America's Next Great Author

Do I really want to be America’s Next Great Author?

I was excited to hear about the new reality show for writers, America’s Next Great Author. (I wished the reality competition for public speakers, The Messengers, went somewhere.) Judging from what I’ve seen so far, it sounds like America’s Next Great Author will take writing seriously. At least, I hope it won’t be about forming alliances, backstabbing adversaries, and cavorting around in bathing suits. I got on their mailing list and started following tips on meeting their requirements.

But when they opened for applications, I got cold feet. While six months away at a retreat sounds like a writer’s dream, I’d be away from my family and the writing job that provides for us. And scariest of all, what if I win? Winning a reality competition doesn’t guarantee success. For every Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, there are dozens of reality show winners who fade into obscurity. (Or get in trouble for failing to pay their taxes.) Ultimately, readers decide which authors succeed.

What does it really mean to be America’s next great author?

Every author dreams about writing the next blockbuster bestseller that gets a seven-figure movie deal. It was my dream when I decided to become a writer in high school. But I accepted years ago that I’m not likely to have that level of success, and I’m OK with that. I’m happy to have books accepted for publication and that I received five-star reviews for them. I’m happy to write fiction that matters to me. Of course, I still want to write that one book that gets on the bestseller list, wins acclaim, and nets me fat royalty checks. But if that doesn’t happen, I still feel I succeeded as a writer.

For me, success comes from a life that brings me happiness. Wealth and fame can offer happiness, but not always. And when it does, it is often fleeting. For me, happiness comes from family and friends, accomplishments that build skills and open opportunities, and recognition from your peers. It’s feeling comfortable in your own body. It’s finding enjoyment in small pleasures. It comes from making a difference in the world.

Being on a reality show wouldn’t offer me that type of success. Not only would it take me away from the people and things I value, it would take me away from what I’m already doing as an author. I’ve written novels while working and handling home life (and in the case of Amiga and The Remainders while dealing with family issues). How would spending six months away at a retreat make me more productive (especially with cameras around)? Go to Newark to pitch my book? I already submit pitches from home with about the same odds for success. I also connect with writers and readers through social media, and I hope to return to in-person events soon. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I had to be shut away for six months and even longer because of NDAs.

America’s Next Great Author isn’t for me, but it might be right for you. If you’re a writer who’s starting out, has a great book idea with mass-market appeal, doesn’t have a place where you can write regularly, and (let’s be honest) looks great on camera, this can be the opportunity you need. If it sounds like something that interests you, consider signing up. They’re accepting applications through September 15.