Yes, that’s an ambitious title for a blog post. It might even be seen as egotistical (it feels egotistical to me). But I recently did an anniversary AMA on Reddit, and this question came up over and over again: “What advice would you give an author just starting out?” It was too big of a question to answer during the AMA (over 700 comments!), so I promised a blog post.
I’ll start by knocking the ego right out of the lungs of this thing and say that what works for one author may not work for another. I’ll also say that this is a massive topic and could easily lead to me writing a book. Not that I will. For both of these reasons, this blog post is going to ramble and often contradict itself. Such is my nature and the nature of the topic.
First off: If you want to become a writer in order to be rich and famous like me, that’s a bad idea. It isn’t why I started writing, and it isn’t why you should start writing. You should write because you love it. But I imagine you’ll want an audience (what artist doesn’t?) And so my advice is geared toward helping authors get to the end of their manuscript, polish it to perfection, and then gain the widest readership possible. This is the best you can hope for. I think it’s possible for every writer who gives it their all.
To begin with, you need to write. This seems axiomatic because it is. The only way to amass a pile of words into a book is to shovel some every single day. No days off. You have to form this habit; without it you are screwed. I’m going to assume everyone who keeps reading already has this down. If you don’t — you won’t make it. My best advice on how to form this habit is twofold: Get comfortable staring at a blank screen and not writing. This is a skill. If you can not write and avoid filling that time with distractions, you’ll get to the point where you start writing. Open your manuscript and just be with it.
Secondly, learn to write rough. Stop caring about spelling and sentence fragments and plot holes and grammar. Get the story down. Listen to the dialog and try to keep up with your fingers. Get to the end of your manuscript and THEN worry about the quality. If you can master the art of powering through to the end of your story, you are on your way.
When I finished my first novel, I was on a complete high. This is when you think your book is the shit and you wonder why Oprah hasn’t called. You’re gonna be rich!
This feeling lasted a few days. That’s when I started writing my next work. My father at the time wondered why I wasn’t spending all of my time promoting that first book. I told him I had my entire life to promote my works. I only had now to write. I stuck to that principle for years, writing and publishing several novels or short stories a year. I wrote a variety of genres and with a slew of styles and voices. 1st person, 3rd person, fiction, horror, sci-fi, novelettes, short stories. I also read a wide variety of works, but hardly ever in my genres. I read literary fiction and history, non-fiction and science. I try to read the newspaper every day.
My father now agrees with this approach and sees the value of having a dozen titles available. This is going to sound strange, but you are MUCH better off with your 10th work exploding than your 1st work. You’ll never have quiet time to crank out quality material ever again. And when your backlist matches the growth of your first breakout, you’ll do very well for yourself. Be patient. It’s been said by many others, but I’ll repeat it here: self-publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.
Now would be a good time to explain the advantages of self-publishing over traditional publishing. When writers ask for advice, they are often asking how they should proceed with their completed manuscript. I’m going to explain why every author should begin their writing career self-publishing, even if their dream is to be with a large publisher. There’s a lot to say. Bear with me.
Your manuscript won’t change. This is the biggest logical fallacy I see in the self vs. trad debate. The idea seems to be that if you self-publish, somehow your work drops in quality. It’s the same work. The words won’t change because of perceived association with what else is out there. Querying an agent won’t make your manuscript better. Self-publishing won’t make it worse. It’s either a story that appeals to readers or it isn’t.