Writing is, if not suffering, then it is at least often really really hard. -MOBUS

I belong to a lot of writing groups on Facebook. I see over and over questions from, “What does it take to be a real writer?” Or, “If I write X novel do you think people will read it?” And my personal favorite, “I’ve written the first five sentences to my totally original Teenage Vampire Slayer and Wizard series titled Destiny Star: Teen Blood Fighter. Should I send it to a literary agent or should I send it directly to a publisher in order to sign my book deal and collect my big fat advance?” 

As if! 

I know these are most likely new and young writers, but questions like those make me want to slam my forehead into my keyboard. I don’t know everything about writing or publishing, no one does. But I have been writing and occasionally publishing pretty steadily since 1997.

Credentials you ask? Okay, I’ve written 4.5 novels and started at least five others that died on the vine somewhere between 25 and 90 pages in. I’ve probably written at least a hundred and fifty thousand words worth of short stories, poetry, and other shit since then as well. Am I a Stephen King or a JK? Nope, not even close just like 99.9% of all other writers.

But here is what I have done. I traditionally published a novella in 2017, something that only about 3% of novelist accomplish. You can read all about that fucking nightmare here.Getting My Novella Published Last Year Has Been Like Getting Kicked in the Nuts
Getting a book published after 13 years of trying and failing to do so should be that “Rocky dancing with arms raised…writingcooperative.com

I’ve edited, proofread, and submitted three so far and successfully published one. I’ve self-published six collections of short stories. I barely earn enough money from my writing to justify the coffee I buy at Starbucks every week, but I do earn some, which is better than about 80% of writers out there. Not to brag though. I’m just trying to show you that I’ve been pounding away at this whole writing thing for a long time with some tiny victories and a lot more ugly defeats.

So you’re thinking, “Great Mean Old Bastard Uncle Steve, you’ve done some stuff, but how does that help a young aspiring future Stephenie Meyer like myself?” (Fuck it from now on I’m going to call myself MOBUS.) Very glad you asked, my young future best-selling bane of all serious writer’s existence.

“But MOBUS, what does it take to write a novel that is ready to submit to literary agents and or publishers?”

 In my best Clubber Lang voice, “PAIN” (fuck I’m old). Just kidding, not really, but yeah, pain. Math is a good place to start though.
 “Why math MOBUS? I thought this was you know writing and stuff.” 

Yes, yes it is. Very often though questions like how many pages should a novel be? Or how many pages should each chapter of my vampire/werewolf/ wizard / s and m bondage novel series that’s soon to be the best seller be? That one is easy to answer. Wrong question my fledgling paranormal creature writing novelist friend. 

You see literary agents and publishers don’t work with the number of pages written. Nope, because of pesky things like formatting paperbacks hardcovers and ebooks the correct question should be, 

How many words long should a novel be? And the answer is,

 It varies. 

Depending on what you are writing literary agents and publishers want different word counts. The safe bet for most first-time novels though is somewhere between seventy and eighty thousand words. I suck really bad at math, but I have learned that if you are handwriting your novel on roughly A4 size paper about 200 pages is around seventy thousand words. Or if you are typing it single-spaced in Times New Roman with a 12 point font with breaks in between the paragraphs and you will probably need to write between 140 pages to finish the first draft of that sucker or blood sucker as it may be. 

“Yeah, but how long with that will that take Mobus?”

 Well if you write about the same speed as me you can probably knock out about a thousand words an hour. If you can Sylvester Stallone that shit for 72 hours straight like Sly did when he wrote the first draft of Rocky then congrats! You can have the first draft of your sleep-deprived gibberish mass of a novel ready for editing in about three days. 

Photo by Ryan Tang on Unsplash

But if you don’t like mainlining stimulants stronger than coffee then figure an hour a day of writing, if you can sustain it, will get you an 80,000-word rough draft in about two and a half months. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? 

Yeah well, there are a few other things involved like a consistent and comprehensible plot, well-developed protagonist, an antagonist, crisis, climax, falling action, minor shit like that. All of which should be tighter than a singularity before you even think of sending it off to a literary agent or publisher.

 “Okay okay, you mean old vampire-werewolf wizard hating bastard. I get it. This writing thing is hard. But I can do that. One hour a day? I can do it!” 

Sure, great. Congratulations! You can do step one of a much longer process with absolutely no guarantee of success at the end of the long brutally painful bitch of a road you’re on. 

“What’s that? There’s more you say you, big meanie, you.” 

