And yes, I do follow this advice. I follow all advice I hand out. If I didn’t, I need to shut the hades up.
You don’t just set down and write a book then publish it. It takes work. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are either a liar or a fool, or perhaps both. And if you listen, you are the fool. Every book you write, from your first to your 39th in a series to your 80th is the first book someone will see from you. Make sure that book makes them want to read more.
There are writers who are in it for the money. Off the top of my head, I can point to some extremely prolific writers in a certain sub-genre that may have outlived its fanbase. They sign 80 book deals. They turn out books that are barely English even though they are Sally Jo Hensen from Dubuque, Iowa [it seems Sally Jo was too busy staring at the boy’s crotch at the desk beside her and missed the entire year of English 001.]. And their publisher knows they are so limited, they limit expenditures on the books to maximize the profit. Those books are tossed out there to earn the buck and then get deleted. In the old days, they wouldn’t have made the pulp desk.
1. LEARN how to write. Seriously. putting a pen to a piece of paper is called writing. Typing this is called writing. Is it writing as in “author so and so wrote XX.” No. Writing is a craft. You don’t set down and carve this:You learn to carve this. You learn your art. You learn to write. Do you understand Rising Action and how Dramatic Structure applies to novels? Trust me, it helps a great deal in your story to understand that and not just wander around being a story in search of a plot. There are oodles of books out there as well as classes. All price ranges. For 99 dollars you can join something like the RWA and take advantage of their classes for dirt cheap prices of 10 to 50 dollars. If you don’t have that, join some of the forums about writing. You don’t have to buy the books you know, God invented library loans for a reason. Hint. For the price of a month of Amazon Unlimited you have access to oodles of writing books, even some that Writer’s Digest sells. All you have to do is cross reference. You have NO excuse not to learn to write. None. If you don’t, you are either lazy or greedy. Writers work at writing. It’s their job. They put as much effort into it as they can so you can read interesting well written books. If they do shoddy work, they are in it for the money and bugger the reader no matter what they scream. If you write badly, people will stop reading you. Take a freakin’ class and stop screaming about pirates. And for God’s sake… EDIT YOUR DAMN BOOK. [if you can’t edit your book, it might be a clue that you aren’t ready to write]
2. Edit your damn book. If you cannot edit your damn book, don’t write it. No one plunks down a book in a draft and has a book worth a damn. Edit it. Hemingway said “The first draft of anything is shit”. You aren’t Hemingway. We don’t even rate the word shit. With a draft, you have your basic story down. Editing tweaks the story taking it from being a clanking tank to a Hennessey Venom GT. I’ve had people say “But doesn’t editing ruin your voice?” If your voice is so bad, editing ruins it, you deserve to have it ruined and we don’t deserve to have it inflicted on us. That’s as blunt as I can make it. If you think editing has anything to do with ruining your voice, go back to #1. You aren’t ready for #2.
3. Get feedback Yep. I mean that. You cannot write or exist in a vacuum. You aren’t that good. No one is that good. You need other eyes to see what you aren’t seeing. My one beta and I went back and forth last night over a couple paragraphs of Standing Stone and I made changes. She eventually approved it as being much clearer. This is how it works. It looked fine to me but I wrote the bloody story so I was reading in the story to the words. You need other eyes on your work. Major NYT listers have eyes on their works before they ever reach books stage. They are ripped apart, rewritten, changed. Eyes on. None of them unless their name is as famous as Stephen Kings, can turn out a book without getting ripped apart. Unless you are Stephen King, don’t expect to get away with crap. He could clean out the outhouse, slap his name on it and it would be a runaway best seller. Is it fair? Nope. It just is. Which is where #4 comes in.
