Anyone Ever Laugh When You Say You’re a Writer?

You Need a Real Job

Summoned to my high school guidance counselor’s office, I learned not everyone thinks being a writer is a good idea.  I still recall the meeting as if it were yesterday.

“Why can’t I be an author?” I asked. I wanted to be the next Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth, or Ray Bradbury. They were the best-selling authors of the day.

Her career choices for me came from the father role models on the popular television programs of the era. She wanted me to be the next Mike Brady (the architect dad on The Brady Bunch) or an aerospace engineer like Steven Douglas (My Three Sons).

“Jimmie, you’re a boy. You need a college degree in engineering, math, science, or accounting. You have to earn enough money to support your future wife and family. Forget your silly notion that a man can support himself by writing. It is okay to write for a hobby, but you will need a real job. With your grades you could even aspire to be a medical doctor or dentist,” she said.

I was heartbroken. Raised to believe I could do anything, now I wasn’t so sure.

Has anyone ever laughed at your vision of writing? Perhaps you have been told you lack life experience or you don’t stand a chance because everyone is writing now that they can simply self-publish on Amazon.

You may have feelings of doubt, thinking if only you had an MFA. If only your family and spouse supported you more. If you could quit your day job. Maybe you are in your sixties like me. You think it is too late. You say I am just too old. If only…

We all experience self-doubt. Friends and family do not always understand our passion.

Everyone faces such challenges. My faith as a Christian also helps me overcome such thoughts. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

Some people will never understand your passion for writing. Don’t bother trying to explain. Just let them watch as you write.

Read

Reading is necessary for writing. Not only is reading the fodder for writing, it is fun. It also helps me relax as well as grow.

Write

I know it sounds silly, but to become a writer you have to write. I have heard for years that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. 10,000 hours is five years worth of forty-hour weeks. Maybe that is why it takes ten years for so many to get that first traditional book deal. Do not be a want to be a writer. Write.

Edit

This includes proofreading, rewriting, and polishing. No one is perfect. Critique groups help as well as reputable professional editing services. Rewrite as needed.

Submit

To your surprise, someone may like and buy what you wrote.

Rejection

Being rejected is not personal. Your writing may be bad. It may be good, but just not meet the publisher’s or editor’s needs. You may have submitted to the wrong market or not followed the submission guidelines (both guarantee a rejection). Every writer gets rejections. The photo is a rejection I received from the New Yorker Magazine. I’ve been rejected by the best.

Acceptance

Selling a book or an article doesn’t guarantee success. Many times it means the real work is only beginning. Having your work accepted by a publisher feels good. It feels very good.

Writers’ Groups

Consider joining a writers’ group. I have belonged to three over the years. I have changed groups as I have changed. Some groups I have belonged to were for critique. Some have been to learn the business of writing. Some have been for the encouragement.

I know the thoughts I have shared are all items you have heard many times before. Sometimes a reminder is good.

We all have people like my old high school guidance counselor in our lives. Do not let their negative words keep you from writing. If you have the urge to write, write! It’s not too late.

The formula really is simple. It is read, write, edit, rewrite, submit, and repeat. If your writing is good enough and if what you write matches the publisher’s need, you just may see your story in print.


Photo Source: Pixabay

Kepler’s Aphorism #2 – Don’t Plan on Earning Enough Money Writing to Live On

I was sixty-four years old before I was able to write full-time and I don’t make enough money off my writing to support myself solely on my writing income. I required having multiple streams of income to achieve this goal. It also took my being debt free.

Even with my simple lifestyle, my combined earnings from my writing income, interest received on savings, and earnings from a 403B, my income is about what an hourly employee at a big box store earns. I am only able to write full-time through frugality, lack of debt, and a very modest lifestyle.

I have been writing full-time for twelve months. The plus is I have earned money from my writing every month. The minus is the monthly income from just writing has never made me four figures in a month. It helped that I understood the business, have been writing and regularly publishing since 1981, and had multiple books and articles published.

