Monday, July 17, 2017

New Writer's Guide To Writing, Publishing, And More

I just recently launched a new website. It's still a work in progress. I only have one article up so far, but it's a website that I plan to fill with articles that are there to help new writers learn more about writing and publishing.

Here's a link to the site:

I've been told by some new writers before in emails that they enjoy reading my blog and learning about writing that way, but my blog is mostly about my current writing experiences and thoughts on the industry. It doesn't cover a lot of the basics and even when I do, those posts can be hard to find as they get buried under other posts.

So I thought I'd make this website, so I could write a lot of the basic information of what I have learned from being a writer for over a decade. I hope the information can help some new writers. Let me know if there is anything specific you want me to talk about (although I have a ton of articles in mind already! I just need to write them!)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Hard Truths About What It's Like To Be A Published Author

A lot of people think writing is an easy way to make millions of dollars. Here are the hard truths and the realities of how the publishing industry actually works.

1. You'll Be Disappointed If You Are Doing It For The Praise

One of the most obvious rules of using the internet is not to look at the comments section of any article or any video, unless you are prepared for a lot of hateful comments. Reviews are the comment section of books. Either you get no reviews, because no one buys your book or cares enough to review it. Or you get a ton of them, some of them illiterate and a lot of them hateful.

Yes, there will be praise in there and you might get some fan mail, but if you invest a lot of your self-esteem about your book in people's reactions to it, then you're going to get disappointed a lot due to negative reviews. They are likely to become your focus if you care too much about your reviews, even if there are a lot more positive reviews then negative ones. I've seen authors lose their mind over negative reviews.

You have to view books in terms of numbers. What matters is how many people review them, buy them, and how much money you make off of them versus how much you spend. Positive or negative, as long as people are reading your book and reviewing it regularly, you're doing good.

Huge, successful authors get more insults than smaller authors. They also get more praise, so it's balanced out. but if they focus on people's comments rather than the numbers they are receiving, they'll go crazy.

Your books numbers, how much you are selling and how much you are making, are a better determination of how successful your book is than people's praise of you and your book.

2. It's A Huge Financial Risk

This is true whether you are traditionally publishing or self-publishing. There are a lot more costs in self-publishing because you have to pay for the cover yourself, the editor, and more. But even when you're traditionally publishing, you have to pay for a lot, if not all, the advertising yourself. Unless you are as popular as JK Rowling, then your publishing company will absorb the costs of most of your advertising themselves because you are worth the investment to them. But that almost never happens to authors.

While social media helps with advertising costs, it's not as effective as it used to be when it comes to promoting books and a lot of social media websites, like facebook, no longer allow you to advertise for free. You must pay them money for your ad or they make the link you posted to tell all your friends on facebook about your book disappear into obscurity.

Advertising can easily become the most expensive part of writing and there is no limit to how much you can spend on advertising. It's an expense you are going to have to pour money into over and over again, especially now, when most books aren't discoverable unless the author is putting money into Amazon and Facebook Ads every month.

3. You Don't Make Money Being "Special"

You have a book idea. You're so excited because it's unlike any book idea you've ever heard of before. It's unique, it's special, and it's going to make you a lot of money....or so you think.

First of all, any time any author thinks they have a unique book idea, a quick google search tells us that iT has been done before at least once. And if not now, search again, more thoroughly, in a few months and you'll find it.

The truth is, every book has already been written.

People see this and get confused. They think,"What's the point of writing then?"

Writing is not about the book idea, it's about your voice. Your version of every book idea hasn't been written, that's what makes a book "unique" and keeps every book from reading exactly the same. Voice is why Anne Rice will write about vampires and make then vicious, but Stephenie Meyer writes about them and makes them sparkly. It's your unique take on things. The way you word them and arrange them. Writing about vampires is not unique, but the way Stephenie Meyer writes them is very different than how Anne Rice does.

But you have to be careful because you don't want to be too unique. Books that are too unique, unless you write somethig that people have been looking for for a long time and no one realized it, are not going to sell. Your unique idea probably doesn't fall into this category.

People say they hate books that read all the same, but they freak out if something too different happens. If the crime isn't solved at the end of a mystery novel, or a couple doesn't wind up together at the end of a romance novel, you're going to see a lot of readers flipping out and vowing to never read from you again.

Every reader has expectations for how the stories should go in their favorite genre and even if you have a good reason for breaking those expectations, they're going to get mad.

So the goal of being a writer isn't actually to be unique anyway. That's not how you make money. (And even if your goal is just to be read and not to make money, this applies as well.) It's to be just enough like everyone else that you can make a wide range of people happy. Formulas in genres were created because those formulas make the most amount of people happy.

You'll grow to love them and hate them and to realize how much you consume them yourselves. Like, I'm a sucker for a good Marvel Superhero movie, but they're all the same. They have a superhero (usually the thing that separates them is their super powers) who is saving the world or universe. There are comedic moments, action scenes, and often times a mild romance plotline or at least a flirtation between characters. The superheros deliver epic and funny lines every once in awhile. The quirks of their personalities often help drive the plot and there's character development in every story. There are many explosions or breaking of things, especially as we get towards the end. And there's just a lot they all have in common and I'm a sucker for it and would be sad if they did anything to change those formulas.

There's likely something you enjoy that is formulaic as well.

4. People Always Think It's Easy To Do Your Job

Because lots of people daydream about their story ideas and think they could easily make millions off of it, they think it's easy to do your job. I've had people confront me before, say that I must do nothing all day to be a writer, because they write a couple of lines of poetry once a month and they think that's all that serious writers do. That's not true, especially with the modern day writer.

We don't have ONE idea for a book we want to write, we have hundreds. So many book ideas that we will never in our lifetime be able to write them all. What takes up most of our time is not daydreaming, but writing and rewriting every day. Sometimes it can take an hour just to decide on ONE word and most manuscripts are expected to be somewhere between 50,000-100,000 words.

In order to write a novel, you must read your novel over and over again, send it to editors and other people who will help you make changes to it. You must study rules of writing and practice executing them. Because simply reading a rule like,"Show, don't tell" does not make you an expert at it. You must practice implementing that over and over again, so you get better at it.

Then there's the social media aspect. There's too many social media sites for you to keep up with them all, yet you need to be on all of them promoting yourself.

You might have multiple pen names, like I do, and people put pressure on you to release a book once every month to three months, which is next to impossible to do especially with multiple pen names.

So you're going crazy, trying to maintain this pace. I've literally said things like,"I am going to spend all week, this whole week doing NOTHING but writing." And still, there wasn't enough hours in a day.

You have to network with other authors so they can teach you things. Sometimes that means going to events in person and sometimes it just means having chats over social media. Because there isn't enough hours to try everything and you need help not only learning how to write faster, but also how to market more efficiently because some of the ways you are trying to market your books are having poor results.

Marketing is a huge chore in itself. There are lots of emails to send and forms to fill out and ads to create. You have to budget money for it and figure out how to effectively use that money and if the money is worth it. This is where math comes in. Where you start doing math contemplating profits versus costs, which drives you crazy because you didn't become an author out of love for numbers or percentages.

And if you are trying to get into a magazine publication or into a major publishing company, there are lots of queries and synopses to write.

And you got to keep your website up to date so it's useful to people.

There's also choosing our book covers and formatting books. Some self-publishing sites make formatting simple, but for others I've literally had to take a minor crash course in a programming language to be able to self-publish on.

We often need help to do all of this. Lots of us hire people like personal assistants, book cover artists, social media managers, formatting experts, people who will help us advertise, and more. But most of us don't make much money through writing, if any at all, to hire any of these people, so we have to figure out how to do things for ourselves.

Some authors have to work full time (because writing doesn't make good money) in addition to writing. We all have social lives we neglect for writing, health problems we neglect for writing, and family we've ignored for writing. Our houses will look terrible and be a mess when we've been working hard at writing.

But people will literally daydream for a couple of hours, think they've got a million dollar idea, and then act like being a writer is easy and they could do it at any time. They will act like your accomplishments are unimpressive and ask you what you do all day.

There is no end to things that need to be done as a writer. You can set any amount of hours, any day, as the time you will spend writing and have stuff to do all of those hours. I'm positive this is why a lot of writers are either addicted to coffee, alcohol, or both.

For instance, my husband is sleeping in right now and I should be making breakfast. There's a chance that I will be working on this blog post for so long that I grab a bowl of cereal impulsively and work on this post until the early afternoon while my husband sleeps. This is not unusual for a writer.

5. People Read To Forget Life, Not To Be Educated

 When people daydream about being a writer, they daydream about writing something that will impress people. A lot of them want to be deep in their writing, to try fancy techniques, and write about politics, religion, philosophy, psychology, or whatever.

But when you talk to actual readers, they just want fantasy fulfillment. They just want you to write about someone super special, doing super special things, so they can daydream about doing those things, too.

You can sneak in deep stuff sometimes, like having a main character with a real, severe issue, like PTSD, but you're generally fulfilling people's fantasies and trying to cure their boredom.

Most people aren't going to get it anyway, if you try to write something deep. It will go over their heads or they won't care or they'll mock you for trying to be deep. It might hurt your ego and your sales.

That doesn't mean never write anything deep, just don't expect it to be your most liked and understood work or to make you the most money.

6. You Can't Hide Behind Your Characters Anymore

Most writers are introverts. This is why social media is horrifying to us. You get used to all the talking and blogging every day if you're an introvert like me and it's really not so bad because you still aren't doing face-to-face interaction, but if you're popular enough, you have to do that, too. You have to have reader meet and greets and maybe even talk at conferences or read some pages of your books outloud to an audience.

I always think of writers as the shy version of actors. Of course there are exceptions to both careers, but generally, we both like to delve into the human psyche and play pretend. We get absorbed in thinking about imaginary people and they feel real to us and we make them real. It's just that writers are behind a computer screen most of the time and actors are out there, center stage, getting lots of attention.

But writers can't hide out all the time. We have to interact with people, too. It can be scary and it can be intimidating, but with the rise of the internet and connections between writers and readers growing deeper, there is no choice.

The benefit is that writing used to be a very lonely pursuit, but now we connect with people online every day who either write with us or read our books and we feel much less lonely than writers have felt in the past.

Also, the internet makes selling books and getting a name for yourself easier than it ever was. You don't have to wait for a publisher or anyone really to believe in you. You can give it a try by yourself.

But what you can't do anymore is hide completely behind your characters. You have to put yourself out there.

7. It's Not About How Talented You Are, It's About Marketing

Why are certain books so popular even though their writing is terrible? It's all about the marketing. They've found a way, through their (terrible) writing, brand name, cover art, advertising, and more to appeal to a wide range of people. That's why their book is bad, but is still selling a lot more than a better written book.

There's a myth that a book has to follow writing rules and be more deep than other books to be popular, but the truth is, if a book is poorly marketed, no matter how well it was written, it will disappear into obscurity.

8. The Whole Thing Is A Popularity Contest

 Publishing companies and agents will tell you that they want only well-written books that are unique to publish, but that entire thing in a lie. What they want is a book that will sell more. It doesn't matter how badly written or stupid the premise is, if they think it will sell more, then they are all over it.

That is why, as an average nobody author, you have to finish writing your entire book, query hundreds of agents and receive hundreds of rejections and be nitpicked about the way you wrote and all the things wrong with it. But a celebrity will decide to write a book and will only have an idea for one with nothing written and publishing companies will battle each other for the opportunity to publish that book. The celebrity already has a huge fan base and is guaranteed to be a NYT Bestseller. Average nobody author is a risk and a gamble, so they expect more out of you, for your book to be absolutely perfect and even then, you need some luck, before they will consider publishing your book. It's because you are not popular and a celebrity is.

