Friday, July 19, 2019

Six Things Writers Need To Stop Worrying About

Some things don't change.

When I got my start in this biz, way back in 2002, writers had to get a lit agent to get a publisher, then they did what their publisher told them to do.

That way of doing things was terrible for lots of reasons, including (but not limited to):
  • Agents missing good books.
  • Publishers missing good books.
  • Publishers owning rights forever.
  • Publishers screwing up promotion.
  • Sales numbers following you.
  • Having no control during the submission process.
  • Having no control during the publishing process.
  • Having no control after the book comes out.
The "having no control" parts actually apply to all of the above. Though writers can set goals such as "I'll query three agents by July 20th" actually getting an agent is out of our control. 

I've blogged at length about the differences between goals and dreams, but TLDR: goals are within your control, dreams are what you want but beyond your control.

While self-pubbing has allowed writers unprecedented control over how we publish and promote, there are still four things beyond our control that writers seems to get stuck on.

Here are six things writers need to stop worrying about. 


1. REVIEWS

Don't get me wrong here: we need Amazon reviews. 

I do NOT recommend any paid service that says they'll get you reviews. There are too many ways that can go wrong, and too many ways Amazon can take it the wrong way.

I DO recommend making your book free to get more readers (and more reviews), and building a newsletter list where you can send books to fans to get reviews. NEVER ask for 5 star reviews. Ask for honest reviews.

But while reviews are needed to help sell books, and while getting good reviews is helpful, writers should not read their own reviews.

Someone else's opinion of you and your work is none of your business.

Keep repeating that until it sticks in your head and you start to believe it.

I have a caveat here. If you have over 50 reviews, and your book averages less than 3 stars, start reading reviews, because chances are there is something wrong with your book that people are picking up on. Read the reviews, fix the book, unpublish it, and republish it under a new title (in the description state it was previously pubbed under the original title.)

But unless your reviews overwhelmingly suck, do not read them. 


2. CRITICS

Fuck critics. Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, critique.

Anyone who gets paid to review someone else's art is a bottom feeder. Artists create. Jackasses tear down what artists create.

Are you a professional critic and don't like me saying that? Welcome to how it feels to be judged by a stranger, asshat. Now go eat a cold bag of dicks and re-evaluate your life, because you are a waste of carbon.

Don't read critics, don't kowtow to critics, don't support critics, don't send your book anywhere in hopes of being reviewed by critics.


3. YOUR PEERS

I remember starting out, and how important the acceptance of my peers was. I wanted blurbs. I wanted to be praised. I wanted to be liked.

Unnecessary, all of it.

You should go to conventions and meet like-minded authors and have coffee-break/beer-rant conversations with them. If you find a kindred soul, you should trade manuscripts with them for critiques (they aren't critics, they are fellow artists) and attempt co-writing a few times. It's helpful, and fun, and a nice break from all of the lonely solitude of being a writer.

But it's okay if you don't make any lasting friendships, or co-write any stories, or trade manuscripts. 

It's even okay if your peers don't like you.

Other writers aren't necessary for you to succeed in this business, and their acceptance of you isn't necessary for you to feel good about yourself and your career.

Friends in this biz are great, but don't worry if you don't have any.


4. AWARDS

There's a phrase for a bunch of like-minded people who get together for the sole purpose of mutual gratification.

Circle jerk.

Awards are self-congratulatory seals of approval from peers that say nothing about the quality of the writing. Some are nepotistic. Some are fraudulent. Most are popularity contests that don't even require the voters to read your work.

The subjective opinions of a certain group of people at a certain moment in time say nothing about the value of your work. Having won an award won't do much (or anything) for your career.

Do you remember who won the Pulitzer for Lit in 2008? The Nobel in 2011? The Booker last year?

Neither does anyone else. 

Winning an award feels nice for five minutes. Losing an award feels shitty for a few days. Neither makes your book any better or worse.

Put awards out of your head. They don't mean anything.


5. CONTESTS

Don't enter contests.

I say this having judged contests, having held contests, and having submitted to contests (I actually just entered the Kindle Storyteller UK contest, because I pubbed a book at that time and it only costs a keyword to enter, which took all of 30 seconds, and because there may be some readers looking to read entries, which can't hurt sales.)

Paying to enter a contest is a waste of money and hope. No one cares if you win, and losing feels bad.

Don't do it, unless it requires zero effort and money. And if you do enter a contest like Kindle Storyteller, forget it as soon as you enter; you won't win.


6. BESTSELLER LISTS

Once upon a time, every author I knew hoped to hit the NYT bestseller list. Me included.

