The title of this post comes from my favourite episode of South Park. It comes from the Underpants Gnomes and their three point business plan.
- Collect underpants
As a writer I understand the Underpants Gnomes on a deep, spiritual level. For a long time I wasn’t a writer but I kind of, sort of, wanted to be one. I thought that I was smart enough and good enough with words but I didn’t feel like I had anything to say. I thought that if I just had a story that I wanted to tell then maybe I could be a writer.
Like everyone else who isn’t a writer I thought that the idea bit must be the hardest bit. Or maybe the actually sitting down and writing. I knew that there were a lot more people talking about writing than actually writing, therefore the writing bit must be really tough, but I also thought that it was probably easier if you had a really good idea.
In the time before being a writer I did write. I wrote in my diaries when I couldn’t not write. I wrote forum posts. I wrote on usenet (does anyone else remember usenet or was it all a fever dream). I wasn’t a writer yet but I was practicing to be one.
I got a lot of practice writing journals for my therapist. It drove me nuts that every week I would sit down in his room and he would ask me how I was and I would say… “Fine.” I was not fine but when there was actually someone there asking me to talk about all the ways in which I was not fine I couldn’t find the words. So I wrote in my journals whenever things were going badly and I took them with me and he would read a week’s worth of misery while I was making coffee and tea.
One source of misery was the feeling of not knowing what I should be doing with my life. My therapist would hint that he thought I had a talent that I should pursue and that it was obvious to him what it was but that he wasn’t going to tell me what I should be doing because it wasn’t his choice. I’m pretty sure now that he meant writing.
But the thing about writing is that it’s kind of like the Underpants Gnomes. Sooner or later you run into the big question mark.
- Have an idea
- Write a first draft
- Tidy up the first draft
- Throw out most of the first draft
- Write a second draft.
- And possibly a third
- Find a Beta reader
- Find another Beta reader
- And possibly a third
- Discover massive hole in the plot
- Write a bunch of new scenes to fill the hole
- Tidy up the scenes
- Find a new Beta reader to look at this latest version
- Tidy it up some more
- Declare it finished
- Start pitching
- Start querying
I know what in theory there’s a bunch of steps that fit where that question mark is. Either you pitch and query till you get an agent and they get you a publisher or you get the publisher yourself or you cut out both of them and publish it yourself. But how?
How do you keep going in the face of silence or rejection? How do you find agents and publishers that actually want the thing you’ve written? People talk as if self-publishing is easy but even self-publishing badly is a lot more than hitting the print button and doing it well requires money and skills that I just don’t have.
My other half self-published 8 short stories last year and saw less than $2.00 in return. That doesn’t sound like profit to me.
A friend recently posted this link, in which Alan Moore advises new writers to self publish, on Facebook and it set me thinking. It mainly set me thinking about a talk on professional self publishing that I attended at XpoNorth.
On the one hand I hear Alan Moor, respected author, wizard and wild man, telling me that self-publishing is the future because publishers suck*. On the other hand I hear Ben Galley, respected author and self-publishing consultant telling me that in order to self-publish professionaly I need to hire people to edit, and design, and do cover art, and typeset/layout the book and that it will “only” cost about £1,500.
If you are a young writer reading this and you are still in education and you have any hopes of some day making a living from your writing then I suggest that you make a list of skills to learn as soon as possible. I suggest that this list should include touch typing, typesetting, book design, web design and spreadsheets. You’ll need to learn how to do your own website and you’ll need spreadsheets so you can track sales etc. If you have any artistic talent at all then learning how to do your own cover art would probably be good. Having these skills will save you a lot of money but you’ll still have to spend hundreds on an editor or two because you can’t properly edit your own work.
None of which helps me. My problem is one of lack. I lack the money, the time the skills and the spoons to self publish professionally. Writing takes so much out of me that if I’m writing I can’t also be learning any of these skills. I can’t afford to buy in the skills and I’m certainty not going to try to persuade someone to do it
for free for exposure. I could barter with the skills I do have but if anyone else valued those I’d have enough money to pay.
I suppose this is all just a long winded way of saying that no matter how good I am at writing I’m not very good at being an author. I should be self-reliant and practical. I should be managing my writing like a business. This is just one more failure in a lifetime of failure. Once more I am forced to admit that my best is just not good enough.
*Please note that I am not saying that publishers suck. That is the opinion of Alan Moore. I am merely reporting his opinion.
Sometimes I look back at my life and realise it’s been a long string of nope. When I’m not being rejected I’m rejecting things because I think they’re not for me.
I get rejected a lot. I don’t really want to go into my long history of not being good enough except to say that after a while you internalise it and then it doesn’t matter if people are rejecting you or not because you’ve already pre-rejected yourself. Unfortunately it never stops hurting and it never stops feeling personal.
For a long time I thought I could never be a writer because being a writer used to mean that you had to persuade someone to publish you. I was sure I’d never be able to do that because I’m so easy to say no to. Things are different now. Now I’m half convinced that I can’t be a writer because I lack the business sense to self publish.
My heart sinks at the thought of all the self promotion a writer has to do, regardless of how their work is published. I actually feel ill when I contemplate asking people to buy something I’ve written. Why the hell would anyone want to do that? It’s not that I think that my writing is bad or that it’s not worth the money. I’m sure it’s good. I believe that all artists deserve to get paid. I believe that my work is worth paying for it’s just that I don’t expect anyone else to agree with me. Asking people to pay me money is dangerously close to asking for help and asking for help has always been a bad idea for me.
When I try to express my fears it mostly comes out sounding like arrogance. “Self publishing isn’t for me,” sounds exactly like “I’m too good for self publishing.” “I don’t want to promote my work,” sounds exactly like “My work is so good it should sell itself.” “I’m going to have difficulty finding the right publisher/agent,” sounds exactly like “I’m too special for most of them.”
I have this deep and abiding fear that new and more horrible rejection is waiting just over the horizon. This fear of rejection alone probably means that I shouldn’t be a writer. But maybe I can manage the rejection? Maybe I can deal with it in stages?
For anyone still reading this these are some of the reasons you might decide not to continue reading.
- I am disabled. And not in any interesting, heroic or photogenic way.
- I am fat. Not curvy or voluptuous. It does not look good on me. I am not cute or fashionable.
- I will not be engaging in fat shaming anyone else. I’m always amazed by how fabulous and stylish other fat people look.
- I am female but I am neither pretty, young, nor available.
- I am not wealthy. In fact by British standards i’m fairly poor.
- I have been through a lot of horrible shit in my life but none of it makes for an interesting story. It’s messy, mostly self inflicted and doesn’t make much sense.
- I’m Scottish (which is not currently popular in the rest of the UK).
- At some point in the future I may promote my own work in forms that you will have to pay money to enjoy.
- I complain a lot.
I might be alone now but I can handle alone.