There are more books being written and published at this moment in time than ever before. Self publishing has opened the doors to a global sharing of imagination and knowledge, but when you pick up the proverbial pen for the very first time, it can seem a daunting task. How do you start, where does it end… and how can you define success?
There are a plethora of resources available online to help writers start, explore or hone their craft. It matters not at all what you are looking for, there is something available. Whether you want to know how to write the vilest of villains or avoid creating a histrionic heroine, advice, good, bad and indifferent is easily located thanks to the power of the internet.
Most of this advice, it is true, is aimed at writers of fiction. There is a tendency to generalise and the term ‘book’ seems very often to come with the unwritten corollary that ‘we are talking about fiction here’. Writers of non-fiction, or of fictionalised fact, find themselves at a bit of a disadvantage where the general advice is concerned, especially as they tend to fall outside the accepted genres. Anyone who fails to fit into the genre mould or, heaven-forfend, chooses to mix them up a little, is seen as a bit odd, to say the least. As if they are more likely to sit down with a vampire for an in-depth discussion of parasitic morality and the best ways of growing garlic, than they are to offer them a passing virgin for tea.
Even research has changed. It is no longer exclusively the preserve of those happy to spend hours poring over dusty tomes… an unsafe practice at best for writers who have, as a species, a tendency to get lost in their pages. All it takes, these days, is a few clicks of the mouse and a world of knowledge opens in front of your eyes.
Grammar and punctuation may be corrected and polished by both the well-researched writer and the many programmes that are out there… though my own opinion of them is equivocal. Commas, like salt, may be sprinkled to taste while debates rage about the use of the Oxford variety.
You can learn all the rules and break them with impunity as long as you have found your own peculiar voice as a writer… except where spelling is concerned. There, you must conform, but the digital documents you create will nudge you in the right direction… sometimes. Unless the typo is a real, if misplaced, word. Or until it decides you should be using American English whether you like it or not. It is bad enough proof reading a manuscript in your own language, without having to check to see whether or not autocorrect decided to teach you another.
Then, when you have completed the book, done the editing, proofed it, rewritten and agonised over it, polished and proofed it again, you find that there is so much excellent, and often conflicting, advice out there about what to do next. You have to learn about marketing and promotion. You are reminded that cover designs and layout must be decided upon, you should think about getting a professional editor and sending the book to beta-readers… but the most important reader of all is usually dismissed as being unfit for the job.
It is true that writers generally make terrible editors and proofreaders of their own work. With the best will in the world, and even if you sit there with eyes propped open with matchsticks until the words dance on the page, you will miss something. Every time. Whether you can afford a host of professional services or whether you do all the work yourself, you owe it to yourself and to your book to present it to the best of your ability. Unless you believe in it enough to do so, then why should anyone else?
If you have written from the heart, you will read from the heart…. and so will your readers. But no matter what you do, no-one else will ever read your book like you. You are the only person in the world who truly knows what you wanted to say and what you hope your book will do once you set its pages free to fly. You are the only one who knows why you wrote it… whether your aim was a bid for fame and fortune or whether it was one of those books that just had to be sent out into the world, regardless of whether anyone else reads it or not. Only you, in the deepest corners of your thoughts, know the answer to these questions and only you can say whether or not you have attained your goal…and if you have, then you have already achieved success.
‘Success’ is a strange word that each of us defines differently and that definition will change in every situation that is encountered. To me, success as a writer is not to be measured by royalties, celebrity or bestseller status, no matter how good that might feel, but whether or not, after all you have poured into its creation, you can still curl up with your own book… and enjoy it.