Then I figured out how the NYT list worked and realized how stupid it was.

Once upon a time, you sold a lot of ebooks appearing on the Amazon bestseller lists. Discoverability and visibility had a direct connection to more sales. I no longer believe that's the case.

So stop worrying about getting on any kind of list. It's beyond your control anyway.

Instead, focus on finding the sweet spot between ebook price and sales. 


So ends this rant. If you agree or disagree with any of these, I read and respond to all comments.

43 comments:

gniz said...

Old school Konrath rant. Loved it.

Mark Asher said...

That was fun.

I agree that the paid review services are scary. Amazon doesn't need much of a reason to blacklist an author from what I've seen.

I disagree about critics to some extent. I think literary critics can say some interesting things about books, and many authors also do some reviewing. Plus, a lot of readers clearly want to read reviews. And if you don't want a critic to review your book you may never see it reviewed in places where it might get good exposure.

I think if you avoid reading reviews, good advice on balance, then you don't even need to worry about critics.

Jason M said...

"Anyone who gets paid to review someone else's art is a bottom feeder. Artists create. Jackasses tear down what artists create."

Gotta take exception with this. Reviewing is unrelated to artistry. They're apples and oranges.
Yes, some critics are jackasses. Yes, some are pretty good people.
I worked at a very famous book review as an assistant about 20 years ago. One Pulitzer-prize winning critic told me they prefer to publish positive reviews; poorly written books would just die on their own. I always remembered that.
At the time, I published a few book reviews, collected my paycheck, got bored, and eventually left.

The other five are dead on, though. Particularly the part about friendships in publishing. I haven't really been able to do that, as I don't seem to 'click' with other people who write fiction.

JA Konrath said...

I disagree about critics to some extent. I think literary critics can say some interesting things about books, and many authors also do some reviewing.

Anyone who thinks they have the ability to critique a book without having written a book is unworthy.

Authors who do professional reviewing? Stuff they are paid for? Can you name any?

One Pulitzer-prize winning critic told me they prefer to publish positive reviews; poorly written books would just die on their own. I always remembered that.

Well, if he won the Pulitzer...

Wait a sec. Fuck the Pulitzer.

Once upon a time, critics filled a void to get the word out. Having your book reviewed in print led to people discovering it, and led to sales.

But, like coop, it was an inherently nepotistic, unfair practice. Some authors were chosen. Some were not.

These days, we don't need any professional critics. Ordinary people do a good enough job. More gatekeepers is never a good thing.

At the time, I published a few book reviews, collected my paycheck, got bored, and eventually left.

Twenty years ago there was still a place for critics. Happily, they have been replaced by Oprah or Jimmy Fallen recommending books. Still gatekeepers, still unfair, but at least it doesn't involve crossing your fingers hoping some jackass at the NYT reads your ARC.

Kfir Luzzatto said...

I had a conversation with Amazon about Kindle Storyteller UK, and was told that my new book is not eligible, because my account is with Amazon.com. This is what they said:

"This current Kindle Storyteller contest is only for publishers located in United Kingdom, since Amazon do this contest based on marketplaces."

It is confusing, because UK publishers use the .com system to publish like everybody else, so the option to enter is there for everyone to see, but apparently if you are a US publisher, it's a no go.

I thought you'd want to know.

HStanbrough said...

Either way, a critic's opinion (any critic's opinion) is only that: one reader's opinion at a particular moment in time. I don't bother acknowledging such input.

JA Konrath said...

I had a conversation with Amazon about Kindle Storyteller UK, and was told that my new book is not eligible, because my account is with Amazon.com.

Huh. One more reason not to enter contests.

JA Konrath said...

Either way, a critic's opinion (any critic's opinion) is only that: one reader's opinion at a particular moment in time. I don't bother acknowledging such input.

All opinions are valid. I have no problem with that. No one else's opinion effects me, and people are mostly savvy enough to figure out which opinions are valid and which aren't when it comes to picking and choosing media to consume. Some 1 star reviews for a book doesn't prevent me from reading it.

But back in the day, critics wielded real power. Siskel & Ebert did, literally, tank movies with bad reviews. No one should be able to do that.

That said, pro critics don't have that same power anymore. What fascinates me, though, are those everyday readers who write one-star reviews. I'm not against these at all; yoru opinion is valid, go ahead and spit your venom.

But what do haters really think they are accomplishing? Do they feel they are protecting others from the same unpleasantness they feel they went through reading a bad book? Are they lashing out at the author because they are unhappy with the experience they had? Are they just venting because the Internet allows them to without repercussions?

It makes me sad for them. What drives a person to publicly complain?

