Scaling Author Mountain – Part One
Whether you’re fifteen or fifty, when you finally decide that you must put pen to paper, you begin an arduous climb up what often is an unforgiving mountain. I think if you knew in advance what it would be like, you might consider aborting. But if you’ve ever climbed a challenging peak you know that there are many points along the way where you think you are almost there. That belief pushes you onward. You see that crest just up there where the trees are thinning and you think, “I can do this.” The surge of adrenalin at the thought of achieving your goal moves you forward and upward, only to reach that crest and see that the mountaintop still soars high above. That experience repeats itself until, at last, you think that you can’t handle one more disappointment, can’t push one more time. But then finally there it is – the treeless summit that can’t possibly be the kind of mirage you’ve been dealing with all along. It has to be the top. You’ve done it! Then you exhaustedly haul yourself up over those final rocks to the highest point, look around, and see that you are surrounded by higher mountains which block the view you had anticipated for so long. Discouraged and seemingly defeated, you collapse on a rock smoothed by eons of winds and weather. You open your pack and pull out refreshing water and an energy bar or bag of trail mix. Breathing in the fresh, crisp air, you close your eyes. The refreshment of the snack and water begins to do its job. You look down and see that even in this hostile environment, tiny creatures live and rugged plants grow. Reaching this summit, you realize, is no small feat. You can appreciate that. But there are those other, taller mountains out there. What is the view like from those? As you make your descent, you’re already planning what you need to do to conquer one of those other mountains. You don’t know, at that point, that there are more mountains on the other side of those mountains.
Many a writer gets discouraged and gives up. Another climb, another struggle, another disappointment just isn’t worth it. There are other pleasures in life.
But not you. No matter how tired you get or how late in the day it is, you always seem to have more water and trail mix you pull out and devour, feeding your body and energizing your soul, preparing you for the next surge.
My guess is I don’t need to make the direct connection for most aspiring authors between climbing the mountain(s) and achieving your writing goals. But I’ll do it for non-writers who might not understand what most writers go through before they make a name for themselves. I’ll abbreviate it in recognition of the potential boredom factor.
The first mountain you climb is little more than a hill, but it doesn’t feel that way when you’re starting out. It’s disciplining yourself to write regularly and actually finish something. It’s overcoming any insecurity you feel about the quality of your writing and getting the story or essay or poem or whatever onto the paper and taking it to The End. Edits and rewrites follow, of course, but that’s really the descent from the first mountaintop. You’ve finished something and you’re beginning to think about the next climb – getting it published.
After all the rewriting you’ve done, you’re pretty pleased with what you’ve written. You’ve done enough reading about getting published to know you need a good query letter. That letter is your ticket to getting an agent or publisher to say yes, they’d like to see your work. Failing that, you’ll paper your walls with rejections. And note well, “failure” is not just defined as not writing an effective query letter. It’s also the result of not knowing exactly what it is the agents or publishers are looking for at the time of your submission. Lots of homework required there, and even that might not give you enough to avoid the canned response: “Sorry, not quite right for us at this time.”
First you send your query to places that allow multiple submissions. It’s a time-saver, after all. You know that it will take weeks – maybe even months – to receive a response. One by one the impersonal responses trickle in, with the occasional carrot like “Great writing, but we just took on a similar work.” It’s those carrots that keep you from getting completely discouraged. Surely, if a New York City agent or publisher says “great writing” your work will be picked up by someone.
There are exceptions, of course. You read sometimes in Writers Digest about a new author who was accepted by an agent on the first query and went on to a six-figure advance and/or a multi-book contract. But make no mistake, this is rare.
Months, or more likely years, after starting your search for an agent or publisher you may (or may not) finally receive a positive response. Up to this point, many writers have begun to consider self-publishing. That “great writing” message way back when pushes us forward. Surely, if you can bypass the bureaucracy of the formal publishing world and get your book into the hands of readers, they’ll appreciate what you’ve written, right?
Ah, yet another mountain.
(To be continued…)