A Little Help From My Friends and a Lot of Elbow Grease

As an author, I spend a lot of time getting to know other writers. It’s amazing to have this community of support, and there’s no way I could do what I do without them. We share triumphs, we commiserate over tough reviews, we tell stories about what worked and especially what didn’t, hoping a friend won’t have to make the same boneheaded, and sometimes expensive, mistake. We critique for each other, telling the truth in love to help our friends’ stories glow. We tout each others’ works and we cheer when someone succeeds beyond wildest expectation.

But–I want to clarify something: No matter how much I love you, no matter how much I will cheer and yell and urge you on in your efforts…I can’t help you make money at writing.

Seem obvious? Well, the other day, a writer (not one of my usual blog readers) mentioned in a post, “Can someone help me make money at this?” I didn’t answer the post, but I’ve been thinking about that question every since. So now, with a little trepidation, I’m going to provide some advice…and a little tough love.

The only person who can help you make money at writing is you, and possibly a publisher, but only after you put in the work and get your foot in the door. This is a message you see on many writer-centric boards, but for some reason, it gets ignored, as if it’s only the unfairness of the publishing world keeping a writer from making millions. Maybe because this has to be a lesson you learn through experience? Or because there’s hope that you’ll win the lottery a la Stephanie Meyer? (In Meyer’s defense, she did work hard on Twilight, no matter my personal feeling about the book.)  While I can help you understand the vagaries of pricing a self-pubbed book, point you to a great blog that will help you with publishing decisions, critique a query to an agent or publisher, or help you polish your masterpiece into a gem, the fact remains that, in the end, getting published is your rodeo.

It’s your rodeo.

What I can do, though, is tell you a few things I’ve learned along the way. Being both self and traditionally published (and having gone the agent route, too), I’ve been through a lot of the highs and lows…and here’s what I’ve seen:

  1. Getting published isn’t as easy as it looks. In fact, it’s damn hard. And doing it well is even harder. It takes a lot of time, sweat, late nights and nerve to follow through. It doesn’t matter if you are traditionally or self-pubbed. Putting your baby out there to be savaged by the masses–or worse, ignored–is heartrending business. And while your friends are there for you, the sting or the triumphant fist pump is all on you.
  2. Jealously does no good. Wishing I could get a book deal as good as X or Y, or questioning why Z got published by one of the Big Five when I didn’t, does nothing but eat at my stomach lining. You can’t control how your book sells. You can throw everything you have at it, and it might not ever get off the ground. Or it might rocket up the charts higher and faster than you ever predicted. My favorite quote on this (and I can’t remember what blog I saw it on, probably a guest post on Lindsay Burokers) is “no one owes you a sale. Anytime that “brown bar” disappears on KDP is a good day.” And that’s the truth. Fretting that so-and-so’s book is ranked higher than yours is out of your control, and being jealous or worrying about it does no good. Working harder on the next book, however, does. Which leads me to my next point…
  3. Try, try again.  So your book got rejected. Write another one. I wrote a series of really awful books when I first started trying to write toward publication. No, seriously, anyone from OWW with some of those old pages has blackmail fodder, as I have no intention of ever letting anyone see them again. I didn’t understand the rules. My stories rambled. My scenes didn’t always have a plot-forward point. At the time, though, I had no idea they were awful. I thought it was bestseller material. So when the first book got rejected 63 times, I realized I needed to cut my losses and start again. I piddled with a few other stories before I hit upon Matt Archer. And thank goodness, because by the time I found a really great story to tell, I’d honed my craft through study and critique and was able to execute in a satisfactory way.
  4. Finally, hope. You have to have hope to be in this business. To believe that a bestseller is only another book away. See points 1, 2 and 3 if it doesn’t work out, but keep trying. If writing is your heart and soul, then write. If you want those stories in the world, then go for publication.

In the end, your path to publication–and beyond–is on your shoulders. Kind of like that ant carrying the crackers up there, with enough strength and perseverance, you can do this.

Any other writing advice y’all want to share? I know you have some good stuff out there. Tell us about it.

2 comments

  • Oh my word, I love that quote about the brown bar on KDP. That’s the truth, right there.

    My addition to this excellent list of advice is that you can’t let your personal worth hinge on whether or not you get published. You have to give it your all, do everything you can to feel satisfied at the end of the day that you tried, but know that you’re worth more (as a person and as a writer) than whether or not an agent or publisher takes you on.

    • That’s a great point, Rebecca. You can’t let your self-worth hinge on each bump in the road, because writing is a personal, but tough business.

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