The late Ray Bradbury was one of the first who said don’t plan on making money writing. Bradbury and his wife, who “took a vow of poverty” to marry him, hit thirty-seven years old before they could afford a car. For years he sold newspapers on the street corner to get enough money to pay the rent. He even used a pay typewriter in the UCLA library that charged him twenty-five cents per thirty minutes of writing before he earned enough money to buy his own.

You can be a working writer and earn a modest income. According to BookScan, the average U.S. book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.  With average royalties that’s less than $5,000 a year for a book and less than $60,000 over a book’s lifetime for an Indie author, you cannot survive on just that income. The earnings figure is significantly less for traditionally published authors.

You can see detailed information on author earnings at Author Earnings.


Photo Source: Pixaby

Kepler’s Aphorism #1 – You cannot be a working writer unless you submit your work.

This typewriter was used by President John F. Kennedy to make changes to his speeches while on board Air Force One. (U.S. Air Force photo)

There is truth in my saying. A writer is not a writer until he has written his article, short story or book and submitted the work.

A traditional writer cannot sell the piece until the agent accepts it, shops it, and sells it. A self-published writer must write the book, edit the book, market the book, and upload it to Amazon or Apple Books or Kobo or one of the other self-publishing platforms and let the public see the work where they have the opportunity to buy it.

You can’t be a working writer if you don’t submit. You can write, read books on writing, attend writer’s conferences, belong to a writer’s group, have a writer’s business card, and even lead a writer’s group, but until you put your work out there, you cannot be a working writer.


Photo Source: Public Domain (http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/198115/air-force-one-typewriter/ and https://media.defense.gov/2007/Feb/21/2000513573/-1/-1/0/070221-F-1234S-002.JPG)

Nothing Routine About The Writer’s Life

Today is Wednesday, December 6, 2017. It was a chilly 45 degrees on my front porch this morning.

My Wednesday schedule is different from other days of the week. I arrive at my favorite coffee house a little later today. It was after 7 AM. They barista poured my tall cup of blonde roast coffee for me and I retired to my cold weather seat. On colder days I sit in the back of the coffee house away from the windows and door. This table has me away from the cold.

I connected to the Wi-Fi and launched Facebook. I write a reply to fourteen posts. If I respond to the posts and comments of people, they are more likely to engage my future posts and comments. The Bible says if this way in the book of Proverbs, chapter 18, verse 24a, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly:”

Two acquaintances stopped by my table to visit with me. One asked me about retirement preparation. He retires the end of this month. The other man engaged in causal small-talk.

Since yesterday morning I attended a webinar on social security and medicare which my financial services provider hosted. It was informative. They explained complex and unfamiliar topics in simple, understandable terms.

I listened to Joanna Penn’s interview on “The Alliance of Independent Author’s Indie Author Fringe Podcast.” The subject of the podcast was How to Be An Author Entrepreneur. A transcript of the podcast is at https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2017/11/29/how-to-be-an-author-entrepreneur/. The bottom-line of the podcast was the hearer answering the question, is your writing a hobby or business? If it is a business, Joann Penn gave practical how-to steps on how to manage your writing business.

I also listened to Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn Podcast. The episode I heard was Estate Planning For Authors With M.L Buchman. A transcript of the interview is at https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2017/12/04/estate-planning-for-authors-with-m-l-buchman/. The bottom-line was your intellectual property rights are valuable – both to you in your lifetime, but also for 70 years after you die according to copyright law. So what happens once you’re gone? Have you ensured that your heirs and successors can still benefit? Having several books published plus being in my mid-60s, I found the podcast interesting as my work will outlive me.

I also worked on a poem I’ve had in my head for a while.

