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CommunityWhen you think of people like Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Cherise Sinclair, Carolyn Falkner, Stephen King, John Steinbeck and Edgar Allen Poe, you can’t help but be impressed by their success as authors. They and thousands of other prolific and adept writers have made the transition from attempting to achieving despite the difficulties along the way.

Everyone likes being part of the “in-crowd.” Writers are no different. We want to be picked for the team. Yes, Steven Saylor is respectworthy but we have something phenomenal in common: we both went through the publishing maelstrom. We’re suddenly on the same team. (He’s NHL and I’m Pee Wee league, but it’s all hockey.)

According to Bowker, in 2009, about 288,000 books were published in the U.S. Even if a large percentage of those books were multiples from the same author, that’s a lot of writers! We are a big community of diverse interests, but our mutual respect is compelling.

To top it off, authors are respected not only by each other, but by society at large. Even when it seems like everyone and their brother says he can write the Great American Novel, or could write a book about such-and-such if she only had the time, most people know inside that authoring a book is a big undertaking that not everyone can accomplish. An awful lot of people who start a book never finish it (that might be the majority of people who want to write a novel). People who’ve tried as well as people who love to read have great respect for the authors who make it. This kind of respect is not something to be taken lightly. It feels good.

Writing and getting published (including self-publishing) makes you part of a big fraternity/sorority, and like any set of siblings, sometimes it’s contentious. But we’re all in the family, and it’s warm and comfortable to be among the people we admire.

Contest RibbonDoes anyone intend to become famous? Is it serendipity or do we have it as a secret goal deep down inside?

One of the many reasons why authors write is the quest for notoriety. Some want to “write the Great American Novel,” some want to be famous in literary circles, and some want to make the best seller lists. Plenty want to win contests and have those blue ribbons to brag about.

Is notoriety a less noble cause than any other? Why not seek fame?

I have friends who write carefully and well. They labor long and hard. Their goal is not publication or mega-bucks, it’s to win a contest. They never send their works to editors or agents. But gosh are they proud when they win a contest. And who wouldn’t be? There are a lot of entries for contests like the Golden Heart (RWA’s annual event); winning is quite an accomplishment.

I also have friends who write for the sole purpose of being #1 on an Amazon list of one sort or another. They happily give their books away for free with the goal of being the #1 book downloaded in their category. It’s a great feeling to be a best seller!

Literary writers often look for positive literary reviews. They want to be recognized as geniuses of the art form. They work hard to achieve recognition. Who is to say this is a bad thing?

The idea is that there is nothing wrong with having notoriety and fame be your goal as an author. Like any other goal that does no harm to others, it’s your right to decide what’s important to you in your life and strive to succeed. If you’re writing to achieve recognition and, yes, fame, go for it. You might never get rich, but, in your heart of hearts, you’ll feel pretty darn good knowing that every other writer wishes they were you for that shining moment.

What makes a person climb to the top of Mt. Everest? The challenge! Why does a business executive with mega-bucks continue to grow his empire more and more? The challenge!Mt Everest

Like so many others, many authors choose to pursue their careers because writing is a challenge. No matter how smooth the reader finds the words on the paper, I can tell you first hand, they did not come out smooth; it was a lot of work to get them that way. Aside from money, fame, and awards, authors write because it’s very satisfying to do the job well. Meeting the challenge of stringing words together into a cohesive whole is like running a marathon. You do it because you love running—or in this case, writing—and the finish line at the end is a challenge you simply have to conquer.

What are the challenging aspects of writing a short story or book?

  1. Coming up with the idea. These do not spring forth from the head of Zeus. They might be inspired by something innocuous or monumental, but they rarely have a complete beginning, middle, end and subplots when they first flash like a light bulb.
  2. Dreaming up characters. For me, this is where I start. If I don’t know the characters well, I don’t know how they’d approach the story arch I’ve devised with my idea.
  3. Outlining. There are outliners and “pantsers” (people who write extemporaneously or “by the seat of their pants”) in the writing business. But, whether they realize it or not, even most “pantsers” have a sketchy outline in their heads to lead their protagonist(s) from opening to ending. Generally, at least three points are required: opening, climax, and ending.
  4. Writing. This is getting down the bones. It’s unpolished, unedited, and, if you’re not careful, unending. A reader might be surprised at just how difficult this aspect of the process can be. Authors might see the “movies” in our heads for much of the story we’re writing, but there will always be parts that wriggle away from us, and scenes that have no obvious transitions.
  5. Editing. It is traumatic to take out scenes. Sometimes, a single word can occupy so much space in the flow of a sentence that it is a trial to decide whether to leave it or not. And editing, especially final editing, is tedious. Imagine going through a whole 50,000 word manuscript looking for –ly words and deciding, one at a time, whether they belong or not.
  6. Submitting work. Having done the job to the best of your ability, now you have to take the enormous step of sharing it with an expert. That expert might rubber stamp your work with their “reject” notice, or they might lead you on with a “please send more” request (and then “reject”), or, if you are a square peg in their square hole, they might accept your baby and send you a contract.
  7. Editing again. Didn’t you already do this? Now we have to work through –ing words, or some other editor’s pet peeve. Will it make the book stronger? More than likely, it will.
  8. Promoting. You’ve met all the challenges thus far. Whew. But now you want the book to reach people. Unless you’re a former first lady or an infamous madame, you’ll likely have to do your own promotions. It’s up to you to figure out where to start and how much effort you put into it, versus effort you put into writing your next book. The jury is out on the ratio.

Every one of these steps is a challenge. If you succeed and sell some books, you’ve met your challenge. The feeling of accomplishment is a big part of your reward (though, of course, it might be nice to make a lot of money, too). An author who isn’t willing to take on each and every one of these challenges is in the wrong business, because writing fiction is a tough climb—a lot like Everest.