Showing posts with label advice to writers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label advice to writers. Show all posts

Friday, March 15

Hugh Howey's 3 Rules For Writing

Hugh Howey's 3 Rules For Writing
Because of the success of Wool, Hugh Howey has become a household name. Every self-published author has been inspired by his rocket ride to writing and publishing fame.

So when Hugh Howey gives advice to writers, especially writers interested in self publishing, my ears perk up. Below is my summary of what he had to say, but I'd encourage you to read his article in full: My Advice to Aspiring Authors.

Hugh Howey's Advice To Aspiring Authors

Hugh Howey advises writers: Don't write to become rich and famous, write because you love it.
And so my advice is geared toward helping authors get to the end of their manuscript, polish it to perfection, and then gain the widest readership possible. This is the best you can hope for. I think it’s possible for every writer who gives it their all.
Awesome! Let's get started.

1. Write

Write every single day.
To begin with, you need to write. This seems axiomatic because it is. The only way to amass a pile of words into a book is to shovel some every single day. No days off. You have to form this habit; without it you are screwed.
If you haven't already formed the habit of writing every day don't panic. Hugh Howey gives two tips on how to begin:

a. Spend quality time with your monitor 

Even if you don't write, even if you're blocked, get used to sitting in front of your monitor for however long you've set for yourself to write. If you want to write for an hour a day, then sit there, staring at the monitor for an hour. NO social media. NO email.

Eventually either the boredom will force you to type something, anything, or you'll stop trying.
Get comfortable staring at a blank screen and not writing. This is a skill. If you can not write and avoid filling that time with distractions, you’ll get to the point where you start writing. Open your manuscript and just be with it.

b. Write rough

I always knew I liked Hugh Howey, both as a fine writer and a decent, likable, guy but when I read the following he went to a whole new level of cool. I do this too! Of course it takes a lot more than writing rough to be a success but, hey, I'll take my joy where I can get it. ;)
Stop caring about spelling and sentence fragments and plot holes and grammar. Get the story down. Listen to the dialog and try to keep up with your fingers. Get to the end of your manuscript and THEN worry about the quality. If you can master the art of powering through to the end of your story, you are on your way.

2.  Self-publishing is a marathon, not a sprint

Write 10 books and don't promote them. Instead, spend your time writing more books. (This is going to sound very familiar to folks who read Dean Wesley Smith's blog! By the way, Dean's blog is great, I highly recommend it.)
My father ... wondered why I wasn’t spending all of my time promoting that first book. I told him I had my entire life to promote my works. I only had now to write. I stuck to that principle for years, writing and publishing several novels or short stories a year. I wrote a variety of genres and with a slew of styles and voices. 1st person, 3rd person, fiction, horror, sci-fi, novelettes, short stories. I also read a wide variety of works, but hardly ever in my genres. I read literary fiction and history, non-fiction and science. I try to read the newspaper every day.

My father now agrees with this approach and sees the value of having a dozen titles available. This is going to sound strange, but you are MUCH better off with your 10th work exploding than your 1st work. You’ll never have quiet time to crank out quality material ever again. And when your backlist matches the growth of your first breakout, you’ll do very well for yourself. Be patient. It’s been said by many others, but I’ll repeat it here: self-publishing is a marathon.

 3. Self publish at the beginning of your writing career

Hugh Howey advises new authors to avoid the traditional route to publication at the beginning of their careers. He writes: "every author should begin their writing career self-publishing, even if their dream is to be with a large publisher".

Here's why:

a. Your manuscript won't change

Your manuscript won't drop in quality just because you decided to publish your story yourself. It's the same book whether you publish it or whether Penguin does.
Querying an agent won’t make your manuscript better. Self-publishing won’t make it worse. It’s either a story that appeals to readers or it isn’t.

b. In self-publishing readers, not editors, not agents, are your gatekeepers

If readers had a choice between a good story or sparkling prose they'd take a good story every time.

Think about it. Think about the popularity of Twilight, The Da Vinci Code, the 50 Shades trilogy. Those aren't read, enjoyed and loved for the prose but for the story. Hugh Howey writes:
Appealing to readers is the endgame. They want story over prose, so concentrate on that (aim for both, but concentrate on story). Agents and slush-pile readers are often the opposite, which is why they bemoan the absence of literary fiction hits and cringe at the sale of Twilight, Dan Brown, and 50 Shades. You are writing for the reader, who is your ultimate gatekeeper. Get your work in front of them, even if it’s one at a time, one reader a month or year.

c. Self-published books are forever

If you self publish then your book will be available to readers for (potentially) forever. A traditionally published print book has, at most, a few months in the bookstores and then its time in the sun is over. It's gone. Unavailable. Remaindered.

Hugh Howey writes:
Working at a bookstore was a dream job but also a sad job. I saw how books sat spine-out on a shelf for six months, were returned, went out of print. That’s a narrow window in which to be discovered. If you self-publish, you will have the rest of your life (and your heirs’ lives) to make it.

d. When you self publish you can get 70% of the royalties versus 12.5%

The chances of a book blowing up like Wool are slim whether you self-publish or are published traditionally.

But IF you get lucky--and it happens--which would you rather make: 70% royalties or 12.5% royalties?

Hugh Howey writes:
If you blow up, do you want to own your rights or have someone else own them? Do you want to be making 12.5% or 70%? Remember, the chances are that you’ll never have a mega-hit. Traditional publishing will not increase those odds. With the 6-month window, I’d say the odds are 1/100th what your work might do in 50 years self-published.

e. Whichever way you go--traditional or indie--you are the publicist

Traditional publishing expects an author to have their own platform. Hugh Howey writes that he'd be shocked to learn that someone got a publishing deal "without already having a robust one":
Houses have too many authors to promote all of them. They choose a select handful based on the excitement around a debut manuscript (rare) or the perennial bestsellers (more likely, but still rare). If you want to earn a living as a writer, which I’m assuming the people asking for my advice are, you are going to have to be more than a writer. You will be an entrepreneur and a publicist. 

f. Hugh Howey is not the story

Hugh Howey is an outlier. He doesn't think we should pay attention to wild success stories like his own. Instead, we should look at how many thousands and thousands of writers are making $1,000 a month over at Amazon.

 g. Be professional

Being professional means studying grammar as well as reading critically and not just for enjoyment.

There's a saying, "It takes a village to raise a child," well, arguably, it takes a village to make a writer. We need to rub elbows with like-minded professionals, whether those elbows are real or virtual. Hugh Howey recommends becoming active over at places like Kindle Boards Writers Cafe.

#  #  #

Hugh Howey has a lot more to say about publishing, and it's all great stuff. I encourage you to read his article in full, here's the link again: My Advice To Aspiring Authors.

I'll leave you with these closing thoughts:
The key to making it as a writer is to write a lot, write great stories, publish them yourself, spend more time writing, study the industry, act like a pro, network, be nice, invest in yourself and your craft, and be patient. If you can do all of these things, you’ll earn some money.
Now that's inspiring!
Have you published any of your work? What do you think of Hugh Howey's advice? Did anything in particular stand out for you?

Other articles you might like:

- 7 Secrets To Writing A Story Your Readers Won't Be Able To Put Down
- Review Of Grammarly, Its Strength And Weaknesses
- Joe Konrath Makes $15k A Week Selling His Backlist

Photo credit: "sky on fire" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, April 25

Writers: Don't Despair

At nineteen they can card you in the bars and tell you to get the fuck out, put your sorry act (and even sorrier ass) back on the street, but they can’t card you when you sit down to paint a picture, write a poem, or tell a story, by God, and if you reading this happen to be very young, don’t let your elders and supposed betters tell you any different. Sure, you’ve never been to Paris. No, you never ran with the bulls at Pamplona. Yes, you’re a pissant who had no hair in your armpits until three years ago – but so what? If you don’t start out too big for your britches, how are you gonna fill ‘em when you grow up? Let it rip regardless of what anybody tells you, that’s my idea; sit down and smoke that baby.
- Stephen King, The Darktower 1: The Gunslinger, Revised Ed.

At the end of the 2010 Surrey International Writer's Conference Robert Dugoni gave a rousing speech entitled, "This Day We Write!" based on the one Aragorn gave at the Black Gate. Close to 1,000 writers were on our feet stamping, clapping, hooting and chanting. There were even some tears. But, mostly, there were face-splitting grins. We left that conference the most inspired we had been in our lives!

One of the things good writing can do, something that is often ignored, is this: It can inspire.

Today I was going to do a follow up on an article I wrote some months ago, Writers Despair, which was about how traditional publishing has changed over the years and how this change has effected writers, especially midlist writers.

But I'm not going to do that.