Today I have walking for my health at the mall, lunch with my best guy friend, some afternoon walking, and writing, and then Wednesday night church on my agenda. I will also write another draft chapter in my forthcoming book with the working title “In Jesus’ Name” though I am thinking of titling the book “How to Pray for the Chronically Ill.”

Have a good day and remember, if you write one page a day (that’s about 250 words), Monday through Friday, at the end of one year you will have a 240-page book!

As you can see, there is nothing routine about the writer’s life. Each day is a new adventure.

7 Habits of Effective Writers

Author Carl Sandburg’s Office. He won three Pulitzer Prizes: Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln. US Government Public Domain Photo. Source: https://ridb.recreation.gov/images/80329.jpg

In 1989 the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey was published. I am using the idea to apply it to writers. Hence the title, “7 Habits of Effective Writers.”

The best place to start is at the beginning.

Habit One

Start.  You have to put your behind in a seat and begin to write.

Habit Two

Be consistent. I am not saying do it every day. I am saying write on a regular basis.

Habit Three

Have a positive outlook.  Walt Disney was credited with saying, “Think you can think you can’t, either way, you are right.” You need to believe you can and do the work.

Habit Four

Be committed for the long haul. It takes some time to write a story. One book wonders are the exception, not the rule. You can make a living as a writer, but it takes time and hard work.

Habit Five

Be willing to pay the price. When you pay the price in time, money and effort the price you paid is spent investing in yourself.

Habit Six

Never stop learning. You learn by attending conferences. You learn by reading books on the craft of writing. You learn by listening to podcasts and reading blogs. You learn by writing. You learn from your editor. You learn by reading books in the genre you write. An editor you ask. Yes, if traditionally published your encounter editors. If self-published you need to invest in professional editing.

Habit Seven

Have perspective. Your attitude is a key as I mentioned earlier. It’s okay to begin where you are and improve over time. If you are like me you write because you must write. You may need to do an attitude check if you want to have written, just sign autographs, and be adored by fans. I’m not saying that won’t happen. I am saying it is unlikely.

What is Scrivener?

What is Scrivener?

If you look up scrivener in the dictionary you will find the definition that a scrivener is a historical noun meaning a clerk, scribe, or notary.

Scrivener software is your scribe. The scribe is a powerful content-generation software for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft. Almost every wants to be a writer knows the first step to getting a book published is to complete writing the first draft.

How Does Scrivener Help?

  • Scrivener is your complete writing studio.
  • Scrivener helps you to write, structure, and revise your book.
  • Scrivener helps you create order from chaos
  • Scrivener helps you organize your research where it is not only within easy reach but where you can find your stuff.
  • Scrivener helps you get the first draft completed where you can compile and/or export it for printing.
  • Scrivener even has a ios version if you use an iPhone. So far there isn’t a version available for an Android user like me.
  • Scrivener is used by persons needing a long-form project management tool. The software is used by all sorts of professional and amateur writers, from best-selling and aspiring novelists to Hollywood scriptwriters, from students and academics to lawyers and journalists: anyone who works on long and difficult writing projects.

So, what is Scrivener

“Scrivener is aimed at writers of all kinds—novelists, journalists, academics, screenwriters, playwrights—who need to structure a long piece of text while referring to research documents. Scrivener is a ring-binder, a scrapbook, a corkboard, an outliner and text editor all rolled into one. It is primarily intended to be a first draft tool; although it is possible to complete a project that requires only basic formatting – such as a novel or short story – in Scrivener, often you will want to take your draft to a dedicated word processor or layout program for final formatting. Scrivener is intended to be a kind of “writer’s shed” for those of us who don’t have a spare shed.” 1


1From the introduction in the Scrivener tutorial in the software’s help file

My Story: The First Professional Writing Sale

Today I was sitting back and reflecting on the writer’s life. It got me to thinking. How did I get that first sale? That first book review?

The first sale involved learning the system.

