Thursday, May 28, 2009

Advice For Professional Writers

This blog is called A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, because a lot of what I write about is geared toward unpublished or recently published authors.

Now I'd like to dispense some advice for authors who have a book or two or ten on the shelves, because I keep seeing authors making the same damn mistakes. even after years in this biz.

You hear the phone ringing? It's reality calling. Pick it up and listen.

1. Keep writing. I'm shocked by how many authors I know who haven't had a book published in over a year. I can name more than fifty authors who have seemed to drop off the face of the earth. Yes, I know this business is hard, and rejection is discouraging. But giving up isn't an option. If you can't sell your latest book, write another one. And another. And another. Sheesh.

2. Stop whining. This business is woefully unfair, and involves a great deal of luck. Keep your complaints to yourself, get over it, and see #1.

3. Stop fretting about reviews. I know it's difficult when some brain donor on Amazon gives you one star without reading past page 3. Everyone has an opinion, and all opinions are valid, so get over it. Criticism (and for that matter, praise) is pointless after the book has been published. You don't need other people's opinions to be happy.

4. Don't compare yourself to other authors. Ever. Never ever. Someone will always have a bigger advance, better sales, more awards, bigger movie deals, and a much better publisher than you do. This isn't a competition, and envy is just as useless as worry, regret, and guilt.

5. Keep your ego in check. You are not all that. Your writing isn't that great. And anything good that has happened to you in your career is more about luck than about anything you've personally done. Get over yourself, be thankful and gracious, and always remember where you came from.

6. Celebrate. It's so easy to get so bogged down by details that you can forget you're a published author, which is pretty damn cool. Any time something good happens, take some time and luxuriate in it.

7. Promote. As much as you can. If you're not good at it, get good at it. The more you do, the more you'll sell. The more you sell, the longer you'll survive.

Now you might say, "But Joe, Author X doesn't do any of these, and he/she is wildly successful."

True. But Author X is also a dick. And I'm not the only one who thinks that.

Don't be a dick.

Lecture over. Ignore at your own peril.


Andrew Rosenberg said...

May I add one?

Stop writing the same book with the same characters and settings over and over again. We get it. Move on.

Neil Nyren said...

You can say that, but many authors' fans like those characters, like these settings. Are you telling an author to throw it all away? Not very realistic.

Good post, Joe.

Andrew Rosenberg said...

Of course it's much easier to sell something that people are familiar with. Doesn't mean an author can't at some point create a new universe with new rules and settings. I just think there's a lot of untapped creativity out there that's stuck producing sequel after sequel. Show me one author who's 10th book in a series is better than the first. (unless the first was a horrible get my point) Nothing wrong with a franchise though. People gotta make money.

But yes, I do like Joe's assessment. :)

Marci said...

I could not agree more. Recently, I was bashed by a first time author that didn't like the tone of the review I gave and posted her feelings on her blog. I understand having a book published is a stressful event in one's life, It is also one for a blogger / reviewer as well. It is a two way street, you get more bees with honey then you do with vinegar, it's a learning process for both.

JA Konrath said...

I gotta go with Neil here, lapetus999.

Series are very much like movie sequels, and I think the majority of fans prefer revisiting than reinventing.

That said, the stories should still feel fresh and there's nothing wrong with mixing it up a little to keep things interesting.

Creative A said...

Hmm. I thought lapetus was talking about an author who continually writes standalones that have the same basic plots and the same basic characters. In which case, I wholeheartedly agree.

If it's the other way around, well, series and sequels are good up to a point. I often have a sense that a book was meant to standalone, and that following books are so poor because everything that needed to be said has been, already.

I think a series must have quality and some variation. If it does, there's nothing wrong with writing about the same characters, or using the same basic plot. People want more of what they enjoyed before; it's that simple.

Anyway. Liked the post, Joe, though it was brief :)


Unknown said...

Great post. I'll be printing this one off so I can read it from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I needed it too, so timely.

Neil Nyren said...

Most people think that the hardest thing of all is to get published (and it's hard enough, that's for sure) -- but the hardest thing, really, is to get published and stay published. This kind of advice provides a real service, Joe.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

There are a lot of blogging writers who kvetch incessantly. I stop reading their blogs and it would highly unlikely that I'd read their books -- if they stopped whining long enough to publish. I find they not only complain about writing but really about the publishing business. Lots of wasted energy, in my opinion.

Glad I'm not alone in this one.

Laura Martone said...

As a published travel guide author but an unpublished novelist, I really appreciate this advice. Think positive, stop whining, keep writing, and ignore negative energy! Got it!

BT said...

Excellent advice for all writers - not just the published.

The only thing I'd add is to repeat point one at the end - regardless of anything else, keep writing.

Mary Stella said...

lapetus999 said:
Show me one author who's 10th book in a series is better than the first.

One of Robert B. Parker's earliest Spenser novels The Godwulf Manuscript was a good book but Catskill Eagle years later was excellent.

Just saying.

Joe, thanks for all the hard-hitting, no bullshit comments. I'll keep my whimpering to myself while working on the next book.

Phil said...

But it IS a competition. And some people ARE better than others. That's life, man. To make yourself feel better by telling yourself otherwise is just silly.

JA Konrath said...

But it IS a competition. And some people ARE better than others. That's life, man. To make yourself feel better by telling yourself otherwise is just silly.Universal truths are just silly.

There is no criteria for "better" other than subjective opinion.

As for competition, I don't know of any readers who only read one author and shun all others. I believe the majority of readers enjoy many different authors. There is no either/or.

Nadine said...

A very timely post for me too, just like your last post (I even sent that one to my agent, and I'm workign on trying to get my publisher to lower the Kindle price on my first novel now that I have a second one in print).

I do see lapetus's point - Isabel Allende, one of my favorite authors ever comes to mind - I will probably tire of those same settings and same-mould characters, but they are also the same reason I keep coming back for more.

Davin C. Goodwin said...

Joe -- good post.

I hope to someday be a published author so that I can then put your advice into action.....

Unknown said...

Great post and a good read. By the way, I'm with Lapetus in that so many authors do just pound away on the same theme with very thin changes. There are quite a few fantasy authors that work in this way. Read their first series, great. By the time you get to the third or fourth series of books, what you see is that the writing has gotten more sophisticated, but the characters (other than a few minor face lifts) are pretty much the same as the first series of books (even though they all have totally different names and populate a 'different' fantasy world). You really get to the point where you just want to see something new and different and if that author isn't going to deliver any surprises, then you start looking elsewhere. Then again, if that is what the author wants to write, they can, and if people are going to buy the books, they will.

Karen from Mentor said...

In light of this post,
I'm a step ahead of the game. I don't have the required anatomy or slant of personality to be a dick.
I let a smile be my umbrella and I will never need a jock strap.
Thanks for all of the good advice!

Salome said...

Thanks so much for the article, quite effective information.