Our Reading Lives

What’s the Difference Between an Author and a Wannabe Novelist?

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Every reader has a story about meeting the author-celebrity of their dreams; I can still barely think about the time at Book Riot Live 2015 when I met Margaret Atwood. She graciously carried the conversation as I stuttered and cast about for something clever to say. (“I, um, like your top? All the… flowers and… yeah.”)

The average person might not recognize an author on the street, but for us book nerds, they are the most exciting celebrities we will meet. It’s easy to build up in our minds the mythos of an author. They’ve won brilliant awards, Obama has read their books; what must it like to be them?

One of the best parts of being in the book world, as a book reviewer and writer myself, is getting to know authors. I love going to readings and events. Through them, I’ve learned how creating these marvelous works of art can be some of the hardest imaginable creative labor, and how much time is spent toiling in obscurity before (and after) the big release.

Even so, the gap between me and the authors I admire persists. It’s easy to imagine there’s something different about them that makes it possible for them to spin these tales, that gives them the patience and drive to write so tirelessly, to navigate the industry and come out the other side with a bound book.

That will be me someday, I’ve told myself my whole life, but “someday” has a comforting distance to it. That’s not me right now; the times I sit down at my laptop and stare at my latest draft could not feel farther from the imagined exultation of a book pub day or a book reading. The distance seemed too great ever to navigate.

But then I received an invitation for a book launch for Jennifer Ryan’s novel, Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. I recognized the author’s name and the title of her book—but not from my book-world contacts. I had read parts of the books—early drafts of two chapters—in a fiction workshop during my graduate writing program.

Jennifer was not so different from me, in terms of her writing experience; she had also written and revised and written more over the last five years. And now she had a book coming out with a major publisher.

If she could cross the gap, if she could chart a course from wannabe writer with an idea to published author—why couldn’t I?

Suddenly, after years of admiring writers from afar, it clicked with me. The distance between staring at an early draft and publication is not insurmountable. People do it all the time. The only difference between a published author and someone with a good idea is this: the author sits down and types out every word. They polish each crappy rough draft, and they keep coming back.

So here I am. I’m sitting down, and I’m writing. If you’ve ever wanted to make that leap, from book lover to book creator, I hope you’ll join me.

I’ll see you on the other side, someday soon.