Friday, April 23, 2010

You ARE a real author, dammit

There’s a list of questions you aren’t supposed to ask a woman, and I’ve never minded answering any of them.

I’ll cheerfully tell you my age (35), my height and weight (5’4” and 117 pounds), or the reason Pythagoras and I don’t have kids (we don’t really like them).

But until eight weeks ago, there was one question I truly dreaded:

How many books have you published?

Though the answer now is the same as it was eight weeks ago (none, yet), I can at least follow up by giving details of my upcoming releases.

But I still hate the question. Because let’s face it, the reason the person is asking is to determine if they’re talking to a “real author,” or…well, something less than that.

And that’s an implication that makes me uncomfortable even now that I have a three-book deal that apparently entitles me to carry the “real author” license.

It’s not just people unfamiliar with the publishing industry who seem hell-bent on distinguishing between “real authors” and whatever the opposite of that would be (unreal authors?) We do it ourselves as authors every time we sell ourselves short and allow people to make us feel inferior for the mere fact that we haven’t yet reached that next stage.

I guess this is why I find myself bristling now when someone suddenly treats me differently upon learning about my book deal. There’s a certain level of respect that comes along with that, and I’m not entirely comfortable with it.

I know I sound like an ungrateful bitch, but that’s not it at all. The thing is, I’m the same damn author I was eight weeks ago. Or eight years ago.

If you want to split hairs, two of the three books in my contract started with partial manuscripts I wrote nearly three years ago under a previous agent who just wasn't interested in them. These are the same damn books my current agent adores and my new editor recently gushed over, saying, “everyone here is just in love with your voice.”

So I haven’t changed, right?

But I have, at least in the eyes of writers and non-writers alike. In some ways, this makes my heart swell like a boner in a bad porn.

In other ways, it makes me angry. I’m angry on behalf of every author who’s ever felt sub-par because the magic wand of dumb luck hasn’t yet waved over her head and granted her an agent or a book deal or the level of respect she deserves just for trying to break into publishing.

Writing books is hard work. Everyone who’s ever attempted it deserves the “real author” label and all the respect that seems to come with it.

Whether you’re a brand new writer with distant dreams of publication or someone who’s lost count of the number of weeks spent on the New York Times Bestseller list, you’re still a “real author.”

You have to remember that. The world is primed to make the unpublished author feel inferior, and that can kill your self esteem even more than a bad critique or an outright rejection.

You are a “real author.”

Now go write some real books, dammit.

43 comments :

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

Candyland said...

I officially (dare I say) love you. I mean, the feelings were there before, but *BLEEP*...
You hit it on the head. I hate feeling inferior to published, writers on sub or even writers with agents when I'm trying my damandest to break in.

kristina said...

Hmm, now I have to be in awe of your book stats as well as your physical stats. ~grin~

I have loved your support of "non-pubbed" as well as "pubbed" authors in the past and I love you more now.

You are a great voice in the void of my morning Tawna.

Thanks!

Valerie Geary said...

Great post!! Thank you!!

Flannery said...

"In some ways, this makes my heart swell like a boner in a bad porn."

hahahahahahahaha! Only you. Fantastic.

I'm taking this post to heart, as I'm one of those with distant (whoo, very distant) dreams as yet.

Southpaw said...

"Now go write some real books, dammit."
I'm going, I'm going.

Jaydee Morgan said...

Awesome post! Thanks a bunch for saying it.

tammygallant.com said...

As always, I love your take on things. Thanks for standing up for us poor unpublished authors. ;)

Karla Nellenbach said...

yes, Ms. Tawna I'm working on writing some real books, dammit! thank you drill sergeant!
i <3 you, and not just because you've brought Matt the Cat into our lives...although I'd be lying if I said he had nothing to do with it ;)

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Thank you, Tawna! Your post lifts my spirits today. You rock, sista. Can't wait to buy all of your books :D

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

Thanks. I needed to hear that today :)

Cynthia Reese said...

You yell so nicely! And you are so true. Hmmm ... methinks there were times along those long and lonely years when I should have given you this speech myself.

Shannon said...

I think I'm crushin on you, Tawna. I just may turn into one of those crazed fans I warned you about. Don't worry, I'll vacuum for you.

Thanks for the pep post.

Linda G. said...

You know what I love about you? (Other than your boner similes, which I of course adore.) You just come out and say what so many of us are thinking. And you say it so well. :)

Theresa Milstein said...

Unreal author here! I tell people I write, and have now learned to add, "But I don't have any books published... yet," just as they open their mouths. After working at this for five years, I don't want to hide it, but dread explaining it too.

Thanks for the laugh and showing how the perception of you hasn't changed, even if you haven't. I loved that you shared how your manuscripts were taken before and after the change.

