Advice for Writers
As a writer it can be tempting to be a dick. There is some evidence to support the idea that “being a dick works.” Maybe you were a dick before you started writing. I have just one thing to say about that: “Don’t be a dick.”
The following information details a number of ways that you can avoid being a dick. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list. I’m sure you can find many ways to be a dick that I haven’t thought of yet.
No one wants to see your book link on their twitter feed ten times a day. Not even your mom. Take my word for it. It’s true. Sure you can use twitter to post links, but engage in conversation, tweet about things other than writing, respond to people… be human. If all you use twitter for is promotion, you will be ignored and unfollowed quickly.
Facebook is a great promotional tool. So don’t be a tool when you use it. Don’t engage in fly-by activities where all you ever do is post links to your work in every freakin’ group you are in. Most of your fellow writers and readers are in a lot of those groups too. They don’t need to hear about your shiny new instant classic in every single group. Pick a group; post it; move on. Take the time to engage in conversations with other writers and readers. Showing that you have a sense of humor and some tact can go a long way toward gaining readers. All right, screw the tact.
If you give out your email address as contact information, be prepared to answer emails. Some of them may be unpleasant. Some of them may be creepy. Some of them may put a smile on your face that lasts for a week. Be responsive. Be nice. Word travels fast.
Don’t go to a signing feeling like you’re the second coming and expect everyone to kneel down in front of you for a signature. The readers that show up are doing you a favor. Treat them like royalty. Smile. Talk to them. Put them at ease. If they bring twenty copies, sign twenty copies. If they want you to sign their boobs, sign them. You can explain it all to your wife later.
Be prepared. Be awake. Try to sound intelligent without forcing it. Relax. They wouldn’t be interviewing you if they weren’t already interested in your work. Show your enthusiasm for your work and your characters. It’s infectious. Be sincere. I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t lie. Don’t exaggerate. Tell it like it is. If there is something you don’t want to answer, be diplomatic, but say so. If it’s a written interview, double-check your spelling and grammar. If it’s a phone interview make sure your phone is charged and you have the time right.
Brand is bland. I don’t remember who coined that phrase, but I agree with it. There’s nothing wrong with having an identity and a writing style and a voice, but don’t go overboard. Not everything you do has to look and sound the same. You don’t have to homogenize your message or dumb it down to get readers. Your work is your brand. Period. Let me repeat that. Your work is your brand. You don’t need to cultivate anything artificial. Brand is for tennis shoes and cars. You are a unique little flower. Try to act like it.
Readers like interesting blogs. And readers like learning more about their favorite authors. You don’t always have to talk about writing, or your books. You are a writer. Even when you are telling everyday slice-of-life stories you can and should tell them well. It will keep people coming back. Spell-check and grammar check your blog posts. Be obsessive about it. People will expect a higher level of quality control on your blog—because you are a writer. Live up to it. Blog about other writers. Network. Talk about books you love. Show you are a reader too. Show how you observe life and react to it. You don’t have to be interesting, you already are.
Treat fellow writers with respect. Remember that they may just be starting out. Remember how you felt when you were just starting. Help them. And listen to the writers who are more experienced than you. They know stuff. Useful stuff. They know not to use the word stuff.
Know It All
Don’t be one. I don’t care if you’ve been writing for one year, five years, or twenty years. You don’t know it all. What works for you doesn’t always work for other people. What works for other people doesn’t always work for you. It’s not your way or the highway. There are many roads to success. There isn’t one way to write or edit. There isn’t one program to write in. Different methods work for different people. And that’s all right. Don’t have tunnel vision. Be open-minded.
Reward your beta readers. Thank them for everything they find, whether you agree with it or not. They are doing you a favor and reading your work for free. When your book is published give them a signed copy. It’s the least you can do for their efforts. Don’t be offended by what they find. They represent readers. If they get confused by something chances are that someone else will too. Beta readers are a very valuable commodity. Treat them like it.
By all means celebrate your successes with your friends, family, and fellow writers! That’s part of the fun of being a writer. But don’t flood the internet with every positive review and every small victory. People will get tired of it. Other writers may not be having the same success, or may feel inferior because their accomplishments pale in comparison. Other writers may not be making their word counts or may have life events sapping their time. Revel in the success of your friends too, not just your own. It’s just as important to encourage other writers as it is to encourage yourself. Being a writer that people can relate to (not afraid to admit faults, concerns, insecurities) can go a long way toward making people interested in your work.
