Sorry. You probably came here looking for Tips and Tools. Instead, you found a disturbing Truth:
You can’t become a Great Author.
Before you get angry, you should know that the truth is worse than you think:
No one can become a Great Author.
Now you can get angry.
You’re probably saying that this is not true, and you can rattle off a dozen examples by the last name alone: King, Tolkien, Lovecraft, Gaiman, Rowling, Meyer… People who painted vivid pictures and epic sagas and amazing characters with only some words on a page.
I wanted to become a Great Author, and I read dozens of books that tell you how. I read books that promise your manuscript can be the gold the interns lust after as they sludge through the slush pile into the thin morning hours.
But it’s all lies.
Avoid Passive Writing, one would say. Watch Your Point of View, says another. Make your protagonist human. Make your villains hateable. Write as much as you can. Write every day. Vary your sentence length. The secret is in the revision. Three-part story structure. Show, don’t tell. Be transparent. Work on your voice…
Lies. None of this will make you a Great Author.
I read the blogs of authors who actually made the book deal. I read about when they write, how they write, why they write, and what music they listen to while they write. I read about authors who don’t like their own stories, begrudging cranking out contractually-obligated manuscripts. I read about authors with a successful series of published books behind them and a multi-book contract ahead of them, they still need to hold down a second job, and thank goodness their spouse has a full-time job with medical insurance. They stuff their blogs with handy tips about how you can be a Great Author just like them.
I read dark fiction / fantasy books like my own, trying to figure out what makes them good and what makes them suck. I dissected classics like a coroner stumbling through an alien autopsy while drunk and blindfolded, trying to tell one piece from another by touch, taste and smell. All I have left to show are a stack of books I really can’t read anymore. Like my friend who let me look up her skirt on the school bus, and now I’ll never see her in the same way again.
I could walk over to the bargain bin at Half-Price Books and pick out at least one book neither of us have ever heard of, but it’s better than most of the current rack of Bestsellers at Borders.
The Truth about Great Authors
Some of you already see through the veil of deception. It’s semantics. A word-game. The truth is that you can’t CHOOSE to become a Great Author, any more than you can choose to become a Lottery Winner.
This is summed up nicely in a simple illustration from The Art of War for Writers by David Scott Bell. At the bottom are those who dream and dabble. Naturally, the size of each section decreases as you go up the author’s career ladder. At the “top” are those who have several published works beneath their belts. But these authors aren’t necessarily “Great” and in fact, they might not even be “Good” but regardless they made it to the “top.” Their reward is not an Automatic Bestseller as you might think. Instead, they get a chance on the wheel.
Illustration of the author’s career path from James Scott Bell’s The Art of War For Writers
The Wheel Of Fortune
Great Authors are not picked off the street, they are picked off the top half of the pyramid in David Scott Bell’s illustration. Every single story you complete, every novel you publish, is an entry in the Author’s Wheel of Fortune. Every published work gets put Out There for the public to judge. Every one of them has the opportunity to become the next Bestseller.
But most of them are destined for the Bargain Bin. Thanks for playing, but we have some lovely parting gifts for you.
Why is this Good News for Writers?
You might think this is all very pessimistic. Intellectual Poison spread to dissuade others from even trying. Actually, I think it’s liberating. Sure, you don’t get to choose whether you win, but you can choose if you want to play.
Your novel has a shot at bestseller status just like James Rollins does. Think about that. Once you realize that you really only control your author career to a certain point, then you can focus on what matters -building a body of solid works. Consistent. Quality. A Platform. A Reputation.
Tipping the Scales
Yes, there are those who want to figure out how the wheel works. They spend endless time, money and effort trying to cheat the system, but here is all you really need to know:
The more you play, the better your odds. The better your entries, the better your odds. These two tips combined have an exponential effect on your odds of becoming a Great Author. If you have lots of entries, each better than the last… do the math. That’s better odds than spending time and money on a viral video campaign for a crappy knockoff of Twilight that hasn’t been professionally edited.
I guess I lied. There is one way that you can become a Great Author: