Non-Writing Advice for Writers
Most folks probably don’t know this, but the end of June 2018 marked a fairly big milestone for me: it was the 5-year anniversary of when my contract job ran out, and I decided to spend a year trying to be a full-time writer. Obviously, it went well enough for me to try for a second year, and third, and so on. At half a decade in, not only is this my favorite job I’ve ever had, its’ also the longest one I’ve held. Previous record was 3 years for the aforementioned contract gig.
Now don’t worry, this isn’t a Wrap-Up so I’m not going to spend the whole time looking back at what’s been accomplished over the past years. Instead, I thought it would be more beneficial to my audience as a whole if I tried to find some good lessons learned in that time, as well as some thoughts on the shifting nature of the industry.
#1 Get Into Audio
When I first started this, audiobooks weren’t a huge concern of the indie market. I’m not quite certain when ACX (Amazon’s route for indie audio) was founded, but in 2013 it was either new or non-existent, and even in the year or so that followed it was still more a novel oddity than an essential piece of the business plan. That is wildy untrue now. Thanks to Audible’s credit system and the portability of smart phones, paired with the ability to play them in cars, audiobooks have been making a tremendous comeback as of late. That market is growing at an exponential rate, to the point where one of the first things I tell newer writers is to start building their audio catalog. It’s not just that the market can’t be ignored; it’s big enough that it must be considered. Luckily, I have a recent real-life example to pull from.
Super Powereds: Year 4 had a really great ebook release a few months back. We hit some lists, got reviews, and I am very proud of how well it went. However, I recently also got to watch the Year 4 audiobook release occur. This one didn’t have as much direct promotion or a launch day party, and it still climbed far higher than my ebook release did. I made it to the top #25 books across all of Audible, and within spitting distance of top #10. For a day, I even got ahead of a few Harry Potter books, which was a nice screenshot to send the parents. My point here isn’t to brag, though, it’s to illustrate that even though I came to audio later than some, that market is a huge part of my audience. Sales-wise, it is actually the biggest part of my audience. That’s part of why I’ve been trying to slim down the gaps between ebook and audio release, as well as flip things around and give my audio people the books first when schedule allows. On that note, Second Hand Curses is now out and available in ebook, so if that was one you wanted to try but don’t care for audio, you can pick it up now.
#2 Never Forget You Are a Public Figure
As a man of substantial height and width, I know that for folks unfamiliar with me I might appear more threatening than I am, so I make conscious effort to keep my actions and body-language as non-threatening as possible, especially when in situations where I’m meeting people who know what I do. That’s the predominant reason I haven’t grabbed at least one other writer at every convention by the shoulders and given them a good shaking while shouting “You. Are. In. Public.” And to an extent, I get it. The idea of celebrity is a hard one to wrap your mind around, and even contemplating it early on feels like you’re pointlessly indulging your ego. For a long while, I tried to ignore that aspect of the job, reasoning that I was mostly unknown, so such things didn’t apply to me. At the time, I thought I looked at it as keeping myself grounded and humble, but in hindsight I realize that ignoring my situation wasn’t as noble as I thought.
What gave me clarity was a relatively small incident that shed a lot of light on my new role. I was at a dinner at a con with some friends I knew and their own group, which were largely strangers to me. One of the unknown people was having a conversation, and while I didn’t intentionally try to listen some words drifted over. She was working up the courage to ask someone to take a picture with her, worried it was rude. The thought did occur to me that she might be talking about me, but I waved it off quickly for the reasons stated above. Later on, she finally came over to ask and I was happy to accommodate, however the incident stayed with me. When I thought about it, it was obvious I made things harder on her by not realizing the situation and offering a pic, or at least starting conversation to give her an easy ask.
As dangerously pleasing to the ego as it can sound, you need to accept that once your books are selling, there might be people looking up to you. Accepting that status as a public figure, even if it is only true in limited circles, allows you to better consider the feelings of the fans who take time to come meet you. Remember that they might be scared, or nervous, or flustered. And remember that even if no one is immediately around, the things you say and do might carry greater weight than you know. Keep that responsibility to the fans in mind, and handle yourself in a way you’d want to see someone you respected act.
#3 Think Long-Term
It is hard, damn hard, especially in the early days, to look beyond the current book that needs finishing, but it’s also a vital skill to learn. I’ve talked at length about the lessons that apply to this, how to condition your audience’s release expectations, working ahead on a buffer to control schedules better, laying the groundwork for future surprises in a series, managing your income stream for the year rather than month-to-month, this is not new grounds for the blog is my point.
What I haven’t touched on as much is the social aspect of being a writer, and how long-term thinking applies to that. One thing I see newer authors willing to do to an almost alarming degree is burn bridges or act like a dickhead online. Burning bridges should really be self-explanatory in its riskiness: just because you don’t want to or can’t work with someone at this moment doesn’t mean it won’t be a good fit later down the line, but being an asshole is riskier than you think. Although there are countless writers out there creating books, the community of folks who do cons and have momentum is far more limited. Being invited to join panels, work on anthologies, do guest spots on programs, all of that comes with the caveat that you play well with others. If I have knowledge that an author is willfully shitty to their co-workers or fans, then I don’t want to work with that person, and most authors feel the same. It drags down the project as a whole, so more often than not the known dickheads either stick to works with other assholes or don’t get to play at all. I’m not trying to say you can never have a disagreement or make a mistake, but it’s pretty easy to tell who treats people with respect and who doesn’t.
Past the social and logistical elements, you should also think long-term in regards to where you want your career to go. It’s been mentioned before, but one of the best things I did early on was publish in multiple genres. While I didn’t know that was against common wisdom, it turned out to be a major blessing of ignorance. Doing that set the standard that I wasn’t defined by a singular series or genre; it informed readers from the start that I was going to tell all kinds of stories across whatever setting interested me. Now, I can swing into new properties without a hiccup, whereas some authors hit resistance when they try to branch out. Mine was accidental, but yours should be intentional for obvious reasons. Pick where you want to be later in your career, and start laying groundwork for it as soon as possible. Set the expectations that you want to fulfill, and you’ll be on a path to make you and your readers quite happy.