New Year’s Resolution: So You Want To Be a Writer
Happy New Year! If you’re reading this book blog, one of your New Year’s resolutions must be either starting to write or improving your writing — unless you’re a writer who’s already perfect, but I have yet to meet that person.
In my latest book, High School Reunion, the main character, named Steve (where could I have gotten that name?!) is a writer of gay romance who mentors aspiring writers. Everyone is an aspiring writer these days, and, despite the lamentations from the writing establishment, that’s exactly as it should be.
Before the invention of the printing press in the 1400s, producing one book (that is, one copy of one manuscript) cost the equivalent of $30,000 in today’s US dollars. When books cost $30,000, you can imagine it’s not easy to break into the world of writing. In those days before the printing press, the “bestsellers” were usually religious and philosophical texts that had reached acclaim over the span of centuries, and the usual customers were nobles who would splurge on perhaps one book every year or few years.
When the printing press came around, the cost of producing a book dropped to about $100 in today’s dollars. Remember: that’s just the physical cost of the book, not any royalties (it’s disputable whether those existed back then) due the originator of the manuscript. $100 was really, really cheap when compared with $30,000. A book became a splurge for the middle classes. And the intellectuals and academics often lamented that when the price of producing a book became so low, any come-along fool can become a writer. Clever young men (yes, it was almost always men) would show their prowess and social standing by writing a book and having a few copies of it published. And again the literary establishment — academic and religious — had a hissy fit that just about any fool could write a book. More practically speaking, the religiously and politically powerful lamented that heretics, round-earth-believers and other crazies could easily spread their ideas.
And now? The cost of physically producing a book is a few dollars for a printed book, and, most importantly, pretty much zero for an electronic book. Anybody can be a writer. And not only is it easier now than ever before to be a writer, but it’s also much, much harder.
Thanks to Amazon, a person with no literary or publishing-industry contacts can be on equal footing with someone deeply steeped in literature and publishing. That’s scary and wonderful to me. When I first started writing fiction for publication, three years ago, I thought I might hit up some of my contacts in literature and publishing. Yes, I personally know some famous writers and publishing industry bigshots. But guess what: it simply doesn’t matter. Ten years ago, I could’ve perhaps felt protected by my literary contacts and my academic credentials — insulated from “lesser” competition, somewhat secure. Ten years ago, when many of my friends who wrote software were scared of having their jobs upended by Indian and Russian coders who could program twice as fast for one tenth the cost, I snickered that at least in the literary world, we didn’t have such naked competition.
We now do. Not only can Americans (and Britons and Canadians and Australians and New Zealanders) who have never set foot in a New York publishing office be on equal footing with people who brunch with publishing bigwigs, but the fiction landscape has been absolutely shaken up by a wave of brilliant English-language writers from countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and Pakistan — countries where talent and work ethic are in no short supply, and where a royalty payment on a $3.99 book sale means a lot more than it does in the first world.
Three years ago, there were about one million books in the Kindle store. Now there are four million. Next year, who knows? Maybe ten million?
In the gay romance genre, there are new writers coming up all the time, every day, some of whom are outselling the proven big names. More than once now, I’ve had a completely new and unique book idea, and by the time I finished the book, I saw that someone else had released a book with the exact same idea while I was writing mine — not because they were looking over my shoulder or hacking into my laptop, but simply because there’s so much new talent that there’s always stuff coming out.
The good news for us writers is that, contrary to what you may have heard from your cranky uncle who claims the kids are all stupid, people now are reading more than they ever did before. That’s true pretty much in every age group and across every genre. No, reading isn’t dead, and there are more than enough new readers to match the new writers.
If you want to start writing, or write more, I don’t suggest you start by trying to write a novel. That’s daunting. I still find novels daunting to write, and I’ve done this a few times. I suggest you write emails or letters or journal entries describing whatever is on your mind. If you have an email pal, especially one who also wants to write, that is great practice. Write about everyday life. Write about your backache or your idiot boss or your cat’s new kittens or about the quilt you sewed or the model airplane you built. Put words on the page. And don’t be afraid of criticism. Be your own critic. Go over your pieces and see how you could have improved them.
Malcolm Gladwell famously conjectured that you have to do something for ten thousand hours in order to get good at it. Actually I hate Malcolm Gladwell, but there’s truth to this rule of thumb. Nobody, ever, and I mean ever, becomes a good writer by waiting for the muse to whisper to them. That’s as ridiculous as wanting to become a good bricklayer or a good chef or a good field goal kicker (like the main character in Student Health) by waiting for the muse’s whisper. I don’t know why people think that you can somehow become a good writer by staring off into space, but that simply isn’t true.
So join us. Get writing. Get publishing on Amazon. As I’ve told several friends: “The worst that can happen is low sales.” And it’s true. Worst-case scenario, nobody other than your parents buys your book. Still, who cares? You will have written a book, and it will be for sale on Amazon, and your wisdom or wit or rancor will have been preserved for the ages. That will be something to be proud of in every new year to come.
“It’s been twenty years.”
Steve has no interest in his high school reunion, until he remembers the one person who mattered to him back then: Mr. P, his senior-year English teacher. High school was rough for Steve, but Mr. P’s class was an oasis. Listening to Mr. P had sent Steve to pursue writing, and staring at Mr. P’s gorgeous face every morning made Steve come to terms with being gay.
Twenty years after graduation, Steve is decidedly single in Key West, but he can’t stop daydreaming about Mr. P — and sneaking into his upcoming high school reunion is his chance to make daydreams into reality.
“Maybe I’m ready for this now.”
David just got back into teaching after a long break. It wasn’t easy being outed to his wife and his students. After being shamed and fired from teaching, he tried living a new life in New York, but he wanted to get back to Florida and back to being a prep school English teacher.
Suddenly meeting his former student is a jolt back to David’s first days as a teacher, but can that former student be his future?
High School Reunion is a standalone second-chances gay romance with a feel-good HEA, a grumpy writer, a grumpier cat, literary discussions, old country music, Cuban coffee, and love hotter than the Key West sun.
Steve Milton writes gay romances with sweet love, good humor, and hot sex. His stories tend toward the sweet and sexy, with not much angst and definitely no downers. Steve crafts feel-good stories with complex characters and interesting settings. He is a South Florida native, and when he’s not writing, he likes cats, cars, music, and coffee.
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