Over the past two years, I’ve had a lot of indie writers ask me for advice, and I gladly give it. I’ve been messaged, responded to emails, and the like, but eventually I post the advice here on my website for all to see.
In case any of you want my “credentials,” I am now speaking as not just an indie author, because I really don’t think that gives me much cred, even if I am a bestselling author. The only thing about the whole deal that gives me cred is that I have readers who want to buy my books. Nowadays, anyone can publish a book, so I don’t think it’s that big a deal. Lots of people can even get high rankings if they’re savvy with marketing.
No, my cred comes from education and training. I have no fewer than three degrees in English (two of them are graduate degrees, one terminal), and I graduated with honors in all cases. I’ve also been traditionally published (under another name and for other types of writing). I taught college English–including and especially Creative Writing classes–for seven years, and let’s not even talk about all the “how to” books I have read centered around this amazing profession.
Okay, the stage is set and you, my audience, are waiting patiently for the lights to go down and the show to begin, so I’ll get to the point.
JUST BECAUSE YOU’VE WRITTEN A BOOK DOESN’T MEAN IT’S READY TO BE PUBLISHED.
There. I said it and I feel better, although I’m pretty sure no one’s listening. In fact, I think I hear crickets out there. I’d say it again, but I think you’re probably already getting bored here. My point is this—I get the draw, the need, the f*cking compulsion to write. Believe me—I do. I really do! I’ve been writing since I was a kid (yes, decades, okay?). But, as the master Stephen King says in his amazing book about the craft (On Writing), a writer needs to have tools in his (or her!) toolbox…to become a good writer. No, not to just become a writer and definitely not to become a great writer. This is just to be a decent writer.
My point is this: I wrote books as a kid. Yes, I did. And I even had readers. Fortunately, none of them slit their wrists having to read my childish tripe. But I wrote. I wrote a lot.
It was by no means ready to publish. There are lots of things I’ve written over the years that will never see the light of day. Why? Because they’re not good enough. Yep, they’re my babies, and lots of that writing made me a better writer, but some of it just wasn’t good enough. And THAT, my friends, is my point. A first (or sometimes even twentieth) draft is not ready for publication. Aside from many of the indie books I’ve read through that need better editing (and, yes, many are ones that have credited editors!), there are lots other problems. So, if any of you are aspiring writers, I hope my advice can help you. I’ve seen many an indie author skewered by readers when, really, if he or she’d just spent more time and perhaps worked on their draft a little more, that writer could have had a masterpiece. I’m not going to repeat things I’ve said in previous posts, but here are a couple of things I’ve seen in recent indie books that have driven me completely bonkers. If I were these writers’ Creative Writing teacher, I would have pointed out all the good things I’d read, but I would also tell them they needed to work on these things before clicking that godd*mned Publish button:
Show; don’t tell. This is a classic “mistake,” for lack of a better word, because often—as people—we have a need to explain things. Really, though, a lot of telling in a book can get boring. Readers want to see what’s happening. Think of it this way—wouldn’t you get sick and tired of watching a long movie that was just a few still pictures (or a blank colored screen) but had a narrator’s voice telling you something? Hell, yes. Of course you would! You would probably begin to tune it out. (Oh, I know—there are a few of you who wouldn’t, but the majority of us would.) You’d much rather see action, interaction, reaction—and a little dialogue would be nice too. I recently read an indie book that had a lot of explanation that was okay, but then an entire seemingly important scene was brushed off with just a few sentences…and it was all telling rather than showing. I can’t invest my emotions if you’re only telling. I need to see it and become a part of it to care and want to continue reading your book.
If you bring it up, it better be f*cking important. I’ve had students who have told me, “But that really happened in real life!” Well, that might be nice, but let’s face it—real life is full of boring, insignificant moments. And that’s okay. If everything that happened in our lives were pressing or extremely important, I think we’d never sleep and we’d likely die young. We need the quiet moments and even the unimportant ones to make the significant stuff really matter. But that’s beside the point. I (and other readers) do not want to read stuff that doesn’t matter, EVEN IF THAT’S THE WAY REAL LIFE WORKS. If you make mention of a gun in chapter one, I better find out why it matters in chapter fifteen (or thirty or fifty or…you get the point). If one person glares at another, you better let us know why. If it doesn’t matter, delete it. DELETE IT. Yes, I know it’s hard cutting stuff out, but your readers will thank you for it. It doesn’t even have to be huge. It could be something as simple as something that happened in one of my books that I was recently revising. I got ready to cut a paragraph where I explained that someone gave his cell number out to several people in case they needed it, and as I revised, I made a note to possibly cut that scene…but, it turned out, in the next chapter, one of the characters called this guy, and then I had that revelation: “Oh, yeah. If I hadn’t mentioned him giving out his number back there, readers would have been wondering how the hell this girl had gotten it.” So, that paragraph was saved because it mattered…but it had been on the chopping block during revision. Yes, it’s a small thing, but it needed to be there. If that one paragraph had been the only mention (because this guy was a bodyguard trying to assure these people that they could call him anytime), I would have cut it, even though it might have shed a little more light on the character. It turned out to be necessary.
I guess a better way to say it is this: Don’t fill your story with bullshit. Make it all count.
I could go on and on, my friends, but I think I’ve said enough for today and likely pissed a few people off. I think it’s cool that anyone who feels the overwhelming need to write can do it and can have the satisfaction of potentially having it read by an adoring audience. But…if you want ME to read it, you can improve your chances by taking my Creative Writing classes.