Sunday, December 27, 2009

What I Know

I've been blogging for almost five years, and am closing in on 500 blog posts all about the publishing industry.

As a result, this blog gets a lot of hits from people who don't know who I am. That's the point. As I've said many times, anyone can find you on the net if they're looking for you. The goal is to have people find you when they're looking for something else.

That said, I often get emailed questions that are already answered in my blog. On one hand, a newbie author discovering me is anxious to get answers, and often enthusiastically fires off questions to me without reading all 500 of my posts. On the other hand, anyone who wants to succeed in publishing needs to be in it for the long haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Reading all of my entries does a lot more than simply familiarizing you with my writing. It's an encapsulation of how this business works, and how one writer views it.

So it's worth it to the read old posts.

But it's almost 2010. We're in a technological tsunami. Instant gratification isn't fast enough for us.

So here's a blog post that distills the essence of what I've learned in this biz.

Luck Is Important

I say this all the time. In fact, I think it's the #1 factor in determining success in this business. But I've never specifically identified what luck is.

In essence: Getting someone within the industry with enough power and money to recognize they can make money from your work. That's luck. It involves having the right book, in the right place, at the right time. Too soon, too late, wrong person, not good enough--these all can minimize your luck. But hard work, paying attention, and being willing to roll with the punches and accept criticism can maximize your luck.

Still, at the end of the day, it always comes down to a roll of the dice. No one said it would be fair, easy, or fun. But if this is your dream, it is worthwhile to pursue it.

Why do I pursue it?

First, because I love to tell stories. I think it's a fundamental part of the human experience.

Second, because making a living doing something I love is the whole point of life.

Third, because I'm ensuring my little place in history. The most important thing I can do as a human being is be a good husband and father. And yet, who remembers husbands and fathers? How many can you name that you don't personally know?

But writers--everyone can name a dozen writers. That I'm able to reach people, and at the same time become immortal through my work; that speaks to to the essence of what I believe humanity is.

As a species, we love to create things. I'm doing my part and making my mark, in a way that makes me thrilled to be alive.

Understand The Industry

The publishing industry is broken. No doubt about it. Any business that allows returns,
where a 50% sell-through is considered successful, where no one can figure out why things succeed or fail, is fundamentally flawed.

But the more you know about how things work, the better you can manipulate the system.

Good decision-making comes down to facts. The better informed you are, the likelier your decisions will be correct.

Listen. Ask questions. Follow examples. Experiment. Take chances. Stay alert.

The Harder You Try, The More Books You'll Sell

You will not become a bestseller by doing all the things I tell you to do, no matter how logical or well-informed I appear.

You will not become a bestseller through your blog, your touring, your speaking efforts, your internet efforts, or you social networks.

The only way you will become a bestseller is to have your books available, at a discount, in as many places as possible. And that's beyond your control.

That said, every little thing you do to sell your books can help your career.

Books sell one at a time. If you're the one that sells them, one at a time, its one more that probably would not have sold without your efforts.

The Race Is With Yourself

You can't ever compare yourself to any other writer. EVER. This isn't like the business world, where certain positions have a salary range. You can make $100 a year, or $5,000,000 a year, with no discernible difference in your output or your quality.

If you want to compare yourself to someone, compare yourself to yourself. Monitor your successes. Learn from your failures (and if you aren't failing, you aren't trying hard enough.) Try different things, make mistakes, grow, adapt, evolve.

Your peers are a tool you can use to better yourself. But they are NEVER something to aspire to.

Your only aspirations should be within your control. Which brings us to:

Set Achievable Goals

Goals should be within your power. In other words, anything that involves a yes or no from another human being isn't a goal, it's a dream.

You can and should dream, and dream big. But "I want to be a bestseller" isn't a goal. "I want to attend three writing conferences this year, polish my novel, and send queries to ten agents by November" is a goal.

Learn the difference. And don't forget to reward yourself when you reach those goals.

Love It

The term "tortured artist" is an oxymoron. Art is not food, clothing, or shelter. Art is what we do to express and entertain ourselves. If you slave over your writing, I recommend finding something more enjoyable to do. Life is too short, and too many bad things happen, to waste time making yourself miserable.

No one ever gets farmer's block. No one ever bitches about being too uninspired to wait tables.

If writing is so hard, perhaps you should find something easier.

This may seem to run contrary to:

Make Sacrifices

Nothing worthwhile in life is easy. Victory is sweetest when it's hard-won.

You shouldn't EVER believe you deserve anything, or that you're entitled to success. But if you want to reach your writing goals, it often involves giving up other things in order to focus on writing.

You need to love writing. In fact, you need to love it so much you're willing to give up other things that other people (perhaps even you) deem important.