I attended a Smokey Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference. I wanted to be a writer. I learned some of the basics of the magazine article writing. Maybe the most important happening at the conference was meeting editors and publishers. I talked to several publishers who expressed interest in working with new writers.

All the editors required that I write on speculation.

That means I wrote an article as assigned, but they have no obligation to buy my work. It allows them to see if I can follow their rules, meet their deadlines, write usable copy, etc.  It lets them see how thick-skinned you are and if you take criticism too personal.

A Kind Editor

I had a kind editor who loved taking a few rookie writers under his wing each year and mentoring them. I had to rewrite six times before he bought the first article. My payment was 2 1/2 cents per word.  I received a check for $12.50, three copies of the magazine – one for me, one for my parents, and one for my wife’s parents. Plus my name was on the by-line. Published by Lifeway Christian Resources in a little magazine called “Sunday School Leadership,” my article was in print. At the time, it had a magazine had a circulation of over 250,000 subscribers. My church members, seminary classmates, and members of the 40,000 plus Southern Baptist Churches in the USA, as well as most directors of Christian education of all denominations, read the magazine. I wrote the first professional sale article in the Emory University Library in Atlanta, Georgia. I lived close to the campus. It was a favorite place for me to hang out, read, write, and study.

I wrote an article or two for this editor every year for the next 15 years. It had taken me over a decade before I got a cover article. Once I did get a cover article, I got one every year until he retired.  The first article is very basic. It is titled: Who Does What? Click the link and read the article I wrote back in September 1981. It was published a year later.

Writing Book Reviews

In 1989, I asked about reviewing books. At the time, I would put a book review about once a month in my church’s newsletter. My editor was on the mailing list and said I wrote good reviews. He recommended me to a colleague. The thought of having someone give me a book for free to read was exciting to me. I bought and read about 100 books a year. The article for the first book I reviewed was titled “Book Review“.

I wrote this book review while sitting in my church bus. I had taken the senior adults from my church to an event in the Smokey Mountains. We had the afternoon free and had gone to tour the Vanderbilt Estate in Asheville, NC.  One woman refused to view the house. She was protesting paying homage to the rich and decadent lifestyle I think. Even though the cost of the tour was prepaid, she refused to go on it. It was autumn and cool in the mountains. I would not let her stay on the bus by herself. So, I sat out there on the bus all afternoon and wrote. I can write anywhere I think. The dear lady passed away just last year. She still had her strong convictions. The picture is of the Vanderbilt Estate.

Writing books reviews had started as a way for me to keep track of the books I read. The late Dr. Calvin Miller had suggested to me in the mid-1980s writing a one-page review each time you read a book. Some I included in the weekly church newsletter I edited. Others I filed for reference.  In June 2003 I started a book review blog, Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews, later renamed Kepler’s Book Reviews.  Military history started sending me books to read and review. They still do. By 2009 it was named a 100 Best Blog For History Buffs by onlineschools.org. From 2012 – 2014 the book reviews were syndicated. I was a featured book reviewer for Front Row Lit Magazine. I have received over 250 review copies of books and had offers for several hundred more I refused over the last decade. I have reviewed books for Casemate Publishing, Cladach Publishing, Naval Institute Press, Stackpole Press, Frontline Books, Pritzker Military Museum and Library, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster and a number of smaller presses as well as from publicists and directly from authors. I have also been an outside reader for several publishers.

What’s my point?

My point is if you love to read and write you can probably leverage it into a paying job.  You will never get rich. I was reminded at the DFW Writers Workshop this spring that less than one percent of all writers can support themselves writing full-time. In 2015 the average income for an author was between $5,000 and $30,000 a year. (source: thecreativepenn.com and authorearnings.com) So don’t quit your day job. If love writing why not go for it? Just write!


Jimmie Aaron Kepler 8/2016Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee-house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support engineer. He is a former Captain in the US Army. He holds BA, MA, MRE and EdD degrees. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. He is the author of seven books and collections available on Amazon. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.