1. Predictions, schmedictions. No one knows anything, really.
The market is flooded!
Hybrid is the wave of the future!
Self-publishers are taking over the world!
Paper is dead!
E-books are dying!
Amazon will drown us all in a wave of Kindles that will smash against the Pacific shoreline and cause a publishing war where publishing executives will build giant monsters made of Nooks,iPads, and Kobo readers, leading to a post-apocalyptic world ruled by shotgun-wielding space pirates!
No one. Knows. Anything.
This market is changing so rapidly, what we predict today will be obsolete in another year. Or a matter of months. I don’t make predictions, but here are a few lessons I’ve learned.
2. Follow your passion.
Sounds cliche, right? But as the newness of this career wears off and the day to day sets in, I’m reminded more and more that being a writer can become a job. And if you’re going to make it more than just a job, you have to continue following the passion that led you to this point. Whatever point that is. Maybe you’re struggling through the not-so-fun revisions on your first manuscript. Maybe you’re looking to go in a creative direction that is 180 degrees from where you started. Maybe you’re writing in a genre that everyone says is on the decline.
Follow the passion.
Because that’s the only reason to be a writer. Write because you love it and you can’t imagine NOT doing it. And if you’re not feeling the passion anymore, look back and find where you lost it. Fight to get it back. Nothing is dead here. But the day to day grind can wear you down, so remind yourself daily why you love what you do.
3. Don’t follow trends.
I’ve had a lot of advice from various sources about what I should write. “This is hot!” or “That is heating up.” “You’d be amazing writing ____!” “This is my favorite genre, write this.” “No one is going to read ______ anymore. So passé.”
It kinda goes back to my last point, but don’t follow trends. Follow what you love. For one thing, you’re going to be a better writer in the genre you love most. For another, trends change and they can change FAST. By the time you finish that manuscript, the bestselling wave of dystopian biker steampunk romance will be long gone and everyone will be hooked on space pirates. (Though, to be fair, who isn’t hooked on space pirates?)
The point is, don’t follow trends. Be bold. And if you’re bold enough, maybe you’ll create the next trend yourself.
4. Don’t be afraid to reevaluate goals.
Maybe last year, you had the firm goal of landing an agent to handle your subsidiary rights this year. Maybe you queried a few and found that none of them really met your expectations. Don’t be afraid to keep looking, if you know that’s the direction you want to go. But also, don’t be afraid to reexamine that goal. Maybe what looked like a necessity a year ago isn’t a necessity today.
In the fast-changing market we’re in, there’s no shame in changing your goals or even dropping them completely. Don’t cling to goals just to cling. Be flexible. Reflect. Really examine what you want and whether or not the steps your taking are helping you achieve that. Don’t be afraid to trim back the time you’re spending on XYZ if it’s distracting from your ultimate goal as a writer which is…
5. You should be writing.
This is the most obvious one in the world, right? But in the face of publishing and promotion and signings and conventions and a million other things that go along with being a writer and a publisher, it can be very easy to lose focus on the not-so-simple act of writing.
Readers often ask me when I’m going to do a signing in their city, or whether I’m going to go to this or that convention. Sometimes, I’ll try to go (I’m going to RT in May) but often, the answer is no. And the two main reasons for that are 1) I’m a mother with limited time. 2) I’d rather be writing.
You know those license plate covers with the “I’d rather be ______” on them? That’s me. I’d rather be writing. I’d rather write than promote my work. I’d rather write than go to a signing. Not that it’s not fun to do those things, but I’d just rather be coming up with new stories or working on the ideas I already have.
Everyone’s time is limited by something. Family. Day jobs. Business obligations. Just make sure that writing is a priority. At least it should be if you are in this for the long haul because…
6. Self-publishing is not the new Tupperware party.
You may think I’m being rude or egotistical or putting down new writers, but I’m not. (I’m also not putting down Tupperware parties, because they rock and there’s usually really good snacks.) But I’ll say it again.
Self-publishing is not the new Tupperware party.