How do you know if your love is strong enough and worth the sacrifice?

When you write THE END, if it isn't the coolest feeling in the world, perhaps you should consider a different career.

But if writing THE END is so fulfilling that it was worth giving up TV, sleep, food, sex, and surfing the internet, then you're in the right profession.

Get Used To Insecurity

As a writer, you'll have the biggest ego in the world, and no ego at all, at the same time.

Money will sometimes be plentiful, and sometimes be scarce.

You'll have major accomplishments, and major setbacks. Your mood will swing on a daily basis.

Some dreams will come true. Some will be murdered.

There are no guarantees.

This business is unstable, and being an artist, you're probably a bit unstable to begin with. These things can feed on each other. Doubt, insecurity, and depression, are all part of the career.

There will be long periods of waiting. Lots of them.

There will be challenges (and by that, I mean you'll get screwed.)

But you need to roll with the punches. Set-backs are opportunities to grow. Rejections are learning experiences. This is a business, and can't be taken personally.

If you go into this understanding you're in for an emotional roller coaster, you can handle the turns and dips much better.

Know When To Quit

The measure of a human being is what makes them finally give up. The stronger the person, the more they can take.

In my previous blog post, I said that you are the hero in the movie of your life. Act like it.

What do you want? Who do you want to be?

That dictates what you need to do.

Quitting, like admitting you're wrong, is one of the noblest things you can do in life. It says that you understand, and accept. It allows you to grow.

But if you want to conquer, quitting isn't an option. No one ever accomplished anything great by quitting.

Know your limitations. But also know your potential for greatness.

Be Cool

Gracious. Grateful. Easy going. Helpful. Fun. Giving. Thankful. Courteous. Honest.

In other words, be a nice person.

While "nice" doesn't mean "successful", it does mean you'll sleep better at night.

I believe a successful life is one where people miss you when you die.

As a writer, you have the potential for a great many people to miss you.

But not if you're a dick.

There. Now you don't have to read 500 blog entries.

Happy New Year! See you in 2010!

I have a feeling it will be the best year ever...


Anonymous said...

Joe, all this suffering! I guess I'm happy I write non fiction. But I have big dreams, too--don't we all?

Christine said...

Great post. Thanks for distilling the past five years into one post ;)

Erika Robuck said...

Wow, this is the first time I've ever read your blog. It won't be the last. Great post.

Kristi said...

Great post! I very much enjoyed the summary and was happy to stop by!

Now to begin looking back at some of the older ones for other nuggets of wisdom...

Happy Holidays!

John Soares said...

Great post that summarizes what it takes to make it as a writer. I write nonfiction in several genres, including books, articles, and special projects, and I wish I'd had your advice when I started.

Lea Schizas - Author/Editor said...

Great post, John. Hit all the essential elements that make up or need to mold what a writer is to the T.

Surprised no one mentioned anything about leaving out the 'sex' part. :)

But you're right, if you have a goal and want to see it come true, you need to work your pretty butt off and not give up.

JA Konrath said...

Surprised no one mentioned anything about leaving out the 'sex' part,

I've actually never had to give up sex for my career. An extra five minutes a week won't break me. :)

Karen from Mentor said...

"The most important thing I can do as a human being is be a good husband and father."

"I believe a successful life is one where people miss you when you die."


And now I think you should go off and write a book about a wonderful husband and father who doesn't die but is remembered anyway....'ll be a piece of cake for you to write if you just A)delve into your soft mushy center and then B)ignore your natural storytelling inclinations and then C)edit out all the parts with blood spattering as they creep in....

Thanks for all your wit and wisdom Joe. Glad I tripped over you last spring. You're an amazing teacher.
Karen :0)

crzsabas said...

Our writers' group leader sent every member a link to your blog (new year's resolutions) and now I'm hooked.

I like reading you because I already agree in spirit with everything you say about hard work, good craftsmanship, not taking things personally, etc; yet I can download plenty of industry veritas from your smart, experienced brain to my ignorant one.

I believe your predictions about the electronic side of our industry to be well-founded. Thank you for helping me to be excited about these changes instead of alienated by them.

Thank you for helping to articulate a work ethic, as a writer and creative artsy type, that I can take with me into the second 48 years of my life. I think it'll be both harder and more fun than the first 48.

Smash on!

jane, candid said...

Joe, as I look back on my new writing journey in 2009, I am grateful for all the insights and knowledge you have shared. You helped get me started! Happy to have been a pit stop along your way,
Scaredy Cat

Mark Terry said...

Wow, Joe. Nothing in this post to argue with you about. You must be slipping. And frankly, I expect to see both our names on the bestseller lists in 2010.

T. M. Hunter said...

Goals should be within your power. In other words, anything that involves a yes or no from another human being isn't a goal, it's a dream.


I've been saying this forever. Why I can't seem to convince people is still beyond my comprehension.


Nick Kelly said...

Informative as always. As a long time reader, I've seen the ups and downs even in your blog. I enjoy your writing and appreciate your willingness to help others. Happy 2010.

Cat Connor said...

Fabulous post Joe, "But if writing THE END is so fulfilling that it was worth giving up TV, sleep, food, sex, and surfing the internet, then you're in the right profession."
Maybe I'll highlight this and stick it on the wall for those that don't get that I'm not entirely anti-social I'm just busy writing and my world is so much more fun than - well - theirs.

I love writing THE END. But even more I love writing those first few sentences of a new story.

Happy New Year from way the hell down under.


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

You said it all.

And I'd like to emphasize the being nice part--people quit reading the authors who can't be nice to their readers.


Imp said...

Happy New Year, Joe! Thanks for taking the time to share your insights via this blog.

peace & passion,

~ Alessia

Marisa Birns said...

I was happily prepared to read those 500 blogs, but thank you for distilling all the good information into this one post!

Onward to 2010! Reading stories, writing stories. And just as Elmore Leonard is purported to have said, I'll try to "leave out the parts that people skip"!

Jim said...

"When you write THE END, if it isn't the coolest feeling in the world, perhaps you should consider a different career."


There, I just wrote it, but I have to tell you, it wasn't the coolest feeling in the world.

Was I supposed to put a story in front of it?

Terry Odell said...

Very worthwhile post. And isn't it fun checking search words to see what people are really looking for when they find you? I've followed you since you did a Writer's Digest (I think) article on what you did after you got your first contract offer. And we met a few years back at SleuthFest, but I doubt you'd remember me.

You've got great advice. Thanks for sharing.

Michelle said...

This is such a great post - thank you for it! I've had a crazy year where I sold one book, the publisher later canceled the contract, and we've been out with another book to which every single editor rejection has included the phrased "loved it" and some variation of "this was so close to making it." (Even had a personal letter from an editor saying she was so upset she couldn't make it happen). I've felt bloodied, battered, bruised (and I am quite unaccustomed to not getting what I want as soon as I decide I want it!) This post put things into perspective and helped me remember there is only one thing to do and that is keep going. So thank you.

Debbie Mumford said...

Thanks for this nice synopsis. I've been recommending it to all my writing buddies.

Anonymous said...

Some excellent advice here. I do like the poing "Get used to insecurity". Thanks so much for sharing the highlights and I look forward to your thoughts in 2010.

g d townshende said...

Note to self: Don't be a dick. ROFL! Got it.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Though I downloaded it ages ago, I only just started reading your "Newbie's Guide To Publishing." It's a terrific book, packed with hard-earned wisdom about the writing game. I wanted to compliment you for your generosity in making it available for free.

Happy Holidays.

Jude Hardin said...

But writers--everyone can name a dozen writers. That I'm able to reach people, and at the same time become immortal through my work; that speaks to to the essence of what I believe humanity is.

Shut up and get me another faulkin' beer, Faulkner. ;)

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Now Joe...I fit your list of being a writer...I set goals and make them, I put in 16 hours days devoted to writing and related issues of writing. And I've given up, eating, friends, income, and any hope of living a "Normal life"...


as a romance writer... I refuse to give up my sex! LOL - That's my research! ;-)

I enjoyed this post and I'm linking you to my blog to share you with others!

I will return!

Sonja Foust said...

Thanks for your post. It's almost time for 2010 goal-setting and this is a great post to get started with it!

Phyllis J. Towzey said...

Great post - so glad a friend gave me the link. :)

johnny ray said...

This is a great article--thank you so much for it. It reminds me of an old saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." I entered this business knowing it was not easy, but determined to make it work. And as I've hear many times from some great author friends, "I've only began to write."

thanks again

Vicki said...

Julie Leto sent me over here and wow, what a fabulous post. Thanks for making it so we don't have to read all 500, but you know, I'm thinking I'll be reading them anyway. :)

One of your lines "and if you aren't failing, you aren't trying hard enough", really hit home. That's one I'm going to print and put by my computer.

I'm adding you my links and will be back. Thanks so much.

The Rejection Queen said...

I wish I had luck.

JA Konrath said...

Thanks all for the kind words.

I'm surprised how many new hits this blog has been getting this month, in a large part due to retweets on Twitter and links from other bloggers. I'm humbled, and aprreciate you spreading the word. said...

I think your blog is one of the best for new authors and about publishing, on the web. Thank you for all the hard work you put into it and leading by example!

Gwyn Ramsey said...

