Note: This is a recycled post originally from http://www.skyladawncameron.com/blog, so when I say "talking today" I mean "talking a year and a half ago." But it's still pretty timely, I think.
A friend and I had a beer at the pub today (well, she had Pepsi because she's the designated driver) and got talking about, of course, publishing because that's just what two writers/editors do. We're interesting like that.
We got discussing the multitude advice out there. Everyone has some and they REALLY want to dish it out. And often they seem like they know wtf they're talking about.
And the simple truth is that every writer out there is hungry for The Secret. The handshake, the password, the golden ticket, that ONE thing that's going to get them in the door and published.
The truth? Write a book that people want to read, and write it well.
There are lots of other factors (be professional and not a twat, follow the guidelines, have a website that doesn't look like you vomited on photoshop, put your left foot in and take your left foot out, blah blah). But everyone wants to look at all those little factors and NOT the important one: write well and make it something people want to read.
That self promotion thing? It's all well and good but the truth is that no one knows, for sure, what exactly works there. What works for me won't necessarily work for you. You can do as much or as little as me and see totally different results. There are ways to promote well, yes, but that's not a guarantee it'll be effective. The beautiful website? Kids, every agent and editor agrees that a web presence is a must, but we've still contracted authors without having a site yet. There's nothing on the "do we sign this person?" checklist for an active blog. It can help but it's not The Secret.
All the other pre-publishing advice? That din of noise with everyone telling you this and that? Look kids, I talk a lot about the other factors on my blog and Twitter because I'm already assuming that you're writing well. So I stress the guidelines, I tell you to buck up and not whine, I warn about the many frustrations in the industry. But following the guidelines is not magically going to make someone accept your book if the book sucks. Being a nice, funny person isn't going to magically make someone accept your book if the books sucks. Having the most fabulous website or doing the hokey pokey isn't going to magically make someone accept your book. Previous publishing credits, legit or otherwise, won't magically make someone take your next book.
I see writers gobble up absolute crap advice because it's what they want to hear. They want to hear that they can slap their unedited fanfic opus on Kindle and sell fifty thousand copies. They want to hear that they can design a book trailer for their unpublished book and that'll land them an agent. And there's no arguing with people like this--I've tried explaining, and they just point to self-appointed-guru-guy-number-thirty-seven as "proof."
I just gotta throw my hands up. It's true--every piece of advice for writing/publishing out there has a counterpoint. But honestly, if you're looking for a shortcut and ignoring that important piece of the puzzle--the book--that tells me you don't have enough confidence in your work to let it stand on your own. That should tell YOU that you have a problem, and no number of acceptance letters will solve it for you.
So. Advice. Who do you listen to in the din? Agents say one thing, which sometimes overlaps with editors, and then authors say something that may or may not match with what you've just heard and, oh yeah, all those unpublished people have opinions and speak loudly too. It's getting pretty noisy out there.
Well, what kind of writer do you want to be?
Play a game with me for a moment. What kind of writer do you want to be like? Not whose books are like yours, but who has the career you'd love?
My friend and I played this game today over Keith's White (not as good as Rickards, btw) and Pepsi. I said, hands down, I want to be Lilith Saintcrow when I grow up. Besides her utterly honest and gracious online persona (okay, so I'll never have that going for me), I greatly admire both her work ethic and her writing ability. She writes wonderful books with emotional resonance wrapped in an entertaining package, she puts out a couple a year without sacrificing quality, and she manages to support her family doing it. That's the kind of career I want; that's the kind of writer I want to be. So when Lili posts her Friday writing blog posts, I'm there. I'm listening. No two writers will ever have the same career path, but I know that if I want to be the kind of writer who lives off of fiction writing and puts out a couple books a year, I need to pay attention to what writers like her are doing.
My friend was taking Holly Lisle's Think Sideways course. Ms. Lisle is someone who has dozens of books published and my friend really admires her ability to work under deadlines, keep producing quality work, and how she conquers the challenges of being a working, professional writer. She says the course has been invaluable to her.
So when you, gentle reader who is also a writer, are wondering whose advice to take when it's all loud and a little conflicting, MY advice (and it really is just that) is to think about where you want your career to go. Are you the hobbyist who dabbles in different areas for fun? Listen to dabbling hobbyists--you'll make great friends and enjoy yourself. Are you the Great Canadian Novelist who puts out one book every three years? Find the authors like that and pay attention to their stories of how they got there (and then tell me who they are 'cause I have no fucking clue). Do you want to support your family as a working fiction writer? Obviously, checking out advice from Lili and Holly would be a good start.
Looking for the quick fix? Drawn to the stories of instant success, the exceptions to the rule?
Folks, if the rule is that hard work, talent, and perseverance lead to publication, please explain to me WHY you would like to be the exception to that? Or, better yet, ask *yourself* why you don't think this craft, this calling, is worth your blood, sweat, and tears.
Because my opinion? Writing is worth the pain and effort that I put into it, and the quick path to success isn't fucking good enough for me. I value the stories I've been called to tell too much to give them anything less than the best.
My advice? If you don't feel the same, go buy a lotto ticket 'cause I don't think you belong in this field.