A reader writes:
I’m seriously considering leaving my job writing full time. What steps might I might need to take to begin a new life of writing Christian fiction?
The question is, can you make a profession of your writing? Can you live from your work?
There are certain issues your would-be CBA agent or publisher will be looking for. The first is, are you willing to change?
The second component of this is, are you able to deliver on time, and on their schedule? As in, a new story every year or less. CBA fiction is commercial fiction. They sell you, the author, as the product, as well as your book. You must enter into this realm producing a minimum of a book a year. Now. While holding down your day job. But I’ll come back to that in a minute.
You need to face the fact that the initial books may or may not be workable in the current CBA market. And a great deal of the changes that are required–not to your book, but to you the writer, will NEVER be completed successfully through rewrites. There is only one way for you to come to your full potential, and that is by facing the challenge of the empty page.
When I first started out, the delivery schedule was a new full length book every six months. And like you, I also held down a full-time job, as a business consultant traveling to two and sometimes three countries every week. I learned to write in taxis, busses, planes, conference rooms, everywhere I had a spare fifteen minutes. I wrote for nine years and completed seven novels before my first was accepted for publication. I don’t think you will need such a long lead time. But it will take time. And you need to prepare.
Two things they all will be looking for, related to the above. First, under no circumstances can you forsee a solid financial situation from the writing, and on the basis of this hope quit your day job. The CBA publishers no longer drop an author if they quit a job on the signing of a contract, but it used to be the case. I can assure you, however, CBA publishers and editors and agents all cringe at the prospect. It is, to them, a sign of singular immaturity–as in, I, the author, am the center of my universe, such that the current economic realities do not impinge upon my desires.
Agents will start refusing to accept your calls. Even if you are signed with them. They will not work willingly with someone who shows such poor judgment. Agents and editors are there to sell books. They don’t want an author who becomes a potential weight, a drag. You don’t want their responsibility, their mortgage worries; why should they accept that from you? So don’t even discuss it. You are in your current situation. Deal with it.
It is important to understand just how crucial this element is to success in the CBA market. There is a far stronger personal tie between the people there, and they want to be assured that you are genuinely mature in your perspective. You are seen from the perspective of becoming a teacher, a leader, and a public face to their publishing ministry. It is vital that you consider all such issues from this perspective.
In my opinion, here is a stark rule of thumb you should tattoo to your forehead:
You need to wait four years from your first contract, and have a minimum of three CBA published books, before you should consider giving up your day job.
The second matter: Discipline. You need to focus upon your next work, and show this discipline prior to meeting with anyone. No matter what they think of your previous work, the critical element I mentioned at the beginning must be accepted. There is no other genre except perhaps romance fiction where steady output is held in such high esteem.
You need to complete your first novel before making an initial pitch. When meeting with agents and publishers to present your first title, their first question will be, “What are you working on now?”
You need to answer with the first thirty pages of your next book — or better yet, the first thirty pages of TWO next books — and two page overviews of each.
Before you argue with any of the above, remember this: The current rate of acceptance for new CBA novelists is very stark and very well known. For every new author they sign, a CBA publisher will have turned down one thousand manuscripts. One thousand. It is not enough to be good. You need to be PROFESSIONAL.
I see too many highly talented authors lose their chance by not understanding the current market dynamics. It is crucial that you enter into this realm with a determination to deliver solid commercial fiction, on a regular schedule, and without whining over your current job requirements. Everyone that I have ever met has had to struggle against the impossible pressures of work requirements and a day job.
This pressure does not lessen once you are published. It only changes. I am doing three titles a year now, one CBA novel, one ABA, and a screenplay. I am also lecturing in the new creative writing department at Oxford. All the marketing and interviews and rewrites and such are simply part of the mix. It is vital that you do not carry a literary writers’ attitude towards productivity into this market. You must adapt.