Monday, March 05, 2012

Writing Matters

I've been making weird use of my time these past few weeks, doing something that is antithetical to blogging about the publishing world.

I've been writing.

Right now we're in the middle of a revolution. These are exciting times. It's easy to get caught up in the ebook/self-publishing momentum and spend all of your time thinking about how to publicize your books, or position them correctly, or decide which platforms to commit to.

But at the end of the day, the one thing that truly matters is writing a good story. Because without that, there is nothing to sell.

This is a Newbie's Guide to Publishing, not a Newbie's Guide to Writing, so I don't blog about the craft too often. Writers come here seeking information about Amazon and the Big 6 and agents, not about narrative structure and characterization.

That doesn't mean you should ignore narrative structure and characterization.

There has been much speculation about why some writers hit it big via self-publishing. We all wonder how John Locke sold 1,000,000, or how Amanda Hocking made $1,000,000. In the last two weeks my writing buddy Blake Crouch has made more than $40k on his thriller ebook RUN (incidentally, that brilliant book was rejected by every major NY publisher). I just had two back-to-back $75k months. There are always new stories of some indie writer making big money, or cracking the NYT bestseller list.

But very few talk about the essential ingredient in a successful ebook. Namely, the book itself.

Locke, Hocking, and Crouch are good storytellers. They've worked very hard on their craft. Their books entertain, and when someone reads one they tell other people about it and recommend it. While there isn't any book that pleases everyone, if you look at these writers' reviews on Amazon you'll see they're averaging about 4 stars, and they've been reviewed hundreds and hundreds of times.

I've also seen the opposite thing happen. A book has a good cover and a few 5 star shills, and it does well for a few weeks, and then because it isn't very good the 1 star reviews take over, killing its sales. If you put a fresh coat of paint on a turd, it's still a turd.

The writing counts.

If you're a writer in 2012, it's important to be savvy about social networking, publicity, marketing, platforms, covers, formats, and all the things associated with self-publishing and ebooks.

But the most important thing is the book itself.

My 14 year old son is writing a story. He sees Dad making a lot of money, talking about how ebooks will earn forever, and I'm pretty sure he thinks Kindle is a one-way ticket to fame and fortune.

A few days ago I finished the final draft of Timecaster Supersymmetry, and celebrated with the prerequisite bottle of expensive beer (a Bruery Black Tuesday). The following day, when he came home from school, he saw me at the computer and asked if I was working on a new book.

"No. Still working on Timecaster."

"But you said you were finished."

"I am. I'm just not finished with being finished."

I love writing. I loved it for the 12 years where I didn't sell a single thing, and I've loved it for the 12 years I've been a professional. I have all the conceits that every writer has. I think about my characters as if they're real people. I dream about scenes. I secretly believe my stories are the best in the world. I laugh at my own jokes, cry at the emotional parts, and often dislocate my elbow patting myself on the back after a good bit of dialog or a fun twist. Being a writer does more than define me; it isn't a job, it's a way of life. And when I put my life out there for the world to see, I want it to be the very best that I am capable of. I want readers to enjoy it as much as I have. I want every chapter, every scene, every sentence to be deliberate, to convey exactly what I want it to convey.

Do you know what the real definition of success is? It isn't about how many books you sell, or how much money you make. It isn't about winning awards, or getting great reviews. It isn't about having fans.

A successful writer is one who can defend every single word in their story. Because the ones they can't defend should get cut.

It isn't easy doing that. It takes a lot of time, a lot of commitment, a lot of work. But it's work I embrace, because I'm having a lifelong love affair with storytelling, and I want to keep getting better until the day I die.

I'll never be finished with being finished.

When my son asks me to read his story, I know what he wants to hear. He wants to be told it is brilliant, and wants me to upload it to my Kindle account, and wants to buy a car with all the money he thinks he's going to make even though he's still too young to drive.

But praise is like candy. Even though we love it, it isn't good for us. So I'm going to be critical. I'm going to tell him exactly what is wrong with his story, and why, and try to get him to figure out on his own how to fix those problems.

If he's got the bug, he'll rewrite. And rewrite again, and again, and again until the story works and he knows exactly why it works. Then he'll be ready to self-publish.

That's what all of us should be doing.

If you love writing, and you know you're doing it right, readers will find you.

Keep at it until they do.


Rashad Pharaon said...

Love this post, you really nailed it.

Andrea said...

A nice break from eBooks! :-)

I read all of your blog posts to my husband. I left my traditional publisher when I found your blog - I wasn't ever happy with how things went. We're self-pubbed now, but doing things our way, mixing what has worked for us with what works for others. It has been a great journey! We're totally committed to this way of life.

Thanks for the inspiration, and especially for the reminder. Writers write! We do what we love!

Jonas Saul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather Hildenbrand said...

So true. Easy to get caught up in the marketing side of things. Especially self-pubbing, when you play the role of not just writer, but editor, marketer, publicisit, etc. but the writer "hat" definitely needs to be front and center. Good reminder Joe!

Summer said...

Fantastic post Joe.

I've got the bug as well and I understand completely not being finished with being finished. ;-)

Thanks for your usual well written and thought provoking post!

Judith Mercado said...

Spot on.

Sally Clements said...

Well said, Joe.

Nely said...

Thanks as always for your posts! They really make my day and help me to press on.

Lindsay Buroker said...

Yes, marketing can get people to give your book a try, but it's the writing that keeps 'em coming back. ;) Tell a good story and readers don't care (or even notice) if you're self-published or not!

Charles Kruse said...

"It isn't a job; it's a way of life"

Thank you for perfectly capturing something I've been trying to explain to my family for years. I have a job; I go there 6 days a week because I enjoy sleeping indoors and eating hot meals. I also write, because without it I wouldn't be who I am.

-Charles Kruse, author of Open Water (currently available for free on amazon)

Jude Hardin said...

But the most important thing is the book itself.


Excellent post.

But praise is like candy. Even though we love it, it isn't good for us. So I'm going to be critical. I'm going to tell him exactly what is wrong with his story, and why, and try to get him to figure out on his own how to fix those problems.

This is the only part I'm going to have to disagree with a bit. When we nail something, and people we trust tell us they love it, I think it's okay to feel good about that. It encourages us to move forward. So be sure to tell your son exactly what is right with his story, as well as what's wrong.

And be sure to tell him that all criticism is just one person's opinion, albeit an informed one.

Monica Shaughnessy said...

I totally agree. There's no better feeling than putting the right words in the right order, unless it's making $75k a month for doing so.

P.S. - Thanks for the new post. I was getting tired of staring at the old one. :-)

Marie Force said...

Perfectly stated, as always, Joe. I gave a workshop on self-pubbing this past weekend and we got talking about the luck factor. Sure, I got lucky with some breaks that were outside of my control. But where I feel I really got lucky is in writing books people seem to want to read, as do you and Blake and Bella and all the other people who've had success self-publishing. I think that's the same hard-to-quantify element that causes some traditionally published authors to break out while others languish. That's the stroke of luck I will always be grateful for, because it's made everything else possible. Good luck with your writing and editing, and good luck to your son, too. It's great that you've inspired him to try his hand at writing.

kathleenshoop said...

Love this post! I try to keep good writing in mind as I amble down the publication road. I am a fast first-drafter, but slow reviser and I feel the drag of my snail's pace, hoping it doesn't mean I'm missing out on opportunities. This post reminds me I have to move at whatever speed works for me. As long as writing is my focus, the focus is right! I loved hearing about your son--good luck to him!

Mark LaFlamme said...

Joe keeps bringing it back to this and God bless him for it. I recently gave up Chantix after a full year on the stuff. Been on a five-thousand-words-a-day spree ever since. The mind-alerting drugs might do something for your narrative powers, but the self-help stuff doesn't do Jack.

Paula Millhouse said...

Weird, Joe - check out my blog post from yesterday - we must be on the same wavelength or something.


Elena DeRosa said...

Thanks for this makes staring at the brown bar of shame a little easier ;)

Anonymous said...

Really needed the encouragement right now, Joe.
Many thanks!!

Randy Mixter said...

Great advice as usual. Your blog and your writing continue in inspire me,as a writer, to do better. I'm really just starting out at 65, but I plan on writing several more of the best books I can before I hang it up.

Unknown said...

Great post as usual. I have a saying and although it isn't grammatically correct, it keeps me on my toes. ABW: always be writing.