Iris Kao said...

If I am not having doubt about my talent, I'd shout it out with you. I feel alive when my words create characters, places, and stories that only exist in the audience+my own minds. Is that good enough? Am I qualified?

I look forward to a day when I am as sure as you are and have the certainty to say "I am a real writer." And I will remember you once told me I am.

Thank you for the post, I suspect it will stay with me for a long while.

LR said...

Right on. Thanks for the words of encouragement.

It's disappointing that some people turn snooty and highfalutin once their books come out. But one should never forget that today's unpubbed author could be tomorrow's bestselling author so everyone should be treated with a little respect a la Aretha. :)

danicaavet said...

Thanks Tawna. I've just now grown comfortable saying I'm a writer. Yes, I still get "the look" when I describe what I write, but I'm learning to deal with it better. And yes, some people still ask me when they see me "so, did you get published yet?" which can only be answered with a big fat resounding "no". But it will happen. Sooner or later. There's always hope!

Sydnee said...

*stands up slowly, nods, and begins The Slow Clap(TM)*

Well said, Tawna. Well said.

Jan Markley said...

I hate when people call themselves aspiring writers - no, you are already a writer and are aspiring to be published (or whatever you aspire to)!

Deborah said...

Amen. It took me years to accept that I was an author - even though I am not published in book form. Yet.

And I still dread the: when are you getting published? Especially when the question comes from one of my kids. I want them to believe in themselves enough to pursue whatever dream is close to their hearts, and there's a level of guilt I carry when I say "I'm working on it" instead of (enter date here). I want to say: here. Read it. Love it. Hate it. I don't care. I did it. I realized my dream, now go realize yours.

Congratulations on realizing yours Tawna (who I 'found' via the lovely Linda Grimes, but whom I follow because frankly, I love your style).

Take care and thanks for the virtual kick in the @ss/pat on the back. :)

Deb

Christi Goddard said...

I know that I'm a writer, but fighting off inferior blues is hard when each personally formulated query letter is returned, some within minutes, with a 'not right for me.' It leaves you wondering if it's 'right' for anyone. I have faith in my writing ability, just not in the lottery it is to find an agent. My luck is crap. And in the back of my mind is 'but the world is going to end before it even makes it to the shelf...' with how long it takes from agent acceptance to shiny cover available on Amawhore.com. Not that I believe the Apocolypse is nigh, but I've been wrong before...

Patrick Alan said...

I always thought it was a little rude to ask a woman how many books she's published, so instead I usually mumble something like "You have nice boobs. Can I touch them?"

That usually avoids any awkwardness.

If she wants to tell me about her books, that's fine, but it's her choice.

Tawna Fenske said...

Holy crap, I'm so glad this post hit home for so many of you! Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting.

I'm still on the road doing wine industry research, and my computer time is a bit too limited to allow me to respond to everyone individually right this moment, but thanks so much for all your great feedback.

Keep on keepin' on!
Tawna

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Tawna, this was, in fact, an awesome post!

Based on my own experience, I'd like to add that along with un-published and pre-published, a lot of the general public seems to think that self-published and e-published = less than a real author.

Every time I read a post (on a blog or forum) about an author behaving badly in public or online, somebody always asks: "Are they self-published?" Because everybody knows "those people" are just pretending to be authors and apparently have no manners in addition to living in a fantasy land.

I don't know why human beings are so predisposed to establishing pecking orders. If you write, you ARE an author. The state or media of your publication shouldn't matter.

David Sheppard said...

Thank you for this. I've been preaching this for so many years that I've lost count. Published authors do have a halo, or at least in the minds of the public, and the reason is that publishers have presented their authors as if they are something special and beat down those not published. Everyone not published was labeled a "vanity" author. As if we are not all vanity authors. But the class system is crumbling, and I believe the world is a better place for it.

WendyCinNYC said...

I think it's the same for any creative profession. My neighbor is a Broadway actor--everyone's first question is, "What shows has he been in?" A friend makes her living as a photographer: "Where do her photos run?" Most people are curious and just want to have something to say. Some people, of course, are summing you up. But that's everywhere.

It's when writers themselves treat each other differently that gets under my skin the most.

Good post!

Shain Brown said...

No matter what you are called or what you wish to answer to, you are my rock star.Your humor and personality help to make each of my days better. Dont forget it...

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I'm so glad I found your blog today. Having just finished my first novel, a paranormal romance, I wish to consider myself a true author. But I feel somewhat of a fraud as I haven't found a publisher yet.

Great post.

CJ xx

Virginia said...

