Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What I've Learned So Far

This is the age of instant communication, and because of that the author/reader relationship extends beyond the pages of a book. Authors spend a lot of time and money on websites, making it easy for fans to get in touch. Email, message boards, authors chats, blogs, and pod casts all make contacting your favorite writer practically instantaneous.

I believe that being approachable and accessible is necessary in this business, and I spend a good deal of time making sure I'm able to be reached, and that I reply to those who reach me.

My website took a great deal of time to set up. I used to update the content weekly, but now it's once a month, and mostly limited to appearances and news.

My blog is where I have a chance to air my thoughts about publishing, and I spend a lot of time here, posting and replying.

I run several contests, and the latest one just ended. It was a short story contest, and I had over a hundred entries, which thrills me.

Email is still the preferred method of contact, and I get between 30 and 50 emails a week from fans.

Snail mail is almost non-existent. I've gotten around ten fan letters in the past two years, compared to thousands of emails.

All told, I spend about ten hours a week connecting with fans. I feel it is time well spent.

But is there anything in my career which I don't consider worthwhile?

It is coming up on my three year anniversary---three years ago, this November, I landed my first book deal. I went into this business green, and I know quite a lot now. Like all new authors, I had many misconceptions that were quickly dispelled.

Here are some things I've learned:

Write a good book. While this is a no brainier, so many new writers blame everyone but themselves for their lack of publication credits. If you want to succeed, you have to learn the craft.

Readers are more important than peers. When I first got published, it was incredibly important for me to be accepted by the mystery community. Now, not so much. I treasure the friends I've made, and will continue to make more, but I'm no longer worried about seeking approval.

Kiss ass. Start with the folks on your team--your agent and publisher. Then pucker up for booksellers, and fans. Be thankful, be gracious, and be vocal in both. If you're fun to work with, you're ahead of the game. If you spread warmth, it will be returned to you. Spreading venom has the same effect.

Give back. If you've had any degree of success, send the elevator back down. Talk to new writers. Offer advice. Teach. Give blurbs. Post publishing tips on your website.

Have a plan. Don't expect anyone to help you, guide you, or take care of you. Learn as much as you can, set goals, and figure out how to reach those goals.

Stay grounded. It's very easy to get caught up in the hype. Get real. You aren't curing cancer. You're an entertainer--don't think that you're more than that.

Don't volunteer. It's very easy to get used. I'm all for helping out within the writing and publishing community, but I've gotten burned a few times. Know what is in it for you, and be clear about what you're getting in return.

Don't compare yourself to other authors. Someone is always going to have more money, larger print runs, more fans, and better deals. Competition is healthy, but it should be with yourself, not with others.

Don't listen to reviews. You will anyway, but don't take it personally. Not everyone will like your books. Not everyone will like you. It isn't important what people are saying, as long as they're saying something.

Don't go to awards ceremonies. Losing isn't a big deal. What hurts is having fifty people come up to you and say, "Sorry you lost."

Be approachable. Both in person, and in cyberspace. If someone reaches out to you, reach back.

Learn to turn it off. I'm still struggling with this. Being a writer defines me as a person, and I can't seem to ever get away from it. I've had one vacation in three years, and during that vacation I did booksignings. Know when to relax. And when you learn how, teach me how.

Cherish family and friends. After you become a writer, there won't be many people who knew you 'before.' The ones who did are special. Never let them forget how special they are.

Don't worry. No matter how much you do, how hard you try, luck still plays a huge part in success. As Barry Eisler just told me, the most you can do is to try your best. Then, no matter how luck factors in, you'll at least have no regrets.

So far, I don't have any regrets. I wish the same to all of you.