Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, November 01, 2010

What Makes an Author?

Had a ball Saturday. Spent the afternoon at the Provo Library Teen Book Fest. Really well done event with lots of readers, authors, and tons of cool events. Sat on a fantasy panel with Brandon Sanderson and Brandon Mull. They suggested maybe I should change my name to Brandon Scott Savage. I’m totally considering it. I think my favorite part of the panel was when I mentioned (regarding B&N creating a separate section for Teen Paranormal Romance) that even Mull put romance in his Fablehaven series. His response, “Even thirteen-year-olds want to get it on,” drew audible gasps and a suggestion that we put a mute on his mike. Very funny stuff. Scott Westerfeld gave a great presentation. I think the Provo library is posting a video in case you missed it.

That evening, Jen and I got to make up our youngest two sons as The Grim Reaper and a zombie for Halloween. (I know Halloween was actually on Sunday, but here in Utah, most of the kids go out Saturday night when the holiday falls on Sunday) I think the coolest part was using latex to create bloody peeling sores on Jake’s face. Man why didn’t I know about latex when I was a kid? So yeah, good times. I also discovered the band I plan on posting about this Friday, for retro Friday on my jscottsavage blog, is reuniting for their first new album in twenty three years. I won’t say who the band is, but the announcement was made less than two weeks ago, and I can’t wait to hear the new album.

Staying mum on Demon Spawn except to say that it should be out to publishers by the time you read this. More news soon on Farworld, The Fourth Nephite, and Dark Memories.

I had several ideas for today’s blog. But a question I was asked Saturday made up my mind. The question sounds pretty straightforward. What does it take to be an author? I guess the answer could depend to some extent to how you define an author. Do you have to publish something? Do you have to complete a book, story, article? Is it what you believe or what others believe about you?

I’d love to get your opinions, but to me being an author is all about belief.

Writing is good, but alone it doesn’t make you an author. Anyone with a pencil and a piece of paper can string words together. Getting published is a wonderful feeling. But there are plenty of people whose words have shown up in publications, who are not—in my opinion—anywhere close to being authors. And I know some incredible authors who haven’t published a single word.

I also don’t believe it matters what anyone else thinks about you. I published my first three books with a Utah publisher probably no one outside of Utah, Idaho, and maybe a few other western states had ever heard of. I often write when I am on planes. Occasionally people would see what I was doing and ask, “Are you an author?” I hated answering yes, because the next question was ALWAYS, “Have I heard of any of your books?” The truthful answer was something like, “Not unless you’ve ever heard of Deseret or Seagull book stores.”

When I answered no, they probably hadn’t heard of my books, they always gave me this kind of pitying look. So I started saying, “Oh yeah. I’m sure you’ve heard of Cutting Edge and House of Secrets.” Of course they would nod. “Yes, that does sound familiar.” It was win/win. I felt good about myself and they could tell all their friends they sat on the plane next to a famous author.

The thing is, it didn’t matter whether they thought I was an author or not. It didn’t change my accomplishments, my talent, my desire, or my belief in myself. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered there are people I never might have imagined who had actually heard of and read my books, and people who hadn’t heard of authors I knew were New York Times bestsellers.

I didn’t become an author when I got an agent. I didn’t become an author when Shadow Mountain agreed to publish Farworld. It didn’t make me an author when I had a book sell over 20,000 copies, and I won’t be any more of an author if I sell a million copies.

What made me an author was the day I decided I was going to take my writing seriously. When I decided I was going to study other authors and see how they did what they did. When I committed to improving my craft to the very best of my ability, learning every marketing tip and trick I could, and working as hard as I could to accomplish my goals.

I know it sounds like a cliché, but being an author comes down almost completely to state of mind. Writing can be a great hobby. It can be a way to relieve stress. There’s nothing wrong with starting a story and not finishing it; any more than there’s anything wrong with not finishing a drawing or guitar lessons or making a batch of chocolate chip cookies. (Okay, that may be going a bit too far. There is something morally wrong about not finishing chocolate chip cookies. Unless, you let me eat the cookie dough, in which case I’m down with that.)

There’s nothing wrong with dabbling in any of the arts.

But if you want to cross the line to being an author, the first step is inside your head. I’ve met lots of people who after receiving constructive criticism on their books, decided that editing was too much work, and found someone who would publish what they had written. Maybe they consider themselves authors. They wrote a complete book. And if you are willing to spend the money, you can get a copy. But to me a real author is the person who wants to make their book the very best it can be. The day you decide that writing is a craft that requires study, practice, and lots and lots of works—and then start putting in the time and effort that requires—you can rightfully begin calling yourself an author in my book.


At 11/01/2010 6:24 AM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

Brandon Sanderson is one of my favourite authors!

I think that part of being an author -- a good one, that is -- is understanding people and how they tick, especially if they tick differently than you do personally. I don't think you can write convincingly if you don't know why people do what they do.

At 11/01/2010 10:42 AM, Blogger Rebecca Talley said...

Excellent post.

At 11/01/2010 10:43 AM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Is it the Doobie Brothers? I saw that they just released an album, after, well, probably 20 years or maybe more.

Regarding becoming an author:

At 11/01/2010 10:46 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Nice, Jon! :)

Nope, not the Doobies. Although they are on the list. These guys showed up in the 70's and were known for being early new wave.

At 11/01/2010 11:49 AM, Blogger Krista said...

Great post! I agree 100%. I MADE the decision to treat myself, research, connect like an author, when my first novel was still in submission. It made a huge difference in my productivity and outlook. It made being accepted that much sweeter, as if I could say to myself, "See? You were right."

At 11/01/2010 12:09 PM, Blogger Michael Knudsen said...

I felt like a writer after I'd completed the first draft of a novel. I didn't feel like an AUTHOR until I attended my first Storymakers conference and bootcamp, re-wrote the manuscript 3 more times, stacked up 6 rejections, revised it one more time at a publisher's request and finally got an acceptance for the book.

At 11/01/2010 1:08 PM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

Oh, I'm bookmarking this one. =]

At 11/03/2010 5:37 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

"in which case I’m down with that."

Sounds like you've been hanging with teenagers this weekend :)

This post comes at a good time, Jeff. Although I have several books published and have gone through edits on all of them, I STILL dread the edit process. Which I'm procrastinating right now . . .

At 11/04/2010 12:42 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

I'm not a published author yet but I will be one day. In the mean time my current day-job co-workers ask me details about my imaginery friends who walk in and out of my brain. They are all very different and have a story to tell and since they won't shut up I'm sure some day I will get it all down on paper. In the meantime I am expanding all my fields of interest through research and I'm enjoying every step of the way. For me the journey is just as much fun as the destination.


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