And if you’re going into this business with a pretty, pretty cover and a book you haven’t invested in, then I’m going to say it: You’re doing it wrong.
Look, covers are important. And I’ve never claimed to be the greatest writer in the world. But I invest in my work. I work at being a better writer with every book. I study the craft of fiction. I hire an editor and I listen to her when she tells me that I should do this or that for these reasons. I might not always agree, because sometimes punctuation or phrasing is a stylistic choice and she’s awesome, so she recognizes that.
(And this may piss you off, but if you don’t understand the phrase “punctuation or phrasing is a stylistic choice” then maybe you’re not taking your writing seriously enough.)
I’ll be frank, and I’ll probably piss off some people saying this, but there are a lot of people heading into the business now, seeing a few make it big, and thinking that if they just slap a pretty enough cover on a manuscript and promote enough, their book will be a hit, no matter how many mistakes there are.
You’re doing it wrong. And you’re making those independent writers who care about their reputation and credibility look bad, right along with you. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Care about your work, and respect the people you’re asking to pay for it.
7. Don’t get cocky.
Did I sound cocky in the last point? I’d love to lie to you and say I don’t have an ego, but I do.
This year has taught me that very clearly.
And EGO is a big, nasty monster who will eat up your happiness and screw up your goals far faster than anything I could dream and write in a book. I’d love to say that it doesn’t bother me that some people—even after ten relatively well-reviewed books—don’t take me seriously as a professional because I’m self-published. I’d LOVE to say that the validation of my readers and personal satisfaction are always enough for me.
But there were times in 2013 when that would have been a lie.
It does hurt sometimes, that people still look down on me for self-publishing or assume that I wasn’t good enough to make it with a “real” publisher. That I’m not invited to this convention or that panel when I feel like I have something to add. I try not to let it bother me. Sometimes it does.
At the end of the day, I am still determined to retain creative and legal control of my work for numerous reasons, both business and personal, and I feel that self-publishing meets those goals the best, so I ignore those feelings and think with my head and not my ego.
Don’t feed your ego, but don’t forget it’s there. Because the minute you have any kind of success, your ego will make itself known, and it’s always hungry. If you’re not careful, it will bite you, and it will hurt.
“Pride, my friends, is the deadliest of fires. While other flames burn the surface, pride burns from within. It works its way from the heart until it consumes you. And like any fire, it will eat its prey until it is smothered or quenched.”
8. Someone will always have it better than you.
They’ll have a better cover. Better plot. Better reviews. Better word of mouth. Better sales. Better publicity. Better hair.
This ties into your ego, because once that rears its head, you’re going to start noticing all the ways that your book or your manuscript is NOT a success. And if you’re not careful, you’re going to start focusing on that instead of all the things that have gone right.
Remember, every path to success is different, because success is individual. What is a rousing victory for you is not the same as the next writer. Focus on your own goals and don’t compare yourself to others. And remember…
9. Someone will always have it worse.
Don’t forget your successes, because I can almost promise that somewhere out there is a person who thinks you have it made. Are you just barely scraping by on your writing income? There’s a passionate writer out there who is working two jobs and writing until the wee hours who thinks you have it made. And even the most successful writer you know may be going through personal problems that you can’t even imagine.
Focus on your own work, not comparing yourself to others. I cannot stress how important that is if you don’t want to lose your mind, motivation, and passion for your art.
10. It’s still worth it.
I’ll echo what I said last year, because it still applies:
“Keep doing your thing. Keep writing and know that yes, it’s still worth it. Writers are still publishing with more creative and personal freedom than ever before, and they’re being paid.”
It is a good time to be a writer. In 2014, things will change. How? I don’t know. Will subscription models change publishing? Maybe. Will self publishing grow or shrink? I have no idea. Will space pirate fiction take over the bestseller lists? We can hope.
In the end, we write because we have no other choice. We love it too much. And whether we self-publish or not, telling the stories that live in your head and sharing them with your audience—big or small—is worth it.
So in 2014, I suggest you just keep writing.
Thanks for reading, Elizabeth