Fanastic read, Joe. I agree completely. Writing THE END is a high for me, but so are the first few sentences. This business is not for the weak of heart. With so many ups and downs, as an author, you have to stick with it, if you are serious about your business. Thanks for a good read.

Gwyn Ramsey

Ronda Snow said...

This is the best advice for writers I've ever read! Bravo and Thank you!!!

Cher Gorman said...

Julie Leto over at the Plotmonkeys blog had a link this morning on their blog today. I'm so glad I came. Great post and one that writers like me who have been banging on the keyboard a very long time and newbies alike need to read.

This is the first time I've read your blog. So glad I stopped by. I'll be back :-)


S. Grogan (Vegas Die) said...

Since we had met at the Priners Row Book Festival and I picked up all your books for my signed First Editions collection, I have appreciated your wisdom of your blogs and have printed out the pithy nuggets that I need to reflect back on. Look forward to 2010 when we both continue to figure out the literary tsunami of publishing. Best wishes, S. Grogan

Gennita said...

I love you. Internet babies?

Thanks for such a great post. Great advice for noobs. Great self-reinforcement for non-noobs like me.

Happy New Year!

Dal Jeanis said...

Only one disagreement - Lots of people accomplish something great by quitting. It's just that they accomplish something great in field B by quitting something in field A. Fidel Castro quit baseball (to pick a weird example).

If you have a choice between being a mediocre A and an average B, or quitting A and being an awesome B, then quit A if you're able.

Of course, if you *can* quit writing, then you should. All my writer friends agree, and none can.

Beverly G said...

My friend is an aspiring writer and working on her first book, and I'm a card/craft artist. She sent me the link to your blog and I have to say this post was inspiring not only for writers but artists of all genres.

Marcie Steele said...

Happy New Year Joe, hope you have a good one. Mel x

Jules said...

Thanks, great info! I'll go back and check out your old blogs. Hopefully, I'll meet you a conference :-)


Scott Nicholson said...

yeah, except for that "writing over sex" part, I'm right with you

Just took the Kindle plunge with the Red Church and I plan to post progress reports

Scott Nicholson

Terri said...

Thanks. I'm ready now.

And funny enough, after this I might just go back and read the 500 posts.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I'm glad you're getting lots of new hits, because YOU ROCK. Especially with posts like this. I linked to your "resolutions" post on my blog, which I'm sure resulted in exactly one other click-through, but hey I'm doing my part! :)

I love the part about being a "nice" person. While we need to give up things to write (everyone gives up things to work, live, eat), we should never compromise on being a decent human being. And we shouldn't have to.

It's so inspiring to see you living the dream. Rock on!

Natasha/Nancy said...

This is a good, thought-provoking post and I'm glad I found your blog! Definitely I'm recommending it to my writing buddies.

Thanks for the bits of wisdom, even (and maybe especially) the ones I'm not sure I agree with yet....

Meghan Ward said...

A fabulous post. Thank you!

Simon Hay said...

Awesome post, thanks. If I can't be immortal I'd be happy to have xmen powers.

Dave Keane said...

Joe, this is solid, thoughtful, no-nonsense advice. Good for me to read now after a maddening, teeth-gnashing 2009. Been reading this blog since early on, and it's been a great support. You are the wind beneath my keyboard, brother! :D

Renee Thompson said...

"No one ever gets farmer's block."

Great mantra for 2010. Thanks, Joe.

Michelle Moran said...

No one ever gets farmer's block. No one ever bitches about being too uninspired to wait tables.

HA! Well said. And great post!

Jerry J. Davis said...

I am so totally glad I stumbled across this blog. BOOKMARKED and Twittered.

Thank you for all the wonderful nuts and bolts info you're sharing here. Especially your Kindle publishing adventures.


Lucinda said...

Finally, I read this blog via an agent's link.

I will be back many times to read your blog whether I respond or not. You have boiled the cabbage down and served a great feast of information about what it takes to be a writer.

When life gets ruff and tuff, I want to write even more. Sometimes I think of writing as an escape from the harshness of reality, but to be honest about it all, I just plain love it whether life is smooth sailing or stormy.

Thanks for the blog, Joe

Angela Slatter said...

Awesome post! Thanks :-)

Andrew Penn Romine said...

thank you Joe, great post! Found you via a re-tweet, will be adding your site to the feed!

Happy 2010!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

I loved this post, thank you.

Wishing YOU the best year ever - you deserve it.

Theresa Milstein said...

What a wonderful post. It was inspiring and also humbling. Thank you.

mkcbunny said...

This is the first time I've read your blog, and I really enjoyed this post. Count me among the folks who found you by accident. You've just been bookmarked for daily reading. Thanks.