9. The Publishing Industry Is Specifically Run In A Way Meant To Financially Destroy Most Authors

 We all continue writing anyway, even knowing this.

It's a constant struggle. You have to fight every day to get paid more for your writing and sales. This is due to the fact that readers will only buy really low priced books and publishing companies pay you a very small percentage of royalties.

On top of that, like I mentioned earlier, there's always a ton of expenses with things like advertising, paying for editors, and other things I already listed that are essential.

 In addition to all of this, there will be people constantly pushing and insisting that you go to their class, go to their conference, buy their book, purchase their service, download their app, etc. because it will be the key to success as an author. Those people are making more money from book publishing generally than authors are because they are able to charge more and make a living wage.

Editors, Agents, and other people working in publishing companies will pay themselves living wages first and then give you the crumbs leftover and complain that they can't afford advertising for your book and that you need to pay for it with your crumbs. I've seen publishing companies fold and pay themselves decent wages for the company ending, but either refuse to give authors their final royalties or pressure them to accept a lesser amount of money and sign a contract refusing to go to court or they get nothing.

Sites like Amazon that are giants in self-publishing will hide your book unless you pay them all or most of your royalties to be advertised on their site and be the first results in keyword searches.

You're constantly being bombarded with things you need to pay and yet have no money to do so. It's very hard to make a profit as an author and you have to constantly guard yourself from people selling you unnecessary services at high prices or publishing contracts that were designed to screw you over.

Books would not exist without writers. We are the reason anyone has a product in the publishing industry, but we are considered the grunt work and unimportant because there are thousands of other aspiring authors willing to take our place if we quit.

There's lots of supply of authors, very little demand, so it's hard to be paid decently in this industry. If we make a profit at all, there are a ton of us that still only make a penny or a couple of pennies an hour for the amount of work we do.

10. People Will Treat Your Work Like It's Trash

People have short attention spans. So even though you've worked hundreds of hours on a book. Even though sometimes it takes a decade to write certain books, once your present the finished product to people, they'll feign interest and toss it aside. If you're overly consumed by things being fair and are positive that the amount of effort you put into something will always be as big as the result you get from it, then writing isn't the career for you.

Sometimes you put little effort into something and people love it and a ton of effort into something and people hate it.

This happens with publishing companies, agents, friends, family, everyone!

Anyone you don't pay or do a favor for in order to convince them to read your book, even if you give them your book for free, is probably going to toss your hard work aside and never read it.

Because it's a big investment of time to read an entire book and people have short attention spans or are too busy to read your book. Yes, you spent much more time on it than they ever will. You agonized and bled over the thing, but they don't care because you and a million other people who have written books have done the same thing.

11. You Have To Ignore Lists Like These If You Want To Be A Serious Writer

Authors are basically people living in denial. We are dreamers and you can tell because we cling to our dreams and keep trying even when we've experienced everything on this list personally. We're always hoping for that big break. We're optimists  People think we're stupid sometimes and it definitely looks that way from the outside.

But we are fighters for a living. We wrestle with the written word, we wrestle to get published, we wrestle to get people to read our books, and we wrestle to stay relevant. This does not mean we are mean to each other and hurt each other, that's the worse thing you can do, hurt other writers. It means we wrestle with ourselves constantly, to keep going, to keep trying, to do a new thing every day, and to keep believing.

So yea, we know all the things on this list and sometimes we cry over them. Sometimes we are miserable or depressed over these things. But we get up and try again and write the next book and market the next day and drink or overeat or whatever vice we have on days when the sales are still zero.

Writing isn't easy and we face the hard truths of writing daily, but our love of the written word and our love of the imagination is so intense that we are too crazy to stop.