Of course I've already had some skinned elbows and knees, perhaps even a cracked skull on my adventure thus far.
Back when I was barely out of the starting gate, I remember my first official critique by my writer's group, the mighty CALIHOO. I was chomping at the bit to get my first one, so that I could either show off what I was capable of, or know which direction I needed to go. I have to admit I was hoping for the former, but I prepared for the latter.
When I handed out my manuscript, carefully kept at the maximum number of words allowed, I handed out a red pen to each of the other writers in the group along with it. Then I waited, not so patiently, during the intervening week.
First let me tell you, because of that manuscript, the group changed the maximum number of words allowed downward. That was blow number one. Then they each started to let me know what they thought of my effort.
Now, having attended one of the meetings as a guest, years before I joined, I knew they could be brutally honest in their assessments. But let me tell you, witnessing it from the outside is vastly different from sitting in the chair of the critiqued. The next two hours were some of the worst I'd endured in my entire life. I knew the rule, you didn't argue or defend your work, which makes sense. If you need to defend your writing, then you didn't write it well enough. If you need to explain outside the work, then, oops... well, you know.
They had all used the red pens I'd given them, and bled freely over the pages of the manuscript. I'd expected it, truly, but the bloody massacre was almost more than I could take. I questioned myself whether I really wanted to be a writer many times that evening. I almost stood up several times, to apologize for my mistake and leave.
But I didn't. I took copious notes, along with everything they'd written in their copies. I listened. Then I went home to bind my wounds.
Each time after that there was less blood on my pages, and more little hearts or smiley faces on parts they liked. Eventually it got to the point where I heard, more than once, the story had gripped them enough they forgot to look for my mistakes.
They say every writer needs to write at least a million words before they start to get good. Well, I busted out those million as fast as I could. I didn't keep track of where I was on that scale before I started getting great positive feedback.
I'm still improving, hopefully I always will be, but I'm ready now for the next step of the adventure.
Our group had the great privilege of being visited by two authors who've spent some time on the New York Times Best Seller List. Both of them gave very similar advice about how to succeed as an independent author. At the time neither one of them were very impressed with the changes traditional publishing had undergone.
What both of them told us, was to get three books published, ideally involving the same characters, before you start your marketing. They said when people finish reading the first book, and they like it, there was a fairly good chance they'd start reading the second. If they finished that one, and still liked it, there was a greater chance they would move straight into the third. If they liked that one, then we would have them hooked and we'd have some dedicated readers. Readers who would most likely buy anything we put out after that.
Well, I just published my third book in the series, Out of the Mist, so I'm ready!
The next leg of the journey is beginning, and I have to say, it is more daunting than all I've done before.
Marketing, the one thing most authors dread. We can't write our way, for the most part, out of this trial. We have to talk to people, we have to talk about our creations instead of letting them speak for us. We have to put ourselves out there.
We also have to overcome peoples disbelief and impressions. We've all read stuff we didn't like, quite often by new writers who haven't honed their skills yet. So when a new author comes along and asks people to read their stuff, many of us dread digging in, afraid it's going to be torture, as well as fearing letting the writer know it's bad.
I've received enough reviews of my books, by people whose opinions I trust, to know most readers are going to enjoy them. Now I just have to convince everyone else.
So, tallyho, here we go. I have my salakhoff (the pith helmet most call a safari hat) and am ready to march into the jungle!