As the indie author market grows, so do the number of indie authors…and I think that’s exciting! People who have dreamed for years of having their work read now have the opportunity.
As my own writing has become more noticed, I’ve had lots of up-and-comers ask me for advice…more than I would have expected. And—like interviews—after a while I’ve noticed a lot of the same or similar questions. Most often is the question: Do you have any advice for me starting out? I decided to put it all here in a blog post so I don’t have to keep repeating myself. And who knows? Maybe it will help someone out there, maybe someone who hasn’t ever even read my work.
My advice to new writers:
1. Write a lot. Have your work read. Take feedback. The best way to do this is to find a group of writers near you. Get together frequently and read each other’s work. Then offer honest feedback—both critical and praising. My philosophy (and this comes from being an English instructor) is that every story has something worthwhile about it, even if it needs work. You can tell someone gently what needs work. Don’t hesitate to tell the person what is good too, though, because otherwise she might toss out the whole damn thing…and we don’t want that.
Can’t find a group? Organize your own—in your community or online. Or take a creative writing class.
Read widely too. Don’t just read in the genre you plan to write. Branch out, because you’ll learn so much more and it will improve your writing.
2. If your grammar, spelling, and/or use of punctuation sucks (for lack of a better word), have an expert fix your work. This piece of advice should perhaps be number one, but your story comes first. That said, some readers will be forgiving…others will not. Again, I’m going to play the teacher card. I tell my students when they complain about instructors grading them down for poor grammar that while your content might be solid and well thought out, a paper riddled with errors can be confusing and hard to read. Your readers just might not have the patience to wade through your book. This is an area where you should spend a little money. It will pay off in the long run. It also doesn’t hurt to have a few beta readers along the way who are willing to give you feedback not only on editorial problems but also other things that might require revision—things like pacing, dialogue, and the like. And grow a pair. Or, if you’d prefer, put on your big girl panties. If you want to be good, you need to listen to criticism. You won’t always want to make changes and that’s okay, but listen, because a lot of times your beta readers will be onto something.
And it’s best to develop a thick skin now, because I promise you won’t always get five-star gushing reviews…no matter how good your story is.
3. Have a high quality book cover. You might have to spend a little money for it, but it’s worth it. I’ve learned this from personal experience. You might have the best story in the world, but people won’t read it if they’re turned off by the cover. If you’re clueless, pay a little money to have a graphic designer take care of it for you.
4. This one I learned from Stephen King (you haven’t read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft yet? Get thee to a bookstore NOW!!! One of the best books about writing ever!): Tell the truth. No, I don’t mean write nonfiction. I mean feel the story; listen to your characters. They will tell you where to go and what they are going to do. Are you always going to like it? Hell no!!! Your characters are going to p*ss you off, make you cry, and frustrate the hell out of you…just like they will your readers. And that’s good. If your readers want a boring book with flawless characters, I can recommend a few. Remember…you’re not perfect and neither are your characters. Early in my writing days (prepublication), I’d censor my characters. They’d say damn on paper when in my head they really said f*ck. I don’t censor them anymore (and you’ll never read a book like that from me). They say and do what they’re going to do. I’m merely a scribe. And that’s the way it should be.
Enough said. I could go on and on, but most of you didn’t ask. 🙂 Thanks for listening anyway!