I know it is practically ubiquitous. Social media is practically ruined by people bad-mouthing things; media, each other, the world. There's a difference between enlightening and lashing out, between observation and insult, between being a positive force and a negative force.

But, as I said, all opinions are valid. Spread the hate. Try not to choke on your own bile.

Anonymous said...

From Marcus Aurelius:

Focus only on what you have control over (your own thoughts and actions) and ignore the rest.

Anonymous said...


There's more - Aspiring and including successful writers can be a frustrated and ruminating lot.

So here are 10 important insights for happiness from Marcus Aurelius:

1. Seek to build your own character
2. Stop seeking the praise of other people
3. Focus only on what you have control over (like your own thoughts and actions) and ignore the rest
4. Do Something Productive With Your Anger
5. Negative emotions are a result of negative thinking
6. Be Prepared for Any Outcome and Act with resilience
7. Be Insanely Grateful for what you have
8. Tolerance is in not judging
9. The peace you need is in you
10. Appreciate the shortness of life

Mark Asher said...

"Authors who do professional reviewing? Stuff they are paid for? Can you name any?"

From the NYTimes:

"Stephen King Reviews Laura Lippman’s New Novel, ‘Lady in the Lake’"

I don't know if he got paid. I doubt what the NYTimes pays a reviewer makes any difference to Stephen King.

Another example from memory is Anthony Burgess early in his career reviewed books. He was also writing them, but he made extra money as a reviewer to support his family. Well-established poets will often review other works of poetry. Nabokov taught literature at times. He was at the lectern essentially reviewing the work of others.

JA Konrath said...

"Stephen King Reviews Laura Lippman’s New Novel, ‘Lady in the Lake’"

This is the equivalent of Jay-Z tweeting about your book. Less critic, more publicity.

Burgess did this in the 60s. Not really relevant today.

I was hoping you'd show me some modern examples of midlist authors getting paid to review books.


Sophie Stern said...

I totally agree, especially the portion about bestseller lists. It's exciting and fun to hit a bestseller list, but at the end of the day, it has nothing to do with your ability to keep a reader's attention, make money as a writer, or have a successful career.

Anonymous said...

The comment about peers really hit a cord with me. Of all the people I've meet in my years writing, none have become friends. They all seem to come with their own group. Really hard to break into an already formed group. Plus people are at different levels of writing/careers so it's even harder to form a group. Really hard to match up with other writers at your level. I find that the only writing friends I have, I've been friends with them outside of writing or met them outside of writing. I don't envy writers there awards or accolades, I envy their writing/critique groups. -sigh-

JA Konrath said...

I envy their writing/critique groups

Envy, like jealousy, worry, regret, and guilt, is wasted effort.

Join a writers' group. Just about every college, bookstore, and library have them. You may have to go through a few before you find a good critique partner, but there is someone out there for everybody.

Jacob Chastain said...

Hey Konrath, a couple of things.



1. I’ve been a follower of this blog for a long time, and it inspired me to publish and write several books. I thank you for that.



2. Because of this blog, I also went into publishing my first professional book about my life as a teacher and how teachers saved me from a family of drugs and violence. I went with an independent publisher that had a smart contract, IMO, and I only had that opinion because of this blog. I’d be curious to see what you or anyone thinks of the terms, if y’all are curious.


3. I just bought and started Whiskey Sour (first book of yours I’ve ever read) and it’s fantastic. Love the characters. Can’t wait to read more.


Thanks for all you do.

Peter L. Winkler said...

“Don't read critics, don't kowtow to critics, don't support critics, don't send your book anywhere in hopes of being reviewed by critics.”

But solicit reviews on Amazon, right?

Critics are just as much writers as authors. There are critics who write well and critics who express themselves poorly, same as authors. I’d much rather have a critic whose work has been vetted by editors review me in a well-known periodical than by some twit on Amazon who’s barely literate and probably writes in longhand using fuscia ink on colored notebook paper.

“Twenty years ago there was still a place for critics. Happily, they have been replaced by Oprah or Jimmy Fallen recommending books. Still gatekeepers, still unfair, but at least it doesn't involve crossing your fingers hoping some jackass at the NYT reads your ARC.”

This is outrageously unrealistic. It’s even less likely for Oprah, Jimmy Fallon or some other talk show host to promote your book than getting a review in the Times.

JA Konrath said...

But solicit reviews on Amazon, right?

Crowdsourcing and user-creatred content is the new Siskel & Ebert. We don't need a handful of critics to give thumbs up or thumbs down. We have the world to do that. And, yes, the world should be solicited.

