Friday, June 12, 2009

Some (borrowed) advice for writers

Yes, I realize Don Draper has nothing to do with this post, but -- like me -- he's taking mental notes (and really, any excuse to allude to Mad Men is a good one).

One of the literary agents I follow on Twitter recently posted a link to an old 2006 blog post by Seth Godin, a bestselling author, entrepreneur and self-professed "agent of change." The agent on Twitter highlighted Godin's article as having the best advice for aspiring writers, so naturally I clicked over. Mind you, I've read many authoritative "this is what you need to do" lists on writing and getting published ... and most of them are BS, marketed toward getting me to buy some guide or book on the practice (God, I hate that, but such is the way in any industry I suppose). Godin's points, though, are completely valid and he hammers home the fact that getting published and getting printed are two very different things. One is a business and the other, well, anyone can do!

I just have to keep reminding myself of his most pertinent points:
  1. Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don't expect much.
  2. The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you'll need later.
  3. Pay for an eidtor editor. Not just to fix the typos, but to actually make your ramblings into something that people will choose to read.
  4. Don't try to sell your book to everyone. First, consider this: " 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school." Then, consider the fact that among people even willing to buy a book, yours is just a tiny little needle in a very big haystack. Far better to obsess about a little subset of the market--that subset that you have permission to talk with, that subset where you have credibility, and most important, that subset where people just can't live without your book.
  5. Resist with all your might the temptation to hire a publicist to get you on Oprah. First, you won't get on Oprah. Second, it's expensive.
  6. Think really hard before you spend a year trying to please one person in New York to get your book published by a 'real' publisher. You give up a lot of time. You give up a lot of the upside. You give up control over what your book reads like and feels like and how it's promoted. Of course, a contract from Knopf and a seat on Jon Stewart's couch are great things, but so is being the Queen of England. That doesn't mean it's going to happen to you. Far more likely is that you discover how to efficiently publish (either electronically or using Print-On-Demand or a small-run press) a brilliant book that spreads like wildfire among a select group of people.
  7. Your cover matters. Way more than you think. If it didn't, you wouldn't need a book... you could just email people the text.
  8. If you've got the patience, bookstore signings and talking to book clubs by phone are the two lowest-paid but most guaranteed to work methods you have for promoting a really really good book. If you do it 200 times a year, it will pay.
  9. Publishing a book is not the same as printing a book. Publishing is about marketing and sales and distribution and risk. If you don't want to be in that business, don't! Printing a book is trivially easy. Don't let anyone tell you it's not. You'll find plenty of printers who can match the look and feel of the bestselling book of your choice for just a few dollars a copy. That's not the hard part.
  10. Bookstores, in general, are run by absolutely terrific people. Bookstores, in general, are really lousy businesses. They are often where books go to die. While some readers will discover your book in a store, it's way more likely they will discover the book before they get to the store, and the store is just there hoping to have the right book for the right person at the time she wants it. If the match isn't made, no sale.
  11. Writing a book is a tremendous experience. It pays off intellectually. It clarifies your thinking. It builds credibility. It is a living engine of marketing and idea spreading, working every day to deliver your message with authority. You should write one.


Jasmine @ Eat Move Write said...

Fantastic! I love it. I needed to hear every single point. I am in the middle of my book right now, and it's amazing how HARD it is to write a book even when you're a writer!!!

Raquel Stecher said...

I'm in book publishing, and I think all of that advice is spot on. Authors expect way too much out of publishers.

I would also like to add that authors should be their own publicists. Publishers have many authors to promote, and you can do a lot to promote yourself! :-)

Ms Traveling Pants said...

I am amazing that 58% of Americans don't read a book after high school.
I love the post.
Ms Traveling Pants

Andi said...

Those are great tips, thank you for sharing!

FruGal said...

I have recently rediscovered your blog after a long summer of very lax blog reading. I have to say that in many ways I am astounded by the similarities that appear in your blog to my life. Does that make sense? I also stopped working full time in May and am now trying to follow my dreams through various types of writing (some definitely more interesting than others). Catching up with your blog this afternoon has given me a huge boost of motivation and direction. Thanks. And good luck to you. Happy writing!

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