It's true that many writers despair, and with good reason. Their series have been dropped by publishers, their contracts haven't been renewed, their new work hasn't been accepted. It's not hard to find these stories and it's not hard to find credible predictions that the trend is not only going to continue, but accelerate.

But wait! There's good news. Actually, there's good news and there's great news.

The good news is that good writing will always have an audience. Heck, as Stephen King would stay of James Patterson, it doesn't even have to be all that good! (BTW, I've read a few of Patterson's books and enjoyed them. Personally, I'm rooting for the man, it's great to know a writer can make the kind of money even the CEO of a multinational corporation would be envious of.)

That was the good news, here's the great news: writers now have the ability to create our own audience, one that the vicissitudes of the publishing industry can't cut us off from. We do this by putting up our own websites, by blogging and by being open to the possibility that a self-published book or two could get us exposure and some money without making us a pariah in the industry.

What could we publish? A professional writer usually has a backlist, and it's generally not the case that all those books/short stories/articles are in print. Too often it has been the case that fans have wanted a book but they can't get it. Also, every writer I've met has manuscripts wedged into shoe boxes languishing under beds. Granted, many of those works were first attempts and should stay in exile, but many times they have been rejected, not because they weren't good, but because the publisher couldn't figure out how to market them. Joe Konrath has made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling books his publisher rejected.

I'm not saying that if others can do it then so can you. I'm saying: If others can do it, then why not try? What's it going to cost you? A bit of time and money.

I want to make it clear that I'm not bashing publishers. I know being a traditional publisher is one of the highest risk endeavors on the planet. Restaurants are notoriously high-risk but when restaurant owners get depressed they say to themselves, "It could be worse. At least I'm not a publisher." Traditional publishers, especially small or medium sized publishers, are in business because they love books and are passionate about writing. A few years ago I took a publishing course taught by the owner of a small literary press, one of the most successful small presses in the country, and he approached his work with an evangelistic furor. These men and women are dedicated to their craft.

Unfortunately, though -- and small and medium sized traditional publishers would be the first to tell you this -- it is vanishingly unlikely that the overwhelming majority of writers who are published by them -- not those who submit their work, but who are accepted and published -- will be able to live on what they are paid.

But that doesn't mean you can't make a living as a writer. Times have changed and we must change with them.

This pep talk was as much for me as for anyone else. I think, really, it comes down to this:
Write what you are inspired to write, get what you've written out to people however you can, through any medium you can, and eventually success will follow.
I believe that.

Recommended Reading:
Stephen King: On Writing

Other blog posts of mine you might like:
Writers Despair
How To Publish On Amazon
The Starburst Method

Stephen King's Greatest Lesson For Writers
Surrey international Writers Conference
Robert Dugoni

Photo credit: Recruiterpoet's Blog

"Writers: Don't Despair!" copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward

Thursday, September 8

Kristine Rusch: Should writers be compared with abused spouses?

Writing is challenging regardless of whether you're going the traditional route or are independent. Many of us have been told since we were toddlers that we couldn't make a living as a writer. Not only are we not good enough, but there is just no money to be made. If you are stubborn and persevere, it only gets worse.

Kristine Rusch writes:
Last week in her blog, writer Sarah Hoyt compared writers to battered spouses. She says that some of what she hears from writers reminds her of the reasons battered spouses stay with their abusers. I have to admit, I’ve had that same thought myself, but I’ve never written a blog post about it because it seems too simple.

Writers do react badly to any suggestions for change, from leaving an agent who is clearly no longer interested in working for them to staying with a publisher even as the publisher’s contracts and advances get worse. But I think the way that writers act has a lot more to do with crisis response than with abuse.

The writers who stay in the business become survivors. “Survivor” is an interesting word because it implies that the survivor went through something traumatic. Indeed, my handy dandy Encarta World English Dictionary defines the word “survive” as managing to stay alive “especially in difficult situations” or “after something such as an accident or war that threatens life.”
Read Kristine Rusch's entire article here: The Business Rusch: Fighting Uphill.

Friday, May 20

How to Kill Your Writing Career

There is only one way to kill a career: Stop writing.

That's from Dean Wesley Smith's latest blog post in his Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series. If anyone is timid about letting go of their manuscript and sending it out into the world of editors and agents, I would recommend reading this article.

Dean continues:

... if you go into everything you do in publishing believing the myth that you can make a mistake and kill your career, you will make all your decisions from a position of fear. And you will make horrid decisions.