Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Top Tips for Prospective Authors (Write Well Wednesday)

As Boskone this past weekend, I went to a terrific panel for prospective authors called "My Top Ten Picks for Prospective Authors."  Panelists included David G. Hartwell, Joshua Bilmes, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Toni Weisskopf, and John Scalzi.  Needless to say, I came out with more than ten tips.  Here's a quick run-down (in no particular order).  I didn't list who brought what up because everyone on the panel contributed to each tip.

1.  Be a good writer.
No brainer, right?  Apparently not, lol.  Be the best writer you can be, kids.  It pays.

2.  Get used to sucking.
There's always going to be someone better than you.  You'll always have critics.  There's always going to be something to fix about your manuscript, so just learn to swallow your pride.

3.  Divest yourself of all attachments.
Be able to write where and whenever, without any props.  The life of a writer is hectic, don't get your muse into a habit of needing your special spot, your special mug, and Chopin playing in the background.  You should be able to write anywhere, no matter what.

4.  Know the difference between storytelling and being a published author.
Are you writing just to have a story published or are you writing to become a professional?  This may change how you choose to edit, publish, and market your book.

5.  Write to entertain somebody else.
 Know your audience and what they want.  If you are a professional writer who wants to make money, learn how to cash this in.  You're not selling out if this is what you do for a career.

6.  Write a practice novel.
Don't let your baby be your first novel.  It's going to suck.  For your first novel, write about something you don't care about.  Learn how to write by writing this practice novel.  Then, forget it exists.  Now, go do your baby some justice.

7.  Pitch the book that you love.
Ever hear that song Passion Leaves a Trace?  Agents and Editors can smell enthusiasm, pitch what you care about and leave the stuff you don't care about in the sock drawer.  Half the time, they take a book because YOU care, and that makes them care.

8.  Look at acknowledgements in published books.
Find an editor/agent that handles a book similar to what you write and personalize your query around that point.

9.  Write the book that you want to read.
This goes back to the passion thing.  The market is a moving target.  Don't try to follow the market because by the time you get your book out there, the market will have moved.  So, write what you want most and give up writing the book that bores you.

10.  Don't rely on money or time as a writer.
You're never going to have time, and if you're 95% of writers, you wont have the money either.  Just make it happen because if you don't, it's not going to.  Also, remember that most of the money you make is going into taxes and other annoying things, so don't count your chickens or overspend before you understand where it's all going.

11.  Have a partner with a stable job.
This goes back to the money thing.  Some years your stuff just won't sell.  Don't rely on writing to pay the bills or feed you.

12.  Your writer friends will do better than you.
Some will get the agent before you.  Some will get contracts before you.  Some will become USA Today Bestsellers and others will win awards.  And you might still be revising your first novel.  Yup, I've been there, so just suck it up and let it go.  The Little Green Monster is an evil one.

13.  Luck is HUGE.
Wanna know why that crappy author got the big contract and no one will sign you?  They were just lucky.  I'm not kidding or saying that just to make you feel better.  Timing and luck are everything in this industry.  You may get an editor on a bad day or just after a big sale.  You may be the first manuscript to fit the desires of a moving market.  You never know, so just keep trying your luck.

14.  You will not make enough money to live on.
The likelihood of being able to support yourself as a writer is very low.   Take a vow of poverty and start investing in Win For Life tickets.

15.  Are you in it to publish or make money?
Ask yourself this question.  It will completely re-shape how you approach yourself as a writer and how you go about publishing and promoting yourself.

16.  What is your return on your investment?
We never have time or money, so ask yourself if everything you do is worth the return on your investment of time and money.

17.  Don't overwork your manuscript by going to too many workshops.
Take criticism, but remember that it's your work and you'll never be able to satisfy everyone.  Shoot for the middle ground and ignore the outliers.

18.  Don't stay in the same workshop.
Variety and new eyes and opinions are a good thing.  Always seek something new.

19.  Submission manuscript should be your final manuscript.
Don't submit one manuscript and then give a revised one after you've signed the contract.  When an editor or agent gives you a contract, they are contracting you for what they read and they will work with you on that piece.  Likewise, don't re-pitch something eight times because it's a newer, better version.  Do it right the first time.

20.  Little side projects help build readership.
Yes, you've got a contract for your epic trilogy.  Now, how about a couple of e-book shorts or a piece in an anthology?  Maybe you'll reach someone who may not have readily picked up your trilogy?

21.  Don't be a Dick.
Yup, I said that on national internet, lol.  That's what they said, verbatim.  You need to understand that there is an arc to your career, you're going to suck one year and be a NYT Bestseller the next.  Don't burn your bridges by acting like a diva.  Treat newbies well, don't be lazy and pay attention to what you say and do.

22.  Esteem of peers comes from writing as well as you can and using the Golden Rule.
Just be a good person and try your best to be a good writer.  Other writers can't help but respect that.

23.  Don't get distracted by social networking.
Don't spend twenty hours a week on the internet trying to network if you haven't even finished your novel!  Non-monetary or follower building efforts are not always worth the damage they can do to your career.

24.  Learn how to apologize and do it seriously.
You're going to make a mistake or offend someone eventually.  Just learn how to smooth things over and sound like you actually mean it.