Good Monday Morning, everyone! Today, I’m thrilled to have Thea Harrison joining us here at MSW. I’m a big fan of Thea’s Elder Races series and of Thea herself, who’s just all-around awesome. She’s got a great guest post today sharing lots of hard-earned wisdom. Enjoy!
Publishing Do’s and Don’ts
I have never felt qualified to offer people writing or publishing advice, so when people ask me, I tend to shy away from those questions or deflect them in some way.
But I certainly do have opinions on the subject, so this blog is my attempt to offer some writing and publishing do’s and don’ts. Many of these points are not original to me; they are tips I have embraced because I agree with them. Some of these are highly personal opinion.
- Don’t write in isolation. Joining a community of writers doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. You can try joining local chapters of the big organizations like Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, or Mystery Writers of America. You can also look in local ads for free writers groups. That way you get to be a part of a community that discusses the craft, and you can join a critique group that will help you sharpen your writing. You can also network professionally, attend workshops, you may be able to explore the possibility of pitching your work to an agent or an editor, and you might even make friends.
- Don’t pay money upfront to agent. If a literary agent tries to charge you a fee, run, don’t walk away. Any reputable agent I know charges a standard 15% commission on works sold (20% on foreign rights). If you are not sure about an agent, check them out on writer beware boards. Writer beware notifications and advice can be found at: Preditor & Editors and Writer Beware and Absolute Write.
- Don’t dismiss those three links I just gave you. Those websites are very content rich. Preditor & Editors has so much at that site, including lists of literary agents and editors. At www.sfwa.org, the site where you can find Writer Beware , there are lists of model contracts, and other resources for writers. At Absolute Write, there are writer forums where you can connect to other writers (See my first “don’t”).
- Don’t rush off to self-publish if you can’t find an agent or editor to take your work. Yes, this is a difficult and daunting process. No, you may not win through on a project that you love, and that you poured your heart and soul into. BUT, there are agents who really want to sign great authors. The same is true for publishers. If you are getting consistent rejections on something, take another really hard look at your project. The chances are that it’s not ready for any kind of publication. I know that sucks, because I’ve been there too. But it’s the truth as I know it.
Yes, some people manage to hit big on self-publishing, but either those instances are flukes—such as you have an author with mad marketing skills, an obsession that just won’t give up and all the time in the world to devote to it—or you may be looking at a self-published work by someone who has already built a reputation with other traditional publications, such as author Courtney Milan. (Although there are numerous examples, I’m going to give just the one.) The truth of the matter is (as I see it) most self-publications don’t achieve much reader attention, and they tend to be poorly edited. Don’t let this happen to you.
- As author Chuck Wendig has posted before, finish your shit. This writing “do” belongs with a “don’t”—don’t query agents and publishers about a work of fiction unless you have a finished product. The only thing you will achieve by doing this is irritating professionals you are hoping to win to your side.
- Polish your craft. (This goes back to my first “don’t” too.) Take classes, belong to a critique group. Don’t believe that you are god’s gift to writing, because without putting in the work and the time, and getting outside opinion…sorry about this… you probably aren’t. I have beta readers, an agent who takes an active hand in the writing process, and my editors. Even seasoned professionals need outside opinions and robust editing, and that includes those who are at the top of their game and on all the major bestseller lists. There are very, very few writers who don’t. And probably most of them are dead and their works are classics.
- Learn how to write a pitch letter properly before you start querying agents and publishers. Pitch letters are not easy. They don’t just roll off the tips of your fingers. You are attempting to make your first contact with very busy professionals, who are trained and who know what they are looking for, so you need to make sure every sentence says exactly what it is supposed to say before you hit SEND on that email.
- Stay professional and polite. AT. ALL. TIMES. You want to have a rant about something, keep it private. Bitch to your friends and family, or to your dog. Dogs like it when you talk to them. Because publishing professionals are people too, there’s the possibility you may query someone who is rude. I don’t believe that gives you license to be rude back, especially when you may have queried someone with a lot of contacts and power in the industry, and who may have a memory like an elephant. (The vast majority of publishing professionals are nice, just very busy.) Stay professional with readers and bloggers. I’ve seen authors have meltdowns online, and the reaction has been vociferous and ugly. You are in charge of your reputation, and your conduct will speak for itself. Make sure your reputation is one where people want to work with you.
- Read everything. Read extensively in the genre you want to write in, outside of the genre you want to write in, and nonfiction on any subject. The more you are educated and well read, the more richness and depth you can give to your writing. It also helps you to avoid the hopelessly naïve pitch “my book is ground breaking because it’s about vampires!” which is sure to get you an eye roll and a rejection.
- Write what you are passionate about, but with an eye to the trends in the industry. Truth: you get to write anything you want. You can write all you want. You can write for yourself, and you can take crazy chances, invent cool new alien languages and sentence structures, and you can get lost in the words and let them control you—and chances are, since you’re not god’s gift to writing (remember that point?) that nobody will care. If you are writing with a view to getting published, keep an eye on who your intended readership is, because writing and reading is a relationship. It’s not one-sided.
- I’ll make one last point. I actually wrote this as part of another piece for a guest blog on Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. Be too stupid to quit, but too smart to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Rejection happens a lot in this industry. It happens to successful writers as well as those who are trying to break into the profession. Learn from your rejections, analyze why they happened, and use that to improve on what you are doing.
Then pick yourself up and keep writing. Only better.
So now I’ve gone past 1,200 words, and I could still keep going, but because this is supposed to be a blog post, I’d better draw it to a close. I guess I had more opinions about these writing tips than I thought I did. I hope someone finds something useful in this list.