We’ve been talking about our Author Identities in this space lately and I want to say a little more about this idea that becoming an author isn’t something we earn but rather it’s something that is magically conferred upon us. Here’s the truth: becoming the author of an excellent book that found its way to publication and is now available in the marketplace isn’t just the luck of the draw. It’s the result of a massive amount of hard work, and the time, money, and energy to find your way to some terrific editing, a quality self-publishing partner (or even a traditional marketing company), and, if you want to actually sell a few copies of your published book, a marketing plan that someone actually executes.
In this age of self-publishing, becoming a published author isn’t about luck. It’s mostly about persistence and, not to be too indelicate, cash. What are you willing to invest in improving the quality of your manuscript so it reads well and moves your reading audience to either an emotional response or an action?
In my work as a book coach and editor I meet a suspicious number of people who think they are terrible writers. Naturally, some people are better writers than others. And there is a lot of evidence out there that the quality of writing among high school graduates has dropped over the past few decades. But people are often nowhere near as bad at writing as they think they are. I credit a phalanx of public-school teachers who seem to have felt it a personal mission to crush the self-image of kids the world over by telling them their writing sucks. If your writing is not strong, then it will cost you more time and money to bring your book manuscript up to the level of quality necessary to share your ideas succinctly and support your credibility and authority. But you can still get there. There are all kinds of editors and language geeks out there you can hire to help you. That’s what they love to do. And there is no shame in being the kind of person who does not excel at writing. You’re brilliant at other things.
I think the second challenge to incorporating the identity of a published author into our sense of who we think we are is the fact that almost nobody knows what it’s like to be a published author. What does a successful author actually do? We can all maybe call up some fuzzy memes from popular culture that seem to hint at what an author’s life is like. Don’t they all live in cold garret rooms in Paris where the sun peeks in for about two hours a day before swinging off to shine on the Champs Elysées? Don’t they wear ratty clothes? Long, messy hair, right? A snappy scarf to add a flash of boho chic style. They are also heavy drinkers, like Ernest Hemingway and Dylan Thomas, and they hang out with the cool crowd because they are so much more clever than everyone else that they don’t fit in with “real” people.
How many of us truly want to live like that? If that’s what we think an author’s life is like, no wonder we have a hard time pulling it into our sense of who we are.