I don't do this for the fame or fortune (though it would definitely be nice to finally get some recognition in a sea of writers) but because it's all I have ever wanted to do.

I constantly write and don't know what I would do if I didn't write. It's not a habit, it's a compulsion, as is always going over finished work and when I find the dreaded type-o which my beta, editor or I missed, it gets fixed. There is no such thing as done per se but there is a such thing as making a story as perfect as you can get it.

Joe Flynn said...

The joy is in the work. The daily bread in the sales.

Tim McGregor said...

Nicely said, Joe. In the crazy drive to push one's existing book, it's easy to overlook the real work of putting one word after another to tell a story.

Hiroko said...

An ode to writing. I hope every writer feel about the craft as you do!
Also, what a great "bug" to instill in your son. :)

Anonymous said...

A successful writer is one who can defend every single word in their story. Because ones they can't defend should get cut.

Fantastic, Joe. I'm nailing that to my...desktop. (I'll also use it as fuel for my clients when they beg a reason for my red-penning. :) )

Renee Maynes said...


Tracee Sioux said...

I'm still confused about HOW to make money at Kindle and which steps I should take to "position" my book.

If you wrote a post

Step 1
Step 2
Step 3

I would for sure follow the steps.

Andreas Pauli said...

Right on time just when I needed to hear it. Thanks Joe!

Barrel Jumper said...

I enjoyed this post. Of course, there's plenty of GREAT books out there in ebook land that don't make sales because people don't know they exist.

Not sure how to help those people out? But I've read some of those books, loved them, reviewed them, and still see them mired in the 200,000+ range on the Amazon rankings.

Unknown said...

It's funny you should bring up the topic of children seeing us writing. I had a conversation with my own daughter last night that sounds like the one you had with your son. She's 11 and wants to write a story and upload it to Amazon. She's active in roleplaying for characters from her favorite book series, so she's done some writing already. I guess she never realize that the first book I self-published was not the first thing I had ever written. When I told her I had been writing for years before I was ready to write a full length novel, she was astonished. I don't want to kill her dreams, but I do want her to see that she can achieve it with hard work--not by just putting up the first draft of the first story she ever writes.

JDM said...

Here's something I've always been curious about, which is at least partly related to this discussion: How long does everyone typically take between the end of one story and the start of a new one? By the time I get to the end of a story, my mind has often been secretly working on the next one for several weeks. I always think I'm going to be able to start that next one the moment I finish the current one... but there must be some internal need to regenerate, mentally, because as much as I think I'm prepared for the new one, I'm never quite able to start it right away.

That break between stories is a perfect chance to do some marketing. But I do think it's important not to wait too long before getting the next story started. Just curious to see what works for everyone else.

Imogen Rose said...

Good post!

Christine Ashworth said...

Thank you. I've been pulling back from all the hype and madness and just focusing on writing, and it has been like coming up for a breath of fresh air. I haven't self-pubbed yet, but I will probably get there in the end.

PatrickGannon1938 said...

Monday,March 5,2012

Dear Joe Konrath :

Writing WELL matters.
Well ??
enlightening and interesting,
among other things !!!

Furthermore,there has NEVER been a better TIME to be a
FINANCIALLY SUCCESSFUL ebook/book author than NOW !

In 2012 & beyond,there are many more opportunities to succeed as a author due to ebook readers,
like the Kindle,
Kobo Touch,etc.
and self-publishing programs like
KDP or
Kindle Direct Publishing,etc.

This DEVICE DRIVEN ebook revolution has made these GREAT OPPORTUNITIES possible.

You are certainly at the forefront of this ebook revolution with your ebook self-publishing start on April 8,2009.

For those friends,family
and co-workers
who do NOT believe this
MAJOR ebook/digital shift is happening,
and that
my recent blog article should help them WAKE UP,etc.
(and fellow authors !) :

"The Ebook Revolution Officially And Truly Began
On November 19,2007,
And Is The Best & Most Profitable Thing That EVER Happened To Quality-Oriented Aspiring
And Experienced Ebook Authors"
(February 29,2012)

Yes---it is a long piece of research/writing but it IS "interesting,informative,etc."
i wanted to prove that
the ebook revolution is REAL


Sincerely & generously yours,
PatrickGannon1938 Blog.
In Ebooks I Trust.

