The Writer’s Life Isn’t for Sissies by Marilyn Levinson
The electronic age has made it easy for anyone to self-publish a work of fiction. All you have to do is write a book. It needn’t be approved, edited or even good. As long as the text is formatted correctly, up it goes on Amazon and other publishing sites. And voilà! You’re an author.
Perhaps, but who’s going to buy your book besides your nearest and dearest? Who is your audience? Where are your readers? And what do you plan to write about in your next book?
Because so many people are writing novels these days, it’s difficult for a writer to make his or her mark in today’s literary marketplace. There are many choices. Writers can self-publish, publish with small presses, or publish with the big companies. I know, because I’ve gone the route of all three. We’ve an over-abundance of available books because so many writers give away e-copies of their work, hoping that this will entice readers to buy their other titles. Every day I receive several emails encouraging me to download novels that are inexpensive or free. Which is why I have close to 600 novels on my Kindle, waiting to be read.
This proliferation of novels gives the impression that becoming a novelist is easy. That anyone can write a good book that will sell thousands of copies. It’s not so. Becoming a good fiction writer is a process that takes years of hard work. Sure there are a few exceptions, but I believe the more books we write, the better skilled we become at creating characters, weaving plots, and telling satisfying stories. In The Telegraph on June 29th, best-selling crime writer, Val McDermid, “has claimed that she would be a failed novelist if she were starting out today because the publishing industry no longer allows for slow-burning careers.”
“It takes a strong stomach to be a writer!” says Peg Cochran, who writes the Gourmet de Lite series under her name and the Sweet Nothings Lingerie Series as Peg London. “It’s a scary business putting yourself out there…not only am I nervous about not living up to other authors, I’m worried about living up to myself!”
Peg isn’t alone. As a mystery writer, I know I’m only as good as my last book. I hope readers will like my next book. Will they love my characters? Will the plot hold? Will they detect the murderer before I want them to?
And it’s not enough to write an enticing mystery. Unless you’re very successful, very famous, or both, most mystery writers I know spend a good deal of time promoting their work. I was delighted that my mystery, A Murderer Among Us, was listed on Book Town’s 2014 Summer Reading list, and that A Murderer Among Us & Murder a la Christie made Book Town’s 2014 Summer Mystery Reading List. Then it was up to me to tweet and announce these honors to my Facebook and Yahoo groups. I must seek reviews of my books and ask to have my books featured on various sites and blogs. It’s my job to promote my novels and tend to them as I would my children, making sure they’re in healthy, growth-producing after-school activities. The odd thing is, I never know what helps improve my sales, but I get the word out when my books receive 5 star reviews and accolades.
Reviews are something else we authors have to deal with. Good reviews are wonderful to read. We’re delighted that readers are enjoying our books, and happy that they “get” us. Eventually we all get the other kind of review. The not so great review or even a hurtful review from a reader who was less than satisfied.
We’re told not to respond to reviews that are cutting or cruel, or even inaccurate. This is frustrating, but I try to concentrate on the good reviews and the many people who have made it a point of telling me they enjoy my books. I’ve checked out the reviews of well-known novelists and was surprised to see that they had their share of not so great reviews. It gave me heart to know that these authors still sell thousands of copies of their novels. It reminded me that not everyone is going to love my work.
Having a writing career means finishing a novel and moving on to the next. It demands hours of promotion, dealing with deadlines and edits and covers you may not like. Coping with changing editors, an editor who changes your every other word, rejection. You name it. There are many frustrations, but having a writing career means you’re doing what you love best—writing.
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A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and books for kids.
Her latest mystery, Murder a la Christie, is out with Oak Tree Press. Untreed Reads has brought out new e-editions of her first Twin Lakes mystery, A Murderer Among Us–a Suspense Magazine Best Indie and its sequel, Murder in the Air. Both Murder a la Christie and A Murderer Among Us are on Book Town’s 2014 Summer Reading Mystery List. Her ghost mystery, Giving Up the Ghost, and her romantic suspense, Dangerous Relations, are out with Uncial Press. All of her mysteries take place on Long Island, where she lives.
Her books for young readers include No Boys Allowed; Rufus and Magic Run Amok, which was awarded a Children’s Choice; Getting Back to Normal, & And Don’t Bring Jeremy.
Marilyn loves traveling, reading, knitting, doing Sudoku, and visiting with her granddaughter, Olivia, on FaceTime. She is co-founder and past president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime. She can be contacted through her website www.MarilynLevinson.com. For all of her writings, check out her Amazon page at http://amzn.to/K6Md10 .
0 thoughts on “Guest Blog: The Writer’s Life Isn’t for Sissies by Marilyn Levinson”
Writing these days is frustrating — and not for the faint of heart. Marilyn, I’m glad you have persevered since I really enjoy your books. Keep writing!