4. Grow a thick skin. If you write, it’s going to hurt. What you think is perfect may be the worst piece of writing the human race has ever seen in any language. [That’s why you need #3.] A sure sign you are not a writer is to argue with reviewers, start flame wars, stalk reviewers and commentators and in general carry on like a 3-year-old who thinks Mommy loves the new baby better than her/him. Roll with the punches. If you can’t. Don’t write and don’t publish. Not everyone is emotionally cut out for the job. Either learn this is a profession and learn how to act like a professional or stop writing for the public. Write for your friends who will give you those pats you need. Don’t expect the rest of us to go “oh how wonderful” when you aren’t. Grow up and grow a lizard hide. And if you can’t. If you are too sensitive, don’t. Just don’t or be willing to go back to #1.
5. Don’t blame the rest of the world for your failure to do any of the above steps. If you aren’t selling, don’t blame the pirates, look to your own damn writing and see what is wrong with it. Nothing is more pathetic than a person who screams about pirates and then writes a muddled, one-dimensional story with unlikable characters who have no damn point, no damn interest and no satisfying conclusion [them banging their brains out is NOT a conclusion]. Go to step 1. Don’t say it’s the reviewers fault for giving you a 1 star. If the reviewer is a moron who hates you because you are “blond, fat, Southern, Northern, Californian, a mother, a father, gay, lesbian, write Sci fi, write mystery,a writer” trust the rest of us will be able to see that the person has a major screw loose. If you get mostly 1 stars or 3 stars except for your best friends, your family or the writer you exchange 5 stars with, start looking at the book.
6. Remember you chose to put yourself on the public stage. What you do is going to have repercussions. There are some major writers who could learn this. Like one major author who shot his mouth off in support of a friend when the friend was arrested for having and sharing porn of naked 12-year-old girls. At that point, sorry doesn’t cut it and you lose fans. Yep, have morals. Support what you want to support but expect consequences for that support and for God’s sake, make sure you don’t have to babble “I’m sorry” later because your publisher comes after you to retract and apologize. Looking like a fool is not good for sales. Act like an adult.
7. No matter if you do everything right and your writing is stuff the angels would sing about, you may not make it. It may simply be that you are in the wrong genre at the wrong time. Shit happens. It happens to everyone, writer or not. Just keep writing. Unless you are in it for the money, in which case find what sells by researching the market.
8. This is NOT 1965. You must know your market. You must research sales. On the bright side, you are more in control than writers ever have been before. On the bad side, you are more in control than writers ever have been before. You do not get to sit in front of those French doors open to the patio and write away to send off to your publisher who then does everything for you. Nope. IF you are lucky, you have a publisher who edits. If you are lucky, you get a publisher who sends art for the cover to you for approval and actually listens to you about what you like or don’t like. IF you are very lucky, they will handle the marketing. Most of us go in as Midlisters. That means forget the marketing. Most of the time, you get the bare minimum. You may suddenly find your series cancelled in mid series. They may say, thank you but we aren’t renewing your contract because you didn’t sell enough. They may even say “What are you bringing to the table that makes your book sell?” before they even publish it. Like it or not, you have to work at a platform and at sales. Unless you are a three-day wonder like E.L. James or are Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. They get exemptions. And those slots are filled. So realize you MUST work on your platform and marketing. It isn’t just the Indie writers that has to do this. Anyone who midlists with the Big Publishers [who are in deep doo and struggling to find their way in this new market place] or with small publishers, must also do this.
Sure you have 3 Day Wonders like James. But do you really want people to laugh at you and your writing as people do at her? Or to hold you up as an example that even if you can’t write, you can produce a best seller? My comment about her was “I hope she’s laughing at all those people [who bought her book] the whole way to the bank.” Do you want to be that? If so, go for it but remember that slot is filled. Good Luck. God Bless. You’ll need it.
Or you can go back to #1 and start working on learning a profession. It won’t be fast. It won’t be easy. It won’t be fun. You don’t get to Artsy-Fartsy all over the place while having loads of great fun. There will be days when having a root canal without pain killers is more attractive than rewriting 3 paragraphs. There will be other days when you seriously wonder if writing an entire book of simple sentences isn’t the best thing since sliced bread. And even more days when you wonder how much a paid clam digger makes and can you pick your own beach.
And in the end? You might qualify for the title of Writer/Author.