Todd Trumpet said...

Two whole weeks without a Konrant!

What words of flame can I fire here to get a fix?


Chris Wood said...

Books aren't finished, they're just abandoned.

Great post.

Frank Dellen said...

I guess you're lucky your son wants to follow your writing successes, not the beer-drinking ones.

Also, he's going to hate you for pointing out the flaws in his story. Origin of father/son-conflict, happening right now.

Mori Lii said...

This post was very good. It's exactly what I needed to read at this moment. Everything was spot on! Thank you for the inspiration and encouragement for us writers not to give up and continue writing! It's our passion after all!

Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard said...

You're right on every count. But as a former teacher, I hope you'll tell your son not only what's wrong with what he writes, and why, but also what's right, and why.

Eric said...

On all the advice of writing I have ever seen it always comes done to this:

Rule One:
Write a good book!

Ryan Schneider said...

JDM brings up an excellent point: after one novel/story is finished, how long do you wait until you begin writing the next novel/story?

There is, of course, no single correct answer for this.

A tortured writer may wait a year or two because of the pressure they put on themselves to write something so brilliant that even God will plunk down $3.99 for the ebook version of it.

I think most writers do require a brief period of regeneration, of gathering mental/physical/spiritual strength & energy.

The novel I'm writing now is at 75k words, but I can already feel myself being pulled to the story I want to write after this one is "finished."

I wonder if I'm not writing fast enough.

This current book also required a few months of research before I felt ready to begin writing in earnest, so that research phase is something to be taken into consideration.

But after a draft is completed, it should be put aside for a week or two, long enough for you to forget what you wrote, so that when you dig it out again and begin polishing, you can see it with fresher eyes.

So how to fill this cooling off period?

"Always be writing something new" is one mantra. Write a new story while editing the previous one. This can also be useful if you get stuck in one segment of the story; you can work on the other story while the problem germinates in your mind. In essence, if you paint yourself into a corner, change corners.

And write because you love it.

Mario Jannatpour said...

Very helpful and inspirational.
Thank you.

David L. Shutter said...

Great post Joe, thanks as always for the insight.

Supersymmetry? Someone's been reading up on String Theory it seems. Funny, so have I.

Darlene Underdahl said...

OK, I'm going to read this in the morning... I've just had a scotch.

Thank you for keeping it alive.

Brian Lee Durfee said...

Long time reader, first time commenter. I disagree with only one point. I continually see poorly written books with awful covers at the top of the kindle bestseller charts. In all genres. And it boggles my mind. So something else has to be at play here (sensational promotional Amazon back-door shenanigans, or these writers have ten thousand friends willing to buy their stuff) because clearly they have ignored all your other advice on quality covers and writing, yet they still sell big. How do you account for that? I dont begrudge any hardworking creative person who takes the time to write a novel (good or bad) and put it up for sale on Amazon. But i see a lot of garbage in those kindle top 100 rankings. As an avid reader (and fellow creator in the arts) this is bothersome.

smober said...

Content is king- regardless the platform, a good story will always be the most important piece to the puzzle.

Writers seem to become so consumed in self-promotion that they forget this detail. I've become stuck in that storm from time to time, feeling so overwhelmed with all I think I need to do that I forget how important just writing a good story is.

I love that moment when you're working on a scene and you have a total writer-gasm. Nothing would ever make me give up those moments. The only thing better is a multiple writer-gasm. ;)

JA Konrath said...

But i see a lot of garbage in those kindle top 100 rankings.

Be careful you aren't confusing your personal taste with what others consider to be good.

I just looked over the Top 100 Paid and Top 100 Free Kindle bestsellers.

Out of those 200 ebooks only one (the Wall Street Journal) had a two star average. Four had a two and a half star average. Ten had a three start average. The other 185 ebooks on those list averaged three and a half stars or more.

I also checked the Police Procedural Top 100, and only found 1 book with a rating under three stars, and it was by NYT bestseller Stuart Woods.

So I don't see the garbage you speak of. There certainly is garbage on Amazon, but I don't see it on the bestseller lists. And if it is there, it usually drops off pretty fast.

