Mark Terry

Friday, April 27, 2007

That Author Thing


April 27, 2007


I remember having a conversation with my editor at my previous publisher (High Country), Judy Geary. I don't remember the details, but she commented how one of her other authors "really enjoyed playing author." This was in the context of promotion, and Judy was suggesting that this writer really enjoyed the process of doing book signings and author events, that she really liked that aspect of being a novelist.

I desperately wanted to be an author. I started my senior year in college, having been bitten hard by the writing bug, and I was convinced that first miserable piece of shit novel was a thing of beauty that would be snatched up by the first publisher to read it, who would throw bushels of bucks on my head and I would be well on my way to fame and fortune, baby! I was, in other words, clueless.

Many, many years followed and I wrote regularly. Some of those manuscripts even got read by editors and/or agents. (Oh, you thought you were the only one who wrote things and then couldn't even get the damned things read by anybody in the business?) I had at least one near-miss, had an agent, then another...

I was pretty much latched onto this fantasy of being the author. Yet, it was clear to me, that what I liked was writing.

Somewhere in there I started getting some book reviews published, then the occasional article. Eventually, as you know, I started really getting articles published as well as some book-length fiction, and this led eventually to me quitting my day job to write fulltime.

I remember once commenting to someone (I know who, but I won't bother with that detail) that I always thought I wanted writing to change my life, which it did; but what I really wanted was for it to change my lifestyle.

It did. Eventually.

From time to time it occurs to me that what I wanted out of my writing I got from freelance writing, and what I thought I wanted out of my writing I did not get from my fiction. I wanted to write. I wanted to make my living as a writer. I didn't want bosses or commutes. I actually wanted to stay at home and write.

And it further occurs to me--often with the force of a sledgehammer to the forehead--that I probably didn't, in reality, wish to be an "author" per se, but a "writer." I'm sure I would be glad to make the same amount of money writing fiction as I do nonfiction (very much so), but that the so-called trapping of being an "author," the fantasy of fan letters, book signings and going to conferences and being introduced as an "author," all of which I have experienced, really pale to the reality of being able to sit down at your computer every day and write and know that it's not a hobby, it's a job, that an editor will read your work, that it will get published, that you will get paid for the privilege.

I can take or leave "playing author." But I can't quit being a writer. And the longer I'm in this business, the more important I think the distinction is.

Best,

Mark Terry

7 Comments:

Blogger spyscribbler said...

Until several years after beginning to write, I never really met an author, except in terms of friends when I joined RWA. I didn't have those impressions, LOL. I pretty much thought an author stayed at home all the time, and wasn't very social.

Although, I'm still starstruck by certain authors, and I'm sure if I ever get the opportunity to meet Nora Roberts or John Irving or Stephen King, I'll probably be tongue-tied and ridiculous.

The only "authoring" I do is reader email. I'm so touched that some readers share things that are close to their hearts, vulnerable things that they feel comfortable enough to share because of something in my words that touched them.

I always feel a little ridiculous and unworthy when I respond. I still haven't quite got the knack of making them feel as good as they made me feel.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Amen, Mark. This is pretty much exactly how I feel. Just not having to go in to the office is so important in itself!

I've often crabbed about not wanting to "play author" but, ironically, if I'd had the chance thirty years ago, I suspect I might've leapt at it and made a total fool of myself.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I suppose the "other hand" is that in some ways we're being told, look, the price of making your living sitting in your office typing up your fantasies is that you have to go out in public and "play author."

The reality for most novelists is that there's no correlation between "playing author" and the amount of income you derive from the writing, which is where much of the "disconnect" occurs.

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