For the Want of a Crystal Ball
D. A. Ratliff
Writing. Can’t live with it. Can’t live without it.
Ask anyone who has the urge—no, the need—to write, and they will tell you that once that creative need possesses you, you have to write. I feel a compulsion to write and immense satisfaction that regardless of whether anyone else reads my words, that I wrote them.
A while back, a fellow author asked me to write an article about my writing journey for her blog. Like all writers, I had the usual reasons—a love of reading and influences in the form of my father and my favorite elementary school teacher to spur me to write. But what keeps me writing?
As a fan of mystery novels and action thrillers, my reading, when I can find time for it, centers on works from authors like Michael Connelly, Clive Cussler, or John D. MacDonald. Throw in a good sci-fi or fantasy, and I am a happy reader. When the urge to write began to creep into my soul early in my life, I envisioned being a famous mystery author someday. Of course, I was twelve at the time, so I suppose that daydream wasn’t too embarrassing then. Now, that same desire to publish a mystery novel remains, but hopefully without the delusions of grandeur my twelve-year-old self expected.
I have the good fortune (or, on most days, good fortune) to be an administrator for a large writing group on Facebook. There are many reasons that it is an enjoyable opportunity. Engaging with members at all levels of writing is cathartic. Most writers can identify with the confusion and timidity of novice writers as we have all been there. The experienced and published authors offer guidance and encouragement to those of us who strive to publish our first novel.
All right… let’s get personal—my first novel.
That’s where a crystal ball to tell the future would come in handy.
When I first had the urge to write again after many years, and more importantly, the time, I decided to hone my rusty writing skills by writing fanfiction. While working, I wrote many personal and training manuals, newsletters, marketing material, advertising copy, and the like but zero fiction. As there is a distinct difference in writing fiction and non-fiction (although there is a movement toward creative non-fiction, which is another discussion entirely), I felt writing fanfiction about my favorite canceled science-fiction series would be just the exercise I needed.
I jumped in, and by the time I finished, I had written eighty stories (from short stories to novellas). I believed that by not needing to create the characters or world build, I could concentrate on story development. Once I felt confident in my storytelling ability, I began to create original characters to interact with the canon characters and soon moved on to world building. When I decided my skills were strong enough, I embarked on writing a science fiction/murder mystery/romance.
Okay, pretty ambitious combination of genres and only possible because Amazon/KDP provides a platform for mixed genres that traditional publishers and their narrow marketing programs don’t allow. I finished that novel, all 116,000 words of it. I haven’t published it.
Then I began writing a murder mystery with the main character a photographer. A cozy mystery of sorts with romance thrown in the mix. I finished it. I haven’t published it.
Next, another novel, another murder mystery/thriller with the main character a lawyer but the secondary character a police chief. I finished it. I haven’t published it.
And then—a detective murder mystery intended to be a series. I haven’t quite finished it, but… you get the picture.
So why haven’t I published?
Why the heck haven’t I?
That’s where a crystal ball would have come in handy. Seeing what my future was going to be might have facilitated planning things a bit better.
I am not alone. Many of us have finished manuscripts we have yet to query to an agent or find a publisher or self-publish. There are some inherent issues with finding agents and traditional publishers, time being one of them. The process of querying an agent, securing one, and having them find a publisher is tedious and anything but fast. Going directly to a publisher is no guarantee that the process will be any faster.
The time and effort to publish the traditional route is a difficult one that requires patience. Besides, writing a query letter and a book synopsis is more challenging than writing a book. I have drafted a lot of query letters and hated each one of them.
That takes us to self-publishing. A more straightforward path but still wrought with problems. I don’t know about you, but I choose my writing to be grammatically and structurally correct. However, when publishing on one’s own, hiring a professional editor can be expensive but necessary. That issue alone can keep us from hiring an editor.
Don’t forget that pesky cover. What do all the “experts” tell us? The cover of our book needs to be catchy, tasteful, and reflect the book’s plot. Well, no pressure there.
This costs money. Money we may never recoup after publication. So what do those who decide I want to publish, and I want to publish now, do? We do the best we can. First, determine a budget and decide if you can live with the fact you may never realize enough royalties from your work to cover the cost of preparing the book for publication. If you can do that, then search for editors who offer a discount or charge little to start with, but don’t forget the adage that you get what you pay for, because it’s true.
Inexpensive book cover designers advertise on several websites, but please be wary of the “cover for Five dollars” mantra. Again, you get what you… well, you know, so always get references.
But that’s not the only reason that many of us drag our heels before we commit to publishing.
In my case, I am fortunate to have friends who deal with the English language and writing every day who are willing to read my work for grammar mistakes. I also embarked upon educating myself on writing cleaner with fewer grammar mistakes and writing proper structure. Do I use a grammar program? Yes, I do, and I realize grammar programs are not perfect, so I rely on the kindness of my friends to tell me to stop writing comma slices. I hear that a lot.
I am also lucky to have some skill with Photoshop and a decent eye, so I create my covers. I still have them critiqued but so far, so good. That saves me money, but the angst of doing a decent job on a cover is always present.
It would appear my procrastination at publishing is moot. Yet, I haven’t published.
What is my problem?
I think my problem is a lot like all authors who are on the verge of publishing. Life gets in the way. Or at least, we allow it to.
I finished the science-fiction novel just as a family issue arose, and I became a caregiver. Then one personal issue and another, and I’ll stop here. There isn’t anyone who cannot identify with this scenario. I like to tell myself that the time I spend dealing with the large writing group, which takes a great deal of my time, is another reason. After all, we have published five anthologies, and the sixth one is going to press. That takes time.
Okay… that’s an excuse.
And now I have run out of them.
It is time to do this. I have always been a proactive person in most situations but a tad lax when it comes to my own needs.
Please don’t do what I have done. Remember, your needs are essential, and for whatever reason you wish to publish, for money, for possible fame, or the satisfaction of accomplishing your goal, just do it. There is a reader out there who will enjoy your story.
Me? I gazed into that crystal ball. I see a published book with my name on it soon.
D. A. Ratliff
Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and a love of writing. A career in science and human resources provided the opportunity to write policies/procedures and training manuals, articles, and newsletters, but her lifelong love of mystery novels beckoned. Deborah began writing mysteries and her first novel, Crescent City Lies, will be published in 2021 with a second novel, One of Those Days, to follow. Deborah regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog, Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing site, Writers Unite! which has 78,000+ members from around the globe.