Brian Lee Durfee said...

You're probably right, Joe. As a illustrator and Gallery artist I oft times go into a reputable gallery, see a painting, scratch my head, and think 'how the hell did this garbabe get hung in here?' only to realize it's by an artist ten times more popular and richer than me. Entertainment is all subjective. Comes down to taste. I defer to you. Love your blog by BTW

steve r. said...

Another enjoyable post, as always!

I, for one, would not mind more information about narrative structure and characterization. Any time you feel like sharing about that aspect of writing, let us have it!

We are already better self-publishers because of your blog, you also can help us become better writers too! I mean if you are so inclined to further bless your acolytes ;)

...and I totally think that the craft of writing falls under the umbrella of "guide to publishing". Since better writing has a much better chance of being read, it would then open additional opportunities to use those publishing skills you've been teaching us all this time :)

Hope Welsh said...

Writing does matter--and so do covers.

For those that worry about whether or not a book is good enough for the price--or what you'd want to invest a couple of hours reading, I'd suggest you read the sample chapter and go from there.

For that matter, do a Google search for reviews on the title.

I always send my own writing to review sites--people I don't know and know nothing about--for honest reviews.

There may be some self-published authors that use shills--but come on--they're very easy to spot--they've only done one review.

Joe is right--a good book. That matters most.

Heather Justesen said...

JDM, I never seem to have only one story in the pipeline at a time. There's always a second one I've at least started research and character backgrounds, plotting on when I finally kick one out. And then there's inevitable lag time I have to wait for someone else to critique my books--often glacially slow for some reason but as my critique partners are terrific and the money to pay for a much faster professional is non-existent, I always have at least a second book in the works before the first is totally done. (Okay, I'm doing well if there are only three I'm working on,) The sticky part for me is setting aside the second book to work out edits on the first one when my feedback comes in, especially if i'm in the zone.

Unknown said...

I don't think a story is truly ever finished until it's published. Great post!

Charmaine Clancy said...

My 14 yr old has enjoyed writing shorter things and is now trying her hand at her first novel length fiction too. Like most kids that age, she has a great imagination for things a little quirky, but the process of finishing a full novel length piece will be great experience for the kids - they learn some valuable writing skills along the way. I'd love to see a kids publishing group up that helps under 18's edit, polish and publish their manuscripts.
Now, back to writing...

Anonymous said...

Hey Joe,

If your son manages to finish a novel, instead of ripping the work apart, try this:

1. Point out what he did right. (You might have to look hard to find it, but with any luck it will be there.)

2. Tell him something like: "I had a great time reading that. I can't wait to read your next one."

3. If he asks, tell him whether you think it's ready for publication. (Yeah, probably not.)

FWIW. That's how I handled my 12-year-old daughter's first novel 12 years ago. It wasn't till she got to her fifth or sixth novel that she was getting something that anyone but Mom would like reading, But she didn't ever need my criticism, just my support.

Not a writer myself, just the parent of one.

Jo-Ann said...

"Just not finished with being finished" Love it! Gonna use it! Sounds better than "hmmm, just dithering about with the detail".

WiseMóna said...

As usual Joe - great words. My favourite - but it was not easy to pick - was this line " Being a writer does more than define me; it isn't a job, it's a way of life " ..
Motivating and inspirational. Thank you.

Mark Feggeler said...

Not only good writing advice, but good parenting, as well. Good job.

Anonymous said...

Love this post. This is what the chance to epublish my work is all about for me, writing and connecting with readers. When readers say they couldn't put my book down, they nearly missed their bus stop, they didn't want to get off the airplane. When they don't particularly like the protag but they read on anyway, all this stuff is what makes it worthwhile for me because it proves I can write and really that's all I wanted to know!!

adan said...

"I'll never be finished with being finished." - yes ;-)

Jimelle said...

Thank you for this!

I've made lots of great friends in writer's fora here and there, but some of them don't seem to understand that at some point, I have to stop chatting and WRITE.

They wonder why I disappear every day at 9 o'clock. I wonder how they ever wrote anything in the first place.

Have a happy day!

Dawn said...

I agree with this---can you believe I have had folks ask me about my Kindle success and how they can do it and they haven't even finished their first book yet!

