In the 1940s there was a series of movie comedy shorts by Joe McDoakes with the titles “So You Want to be a…” a detective, a salesman, a fireman. etc. He never addressed an author, maybe because it’s so easy.
So, you want to be an author? Just sit down and write. Webster defines an author as “a person who has written something.” Webster’s definition becomes even simpler with: “a person who starts something.” You don’t even have to finish it! There is no mention of length, or genre, or even quality, which introduces the next step in an increasingly difficult process.
You want your work to be well written? Then it will need revisions, and editing, and proofreading. When I first started writing, with a pencil and a yellow legal pad, my revisions consisted of erasing and crossing out. Or if it was really bad, I’d rip off the sheet of paper, ball it up, and start over. And that was usually more fun than the writing because I would suddenly become the player coming off the bench to take the winning shot in the championship basketball game. I’d take careful aim at the wastebasket in the corner of the room. Then, whenever I stopped writing, I’d pick up the pages from the floor.
So, you have the perfect story, and you are ready to be famous. Give it to a friend, and tell that friend you really do want to know if there is something wrong with it rather than to have your ego stroked by telling you how wonderful it is—that is, if you really do want to know what’s wrong with it, because there will be mistakes. As an author you cannot edit your own work because you cannot overcome your mind. Your mind knows what you meant, even if that is not what you wrote. Your mind fills in missing words and ignores double words words and punctuation errors. The main reason for negative reviews of books on Amazon is editing: “I liked the story, but you need an editor.”
Now that you have a good story that has been edited and proofread and is now in the best shape possible, what are you going to do with it? Will you put it in a drawer, save the file, or maybe have a few friends read it? That’s what I did for twenty years with my first book, Change of Address, after taking twenty years to write it. My parents read it… my friends read it… and they all loved it. They all said, “Why don’t you send this to a publisher?” And I would tell them about the hundreds of short mystery story submissions I had sent to magazines. A few had been accepted, but I had a shoebox full of rejection slips. I figured if it was that hard to get a short story accepted, submitting a novel just wasn’t worth the effort. [Read more…]