It can be scary to give your baby to a review site. It takes courage. But you never know if you don’t try. When you do, be patient. Review sites get flooded with submissions. It may take them a long time to get to yours. And when they do, they might not give you the rating you think it deserves. That’s all right. The quality of a book is highly subjective. Opinions vary. Maybe it’s not all that. Take your lumps and move on. If the review points out valid problems that you can fix… fix them. Don’t spew complaints about the review all over the web. It just makes you look like a child. Not everyone will understand or like your book. It’s a big world. One review won’t kill you. Two or three might leave a mark. Move on.
Responding To Reviews
Step one: don’t respond to bad reviews. Thank people for good reviews when you can. Don’t let great reviews make your ego the size of a planet and don’t let bad reviews knock you down. There will always be someone that loves your book and someone that hates it. That is the way of things. If reviews are getting you down, pick a famous book and read the bad reviews. Then, grasshopper, you will know I speak true. As long as you are sure your work is the best it can be, you can be confident in it. If you have to respond to a bad review, the best possible way is to respond with generosity. Thank them for reading it. Seriously. I’m not kidding. The more magnanimous you are, the more they look like a dick. The more you whine and bitch in public, the more you look like one. Don’t be a dick.
Editing is hard, time-consuming work. Many writers are under the mistaken notion than an editor can read and edit a book in just a little more time than it would take a reader to read it. Wrong! Depending on the type of editing, the quality of the manuscript, and the length it can many hours to edit. If you are just getting it checked for spelling and grammar—commonly called copy-editing—then it would not take as long as if you were having the whole nine yards done (consistency, plot, character, pacing,…). Editing costs vary greatly depending on the type of editing, the skill of the editor and how long it takes. Your editor is not your enemy. They are trying to help you. Let me say that again. THEY ARE TRYING TO HELP YOU. Yeah, that’s better.
The reason great editors charge a lot is because they are worth it. Sure you could have your roommate edit your novel (because she’s really good at Scrabble). Don’t! Please, for the love of all that’s holy, just don’t.
Making a cover is not a simple matter of picking a picture off the internet and then slapping some unreadable text on it and calling it good. First off it’s a copyright violation to use an image you don’t own the rights to. There are many artists available that do great cover art. They have years of training, know how to use the tools, know where to get licensed background art, and have a keen sense of what kind of covers work well in the genre you are writing in. It is in your best interest to pay for cover art unless you are an artist yourself with a lot of knowledge in the field. You can find cover artists at many different price points. Look at covers they’ve done before. Talk to satisfied customers. Then work with the artist. They want you to be happy with the final product. But don’t be difficult just to be difficult. Often a writer’s idea of what the cover should look like (perhaps a specific scene in the book) is not going to work as well as what the artist thinks of. Be open to suggestions. Collaborate with the artist until you are happy, but don’t nitpick everything to death. There are reasons they suggest certain things. Good reasons. Once again THEY ARE TRYING TO HELP YOU. Listen to them. Pay them. Thank them. Repeat.
Please don’t contribute to the endless supply of cover art that sucks ass. You won’t sell books. I don’t care how good the words are. Thank you.
I don’t care if it kills you to get a bad review. Never let them see you bleed. You’re above all that. Cry in private. Bitch among friends. But do not, under any circumstances, whine and complain in public (yes most places on the internet are public). Harsh criticism hurts. That’s life. But a single critic doesn’t speak for everyone. And it’s not the end of the world to get a bad review. There are a lot of reasons for getting a bad review, and many of them have nothing to do with the words in your book. Suck it up. Move on.
If you attend conventions as a writer, don’t just hide in your room. Readers love writers. Interact. Engage. Chit-chat. Sign-books. Be available. Volunteer for panels. Being entertaining and friendly in public will sell books. People want to like you already, because they like your books. Some might complain about something in a book, or how long it’s taking for the next one. Be gracious. Give them information. Show everyone you are just a normal—well okay, normal is probably a bit of a stretch for most of us—person that they can relate to. Show them that you put your pants on one leg at a time—just like they do. The only difference is that once your pants are on you write like a freakin’ God. (Over the top? Thought so. Apologies to SNL and Christopher Walken.)
Interact with other writers. They are your people. It’s a good idea to know who the other writers attending the convention are, and to familiarize yourself with their work. Writers are readers too. Writers can help spread the word about your work. Let them talk about their work too. It’s not all about you. Part of being a great writer is being a great listener and observer. Other writers will be more than happy to help you. Just don’t be a dick.
Thanks for reading this. I hope it helps. No, I don’t think you’re a dick. This is for all the other writers out there.
OMP Admin Note: Mike Cooley is a science fiction and fantasy writer by night, and a software engineer by day. He has written many science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. He grew up in Washington State, went to college in New Mexico, and ended up in Minnesota with one wife, a kid, and two cats. His top influences are Phillip K. Dick and James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon).
You can find out more about his books and other endeavors at https://lastwrites.co
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