With all the wonderful perks of
Kindle, I still agree that it's all about the READERS. And about the joy of writing and perfecting a craft (not that anyone will ever be a "perfect" writer)

The most rewarding moment for me was not a big selling month, but when I got a letter from some teen in PA with bipolar disorder. She had read my novel about a girl with bipolar disorder (it was in her school library) and said it made her feel like she was not alone. She also asked some very intelligent questions about the book, which showed she was really absorbing it.

That, I think ultimately, is why we write.
Well, that and it's cheaper than therapy.


Or: "If you love writing, keep at it."

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I did the same thing when my 12 yo finished his novel and wanted to know what I thought: I gave him the courtesy of treating him like a professional and did a professional critique. It was gentle (I am his mom), but it was honest. And he took it like a pro! I have to say, I was probably more proud of how he handled the critique and subsequent revisions than I was of him writing it in the first place (which I was flat amazed about to begin with). We self-published it so he could share it with his friends and family. I insisted that he make it free - that this book wasn't a money making enterprise. This one was for love.

We printed up a few for his teachers and grandma so they can brag on him. He carries around cards we printed with his cover and link to Smashwords for his friends (40% of whom have ereaders, thank you very much). Hundreds of people have downloaded it, and he even got a review (not from family)! And he's busy working on the sequel.

I'm a proud momma. :)

Jon Olson said...

Enough said. Gotta get back to it.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone

JM Ney-Grimm said...

@Hope Welsh: How do you find review sites? I'm a total noob at this indie publishing thing. I have 3 titles up, but the first went up December 2011. I can't say I know what I'm doing yet! Still learning. But I'd love to have some independent reviewers look at my work.

Daniel said...

Thanks for the typically fine post, Joe. I know a bit about editing, having tweaked my recently self-pubbed book (STORIES GUARANTEED TO MAKE YOU SICK) umpteen times over the past 17 years -- I've gone through five agents in that time, but only one repped this book. I've had it critiqued by hundreds of middle-schoolers, have read stories from it out loud to groups of kids while simultaneously marking passages that did/did not receive the reaction I was aiming for, then revised, revised ad infinitum. I am very proud of my book, will put it up against any other similarly themed book out there (of which there are practically none), can't see how the cover could be improved, practically have my author profile at Amazon presented as a comedy routine. And yet practically no sales. I know the main problem is that the book is aimed at 10-14 years olds so kids have to find it somehow, but at that age parents usually determine what gets bought.

I would greatly appreciate any advice as to how to promote/publicize the book. Even these past two weeks I used a story from the book to help teach reading to a group of sixth graders I tutor after school. Their response was great and they enjoyed making suggestions for further takes on the same story. I'm ready to offer free review copies to people who are intrigued by the generous excerpt offered at Amazon. No strings attached. A facebook fan page? Any and all suggestions appreciated.

Meanwhile I have to get back to illustrating my series of joke books, the first two of which will come out this summer. Remember elephant jokes? There's a new sub-species in that category about to be birthed. Modern twist? Every joke is illustrated. At times the illustration IS the joke.

Thanks to all in Joe's community.
Daniel Berenson
Freaky Dude Books

Splitter's Blog said...

I guess the thing that bothers me most about this whole thing is the "luck factor." It just does not mesh with my belief in hard work and talent.

But it is real.

I got lucky when my first book went free and hit the Amazon rankings. Then it did it again a month later. Overall, those factors got me 25K potential readers, but I had zero control over some of the factors that played into surges.

I understand that turning out good books increases an author's chances but there are no guarantees and that is, frankly, frightening.

Patience is a wonderful thing and I wish I had more of it!


Merrill Heath said...

My father was pleased that I shared his interest in writing. He always encouraged me to write but without pressuring me to do so. He also provided lots of constructive criticism of my writing and was very careful to provide a realistic view of the profession, the hard work involved, the value of a quality product, and the odds of actually making enough money to do it full-time.

Joe, I hope you'll offer the same kind of feedback to your son.

I remember when I finished my first novel he read it and told me what he thought of it. When I asked what I should do with it next, he said: "Put this one on the shelf and take what you learned from this experience to make your second novel that much better."

In other words, he let me know that my first novel wasn't good enough to send out, but perhaps my second or third would be and to keep plugging away at it.

