Write every day. Write when you feel like it. Drink green tea. Don’t drink anything so you never have to get up to pee. Only use the 2008 limited edition Graf von Faber-Castell Collection pencil, made of 240-year-old olive wood and 18 carat white gold, and the finest 14th century cured calf skin parchment when jotting down notes at Starbucks. While not drinking anything.
While it’s impossible for one person to know what’s going to work for another, writers are constantly bombarded with tips and tricks, advice and anecdotes from people who claim to have all the answers. It can be infuriating, but it’s also how we learn what’s good and what to chuck out the window.
Yeah, I’m going to be one of those people for a minute. I’m only making this list because these things are important to me. They’re things that I struggle with or things that I think I’ve learned so far. But you might not give a damn. You might do exactly the opposite and have great success. And that’s totally okay. I’m gonna do it anyway.
The cold, simple truth is that there is no book unless you write it. There are no words unless you tap them out on your keyboard, or scribble them with your ridiculously overpriced pencil. Writing that book is going to be hard. It’s going to make you feel like an idiot half the time, make you suspicious of your sudden genius the rest of the time, and it’s going to scare you into running away.
Don’t do it. Don’t back down, and don’t shut that laptop until you type “the end”. Your first draft is totally going to suck, but that’s why you work on a second. And if your second draft sucks, then it’s time for a third. But you can’t improve a blank page. Just write.
Don’t back up
For the love of all that is holy, use the freakin’ cloud. Use Amazon, or Dropbox, or Google Drive, or whatever alternative you like. Email your book to yourself every day. Wear a necklace of USB drives instead of that one with the dried severed ears of your enemies. Carve your draft into a mountain and keep a picture of it on your cell phone. Then email it to yourself, print it out, and hang a laminated copy on your wall. Back. Up. Your. Work.
Ignore your image
It’s awesome that your four-year-old drew a picture of your main character on some notebook paper during art class. It’s totally great that you learned how to use MS Paint and made your very own book cover featuring little Sally’s masterpiece and some wicked Times New Roman action. But let’s think for a minute about what else is on the shelf. Let’s think about the picture of yourself that you swiped off of Facebook from that graduation party you went to three years ago. You’ve got a beer in your hand.
You don’t have to drop $500 bucks at the portrait studio. You don’t need to hire a web designer. It doesn’t take a lot of money to publish a professional-looking book. There are templates and free stock art (make sure it’s free for commercial use, please). There are helpful people in forums that enjoy making your work look the best it can. There are a hundred thousand other self-published authors to compete with – and to learn from.
Study up. See what works. See what attracts your own eye. It might be as simple as a clear picture with a smiling face and an easy-to-find email address, but your readers are going to see that before they even get to your book. Make a good first impression.
Put the blinders on
I am so guilty of this one. I don’t read a lot of other books. But I do follow a lot of other books. I follow agents on Twitter, and major publishing houses, and successful authors (traditional and indie) in my little niche. I read the news, and keep up with the statistics, and occasionally, I even write about the state of the industry for all of you guys.
Am I an expert on publishing trends and contracts and mergers? No, of course not. But knowing what’s going on around me helps keep me focused, and helps me figure out where I want to go. Self-publishing is an industry in its infancy, and we are the generation of writers who are going to shape it for years to come. Knowing what’s happening is only going to help you.
Wear the wrong shoes
I write epic fantasy. I write a very specific kind of epic fantasy. My books appeal to a relatively small number of people, and I’m okay with that. I don’t write urban fantasy, or steampunk, or sci-fi, because those genres don’t fit who I am as a writer. I’ve found my shoes, and they’re helping me hit my stride.
Just like your high school guidance counselor told you, you’ve got to be true to what you’re feeling. The words have to flow, and you have to go to bed excited to wake up in the morning and keep typing. Otherwise, you’re just going to give yourself blisters, and you’re going to resent your work.
Oh, this is such an easy one to do. And it happens to the best of us, whether we like it or not. You’re scrolling through five hundred pages of text you’ve slaved over for the past eight months, and suddenly you want to smash a bottle of wine over your head until you beat the idiotic drivel out of your brain for once and for all. You’re never going to publish it. You’re never going to sell a single copy. No one is ever going to like you, and you’re going to die miserable and alone. No one’s even going to care if there’s a typo on your tombstone, because they’re not going to visit. You’re going to put this piece of crap away and never, ever, ever, ever look at it ever again because you hate everything and you need some ice cream right now, damn it. Right now.
Come on. Get a grip. Scroll back up and read the first item on this list. Leave the house, take a walk around the block, go to Carvel and drown your sorrows in chocolate syrup. Then get back to work.
So it’s the middle of the month and you’re still staring at the beige bar of shame on your KDP report. You just got a rejection email from a query you sent out six months ago after forgetting all about it. Your cat just threw up on the rug, and you have to pay your car insurance. Carvel was closed.
It’s Tuesday, and that’s when you usually write your blog. What’s on your mind today? Hmm. How about that rejection letter? How about you blast that hapless agent for not knowing good writing if it fell on her head? You’ll show her better than to pass on your masterful oeuvre in favor of some two-bit, jumped up amateur with the next derivative, repetitive, boring, poorly constructed vampire novel that’s going to get a WB series and an action figure along with its six-figure deal. You hope she reads it and goes home crying after being slammed with your scathing remarks. You hope she quits after realizing she’s a fraud and a failure and no longer fit for the sacred task entrusted to her.
Uh, no. Because she’s not going to read it, but lots and lots of other people will. They’re not going to want to work with you. They’re not going to want to read your book. They’re going to call you immature, and petty, and angry, and unprofessional. You’re going to shoot yourself in the foot.
We all have bad days. And we’re all writers. We just have to learn not to combine the two, unless it’s going to breathe life into our fiction. You want to be the cheerful, resilient, level-headed author that’s a joy to speak to at a cocktail party. You want your attitude to be an ambassador for you, even if you’re secretly steaming mad.
Publishing is business, even if you’re doing it yourself. Every word you write is a business card. Every sentence is a pitch. You can’t control the market, and you certainly can’t control what other people like and don’t like. All you can do is put your best foot forward, take your lumps, and keep doing what you love.