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.


Dean said...

Useful stuff. If I ever get nominated for an award, though, I'm going to have a hell of a time staying away.

Anonymous said...

Nice job, Joe. And my pub date got moved up and locked in to Oct. 2006 for The Devil's Pitchfork, so I'm back thinking hard about all this stuff.

As for the vacation thing--Joe, you HAVE to do this. I understand, it's hard. But you're going to burn out. We went to Disney World this summer and I think I was lucky--I only checked my e-mail once--otherwise I didn't do anything work related. Thank God. I came back ready to jump back in. For your mental health and your family, take a week off and really take it off. It's not advice--it's an order!

Mark Terry

mapletree7 said...

What kind of volunteering are you referring to?

JA Konrath said...

"What kind of volunteering are you referring to?"

I know a lot of writers who devote a lot of time to writing organizations and planning writing conventions.

I haven't seen any instances where this truly helps your career. But I've seen and experienced getting used, and it isn't a pleasant experience.

Your first job is to write. Your second job is to promote. If you want to help other writers, I suggest doing it on your own terms. Becoming a cog in someone else's machine can add much stress, but little benefit, to your career.

Bless the volunteers for all the work they do--but I won't do it again.

Martha O'Connor said...

I volunteer a lot for diabetes related organizations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and I know it cuts into my writing time (as does diabetes management... GUH). But it is such an integral part of who I am (who I have to be), I just can't stop. I get a lot out of volunteering, raising money, raising awareness, etc, too. And it makes me feel not quite so helpless.

Nice post, Joe.

Anonymous said...


In a blog full of terrific posts, this is perhaps your best.

RE: Vacation. Take one. Now.

Take one with Maria and then take one with Maria and the kids.

It's more important than anything else, and you won't know just how important until you do it.

Re: volunteering. Somebody mentioned volunteering for diabetes-related causes. I think that's terrific.

I don't want to put words in Joe's mouth, but when he wrote not to volunteer, I took it to mean, "Don't volunteer in the writing world."

Volunteering for charities and non-profits keeps people grounded.

Volunteering for writing conventions seems like it won't help much for the old writing career, which will leave less time to volunteer for charities.


JA Konrath said...

Hi Martha--

I'm sure you can see the difference between volunteering for something that helps mankind, and becoming a board member for the Romance Writers of America.

So many new writers think they need to volunteer to network. They don't. They wind up stuck behind a sign-in desk, missing all the parties.

This blog is called A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, not A Newbie's Guide to Living a Fulfilled and Enriched Life.

Martha O'Connor said...

"This blog is called A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, not A Newbie's Guide to Living a Fulfilled and Enriched Life."

Fuck. And here I thought jakonrath.blogspot.com was one-stop shopping....

I could never stop volunteering so I'm glad you don't think it is a problem! I've been accused of being obsessed, but then again, the parents who originally formed JDRF years ago were known as the "crazies..."

JA Konrath said...

A few points I'd like to bring up:

People who help others are good.

My advice is based on my experience. If everyone agreed with me, or if I bent every time someone had an opposing viewpoint, my advice would be worthless, and I don't believe it is.

My website and this blog are a way to give back to the writing community. Other writers give back by helping out at Bouchercon, or becoming treasurer for HWA. While my website and blog allow for me to do what I want, on my time, toward my own agenda, volunteering does not.

Everyone needs to do things that make them feel good about themselves. Becoming mired in organizational politics and spending a gazillion hours running a conference did not make me feel good--it made me feel unappreciated and used, and took time away from other more important things.

My experience. My opinion.

The bigger you get in the writing biz, the more people want from you. Last year I donated two books to fundraisers. This year I've donated ten. Last year I was asked to speak for free eight times. This year it was over thirty. Last year I had a few dozen new writers send me manuscripts to read. This year I had a few hundred.

I'm not complaining at all, but I do think that lines must be drawn. My line is at volunteering. Everyone needs to make their own choice.

Anonymous said...

Just a comment here regarding all your assistance to unpublished authors. It's admirable and to be applauded. But at some point your attorney is going to suggest that you're putting yourself at risk by reading so many unpublished manuscripts. Sad, but true, and you should keep in mind that this is a risk you probably should not take. I know, I know... just ... be careful, dude.

Mark Terry

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Thanks for the good advice. some of those things, I had never given a thought. I'm going to print this one and post it by my computer!

Julia said...

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.

I've seen 3 critique groups destroyed by writers who didn't understand this.

Anonymous said...

If I may quibble with one piece of your adice, it would be this one:

Don't listen to reviews.

I would amend that to something like "Take reviews with a grain of salt." (I'm speaking here of legitimate reviews from conscientious reviewers.) Don't let the great ones make you too happy or the awful ones make you too sad. But pay attention to the ones in the middle, as they might teach you something.

Keep in mind that it's only one person's opinion. But also keep in mind that, if the critic is someone who knows what they're talking about, that opinion can be a valuable one. They might have something worthwhile to offer you.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Re: volunteering. I voluteered to shoot video at next year's ThrillerFest and create a mini-documentary of events. While this will be difficult, I think it's a great ice breaker for me, a newcomer who won't have anything to promote (besides myself) until later in the year.

Volunteering may not help your career much, but it may help YOU.

Anonymous said...

The risk I mention is some unpublished author who shows you a manuscript who then sues you, frivolous or not, for plagiarism, and it may seem slight, but the more you sell the bigger a target you are, and even an unfounded lawsuit can take up a lot of time and lawyer fees. Paranoid? Well, don't ask an attorney. They won't think so.

Anonymous said...

Just a comment based on authors I'v talked to--several more than one--who have responded that they no longer read manuscripts on advice of attorneys for fear of being sued. Are there ways to protect yourself? You could probably have them sign some sort of release--just like a Hollywood producer would.

And "he'll get on CNN..." That's nice. I know how well it worked for Al Franken and his publishers, but it's still an expensive, frightening hassle. Any lawsuit is. Luckily--knock wood--I've missed out on them. But not my in-laws, who were sued by one of the bridesmaid's at their daughter's wedding when she was running in heels, fell down and broke her leg. First she tried to sue the hall, then turned to my in-laws. It dragged on for years before ending up in court where she won nothing, but the lawyers did okay, didn't they?

What Joe does is admirable. I applaud it. God knows when I was coming up I could have really used that kind of help. But it's risky.

It's also Joe's decision. We weigh risks in everything we do.