Sage advice from a successful author in his day.


Lissa Matthews said...

I so needed to read this. Thanks!

Katherine Owen said...

Thank you, Joe. Once again, your post is so timely! I've been swamped with the marketing side, have neglected the writing for more than a week, and refreshed the sales page one too many times. Your post just saved me a ton of the mopey druthers where I was wallowing and even considering re-entering the morass that is the corporate world. Whew! Your post just annihilated a whole bunch of angst and thoughts of defeat.

Thank you!

JA Konrath said...

I gave him the courtesy of treating him like a professional and did a professional critique.

I agree.

In older blog posts (and the free Newbie's Guide to Publishing ebook available on my website I go into a great deal about writing craft and how to critique a story.

There is something I call "ugly baby syndrome." To wit, newbie writers think their work is good, and their support group gives them encouragement and praise which reinforces this false belief. I've got 5 unpublishable novels that friends and family raved about.

I didn't need raves. I needed to be told what I was doing wrong. Had I gotten the criticism earlier, I would have gotten published sooner.

I've raised my son giving him praise when what he does is truly praiseworthy. As a result, he is the most secure, confident, level-headed teens in his peer group. He doesn't have a huge sense of entitlement. He doesn't get discouraged when he fails. He's a lot better suited to succeed in life than I was at his age.

Like any good parent, I encourage his interests. But I've never bullshitted him. No Santa in our house--I never wanted to lie to him. Harsh? I don't think so. He knows I love him and value him and like him. But praise should be earned. If it isn't, it results in disappointment and depression--things I've experienced firsthand.

I believe the worst thing you can tell a writer is that his work is good when it ain't. I taught writing for a few years. My methods,and explanations, are in my free ebook.

If you've truly decided you want to be a writer, no amount of criticism will discourage you. And if the criticism comes from a pro who is willing to take the time and effort to explain how you can improve, kiss that pro's ass.

I.J.Parker said...

Absolutely agree on honest critiques.
Disagree on the quality of books on the bestseller list. People have different tolerance levels when it comes to "bad." Most people don't care that much as long as they're entertained. And that frequently means giving them the subjects they want.

Mira said...

Right on, Joe! Terrific post! Thank you for addressing this!

I worry sometimes seeing writers rushing to self-publish before their work is ready. That could be a dream-killing experience: someone publishes too soon, doesn't succeed and feels discouraged. People can get really confused about what's not working, and give up too soon.

That same person might be a wonderful writer, given time to season their work and sharpen their skills.

I was also glad to see you address the praise issue. I had some similar concerns as some of the above posters; I believe praise is very, very good for people, and definitely for kids, when it's earned.

Praise for an artist will help them stay inspired, even if all we praise is the effort and courage, (because the result isn't there yet) - it takes courage to share our creations.

I loved Susan Quinn's example above and your clarification.

But back to the post - I think what you say here could be a real gift to writers. Thank you!

Michael E. Walston said...

I recently took it upon myself to edit my nephew's book and format it for Smashwords. It was easier to edit it than critique it--frankly, any critique I might have giiven him would have been prefaced with the words, "What the hell were you smoking when you wrote this, anyway?"

Nevertheless, despite the fact that it was a little rough around the edges, I actually thought it was a pretty good story, and I made sure to tell him so.

He's really quite level-headed about the whole thing. He knows he needs to keep practicing the craft, and he saw his first book clearly enough for what it was and priced it accordingly (as a freebie).

Stephen Groak said...

You're an inspiration, Joe. Thank you.

Jude Hardin said...

I needed to be told what I was doing wrong.

But wrong is often subjective. Should you have listened to all those NY editors who rejected The List? They were pros. Should you have kissed their asses?

I know literati types who will argue to their graves that Stephen King can't write for shit. They're pros. Should he be kissing their asses?

If a fourteen-year-old kid has the drive and focus to sit down and actually finish a story, I think that's praiseworthy in and of itself. Sure, tell him what you think is wrong, but also tell him what you think is right.

Then tell him about the Jack Kilborn books the editors at a very prestigious publishing house wanted to change, the books that will be buying him a new car in a couple of years. ;)

Laura Taylor said...