Yep. A shitload more actually. Enough to choke 10,000 of your vampires and werewolves. Because this writing stuff is hard. Like training to win an Olympic gold medal hard for most of us. But if you’ve made it this far then welcome to Beta Reader-Landia. Oops, but I got ahead of myself. Before Waltzing into Beta Reader-Landia first you need to at the very least proofread your shit to make sure your vampires werewolves and wizards don’t sound like illiterate morons. 

“But MOBUS, the strength of my writing and passion for prose is enough. I don’t need to worry about things like horrible typos misspelling words grammar so bad Mr. White and Strunk wood shotgun themselves to death rather than try and puzzle it out.” 

Cool! Then go ahead, my delusional young best-selling author. Send your shit out there. The truckloads of rejection letters you get will soon submerge your mailbox. Actually not really. They’re pretty much all bland and dead sounding emails these days. But a tsunami of paper rejection letters is a lot more vivid than a tsunami of emails. So yeah my point is you’re going to have to do some more work after finishing your first draft. A lot more.

When I finish the first draft of anything whether it’s a thousand-word flash fiction piece or a 70000-word novel I always set it aside for at least three weeks to a month. For me coming out at it fresh when I start to edit makes things flow better. So no matter how excited I am about a project once the first draft is done it sits for at least 3 weeks. After that I give it at least three solid edits and proofreads And then it’s off to Beta Reader-Landia. 

Where and what is this mythical place you ask? That’s the place where, if you can find honest beta readers that won’t blow rainbow glitter smoke up the ass of your cute little novel, it will get its literary guts ripped out and handed back to you as a smoking pile of rubble ready to be edited once again. Hopefully with a few of the good points highlighted so you don’t completely lose all your motivation to carry on because after Beta Reader-Landia you still have a long long road ahead of you. 

Photo by hanya kumuh on Unsplash

“So tell us MOBUS what should we do with feedback from a mean old bastard of a beta reader like you?”

 Read it of course. And if you see other beta readers giving you similar feedback especially the negative stuff pay close fucking attention to it! If several of your beta readers are saying the same thing that is a really good indication of where you’re writing is fucked up and needs work. 

Yeah, I know all the “Oh my God you’re writing is so awesome!” cute kittens farting rainbow glitter comments are the ones you really love, but they won’t help you very much. I have some beta readers that love my shit. I know this because they’ve been reading my shit for years and they told me so. But they also aren’t afraid to say, “Hey Steve this is this one sucks a big bag of flaccid wieners.” It hurts to hear those comments, but once I pick my fragile little teacup of an ego up off the floor and dust it off most of the time I realize that their comments were dead on. And then at least I know where I need to focus for the editing and rewriting round two phase of this mess of a merry-go-round. 

So you might be wondering how far are we into the whole novel writing process at this point? For me, assuming I’m writing and flowing at my optimum pace I would be at least six months in at this point. Six months in and a very very long way away from having a novel that I can either self-publish or start submitting to literary agents and publishers. 

But let’s say you’ve made it this far and a little bit beyond. You followed the advice of your beta readers, you edited those little paranormal magic using creatures into the best possible version they can be. 

Great! Now maybe you’re at the stage where you can decide to enter literary agent publishing query letter limbo or decide if you want to try and puzzle out the confusing world of self-publishing. It’s like one of those self-help slap happy head up your ass rainbow glitter choose-your-own-adventure trainwrecks most of the time.

 Let’s say you decide to go the traditional route. You think to yourself,

 “My spunky vampire /werewolf /wizards and I are drivers! We’re winners! Things are going to change we can feel it!” (That one’s for you Gen-Xers.)

 Fabfuckingtastic! Just a couple more annoying shitty flaming hula hoops you have to jump through before you can cash that multimillion-dollar advance though. 

First, you have to decide whether you want to query literary agents or publishers. 

“Oh, but MOBUS literary agents get 10 to 15% of your royalties, so why wouldn’t I just go straight to the publishers with my genius totally fresh teenage vampire slayer novel series who just happens to be in love with a werewolf wizard? (So original.) See you don’t know everything. And what’s “query” mean?” 

Yeah, I don’t know everything, but I do know that if you start emailing your shit off to the Big 5 without a lit agent running interference for you their junk mail filter is going to vaporize that shit faster than your shitty vampire standing in front of a supernova. 

“But passion!”

Yeah, yeah passion. Now give me a minute and let me try and smooth the keyboard shaped dent out of my forehead and your old good pal MOBUS will tell you all about fun little world of Dante’s 10th circle of hell otherwise known as writing query letters, synopsis, and receiving rejection letters from lit agents and publishers that are blander than a tofu and cardboard birthday cake. 

