So today marks a very special anniversary for me. In a couple of ways.
First and foremost, eight years ago today my oldest niece was born. It was the day my sister became a mother, my parents grandparents, and me an aunt. So…ya know…BIG DAY.
But one other very important thing happened that day, and that’s what this blog is really about.
July 13,2004 is also the day my agent went out on submission with my very first book, CHEATING AT SOLITAIRE. There I was with a new baby niece, but I was also a new baby author.
So I’m thinking about that today.
It isn’t that long in the grand scheme, but in other ways it is forever. SO much has changed. And if I could go back in time and talk to 2004 Baby Author me what would I tell her? Well…here’s a list.
STUFF I WOULD (AND WOULDN’T) TELL BABY AUTHOR ME IF I COULD GO BACK IN TIME:
A list by Ally Carter
-First and foremost, it is going to be okay. And, by the way, “it” will totally vary.
Maybe it’s sales or copyedits or titles or covers or co-op. Whatever it is, it will not kill you. It will not hurt the people you love. It will not make you an unhappy person unless you give it the power to do so. Do not give it that power.
-Very soon you will sell a book. (Yay!) But then you will become obsessed with promoting that book. Don’t do it. Sure, build a website, go to conferences and do the stuff if you ENJOY doing.
But, seriously, the thousands of dollars you’re getting ready to spend on playing cards and business cards and people who are supposed to help you “get your name out there”. Don’t. Just don’t. Put that money into a savings account instead. Even at less than 1% interest, you’ll get way higher returns there.
-Does that mean that an author shouldn’t try to promote his/her book? No. But understand that you can’t buy your way to the next rung on the ladder. You can only buy the illusion that you’re helping your career. But sometimes the illusion is valuable too.
-So what SHOULD you do if you’re not going to spend a six months making crappy playing cards and other things? Write your next book, that’s what. There’s a saying in this business: nothing sells backlist like front list. So get to writing some more front list.
-I know you don’t know anybody in this business now and that is a little scary. But that’s okay. You are a baby author. You aren’t supposed to know anyone.
And that won’t always be the case. Right now a whole new class of baby authors are being born and a lot of them are going to be your friends someday. You are going to meet at conferences and book fairs and even a few online. You will bond over copyedits and covers and deciding what shoes to wear to BEA.
Some people might say that making friends with these people is going to be good for your career. It isn’t. Making friends with these people is good for your life.
- People are getting ready to start telling you “You should make your book into a movie.” You will hear it every day. This does not make you special. EVERY author hears this every day. Get really, really good at answering (or ignoring) this question.
-And speaking of movies…chill. Yes, you have wanted to be a screenwriter since you were an even babier author, and yes, you will have people contacting you and offering you money and working toward bringing your books to the screen. Doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. It is a huge, massive and very chaotic process. And, most importantly, it’s not YOUR process. All you can do is make more source material for Hollywood to play with, so by all means, do that.
-Don’t quit your day job. Except when you’re finally ready to quit your day job. Look, you’re going to be freaked out about something. Either time or money. You need to decide which worry you are best equipped to handle.
-Whatever you do, don’t get in the habit of doing ____ while you write. Maybe it’s drinking Diet Coke or listening to music or wearing fuzzy socks. Why? Because there will come a day when don’t have your music or your fuzzy socks and you’ve realized that Diet Coke is rotting your teeth and then what are you going to do?
Basically, don’t let yourself get into bad habits. Sure, writing is a lot more fun when you can do it with a box of donuts on your lap, but please don’t. I’m still on the treadmill from your blasted donuts.
-Don’t judge yourself based on how other author’s careers are going. Why? Because 1. You don’t KNOW how their careers are going. Some people have big reputations and moderate sales. Some people fly under the radar and sell off the charts. But, most of all, 2. It doesn’t affect you. It doesn’t change you. All it can do is make you crazy, so do yourself a favor and don’t play that game.
-I’m not going to tell you what trends are coming (and, believe me, trends are getting reading to be a VERY big deal). Why? Because I don’t think that’s best for you (and us) in the long-run.
This business is a marathon, NOT a sprint. And, sure, in a few years books about vampires and dystopians and falling in love with supernatural creatures will be hot. But writing books just because they are (or are going to be) hot won’t make you happy. Writing books you love will make you happy, so do that instead.
Oh, and those hot trends? Eventually they are going to be cold. But loving what you’re writing can last forever. (And, believe it or not, there are some readers who do want funny or sweet or romantic books even if they have to swim against the genre current to find them.)
-And the biggest piece of advice I can give you is this: take a sheet of paper and write down five things that would make you really, really happy in your career. Then write down five things that would be “best case scenario” things. And lastly write five “in your wildest dreams” things.
Keep that list. Remember that list. Because in this business the finish line is constantly moving. One day you really just want an agent. Then it’s a book deal. Then it’s a bestseller. Then it’s a movie. Then it’s a castle next to JK Rowling’s.
In short, appreciate things as they’re happening, remember that once upon a time that thing was a dream of yours and that it’s still a dream for someone. So be grateful every day.
It’s a hard job. But it’s also a good job. And more than anything it’s YOUR dream job so try to keep everything in perspective. Hopefully you and I will get to do this job for many years to come.
-Oh, and one last thing, Baby Author Ally …welcome to the yard, meat.