Appreciate your focus on craft - it gets lost in the shuffle, and that's the very last thing a writer can afford to have happen.

Linsey Lanier said...

Thanks, Joe. I really needed to hear that today. Now back to work (I mean me).

Cyn Bagley said...

Writing Matters--

I have just finished publishing my fourth novel. Your blog has been the inspiration to keep me going.

Thanks very much -


JohnMWhite said...

A great post and a nice little pick-me-up on a day where I was about to procrastinate another hour away. Writing truly needs to be at the forefront. I'm pretty sure I've got the bug myself, but so many things just get in the way, not least trying to establish a presence online by, say, posting a comment on a well-traveled blog in the hope somebody will pop over to one's own.

Anonymous said...

As always, Joe. Right on the Money...I mean right on the craft! Every writer's gotta remind himself of this over and over again.

rob walker

Patrice said...

Writing?! Yes, I remember that... I'm going off to an island in a couple of weeks to make myself actually get back to writing.

I know you'll be kind to your son.

Mark O'Bannon - Better Storytelling.Net said...

I've always thought that 90% of your success as an author depends upon how good your storytelling is.

So, here's my advice on how to become a great writer:

1. Write a thousand words a day.

2. Get these four books:
"The Anatomy of Story," by John Truby.
"Zen and the Art of Writing," by Ray Bradbury.
"The Power of Point of View," by Alicia Rasley.
"The Scene Book," by Sandra Scofield.

3. Never quit.

Mark O'Bannon :)

Splitter's Blog said...

The cool thing is that the kid wants to buy his own car even after he found out that dad could afford to buy one for him.

Dave P Perlmutter said...

Great post and as my story is true the words are close to my heart and I hope my future readers will think so once it is available as an ebook...

Will keep on checking you out!!

Alexi Frest said...

How true!
Actually I do what you just suggested: I want to start my marketing with a good product; which means my story needs to be FINE.
I wish I could feel so confident about my writing! There ARE parts that are great, for those parts I pat myself on the shoulder indeed. But I still have my uncertainties.

Thank you for your great advice!

Melanie Lamaga said...

As usual you are dead on right. I am a writer because nothing makes me happier!

Al Thompson said...


You're blog has been a help to me.
My book is a non fiction religious book.

Selling this book has been more difficult than writing it. I went without one sale for a whole year. Of course, I wasn't promoting it very much but I do have a blog in which I discuss religious and political issues.

What has helped me out a lot is guest writing for other more popular blogs. That increased my traffic on my blog, which in turn increased the traffic to my website. I just kept messing with the whole thing until something worked. I'm still not selling any numbers to get excited about but the ball is starting to roll.

After reading your blog, I made the decision to just self-pub and just sell ebooks. I don't have the time or inclination to publish a paper book; at least for now. If I can do ok with the ebook, then I may offer pbook.

I'm finding that good content will get the job done. People will go to places where they can get a good read. I drop by your blog about twice a week, and read your articles which are interesting. Content will ultimately drive the sales.

Al Thompson

M.F. Soriano said...

Praise might be like candy, but criticism isn't necessarily always good for us either, and there sure as fuck isn't any shortage of it. It's largely because of having had to swallow so much 'helpful criticism' from editors publishing my stuff that I've finally decided to start exploring the self-publishing option instead. And if a 'pro' wants to offer me advice, then I'll listen attentively--and offer sincere thanks if the advice is good--but I'm not going to kiss anyone's ass.

Jenn Sterling said...

This post is so freaking amazeballs, it makes me want to adopt you. :)

Michelle McCleod said...

"That wasn't rape. That was forced consent. :)

It also wasn't graphic."

FYI forced consent is dubious consent and is banned by Paypal. You can tell yourself all you want that your work is different.

Also, Paypal is not allowing comments so far on their post. So now they don't even want to talk about sex! Can't read it. Can't speak it.


linda said...

Thank you. I needed this post.

Elle Casey said...

Very inspirational. Thanks for taking the time to share your words of wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post, Joe. I'm new to your blog, but in the past few days I've read a ton of your posts, and while I've wanted to comment on many of them, I simply had to speak up on this one. This echoes so strongly how I feel about writing and my goal that, whether money comes from writing or not, I never want to be done with putting my stories out there. Thank you for sharing this.