5 + 1 = Creating a Writing Life (Whether They Publish Your Work or Not)
Self-determination, growth mindset, and a passion for writing. My conversation with Brigette Thornes was a chance to go over what really goes into being an author, self-publishing, and taking the leap(s) of faith necessary to put your art out there for people to see. If you’ve thought about writing a book or started one and never finished it, check out her well-earned and encouraging advice, like: write what you don’t know!
A little bit about Brigette: Currently living in Michigan, she’s a fiction writer, teacher, and working toward a Master’s in Social Work. Geared for young adults, her self-published trilogy is about a mind-bending alternate reality and fun to read for all ages — the final installment coming out just last year, titled The Voices in the Walls. Her favorite books on writing are Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel (whom she credits for curing her of writer’s block forever) and Anne Lamont’s classic Bird by Bird. Check out all of Brigette’s books on her website and follow her @briglevalley on Twitter for original opinions and unceremonious wisdom.
How do you get the confidence to share your work?
I don’t know where that comes from. Rejection never feels good, but I’ve always wanted to share. Like I’ve always felt compelled to share. That’s just who I am. It’s kind of like look at what I wrote. Look at this!
I’d also say, ask yourself, do you feel like you know what you’re doing? Do you know that you’ve been reading a ton. You’ve been writing. You’re obsessive about what you’ve written. You’ve been over each chapter, tweaking it. Asking yourself if it works, and if it’s realistic. Would my characters really say this or behave in a certain way?
At the end of the day, if I like it — if I feel like it works — then I’m OK with the reactions. I don’t like to share rough drafts because the writing isn’t ready. But once it’s ready, I want to share.
What does self-publishing give you that maybe traditional publishing wouldn’t?
Trying to find an agent takes forever. It’s homework.
I’d used to go to the Writer’s Digest website and look up the agents available for the genre I’m writing in. I’d read their bios, looking for clues as to what kind of writing they liked. Then I’d write my cover letter, constantly changing and revising it. Then I’d send it out. Sometimes an agent would write back saying they liked my book but it was too long. Or they’d say that they liked it, but it was the wrong genre. Most of the time, they didn’t write back at all.
People think that they’ll just write something and it’ll get published. They don’t understand the gatekeeper’s part of it. Or that there are thousands of people probably thinking the same thing.
Talent isn’t so rare as you might think. Talent is everywhere. That’s kind of a problem for the would-be writer.
On the other hand, most agents are looking for something short and easy to market. Something that’s really high concept, and something you can explain in a sentence. It’s the economics, it’s the price per page. The cost of shipping books to bookstores. All of that.
It feels like they’re saying be super creative and send us your craziest, best ideas. But they don’t actually want those. They want safe ideas.
Self-publishing lets you skip all that. You save a ton of time.
Now, I’m actually glad my first book got rejected so many times. They were right. It was kind of a mess. I thought it was done, but it really wasn’t. So that process made me make it shorter. Made me make it better. When I’d taken it as far as I could, I realized it was time to publish it myself.
Another benefit of self-publishing is control. A good example is the cover design. If you publish on Amazon, you can change the design whenever you want. You also have the final cut over the content. You can go back and edit if you find a typo.
How important is community to a writer?
It’s everything. So, so, so important. Find a group of people, I can’t emphasize that enough. Meet with them. Share your work.
The first book I put out, my community was limited. It was like you, Charles. And some of our classmates. You all read my cover letter. You read drafts. But people are busy with their lives! So it’s hard to say, will you read this entire novel and tell me what you think? That’s asking a lot.
So, you need other people. People who are as crazy as you are and who are trying to do the same thing as you. You need to find a situation where reviewing each other’s work is mutually beneficial. These other writers don’t have to be great successes. But they have to care as much as you do.
I’m in two groups now. It started with a group a co-worker had. We went to a conference, and I met writers from the second group. Their advice has been invaluable. I wish I knew them when I was writing my first book.
More experienced writers can give you feedback and help steer you away from making silly mistakes in the self-publishing world. They also keep you motivated, keep you going, and give you people to lean on when you’re not sure what to do. They make book conferences a lot more fun because you’ve got your friends with you.
What would you say to someone who thinks they’d like to write a book?
Go for it. I’m always excited when anyone wants to write a book.
But do it because you want to do it. It’s for you most of all. Because you want to spend your time this way. Because you enjoy writing. Because it’s giving something to you to do the writing.
Why? Because you can’t control the outcome. Don’t do it because you want to be famous. You can’t depend on writing a book to make a living.
Most of all, remember that it’s not a requirement. There isn’t a must-write- book-before-you-die merit badge out there.
What would you say to someone who has written a book but thinks it isn’t very good?
Let me read it! I want to read it and tell you what I think.
No, really. Find someone you trust, and get their opinion. Maybe they’ll love one of your characters but help you realize you could have done so much more with them. Like they saw potential that you didn’t maximize.
The first draft of my first book was easily the worst thing I’d ever written. Ever. It felt so good to finish it though. Then I read it and went through a depression. It sucked! I felt like I used to write better when I was twelve.
But I was invested. It mattered to me to make it better.
Expect that if you’ve written a draft, that it isn’t going to be good. Because that’s what it is. A draft. Not a book.
Who is a writer you admire and why?
Kelly Link… She writes speculative fiction. Her stories are grounded in reality, but then all this weird, unworldly stuff starts to happen. But it happens in a way that feels natural, and you feel this great intimacy with her characters. She adds all these tiny details that make a huge difference. “Stone Animals” is probably my favorite story ever.
Spoiler alert. It’s about a family that moves into a house. The house isn’t haunted, but the objects in the house are. There’s also all this normal domestic stuff is going on, too. There are all these great parallels between the supernatural and the everyday. It’s so cool to read something and feel like you’ve never read anything like it before. That’s how I feel about Kelly Link’s stuff. So, shout out to Kelly Link!