This July marks four years since I published the first edition of Frey. I came into publishing at a time when things were changing drastically, and though it might be leveling out, there are still days where we all wake up to something terrifyingly new. I'm grateful for the luck that got me where I am, but luck is luck and what means so much more is the help I received along the way. I'm no expert. I've done a lot of things the hard way, the wrong way, and more than once stumbled as I went. But through the thousands of desperately clicked links, through trial and error, and by the precious time of others, I've managed to pick up a few bits of advice/knowledge that I will happily pass along.
What I've Learned:
1. You have to write.
Being a writer is fun. Actually writing, not as much. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, but one of the hardest lessons to learn is that you have to keep your butt in the chair. No amount of talent, skill, or awesomeness can make you an author unless you're getting words on the page. Chapter after chapter, page after page, book after book. You have to do the work.
2. The middle is hard.
You don't just have to write it. You have to keep writing it. The worst part of any book is slogging through the swamp once the excitement of a new idea wears thin. When you start a book, chapters will flow out of you like magic, creating characters and worlds and brilliance willy-nilly. And then, somewhere around the 40% mark, you find you can't swim. Your arms are heavy, seaweed tugs at your legs, and you can't even see the shore. You have to keep going. There's no giving up. Climb on that liferaft, Jack. There's plenty of room.
3. Don't be that guy.
You wouldn't* walk up to Michael Jordan and ask him how to play basketball. You wouldn't call Mario Batali at home to ask him to come watch you grill cheese. So don't email/tweet/repeatedly DM your favorite Internationally Bestselling Author to ask him/her to read your book.
Don't push your books. Don't post them incessantly. If that helped with sales, you'd see the pros doing it. It's probably only making potential readers unfollow or mute you.
*shouldn't. Really, really shouldn't.
4. You have to learn the hard way.
This is also called the right way. Get used to it. If you want to play piano, you learn the basics and practice, practice, practice. Sure, you can probably bang out a pretty fantastic rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in a few days, but that doesn't mean you're good. And who doesn't want to be at least a Good Writer. If you want to be a Great Writer, or anything ranking above, you have to put in the time. You have to do the work. (Yes, I said that already. It's kind of a theme.)
There are many, many writers who have posted FAQ or Writer's Help pages on their blogs and websites, as well as those who Tweet useful tips, advice, and inspiration. Find those writers. Read their pages. Learn. Write. Repeat.
There's no question the top two tips for improving your craft are to write and to read. Read wide, read often, and read because you love it. If you don't have time to read, if you don't enjoy reading, then this is the wrong business for you. And oh yeah...
6. This is a business. Act like it.
You might be surprised to realize, even if you are traditionally published, writing isn't bouncing on clouds all day long. It's work. It's a business. No matter how things start out, no matter how much fun you have, at the end of the day you aren't just creating art. You are selling a product. You are a brand (I know, it makes me feel yucky, too). You need to be professional. Always. Don't sell a crappy product. Hire an editor, only put out your best work, proofread it until your eyes cross and then read it again. Don't engage with readers who hated your book. Ever. It's their right. They can hate Nike, they can hate Kool-Aid, and they can hate you. You are an author, which is the reading world equivalent of the company who sells that product.
The internet is a public space. Don't say anything there you wouldn't want on a billboard in your hometown. With your face on it. Forever.
7. Enjoy it.
This is one of the best jobs in the world. You are your own boss, you make your own hours, you create your own worlds. Own it. Love it. Live it. And every now and again, go outside.
None of it means anything if you can't see the good in it, if you don't let the process give you something in return.
8. Other authors are not and will never be your competition.
Don't be petty. Don't be jealous. Don't base your life on what another appears to be. It's just a crappy way to live. As far as books go, this is especially true. Here's a secret: anytime a book does well, it's good for all of us. Any book. Not just yours. Be supportive. Help authors. Love readers (no matter what they read). In the end, it only builds this thing you want to be a part of. And that's saying nothing of karma.
9. Kill your time-sucks.
Nothing cuts down production like weekend binge of Netflix, but you have to know yourself and make the calls on what's important to you. If you're going to be a Serious Writer, you need to learn to manage your time. Delete Candy Crush, unplug the television, stop watching cat videos or living on Twitter. Take a hard look at how you spend your day and be honest about what you should be giving up.
Better yet, do the math. Many authors average 500+ words per hour. If you only make 500, you can write a 100,000 word novel in 200 hours. That's less than an hour per day over the course of a year.
Maybe you don't want to give up your favorite shows. Maybe you want to spend every waking moment being present for your kids. That's fine. Awesome in the second case. But look at your day, cut what you don't need. That fifteen minutes of your lunch break where you zone out facing a blank screen, that thirty minutes before work where you stare into the abyss of your coffee mug, the six times per day you check social media. Make those your hour. Make those your days.
They add up. If you let them, they will be your novel. Time is precious. Use it wisely.
10. There's always more to learn.
Always. Embrace it, use it, become a better person. Er, writer. Whatever.
Now what are you doing here? Get back to work!
P.S. If you have any specific questions, I'd be happy to (try to) help. Just post them in the comments or email me through the contact form on the web or sidebar. Happy writing :)