Have you ever stopped to think about how your favorite author got to where they are, how they wrote and published so many books, how your most loved novels ended up on your bookshelf? Probably not. Most people don’t. At least, most people who aren’t writers don’t. But for those of us who write, contemplating the path to writing success is something we do on a regular basis.
I was a writer when I wrote my first story about magic roller skates in elementary school. I was a writer when I attempted my first magical realism romance at 20 and I was a writer when I completed my first full manuscript at 32. I’m a writer now with nearly four finished manuscripts under my belt.
But if you ask me to compare myself to Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or any other published and uber-successful author, my automatic response would be instant cackling laughter. Because the steps involved in getting from my little corner of the universe to theirs is as vast as the interior of any black hole.
I once thought the stages of being a writer were like a ladder, with the newborn writer on the bottom rung and super-success stories on the top. But having been involved in the writing community for several years, I’m much more likely to turn that ladder sideways and view it as a timeline instead. After all, we’re not working against gravity. We’re just working against time. (Except for you hard sci-fi writers…you might actually be working against gravity.)
The stages of writerhood tend to go as follows:
Newborn Writer—Realizes affinity for writing, attempts stories, dabbles in ideas.
Fledgling Writer—Has at least one finished manuscript, probably raw and unrevised, but oh-so-beautiful.
Emergent Writer—Has begun to realize the importance of community and is eager (if terrified) to get feedback on finished or in-process works.
Working Writer—In a constant state of writing something new, editing something old, and getting feedback from a much loved tribe.
Querying Writer—A working writer who has moved into querying literary agents.
Agented Writer—A writer who has gotten agent representation, but is mired in revisions before going on submission to publishing houses.
Subbing Writer—Agented writer whose work is on submission to publishing houses, but has not yet been accepted.
Accepted Writer—Agented writer whose subbed work is accepted & who has been offered a deal with a publisher.
Counting Writer—Writer who counts the days until their publication date and hops from foot to foot, eager to relay news they can’t share until their publisher has given them the green light.
Published Author—Writer whose work has been published and theoretically read by people who don’t share their home or genetics.
Working Published Author—Published writer in a constant state of writing something new, editing something old, and getting feedback from agent and much loved tribe. Also, writer who fears they will never be able to write a second book.
Multi-Published Author—Writer who has published a handful of books, has stayed the course despite the high barriers to entry and has begun to feel as though they just might ‘do this.’ Still works a day job to pay the bills.
Professional Author—Writer who has published books that have earned enough in royalties to actually constitute a salary.
Uber-Successful Author—Writer whose books have become movies, whose characters have become household names, whose pages have been read again and again. Also, writers who may seclude themselves for protection from overwhelming fanbase.
What’s most amazing to me is the willingness of writers at every stage of the game to help those who are one or two steps behind them—Working Writers who draw out Emergent and Fledgling Writers and encourage them to join critique groups; Agented Writers who cheer on Querying Writers and who offer to help revise query letters; Published Authors who help ‘push’ a Counting Writer’s work because they know the book that’s about to come out is insane and they want their readers to know about it; Multi-Published Authors who run online writing contests that offer Querying Writers a chance to have their work seen by agents. So. Much. Love.
So much love on so many levels. And that’s what makes this community worth being a part of. In the past, I’ve compared writing to video games and this model is consistent with that idea. Expect to see me tweeting #WritersLevelUp to encourage writers of all levels to keep going. If you’re dedicated, willing to work, and passionate about what you do, there’s only one person who can keep you from leveling up, and that’s you. So get involved, get passionate, and encourage others to do the same.
(And if you’re a writer on one of the further rungs on the timeline, feel free to let me know if there’s something I’ve missed. I think I covered the basics, but as a Querying Writer, my ideas of what happens next may be skewed!)