The internet is full of them. Tips. Must do’s. Everything you need to know. Agents, authors, publishers and writing teachers are out there telling you How to Become a Published Author. You’ve agonized over point of view, strong characters, your writing routine and whether your dialogue drives the plot forward.
Yet, all you sad little scribes, perched at your PCs, dreaming of bigger things, have you ever reflected on the bare necessities of being an Unpublished Author?
Well, you should, because this chicken definitely comes before that egg.
Fear not, though, if you haven’t. I’ve laid it all out for you. The essentials of being an Unpublished Author. Gripping, Very Important stuff. The first thing you’ll need is:
1. A Manuscript.
Yes. You have to have written a manuscript. No, not a rolled up parchment, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, that you’ve stuffed in a jar and hidden in your local cave. Nor a hand written manifesto that you keep under the mattress. Leave that to the serial killers. What you need is an actual Word Document that you have typed on your computer and backed up (Did you hear that? Backed up.) in the cloud.
2 (a) A Circle of Sad Sacks Like Yourself.
You must have a group of writing friends in equally dire and unpublished circumstances. Friends with whom you can update your word count, discuss your plot holes, get advice on your formatting problems and bemoan the high cost of professional editing services. You can also drink tea/wine and eat cake/chocolate together to alleviate your collective gloom.
2 (b) A Circle of Happy Friends Unlike Yourself
You must have a cheerful group of non-writing friends who are more hopeful and optimistic about your manuscript than you are. They will profess to believe that Your Day will Come, your day when that manuscript will float out of its backed up cloud and into a real life bookstore. They should also be able to find you an emergency frozen margarita at the drop of a sombrero and answer desperate text messages at late hours.
3. A Lovely Editor
You are not a bona fide Unpublished Author unless you have a person on your payroll who has taken that Backed Up Manuscript, waved her Track Changes Wand over it and infused it with some editorial magic. This magic will be grammatical, it will be plot-a-licious and it will be ruthless.
4. A few rounds in a Twitter Contest
Entry into Query Kombat, Pitch Wars, PitMad and other contests will be your baptism of fire into Unpublished Authorhood. You will be nowhere. It will seem like an intergalactic war, there will be so many Unpublished Authors out there, like the stars of the Milky Way. Your pitch and your confidence will disappear into a virtual Black Hole and you will consider a future in croquet. However, you will make some new friends (similar to 2(a), just not IRL), and you will bounce back. And so will your pitch and your query. They will end up being shinier than both Sirius and the Alpha Centauri.
5. A Brave Heart
You’ll need more than Mel Gibson in a kilt or a mane of red ringlets to pull off Unpublished Author. You will need nerves of steel and skin as thick as a crocodile. (This is also an opportunity for you to practice not saying ‘literally’. You only want figurative crocodile skin, trust me.) To be an Unpublished Author you need to be able to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous rejection. Email after email after email of rejection.
The nicer the rejection the braver you will need to be.
Nice Rejections go like This:
“We wanted to let you know that while we think there is potential in your project, and you have a very interesting story to tell, we can unfortunately not offer publication of your book. Unfortunately Jacana’s publishing schedule is absolutely full, we really are packed to capacity with our fiction list, and your proposal is not something we would be able to take on and make room for at the moment. However, this does not mean to say that a different publishing house would not be thrilled to publish your work.”
Oh, the sweet plunging dagger.
Mean rejections, on the other hand, will never be published on this blog. They go straight to the recycle bin.
6. Finally, to maintain your Unpublished Author status you need to connect with a place like The Book Lounge or a similar independent book store near you. (That would be Fogarty’s in Port Elizabeth.) This is the place of interesting people, books and their launches. True, these book launches are not yours, because you are Unpublished, but sharing other people’s writing journeys will keep your dream/nightmare alive. And, if you want anyone to read your book, then the least you can do is read theirs.
Warning: There’s a fine line between stalking and networking. Don’t cross it. Your longhand treatise stays in your satchel. Your Crazy Eyes stay at home.
You’re not a real Unpublished Author if you haven’t attended a book launch, shared the published authors’s joy, imagined what you would say if it were you and indulged in The Book Lounge’s lovely Leopard’s Leap sponsored wine.
So listen up, all you UA’s, be of good cheer. Own your Unpublishedness. Relish it while you can, it’s an unshackled space. Wipe off your pained expression, read lots of books, write every day and laugh. (Chiefly at others, especially the pompous, but now and again at yourself.)