Without the emotional overtones, think how much fun writing and seeing our words in print could be. Even good books fight for a place in the world….as do their writers. This truly is not a field for sissies.
Encouraging post for every writer frustrated by the upheaval in the publishing industry that has both agents and big publishers intent on finding sure-fire winners, despite their demonstrated inability to predict them! J.K. Rowling is a case in point. It’s a shame that good writing and good rewards seem increasingly disconnected. Even authors who just want to make a buck will find there’s always someone willing to go farther (salacious sex, ultra-violence) than they are. But as you say, for those who really love writing, there’s no choice. Write on!
I so agree with you about the frustration caused the by industry’s constant upheaval versus those of us who can’t stop because there is no choice but to write.
You’re so right, Marilyn, writing is not for sissies. It’s important to remember, though, that being well-published and well-rewarded has always been difficult, if in different ways. Many great books — books that have stood the test of time, won prizes, sold well, been well-received by critics — have also failed first. Rejection and bad reviews suck, but for those of us who LOVE the writing itself, they’re secondary to the rewards. And so we write.
Great point, Sheila. One of the writing magazines even has a comical feature on its last page – rejection letters for books that were later bestsellers or classics. …as you said, “And so we write.”
Great post, Marilyn! Good to know I’m not alone in my frustration, trying to make my books stand out to readers in the endless sea of published mystery/suspense novels. But, all we can do is what we can do: keep improving our craft, promote to the best of our ability and, no matter what, keep on writing!
This blog should be a “must read” for everyone involved in today’s world of writing. There have been so many changes in the past decade and a half, that for many it’s hard to keep up with them.
Terrific post, Marilyn. You get to the heart of the writing life.
You put into words what every writer has to be thinking. Thanks for getting it out there, Marilyn. I don’t think readers realize just how hard it is for authors these days.
Thank you, my fellow writers, for stopping by. I don’t know what I would do without your support and camaraderie.
Thanks, Marilyn ~ What a great post! I’m going to print it out and hang it on the wall, to read when I get too bitter. You’re right, it’s a jungle out there, and it seems to have mostly popped up just about the time I got serious about writing, so I’m frequently and severely tempted to say “woe is me” and give up. But you’ve reminded me what it’s really all about.
Heck, if John Milton could get up in the morning and, blind, start dictating “Paradise Lost” — again — to his daughters, who the day before had got so sick of writing it down with their quill pens that they threw food at him, we’ve got it comparatively easy, don’t we? 🙂
Thank you for sharing the John Milton story….it certainly does show us how “easy” we have it.
Thanks for sharing your wisdom. And congrats on being on those book lists!
No a field for sissies is indeed the truth. I am starting to day dream about retiring and not writing–what would it be like to just sit and read books because . . . I just want to!? To not worry about “staying active” on social media and trying to promote my books because they are my children and its my responsibility. What if I stopped being compelled to tell stories and just put down the “pen”? …What if pigs fly?
Thanks for the post, Marilyn and congrats on your successes.
There’s no doubt about it–we work very hard at more than writing.
A writing career is definitely not for the faint of heart. You have to really want it to put up with all the stress and all the work. But since I can’t not write, I guess I’m here to stay. What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment.
You’re caught because you can’t not write.:)
Enjoyed this post–everything you say is so true. Like some others who already commented, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to give it all up. But there’s always another story to write down, and frankly, reading isn’t quite as enjoyable as it used to be now that I want to edit a lot of what I read. LOL Thanks for voicing what so many of us know to be true.
Thanks, Jan. One of the great benefits of being a writer is the support of other writers.
Excellent post, Marilyn! You’ve captured the essence of a writer’s life.
Wow! You really captured the life of a writer. The hard work, dedicated hours, disappointment and joy. Great article! T
Marilyn definitely hit a nerve…by simply telling us all the truth.
I gave away one of my mysteries and received lots and lots of reviews–most good, but some were weird and others downright awful. I’ve been thanking everyone who took the time to post a good review and ignoring the others. What would I do if I quit writing? Maybe get more reading done. Great post.
Thanks, Marilyn. I don’t think you’ll ever stop writing.
This is great, Marilyn. Lots of good information from your perspective that I hope writers will copy and reread. The work has to be done, but the rewards are worth it!
I’m sorry I’m so late in chiming in. Excellent post, Marilyn! When people ask me what advice I can give, first and foremost I suggest they grow a thick skin. There are plenty of comments that we’d rather not hear, but like you said, this business isn’t for sissies. We have to pay attention to some things and let others roll off our backs. Thanks for the reminder!