Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Writer As Spendthrift

There are a lot of people who want to separate a writer from her money.

Let's face it; getting published is a goal for many people, but it's such a difficult goal to attain it borders on being a dream.

Dreams don't normally come true. But people will pay big bucks to keep the dream alive.

This morning I'm teaching a one day class at the College of Dupage called "How to Get Published." (Oddly enough, I'm filling in for another teacher who, to my knowledge, has published very little.)

It's an adult eduction class, only a few hours long, and costs less than fifty bucks.

For the students, it's a good deal. I know a lot about the biz, and am good at sharing what I know.

But I am a notable exception. Many writing teachers have never been published by a major house. Many don't have agents.

Yet every college has writing teachers who are willing to take your money and teach you theory they've never practiced.

The bookshelves are crammed full of books about how to write killer query letters and bestsellers. But I only know a handful out of hundreds that were actually written by bestselling authors.

Pick up a writing magazine, or surf the Internet, and you'll find many things to spend money on besides classes and how-to books.

Freelance editors. Book doctors. Fee charging agents. Vanity presses. Self-publishing. Contests. Seminars. Conferences. Conventions.

Joe's advice: Writers are supposed to make money, not spend money.

Unfortunately, because writing is such a hard business to break into, many feel that if they spend some money on the aforementioned things, they'll better their odds.

In practically all cases, no. And you are not the exception to this rule. Trust me.

Today, my students are going to get their money's worth in the first 30 seconds of class, when I tell them:


I do add that there are a few small exceptions. Taking a writing class or two isn't a waste of money if the teacher is an industry pro. You can learn a lot from industry pros. But many of these pros also have tips on their website that are 100% free.

All writers should own copies of Stephen King's On Writing, David Morrell's Lessons From A Lifetime or Writing, and a few notable others.

Conferences and conventions are a great place to meet agents, editors, and peers, and networking is just as important in this biz as in any other.

But even these exceptions come with warnings.

If you're taking a bunch of writing classes, chances are you're wasting your time and money. You could be writing instead, and joining a writing group will make you a better writer without costing a penny. There is probably a writers group already at your local library, bookstore, or college. Ask. If there isn't one, start one.

Owning too many how-to books means you're spending too much time reading about writing instead of actually writing.

I know many folks with procrastinitis. They cloak themselves in the trappings of all things literary, spends scads of money pursuing their dream, fantasizing about it constantly. Yet they rarely sit their ass in the chair and write.

If you're going to more than two conventions a year and you aren't published yet you're chasing a dream, not a goal.

As for the other things I mentioned:

Don't enter contests you have to pay for. If your story is good enough to win, it's good enough to sell.

Don't ever pay anyone to help you edit, fix, or rewrite your prose. Learn to do it yourself. I don't know a single author published by a major house who had paid help.

Don't pay an agent anything, ever. Agents don't need to have any sort of license or accreditation, and bad ones abound. For a list of good ones, visit

Don't pay to have your work published. Why not? Visit your local bookstore. Look around. None of the authors on those shelves paid to have their books published. If you pay to be published, you won't be on those shelves.

Since I'm fond of analogies, here's a good one:

When you're learning how to walk, you don't take classes. You don't read how-to books. You don't pay experts to help you, or do it for you.

You just keep falling until you learn on your own.

It's the same thing with writing.

I just saved you fifty bucks. Or perhaps a heck of a lot more.

You can show your appreciation by buying a bunch of my books. Because there is one thing that all writers should spend money on, and that's supporting each other. If you're writing fiction, and you haven't read at least a hundred novels, you haven't learned enough about craft to succeed.

And if you're curious as to what other bon mots I'll toss out in class today, here's a list of Joe Konrath quotes on writing, publishing, and marketing, free of charge:

There's a word for a writer who never gives up... published.

Before you make the key, study the lock.

People would rather fight to the death to defend their beliefs than sit down quietly and question them.

It's about what you have to offer, not what you have to sell.

You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than landing a publishing deal. But if you really want to get hit by lightning, you can improve your odds.

No one is entitled to anything.

What are the last ten books you bought, and what made you buy them? Use those techniques to sell your books to other people. Do what works on you.

Hard work trumps talent. Persistence trumps inspiration. Humility trumps ego.

Praise is like candy. We love it, but it isn't good for us. You can only improve by being told what's wrong.

Your book is your child. You can't recognize its shortcomings, any more than a proud parent can consider their child dumb and ugly.

The experts don't know everything, and they might not know what's right for you.

Fate is a future you didn't try hard enough to change.

Anyone looking for you can find you. Get them to find you when they're looking for something else.

Life gives you wonderful opportunities to conquer fears, learn skills, and master techniques. "I can't" shouldn't be synonymous with "I don't want to."

People seek out two things: information and entertainment. Offer them freely, and they'll find you.

The Internet isn't temporary. What you post today can lead people to you decades from now.

Writing is a profession. Act professional.

Always follow the advice of an editor, even if you don't agree, because then your book becomes our book. A editor will fight harder to champion our book.

No one said it would be fair, fun, or easy. But it is worthwhile.

We're all in the same boat. Start rowing.

If you can quit, quit. If you can't quit, stop complaining--this is what you chose.

There are a lot of things that happen beyond your control. Your goals should be within your control.

Just because something is publishable doesn't mean it will get published.

Write when you can. Finish what your start. Edit what you finish. Submit what you've edited. Repeat.

The most successful people on the planet have one thing in common: nothing can stop them. Don't expect to reach your goals without sacrificing things that are important to you. You can't be both happy and ambitious.

Being your own best advocate is about understanding how people react to you.

Fake confidence, and real confidence follows.

Maybe you can't win. But you sure as hell can try.

It's your name on your book cover. It's your responsibility to sell your book. If it flops, your publisher will still be in business, but you won't.

Always have two hands reaching out. One, for your next goal. The other, to help people get to where you're at.

If you can't be smart or funny, be brief.

If you're not in love with the sound of your own voice, how can you expect anyone else to ever be?

Knowing you're not original is the first step in becoming unique.

And if one of those doesn't get me into Bartlett's Familiar Quotations sometime before I die, when I do die I'm going to haunt the Bartlett family...