Recently my wife’s friend referred to my writing as hobby. Initially I was taken aback and slightly annoyed.
Does she know how many hours I put into my first novel?
Does she know how much time I dedicate weekly in pursuit of my writing career?
Does she know how much money I’ve invested in getting this career going?
Does she realize how hard it was for me to land a literary agent?
Of course the answer to all these questions is no.
But it got me thinking: when do you graduate from being a hobbyist to being a professional writer. Maybe my wife’s friend is correct. Maybe my writing is just a hobby?
I honestly can’t even pinpoint the nunber of hours I put into my first novel, Paws on the Ground. It has to be in the thousands though. I wrote the first draft in six months while in Afghanistan. I lived and breathed that book. I thought about it constantly, maybe even a little too much–there were way too many subplot. But I digress.
In February of 2011 my brother Brendan was diagnosed with lung cancer which spread to his brain. I had over 85,000 words written in my book at the time. I was still in Afghanistan when I had an epiphany. I made a promise to myself that I would do everything in my power to get my book published. Life is too short not to try.
When I returned from Afghanistan in May 2011, I took my first steps into the scary and intimidating world of publishing. I found myself a wonderful writing coach and editor, the delightful Ginger Moran. This was a huge step for me.
Sure, there is a financial commitment when hiring professional help. But more importantly I was putting my money where my mouth was. Something registered in my brain that said, “Now this is serious. There is no turning back.”
I actually think this is a much harder step for writers than most people think. The publishing world is complex and uninviting. I put myself out there. I was exposed to criticism. I was both terrified and excited.
From May to October 2011, this writing “thing” of mine was only known among a handful of family, very close friends, and literary agents that requested a submission. I don’t believe any of my family or friends took my writing “thing” seriously at this time. So I felt like I was straddling a fence between doing this completely and pulling back to the safety of the military world. Yes, I know the military world seems foreign and dangerous to most, but it’s what I know.
This changed when I attended the James River Writers conference in Richmond. I was surrounded by writers for the first time. Before the conference I was nervous that I didn’t belong. I was nervous that a bunch of writing intellectuals would look down upon me. Again, I was entering a new and unknown world.
Here is what I learned at the conference:
- I do belong in this publishing world.
- There are many writers just like me–some in more advanced stages, some less.
- Like anything, succeeding in the publishing world isn’t only about talent. Your drive and determination can carry you far.
- I needed a writer’s platform.
Wait a minute. A platform? You mean I need to expose myself to the whole world?
But if I do that I can never turn back. I could fail in front of everyone!
What are you going to do, pal?
I went home and opened a twitter page and started an author’s Facebook page the night the conference ended. But I knew that wasn’t enough. I needed a website.
Now I knew there was no turning back on this writing “thing” I was doing.
But was this still a hobby? I was throwing myself out there. No more straddling the fence. My intentions were clear—in writing on Facebook!
I spent a ton of time learning to build a website. I had no clue what I was doing. I did it anyway. The site looked like I had built it. It was clunky, ugly, but functional. It wasn’t what I wanted.
I knew that everything on that site would represent me. It needed to be polished. It wasn’t.
Lucky for me my writing coach and mentor, Ginger Moran’s, brother is a web designer and branding expert. I handed my clunky website over to Chuck Moran at Bald Guy Studios and he and his team went to work. They built this beautiful site you are on now.
During this time I also hired an experienced and seasoned independent editor to guide me through a second revision of the book. Yes, all the literary agents who requested submissions rejected me.
Tax time came. For the first time I hired an accountant to do my taxes. We wrote off all my writing expenses as business expenditures.
Now I’m a professional right? I mean the IRS recognizes me as such!
Maybe. Maybe not.
Exactly 13 months after I queried my first agent I finally landed a literary agent, the wonderful Victoria Skurnick at Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. Hopefully we will be taking my first novel to the publishers soon!
So to summarize:
- I have a product (my novel) & am nearly complete with the first draft of my second novel.
- I have expenditures.
- I have a website and hundreds of subscribers to the blog.
- I have professional representation.
- I haven’t made a cent from my writing.
Am I a professional writer or a hobbyist? Honestly, I’m not sure.
I’d like to think this is more than a hobby (I am up at 5:00 AM on a Sunday writing this post). But is it?
When do you become a professional?
Do you have to attain Nelson Demille status to be a professional?
If you write, what would you consider yourself?
What do you think?
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