Editor’s note: Haven’t forgotten about Contest 2.0, we promise! The DFWcon squirrel-monkeys are still finalizing a few last details before we announce it to the world. Stay tuned!
Look, guys – let’s be real. We’re in this because we love our stories and want other people to love them too. Nobody would have the skin to stay in the game otherwise.
But there is something awfully attractive about that celebrity status, isn’t there? Autographing books. Getting fan mail / blog comments / retweets out the wazoo. Being asked to speak at shindigs of varying sizes. Hell, just being able to say “oh yeah, I’m a writer” with the stone-cold casual legitimacy of somebody who’s got half a dozen books up on Amazon and a handful more endcapped over at the nearest Barnes and Noble – that would be a treat!
Anyway, I did a lot of bouncing around between conferences and conventions this year, and it occurred to me that there must be a trade-off for all that fame and notoriety. Advantages of anonymity that we aspiring authors probably aren’t thinking about, fixated as we are on becoming one of the Beautiful People. So while I was out talking to the world, I asked a few authorial celebrities a question: “What is special and wonderful about being an unknown? What do you miss about being new and unpublished?”
Here is what I found out!
- You can write whatever you like. Nobody has any expectations of you. This was the gem of wisdom that dropped so suddenly from Deborah Crombie at her DFWcon 2013 keynote address that I almost missed it. How true it is, though! When you are new, you have perfect freedom to carve out your own niche – the blend of genre and style that is uniquely yours. Nobody is going to refuse to pick up your steamy fantasy romance because your name is John Grisham and all anyone wants from you are murders and lawyers and sometimes murdered lawyers. You will never again have this golden opportunity to shape your voice, your brand, and your identity!
- You can attend conferences and conventions solely for your own enjoyment. I had a new appreciation for this one after chatting with J.K. Cheney, who had no sooner staggered in the door from her eleventeen-hour drive from Oklahoma to San Antonio than was due at a panel, and then a meeting, with a dinner date lined up afterwards, and… you get the idea. When nobody knows who you are, you can be whoever you want – go to the events you like, hang out with the people you enjoy, and quit when you get tired. That’s pretty liberating.
- You can write at your own pace. This is one of many pearls of truth that Gini Koch bequeathed to me. Actually, her full thesis was closer to, “Write your ideas – all of them. Write as fast and as much as you can, for any story you’ve ever wanted to tell – get them down on paper. Because once you sell, contracts and deadlines pile up, and who knows when you’ll ever have that freedom again?” I’ll be honest – that scares the dickens out of me. Writing because you love it is quite a different thing than writing because it’s due on Friday.
- Social media is a hobby, not a job requirement or a chore. This one I got from Rosemary Clement-Moore, with an “amen!” from several other authors. Granted, even unpublished writers are expected to be building that all-important platform these days, so this one can feel like a weight around your neck before anyone ever reads a word of your writing. But how wonderful it is to friend and follow just the people who bring joy to your life, post only when you have something to say, and do it all without hundreds of strangers watching and waiting to dissect your every virtual twitch!
- You can own your own opinions. Well, let me clarify. You always have a right to your opinions, but the more visible you are, the more carefully you need to consider how you express them. This is something I learned from the great Candace Havens. Maybe you think Twilight is the biggest load of glitter-crusted horse-apples ever to see print. All right. But once you publish, regardless of your genre or audience, Stephenie Meyer becomes your peer – and after you’ve been seated at the grown-ups’ table, it’s rarely a good idea to be seen flinging food at the other guests. (Actually, it’s best to do your kicking under the table, even when you’re still an unknown. The Internet is forever, and those caustic blog rants and gif-laden one-star book reviews have a depressingly long half-life.) For now, enjoy the freedom to read what you like and say what you feel (offline!), without having to worry about who you might be seated next to on a panel, or which backs you need to be scratching in order to get a blurb or a guest post or an ARC review.
So there you have it, folks. Work hard. Write well. Keep reaching for the dream. But if you can, try to look around and find something to love about where you are right now. After all, if everything goes according to plan, you’ll never be here again.
Tex Thompson is a ‘rural fantasy’ author and editor for the DFW Writers Conference. Her first novel, a cowboys-and-fishmen fantasy called One Night in Sixes, will be published by Solaris Books in August 2014. The rest of her fictional exploits, enthusiastic ranting, and LOLcat grammar lessons appear regularly at The Tex Files.