With all this talk of making millions from self-publishing, have we lost our writerly way?
1. Not all books have to be instantly mass marketable
Often advice is given to choose a subject to please the audience before we’ve even decided on a topic. If you want to be a self-published author, fine, go ahead, write genre fiction that follows the zeitgeist and make some money. But if you’re a writer, how about writing whatever you like? Maybe you’ll hit on something that is so damn original you’ll sell better than if you wrote for the masses. Look at writers like David Mitchell, Bret Easton Ellis, Poppy Z. Brite or Mark Danielewski. They didn’t follow the herd and came up with wonderful cult books that broke through into classic territory. Since when has the creator of art been dictated to by the person consuming the art? If you want to be a writer, let your art communicate to the reader, not the other way around. Unless you’re psychic or have reams of marketing behavior data, are you really going to be able to get ahead of the collective consciousness?
2. Stop thinking about 50 Shades of Grey
Maybe if you stop worrying what other self-published authors wrote about, there would be a lot less “erotic” 50 Shades knock-offs covered with pink-tinted shady hands-on-bums covers. Imagine a world where Amazon Kindle galleys were free of that dross. Chances are that, like a virus that isn’t contagious any more once it is clearly visible, any book you decide to imitate won’t be ready in time to catch the wave that particular “phenomenon” is riding on, and if it is, you’ll be drowning in thousands like it and probably won’t sell many books at all due to the vast numbers of highly-marketed books that are also knock-offs that have thousands of dollars of social media behind them to keep them afloat. Instead, see point one.
3. Write something you know and have passion for
Bestsellers are usually written by people with experience in the area their book is written about. They have passion for their subject matter. When Sebastian Junger wrote The Perfect Storm, he was immersed in the Gloucester area and the fishing culture, and had lived through the perfect storm. When Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games, she had a USAF father who taught her survivalist skills he picked up in Vietnam. James Herriot‘s veterinary book series came from his time spent as a veterinarian in Yorkshire, UK. What has happened in your life that you may be able to fictionalize? Maybe non-fiction is more your thing. Don’t rule it out.”Write what you know.”
4. Stop worrying about making money
Once you stop writing to please people who might read your book and start writing to the little narrator in your head, you’ll hit your stride and start writing solid, pleasing work. If your first book doesn’t make it. maybe your third will. This is something people go to university to learn to do, and study all their lives. Don’t expect the first manuscript you bang out to make your first million. Although, of course, it might if you stick to the rules of being a writer.
5. Treat your work like a treasure
Don’t put out your book for sale until you have given it the VIP treatment. Spend a long time editing and proofreading yourself before paying for the best editor you can afford to go over your work. Once this is done, send your book to “beta readers” i.e. online friends, family and neighbors to read and give opinions. Slave away. Never publish for any reason until it’s perfect. This should be your lifeblood, your baby, your obssession. Only then, with the best book cover money can buy, should you publish your work. You’ve invested your ideas into this book, so make sure the presentation of the story within is not sullied and left vulnerable to bad reviews due to spelling mistakes and bad grammar.
6. Get ready for self-doubt, feelings of grandeur and hysterical panics of nihilism
Real writers get emotional about their work. Once your baby leaves home and goes to the big book depository out there in the world, prepare to cry over your first negative review, panic over lack of sales, obssessing over Facebook likes and wonder if you’ve wasted all your time on this project. The answer is “Of course you didn’t!” You just had an amazing experience. You wrote a book! Enjoy that achievement, whatever happens.