That whole, “Training to win an Olympic gold medal hard thing, same applies to trying to find a literary agent or publisher for the majority of writers. I know plenty of really great writers that have been collecting hundreds of rejection letters, re-writing their books, and then starting the whole process over again year after year. In my case, I usually will send out 200 query letters for each book and then wait 6 months to a year to hear back from the literary agents or publishers. Only about 35% of the literary agents will even bother to respond with one of those tofu and cardboard flavored rejection letters I mentioned. Most of them won’t even do that. After I receive the rejection letters only then do I decide whether or not to: 1. Rewrite the whole damn novel 2. Shit can the whole thing and move on to something else Or 3. Condemn it to a cloud drive, flash drive, and probably my hard drive until I get up the courage to try and do something with it again. Just a little side note, the first novel I started sending out in 2004 is residing in that place right now. 

“Well, screw that MOBUS, That’s like hard stuff. I’m just going to take my little novel and run off and self-publish it into a glorious best selling series of books and movies. Because I’m a driver, I’m a winner, things are going to…..”

Photo by Luiz Hansel on Unsplash

I know, I know, but shut the fuck up before Beck sues my ass. But self-publishing or Indie Publishing I believe is the non-triggering term used now, is different but just as hard as traditional publishing if you want to do it right. You have to do all the same shit you did before except for writing and sending out query letters to lit agents and publishers. 

But the giant,and I mean like Godzilla and Gundam giant , hurdle for any Indie Writer is figuring out how to promote and market their books. 

 “Ha ha! MOBUS is a Luddite. He doesn’t even know about social networks. I’m so happy I feel like I just snorted a line of glitter fairy fart dust off a unicorn’s butt hole. My 200 followers on Facebook love me.”

 Yeah, the 9000 I’ve gotten across six different social network sites over the last three years all love too. But you know what glitter butt? Likes and follows on social media don’t mean they’re going to buy your books. They might not even be able to give a shit enough to download the stuff you give away for free.
“For free?”

Yep, giving your shit away for free is a necessary part of Indie Publishing. As I have found, selling books to followers on social media is a lot harder than you think. Wow! Who knew? I certainly didn’t and remained baffled for two years while I tried to puzzle it out. But again from what I read social networks are a good way to get to know your readers and more importantly for them to get to know you. Done correctly some of the followers might become fans. Fans buy books. Sometimes. 

The real trick so I’m told is to get your followers to subscribe to your email list newsletter blog website thing. Once you have built up their trust some of them will subscribe to your email list then they might be more likely to buy your books. People tend to love things when they receive an email rather than a post on social media.

The other thing that nasty old MOBUS learned about recently or relearned I should say, is about having a backlist of books. Without one it is far less likely that your books are going to be found and bought and you probably won’t gain a whole lot of traction in your writing career. And if you are a dummy like me and try to throw money at book advertising chances are you will just be throwing money away. After you have 7–20 books available, usually so the experts say, using paid ads on Facebook and other social networking sites will start to be worth the extra expense including Amazon ads.

 “So MOBUS are you saying I’m going to have to do this again like a lot of agains?”

 Jeez do I have to spell it out for you and glittery rainbow unicorn fart dust? Yes. You will probably have to do it again. Many times in fact.

 “But JK Rowling Twilight 50 Shades of Grey?” 

 Yeah, yeah those writers make it look so fucking easy but in reality, they are the .00001%. Guess what they aren’t you. 

And I’m going to drop another hard fact on you here. only about 2% of all novelist actually earn a living solely from their writing. That’s right glitter butt 2%! Remember that Olympic gold medalist level of hardness anti motivational speech I gave earlier? Yep, same goes for promotions marketing and Book Sales. All hard. Hard hard hard!

Photo by Aleks Dahlberg on Unsplash

I know crusty Old MOBUS sounds like a dream killer, but the point that I’m really trying to make is that the dream by itself is not enough. If you really want to do this writing thing and pretty much any other creative endeavor you were going to need to not only have the passion of your dream but also patience a willingness to do the long and hard work and armadillo-like thick-skin to handle the rejections as well as the tenacity to keep you going for years. Probably decades actually. So honestly if my little rant has squashed all the rainbow-colored unicorn fart dust out of your ears and you are now realistically starring at the giant ugly granite mountain that you have to climb if you want to make any progress as a writer then maybe you were ready to start answering your original question,

 “What does it take to be a real writer?”O

Steve Howard is a novelist, stand up comedian, and teacher living in Japan. Visit Steve at StevenBHowWrites.com.
Steve Howard is a novelist, stand up comedian, and teacher living in Japan. Visit Steve at StevenBHowWrites.com.

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