Author identity. Branding. Finding your voice. All of these are favorite words in the writing and publishing business, but what does it mean on a practical, personal level?
Lately, I’ve been asked the following questions:
- How did you decide to write F/F?
- Why don’t you write sexual books?
- Was it a deliberate choice? Why?
- How do you decide what to write about?
Similarly, I hear questions from new and aspiring writers:
- How do I know what I want to write about?
- How do I become a better writer?
- I have lots of great ideas, but I don’t know how to put them into one story. How can I do that?
- How can I decide what kind of author I want to be?
Today, we’re going to look at this last question.
How can you decide what kind of author you want to be?
As I’ve said before, my author identity kind of happened on its own. I’m a niche (nonsexual F/F DD) of a niche (F/F DD) of a niche (DD). 😀 But at the same time, I transcend categories (or at least I like to think that I do!). Sometimes, being a PITA has its benefits: I know what I want, and I know what I want to be. On the other hand, if that author identity is not the most easily marketed one at that particular time, things can get a bit challenging!
If you are unsure what kind of author you want to be, view it as a positive.
You get to actively choose your identity, rather than having to work with what’s already been determined. Look around. Do some research. Investigate publishers and authors who appeal to you. This is a time for exploration, getting to know different styles, and spreading your wings.
Clarify YOUR goals and passions, not what someone else defines for you.
Although we all envy the authors who strike it rich with their first multi-million-copy bestseller, few authors write for a steady, substantial paycheck. Even fewer will be able to quit a day job and write full-time with the first book. For that reason, it’s all the more important that this be YOUR endeavor from the very beginning. Take out a notepad (or open a new blank document). Jot down some of the reasons you daydream about being an author. Can’t think of any? Here are a few of mine:
- I never found a story that completely satisfied me, so I wanted to write a book that would fulfill my own needs for a good story.
- I want to write stories for other people who also haven’t been able to find what they want.
- I want to make people think, to smile, and even for a small moment feel as if the world were a better place.
- I want to get better and better at my craft with each piece of writing.
- (honesty time) I still harbor a secret (no longer secret) fantasy of becoming rich and famous. 🙂
Your goals might be similar, or they might be radically different. Is your goal to hit bestseller lists? Get accepted by a top six New York publishing house? To earn a certain amount of money per month or year? To publish a certain number of books within a certain time frame?
There is no wrong goal (unless it’s to rob a bank). The only wrong goal is the goal that doesn’t work for you. For me, to be named as the best new erotica writer of 2013 is probably not the most realistic goal. For one thing, I don’t write sex scenes. 😀 Hoping to sell ten million copies of your first book is probably not realistic, either.
What will make writing and publishing worthwhile for you? What do you hope to achieve?
Clear out the distractions.
Paradoxically, over-focusing on your goals can put so much pressure on you that you lose sight of what brought you to writing in the first place. One of my favorite scenes in Editorial Board is when editor Rachel forces author Spring to look deep within herself for what makes Spring an author. (If you want to know more about my philosophy on writing, you may want to read this book. Formerly writer-blocked Spring’s re-discovery of her identity as an author is the heart of the story.) Spring remembers a scene so simple, so ordinary, and so small that she wouldn’t have noticed it in an everyday setting: bringing her mother dandelions. That tiny image of dandelions centers Spring, brings her back into touch with herself, and frees her to begin writing again.
Not all of us are lucky enough to have a Rachel to help us in the process, but we still can practice small moments of silence to remember who we are.
Hold onto the joy.
After the initial elation of becoming an author wears off, the work can quickly feel like drudgery. Sending your poor, neglected book out for review after review, only to receive zero or negative responses. Bothering your poor, overworked friends in the hope that they will help to promote your book. Appearing on endless social media circuits giving the same 30-second elevator pitch to bored strangers. Endless revisions, fights with your editor, gnashing of teeth over the cover art and blurb and formatting. Did I mention endless revisions? Lighting the Way, the second of the Kat and Natalie books, will be published on June 6th. I wrote the book in just under two weeks; I’ve been editing and revising for eight months.
As I mentioned last week, author burn-out is a serious risk for all of us who work in labor-intensive jobs. I work on multiple projects at multiple jobs at once, and the workdays are long. I can’t remember the last time I took an entire day off from work, but I can remember the last time that the stress and overwork made me ill.
Yet I still consider myself lucky. I’m writing the stories that burn inside of me to be told. I get to connect with people who enjoy the stories I write. I’m surrounded by a community of fellow authors who each offer his or her own wisdom and talents. I am blessed with wonderful readers who enrich my life with your stories, notes, and correspondence.
And most of all? I get to write.
Yesterday, after celebrating a significant milestone in a project that has stretched over endless months, I sat down to write a scene for an upcoming novel. Four hours later, I found myself in a curious writing hangover, half in this world and half out. Consumed by the lives I had created.
After a day like that, I could write for weeks.
Are you looking for how to create your author identity? Relax. You’ll find it.
Just be prepared to be surprised.