Some Advice For New Or Aspiring Authors

A lot of folks who want to publish a book (typically a novel, but non-fiction, as well) have asked me, “Hey, do you have any advice on how to get published?” Here are a few general observations from my perspective, for what they may be worth:

1. First and foremost, you need to sit your butt down and write. Today. “Oh, I want to write a novel some day…” Stop wanting and start doing. Like everything else, it’s easy to make excuses to not do it. I have to combat that myself every day, even doing this for a living now: there are all kinds of things (like blogging!) that creep in to steal away my writing time, but if you’re not writing, you’ll never be an author. So stop putting it off and write as much as you can, even if it’s only a little bit, every day.

2. Decide how you want to be published. By that, I mean that you have to decide if you’re going to self-publish or go the traditionally published (trad pub) route. I’m going to be blunt on this one: if you’re not going the self-published route, you’re screwing yourself. I’m not going to go into gory detail here, but the bottom line is that if your book is good enough to be picked up by a trad pub house, assuming you won the lottery to get a contract in the first place, you’ll almost certainly make a LOT more money self-publishing. And I emphasize the money aspect because for me, writing started out as a hobby, but it’s now the means by which I put bread on the table for my family. So if you want to go with a Big 6 publisher for the prestige or whatever, power to you. But while your book is sitting with your agent (whom you have to pay) for a couple years, and then sitting in the production queue with the publisher for another year or two, after revisions, I’ll have put out about a dozen new books, each of which will earn me at least some (and in a few cases, a lot) of money right away. Good luck.

3. Exploit all the media possibilities you can: ebooks, print, and audiobooks immediately come to mind. You may not be able to do them all at once, but over time try to cover all those bases, because they represent different market segments (i.e., more readers) and additional potential income. The time investment, particularly for audiobook production, can be pretty steep, but once it’s done, it’s done, and aside from the promotional angle, you don’t have to do any additional work to generate money from your sales. Can you say residual income, boys and girls? I knew you could!

4. If you go the self-publishing route, do it right. Here’s what I mean by that:

– First, find a fiendishly picky editorial team. You want people who are going to tell you what sucks about your work so you can make it better. Learn to embrace the red ink – your readers will thank you for it. People do things different ways, but the editorial system I use has three major stages. First, my wife reads each chapter as I finish the draft to make sure I’m not taking the story down a blind alley or doing something outrageously stupid. Once the manuscript is done, I go over it, then send it on to my editorial team, which is stage 2. My team currently comprises three people (two of whom are Norwegian!), and they go after the manuscript with butcher knives. Once they’re done hacking and chopping, I go back over the story and incorporate the changes. Stage 3 is for the beta readers. Their job is really just to read the book and see if anything irritating leaps out at them. If they pick up any stray typos, that’s great, but their main job is just to test-read the story and make sure it comes off well. When they’re done, I incorporate any changes, then hit the publish button. Poof.

– Second, get some decent cover art. This is one of the few places that I recommend you spend some money if you can’t do a decent job yourself. There are lots of folks who offer this service now, and you can also find artists on DeviantART, for example, who are amazingly talented and can do custom work, often at extremely reasonable prices. And please remember the sole purpose of the cover: to catch the eye of potential readers and get them to read the blurb. That’s really all it’s for, but it’s a very critical function that you don’t want to screw up with lousy cover art.

– Third, make sure you have a decent blurb for your book. This is actually one of the most difficult things to do, and is something I still struggle with. You want something that’s catchy, fairly brief, and – most important – gets the reader curious about your book, enough so that they’ll at least check out a sample or read some of the reviews.

Doing those three things won’t guarantee you’ll have a bestseller, but it’ll make your book competitive.
5. Get involved with writing/reading communities. This is something I didn’t do until after I’d published my first book back in 2008, and the quality of the book suffered for it. Why? Because these places – forums, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – is where you’ll likely find your editors and beta readers, as well as a lot of good information on, well, just about everything. HOWEVER, approach this with one thing in mind: it’s incredibly easy to get sucked into spending tons of times on forums, etc., talking about the issues related to publishing and being an author, when you should be writing your books. I’ve seen authors make multiple posts on threads that added up to thousands of words in a single day, then they complain about not making much progress on their current book. Well, yeah…

6. BE PATIENT. This is the hardest thing to get across to a lot of folks. So many people think that just because they wrote and self-published The Next Great American Novel that it should be an overnight bestseller. While there are some “quantum leap” authors like Amanda Hocking who leap onto the charts out of nowhere, she’s the exception, not the rule. It’s akin to trying to win the lottery versus an intelligent long-term investment strategy. You can spend your life’s savings on lottery tickets and never win it big, but if you invest the same money intelligently over time, you’re going to make money. Will you make millions? Probably not, but you can probably make enough to make a living at it…given time. It took me a total of seven years working like a dog between my full-time job and squeezing in enough time to write seven books before I was making enough to consider quitting my day job. Patience and perseverance, grasshopper.

7. Learn all you can about marketing, book promotion, and – most important (from my perspective) – social media. You can write the greatest story ever told, but if you can’t let people know about it, entice them to read it, and build a fan base interested in buying your next book, you’re never going to succeed. It’s not rocket science, but it takes a willingness to learn, experiment, and, most important, that perseverance thing. You’ve got to work promotion every single day over a long period of time to build up your fan base, and that process should never stop.

8. Lastly, keep writing more books. Even if you have a bestseller, don’t make the mistake that I did and assume that it’s always going to be a bestseller. Sooner or later, that top-ten book is going to fall off the charts into your backlist. Accept it. Get over it. Just be working on the next book, with the understanding that not every book you write is going to be a bestseller. It dosen’t matter, just keep building up your list. The nice thing is that books in your backlist will continue to earn money forever (assuming you’re self-published; if not, you’re at the mercy of the publisher). Even if each book is just earning a trickle, that’s okay, because by the time you have a bunch of books out, those trickles can combine into a river of money. Again, though, that’s going to take time (see #6).

3 Replies to “Some Advice For New Or Aspiring Authors”

  1. Thanks for the advice Michael. I fall into the “someday” category. I have some ideas that need to be penned, and some of your books have inspired some ideas. Hopefully, “someday” you’ll be reading one of my books!

  2. Michael, this is one of the most useful and most uplifting posts I’ve read for aspiring authors. I’ve attended a few conferences and listened to many agents and publishing industry professionals trying to encourage people to use just the right words in their queries to get them noticed. But what you’ve captured here is spot-on. Spend your time writing and working on your manuscripts and books, and less on query letters. It’s good to have this advice on where (and how) to find and ask for help. Thanks for posting this!

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