Top Ten Tips on the Business of Writing

  1. If you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader.  This can’t be said enough.  Reading is your continuing adult education.  Everything you read tells you something important about your writing.  Even a bad book can teach you a lesson (hint: don’t be the same bad in your books).
  2. Your agent should be your biggest ally.  She is the general on the front lines to your president back at the White House. You call the shots; she takes the bullets. Make sure that you and your agent have the same business ethics.  If your moral compasses point in opposite directions, your career will suffer.  Pay attention to these things.  Your agent is your ambassador.  With epaulettes like a general, because mixing metaphors is wrong, especially if you are president.
  3. Self-publishing: I don’t have a strong opinion, other than make sure you understand the contract, but I worry that authors who self-publish are depriving themselves of being properly edited.  Not to say that there aren’t professional, paid editors out there, but the dynamic is different if you are the one writing the check.  Listen to your gut.  You know when you’re getting away with something.
  4. Don’t look down your nose at e-books. Any time people are reading is fantastic.  Does it really matter if it’s on a phone or tablet? No, so don’t insult people who like these formats.  Everybody has different tastes.  Exhibit A: Neapolitan ice cream.
  5. Being hostile toward your publishing house does not hurt them; it hurts you.  So your entire marketing plan is for you to post your jacket on Facebook.  Welcome to the digital age.  Who gets more money spent next time— the whiny author who called them idiots or the one who made the most awesome Facebook posts ever and organized a Skype book club tour?
  6. Don’t be a jerk.  Like it or not, as a published author, everything you say is amplified.  Do not abuse this power.  Do not use it to hurt or humiliate people who are probably just trying to interact with their (formerly) favorite author.  Also, why be a jerk?  Does it make you happy?  Stop doing it.
  7. If you are not supporting libraries, then you are not supporting yourself.  Let’s set aside the fact that library systems buy a LOT of books and that they are great champions of genre fiction.  You need readers.  Guess where they are incubated?  But it’s more than that.  If you are a human being living in the world, you owe it to the rest of society to do everything you can to support libraries.  You were a kid once.  You needed the library.  Maybe you don’t need it as much now, and that’s great for you, but guess what?  People made more kids.  These new kids need libraries, too.  There is not one single issue in society—from extreme poverty to violent crime—that cannot be addressed in some way by kids reading more.
  8. Brand-name authors like James Patterson are terrific for the publishing business, and they are terrific for you.  Okay, we get that you’re a purist and Faulkner and Chandler and blah blah blah, but Patterson sells a ton of books. He’s a generous guy with passionate readers, and he and others like him make it possible for publishers to take risks on new authors.  Don’t be a romantic—this is how it has always worked.  Publishers need blockbusters because they do not make a profit on most of the books they publish.
  9. Say what now?  Yes, #8 is the God’s honest truth.  Midlist helps keep the lights on and pay the rent, but the true profit source is from the big books, and that is why the big books matter.  You might not like reading them, but there is a reason millions of people buy them, and that is because they enjoy them.  And that’s okay. (See also: Neapolitan ice cream.)
  10. Mystery and thriller readers are the best readers in the world.  They are loyal, amazing fans, they love the genre and they love reading anything they can get their hands on, from a box of cereal to books to blogs to everything in between.  Be kind to them.  They are nerds just like you.

 

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