Joshua Johnston was raised on science fiction television and film before being introduced, in his teenage years, to the wider universe of science fiction literature. In addition to his daily work teaching American history and American government, he is an occasional writer on a variety of topics, including video games and parenting. His debut novel, the science fiction epic Edge of Oblivion, released with Enclave Publishing in April 2016. You can find him online at www.joshuaajohnston.com
Anyone who writes fiction for a hobby inevitably reaches a crossroads: do I want to take the next step and try to become a published author? The answer will be different for each person, and there are tradeoffs for each. Ahead are five questions that a prospective novelist should try to think about:
- Do I want this to be a “hobby” or a “business?” In general, the IRS views a “hobby” as something that ultimately loses money, while a “business” is something that ultimately makes money (even by a small amount). Some fiction writers are content to pay someone to print their work just as a fun or valuable project, knowing they will never recoup their costs, while others write with the hope that their work sells enough to clear and exceed the investment they put into it.
If your answer is a “hobby,” the next questions are useful. If you answer is a “business,” the next questions are crucial.
- Am I willing to surround myself with talent? While Google and how-to books are fantastic resources for answering questions, inevitably every aspiring author is going to need people around them. Depending on one’s skillset, an author may need help building a website, for example, or securing a quality professional photograph. And every author benefits from people who can give them feedback on their writing.
- Am I willing to respond to feedback and criticism? No author likes being told to make changes to a novel they’ve worked so hard to craft. It’s our baby, we have a vision for it, and change is both disappointing and time-consuming. And what if, you worry, they give bad advice? Ask any published author of even modest success and they’ll tell you two things: 1) that criticism is hard and 2) that most of the feedback they received made their writing better. My science fiction novel, Edge of Oblivion, went through beta readers (some authors, some just fans of sci-fi) as well as the publisher’s professional macro and line edits; I would estimate that about 90-95% of the advice I got across the board was not only spot-on in hindsight, but was corroborated by other people giving me feedback. That’s a lot more good than bad.
- Should I query an agent, pitch directly to publishers, or self-publish? There are plenty of articles espousing the virtues of one single approach, but the honest truth is that each has their own pros and cons. Securing an agent can help access bigger publishers but can make the process longer; self-publishing can shorten the process dramatically but places all the logistics – and their costs – on the writer. What is best for you depends on many things, including your writing credits and your preferences. Whatever course you take, you need to research it carefully: if you submit an unsolicited manuscript to a small publisher, for example, make sure you’ve got a proposal that tells them exactly what they want to know along with a complete, polished manuscript ready to go.
- Do I have the time and will to build a platform? For aspiring authors, it can feel a little awkward to establish a platform before you have a product. It’s worth the trouble; whether you’re self-published or under contract with a massive publishing conglomerate, the more ways readers can find and interact with you (including before you have a product!), the more credible and ultimately the more successful you’ll be. If you don’t believe me, try finding a reasonably successful author who doesn’t have some sort of online presence. As with many things, everyone has an opinion on what is “best,” whether it be blogging, specific social media sites, or some special sauce to put into a website. Every author needs to evaluate what they have the resources and will to do, but it’s a given that having something resembling a hub to interact with readers is a given.
About Edge of Oblivion:
Earth has emerged from a cataclysmic dark age with little knowledge of its past. Aided by the discovery of advanced alien technology, humanity ventures into the stars, joining other sentient races in a sprawling, prosperous interstellar Confederacy.
That peace is soon shattered. Without warning, the Confederacy comes under attack by an unstoppable alien force from the unknown regions. With hopes for civilization’s survival dwindling, Commander Jared Carter is sent to pursue an unlikely lead: a collection of ancient alien religious fragments which may – or may not – hold the key to their salvation …
Book one of The Chronicles of Sarco series.
Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author who grew up an Army brat. After twenty-five years of marriage, she and her hunky hero husband have a full life with their children, a Maltese Menace, and a retired military working dog in Northern Virginia. She can be found at:
Reviewers call Ronie’s newest release, EMBERS, “Simply amazing!”