Critics are just as much writers as authors.

No. Authors create. A critic is a parasite sucking on much stronger life force.

It’s even less likely for Oprah, Jimmy Fallon or some other talk show host to promote your book than getting a review in the Times.

When we open it up to all media personalities, including radio, local cable, social media, and anyone with followers, it is much easier to get someone with 100k followers to boost your book than it is to get a NYT review.

And fuck the NYT. Twice. In the ass.

Good to see you back, Peter! :)

JA Konrath said...

I went with an independent publisher that had a smart contract

Why not self-pub?

Jacob Chastain said...

"Why not self pub?"

That’s a good question.

Two reasons. I wanted a quality physical product. Teachers love to write in their books and run book clubs at schools for professional learning, and I couldn’t do it on my own. At least, I didn’t have the cash to do it on my own. Going with the IP gave me a better product that I could have done, and connected me to people and places that support my already growing efforts wit my educational podcast.

I see myself ultimately doing both self pub and publishing with publishers on a project by project basis. I think there are quality reasons for both, but you have to know those reasons and check to see if it’s all vanity.

In my case, I felt like I kept enough control that the negatives were almost negligible.

I had say in cover, ultimate say in content of the book, and my split is healthy, especially compared to traditional publishers.

Philip Colgate said...

I feel like you and Dean Wesley Smith are the only two real Mavericks offering advice in the indie communit . Thank you. Seems like self pub is loaded with gurus telling us what we MUST do in a similar way as trad does.

J.M. Ney-Grimm said...

"If you have over 50 reviews, and your book averages less than 3 stars, start reading reviews, because chances are there is something wrong with your book that people are picking up on."

One other thing to check: Does the sales copy rope in the right readers? If there is a mismatch between the copy and the story, you'll get buyers who want something other than what your story offers.

BRYAN HIGBY said...

Okay Joe! So have a polished unpublished Horror/Gonzo novel titled Gonzo Bloodsuckers? Interested in reading it and giving me notes before I send it to publishers?

Luke Pentagon said...

Good reading you. I am from Nigeria. making a late start with kindle. Your blog enlightens a lot. I will try living your way. Great job.

Vincent Zandri said...

Good piece Joe, and having been in the game as long as you, all too true.

I won the Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original in 2015. It was fun to be at Thrillerfest, all dressed up for a change. The book, Moonlight Weeps, was with Down & Out Books, but I was sitting at one of the tables belonging to a far bigger publisher with whom I have a few books. One of their authors was up for the same award and they were pretty cocky about his chances of winning. But when they called my name...Holy shit...if dirty looks could kill.

I never did publish another book with said big publisher, and the dude that lost looked like he wanted to slug me. The same book went on to win the Shamus Award which pleased me because it sort of proved, in my mind at least, that winning the Thriller hadn't been a fluke. But did it do anything to enhance my career? The only thing the awards do is enhance your writing studio wall when you pound a nail and hang it there.
Same with hitting the NY Times and USA Today. Hitting the top overall spot on the Amazon charts means much more since it's real sales and not politics like the Times. If the Times were to count real sales, I would have hit it many times over.

And as for writing friends? I have a few who would do anything for me, and me them. But all in all, and this is a hard pill to swallow, most writers will cut their own mother's leg off and slap her with it while she's bleeding out, if it meant a six figure book deal. Imagine what said writers would do to their friends in exchange for the same deal? "Now the other leg, huh?"

Best advice is to write your books as well as you can, get one out every month or two months in your genre and continue to grow your list while optimizing your product page, Amazon ads, blog, etc. You will eventually reach a tipping point where you will be making a living wage or better. Don't worry about the other shit.

My three cents...

BRYAN HIGBY said...

Hey Vin great to see you on this post! When are we getting that beer?

Vincent Zandri said...

Hey Bry...anytime lad...Schreck emailed me last week about it.

BRYAN HIGBY said...

How's next week sound? Wed or Thursday?

Vincent Zandri said...

Yah, give me a shoutout early next week buddy...

Helen Hollick said...

Good Post. Good Advice.

Alexander said...

This post made my day (grin - grin - grin)
If only possible in future to be more careful with things like "Those who can't do, teach".
First, not true. Second, there are quite a few teachers out there - probably one of (if not THE) most important jobs in the world, no?
cheers.

Anonymous said...

"Those who can't do, teach".

I hate that saying.

Those that are really good at what they do, do BOTH - Work actively in their field and teach, like Joe Konrath. Joe clearly works intensely in his field by writing and publishing prolifically and teaching via his blog.

Marvelous Mike said...

Noted. Thanks for the advice.

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