anything that wasn’t “great,” whatever that meant. So I kept trying to write that perfect novel, even if it meant aborting several projects that looked promising in retrospect.
But thanks to On Writing, Steve Pressfield’s The War of Art, and Write, Publish, Repeat by these guys (sorry, I never know which one of you to credit), I learned that you didn’t need to write great books. You just needed to write.
The Perfect Teresa took me just over a year to write and publish because I finally allowed myself to just write a story that was near and dear to my heart without worrying about whether it would ever become a New York Times bestseller. I completed another novel during NaNoWriMo last year that I hope to publish later this year.
So for anyone who’s struggling to publish their first, second, or eleventh novel, here are a few things I learned along the way that I hope help you:
- Forget about writing “great.” Just write, and let readers determine whether it’s great or not. I think Jonathan Frakes said it best.
- Write what you enjoy, and don’t worry whether anyone will enjoy it, too. One, because, hell, it’s your story and you should do whatever you want with it. And, two, because there’s a really good chance a lot of people are going to enjoy it.
- It’s true what they say about that all-important first draft: just WRITE it, even if it’s total crap. Like Write, Publish, Repeat said, just vomit the words out. You can mold a better second draft out of a crappy first draft than you can out of nothing.
- Finally, make sure you’re publishing because you love the art of writing, and not because you’re looking to become the next New York Times bestseller. Let go of your expectations of success and focus instead on the dream of writing books, assuming that’s your dream.
It’s true what they say: you’re your own worst critic. And it’s especially true when you’re trying to write something. Don’t listen to yourself. Just write, and enjoy the experience! You might be surprised at what comes out of it!