Thank you...having fairly recently completed my first book and proposal, which I've been shopping around (2 agents read the full, both rejected it kindly), I needed to hear this. If I hear one more person tell me "I'm going to write a book," or "When you're rich, after you sell your book," or "Where have I seen your work," well, you know. I still feel like a fraud, despite all the hard work.

Congrats to you on your 3-book deal - that's a dream come true.

Jeannie said...

Thank you for this post and congratulations on your three book deal.

Damien Walters Grintalis said...

Fantastic post, Tawna, and congratulations on your book deal - that's wonderful news!

Patty said...

Tawna, I swear, I'm printing out this post to staple it to my husband's forehead. OK, maybe glue. Tired of hearing I'm not a real writer. My characters wake me up at night, demanding to know why I haven't written their Big Scenes yet. I blatantly transcribe the conversations I overhear in public places (never know when news of Rick's trophy wife sleeping with the lawn guy can be worked into a project). I paper entire walls with Post-it notes detailing plot lines. I slave endlessly over query letters and synopses. I WRITE, damn it, I write.

*breathes deep* OK. I feel better now.

Great post.

Tawna Fenske said...

Thanks again to everyone who's been commenting on this blog post! Normally, I take great pains to respond personally to everyone in the comments trail, but alas, I'm still playing catch-up after last week's wine research trip. Rest assured, I've read and deeply appreciated all of your comments. Thanks for reading, guys!

Tawna

Claire Dawn said...

I would like to see a murderer argue to a court that he's not a "real murderer" because he only killed one person!

Back in 2002, Alicia Keys won best new artist. At the time, she'd only released on album, but I doubt anyone would disagree that she could sing the panties off a virgin (although I'm not sure why she'd want to...) She was a singer before the award and before the album.

Artist is a state of mind!

Lani Woodland said...

I loved this post!!

Tanya Dennis said...

"We do it ourselves as authors every time we sell ourselves short and allow people to make us feel inferior for the mere fact that we haven’t yet reached that next stage."

You're right!! I did it just this morning. Someone asked if I was a writer, then what I write. I answered with stuttering drivel, something about websites and junk.

I AM A WRITER. Hear me type.

Mizzez Melly Mel said...

What a great post!

I'm a writer dammit! You hear me, world?! I'm a writer!

Jen J. said...

I wanted to say thank you for this post, as well as your 'You're tougher than you think' post. Both of these posts are very timely for me and extremely encouraging as a new author who has just finished her first manuscript (it's the fifth one in reality, but this is the first one I've been satisfied enough with to find representation; the others were strictly a learning experience). I'm attending my very first mystery writers conference this week-end and I constantly have that 'What are you doing? You're not a real author!' discussion with myself when I think of interacting with published authors and agents. So thank you for both of these posts as I launch into the realm of query rejections and making contacts with publishing profressionals. It gave me a much needed boost of confidence.

BTW, I'm new to your blog and your Twitter but I'm very much enjoying them, and I'm looking forward to your book release in August of next year...

Tawna Fenske said...

I love how this post keeps getting retweeted and recirculated! Makes me happy to know it resonates with people like this.

Thanks so much to all who've read and commented!

Tawna

Jessica said...

I love nothing more than finding something I have in common with someone I think is cool. And I'm right a lot, so that means you probably are.

I've been lurking around your site since yesterday and LOVE it! I, too, am 35. I, too, do not have kids b/c well, we really don't want them. And though our height (5'7") and our weight (*mumble mumble*) don't jibe, I still think we could hang.

Keep up the awesomeness!!! Thanks for the inspiration!

Simon C. Larter said...

Preach it, sister.

Angelina said...

Patrick's comment has completely uplifted me on a very low day.

I loved this post too. I remember the day when I called myself a writer. I was twenty three, writing lots of crappy poetry with the occasional good one, living in San Francisco... I was submitting my poetry all over the place and publishing my own little books (in the worst definition of self publishing) and realized that whenever I talked to people about writing I always said "I write" not "I'm a writer". Suddenly I realized that being a writer isn't about being published, it's about writing every day, constantly working to improve that skill, taking it seriously, and working to get it out there. The difference between a "real" writer and a dabbler? The dabbler doesn't care that much if anyone reads their work, they don't have specific things to say or a fire burning under their ass. The real writer is someone who does it, practices it constantly, and who cares very much about getting what they have to say out there because they have lots of shit to say.

I have never looked back. I'm 41 now and still unpublished. I've just finished writing my first novel and have my first agent looking at the full manuscript- I am farther along than I ever have been but I'm glad that all these years of being unpublished has never once made me feel like less of a writer than those who have been published. I'd love for all writers to embrace what they know they are.

All published writers used to be unpublished writers. Every last one of them.

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