Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Finding what works

One of the first things an author learns is how to figure out his/her voice (let's use "her" throughout this, just to make life easier). When I first started writing, I tried various styles and finally found 1st person point of view. As soon as I wrote a book in 1st POV, I knew I had found my voice. It's very, very challenging to write mysteries from a 1st POV, but I do it and I think I do it well.

After figuring out your voice/strength, you have to figure out how you'll get the book done. Many people write in spurts, others do little chunks here and there then weave it together, etc. I'm a BICHOK person: Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. I write every day. Every. Day. 

I also have a Day Job so my free time is limited. I taught myself to write very cleanly and efficiently so I don't have a lot of edits to do. I write a good solid draft in about 2 months (for a mystery), let it sit for a month, revisit it and revise, then send it off to my beta reader. Then I start the next book.

Once you get all the Book Stuff figured out, you have to figure out the Publishing Stuff -- who to submit to, agent or no agent, self-published or not, etc. That's a whole world unto itself. 

But once you've figured out the Book Stuff and the Publishing Stuff, you have to figure out the Promo Stuff. I've been published for 10 years now, and at first, I tried all kinds of gimmicks -- blog tours and advertisements, and conferences, and bookmarks -- you name it, I pretty much tried it.

About 2 years after my first books came out (I had 5 or 6 books in 2 years, I think), I sat back and really thought about the Promo Stuff. And I came up with 5 rules that I could live with. These are my rules. They aren't yours or hers or his. They're mine:
  1. Do whatever promo fits in my schedule. Don't take time away from writing (because I don't have much time for writing as it is). 
  2. Do whatever I feel comfortable doing, either personally or financially.
  3. Don't sweat it if it doesn't work.
  4. Define what constitutes success. For me, it isn't a ranking on a list or a dollar amount of money.
  5. Only continue to write if you enjoy it. When it becomes a job, quit.
You see, publishing success is a crap shoot. It's one of the few professions where talent really isn't that big of a factor. There's a big chunk of luck involved, too. Best-selling authors aren't necessarily better writers. I've read "unknown authors" who are a lot better at crafting a story than a best-selling author. The BS author (heh heh) just hit it big with at least one book and then people found that author and told other people, then that author became an auto-buy for people, and before you know it, you've got good sales.

When I first started trying to be published, I went to a lot of conferences and took a lot of notes. One "rule" was repeated over and over, and I think it's repeated because it's true:

Write the best book you can write. 

Work on your craft, write a good book, and the rest is up to a lot of things that are totally out of our control. See #3 above.  Above all, enjoy the ride. It can be a lot of fun.



Margo Hoornstra said...

Yep, I'm on for 3 and 5 especially. Thanks for streamlining a very convoluted and involved process. Write the best book you can, of course, but if you don't continue to love and enjoy the writing itself, get out.

Leah St. James said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head, JL. I'm going to stop sweating the promo so much. Great advice.

Christine DePetrillo said...

I write every day too. I feel wrong if I don't. And I think your 5th rule is the most important. Great advice.

Jannine Gallant said...

I write every day, as well. Although once in a while life interferes, and then I feel all out of whack. Like yesterday. (shudder) So today I ignore the world and write! Figuring out the publishing an promo is a much bigger challenge than the actual writing. Great post!

Brenda Whiteside said...

Thanks, JL. You've been my idol for a long time because of your ability to write so many novels while not a full time writer. Also because you're a great mentor and when I lived in MN you helped me. And you're a nice person. But now I have another reason to admire you...great and sensible rules.

Diane Burton said...

What a great post, JL. Love your list, esp. #5. A writer has to enjoy the whole process, some parts more than others. It's a choice. We don't have to write (hahaha). Most of us can't support ourselves with our writing. It would be easier to flip burgers. But if we don't love what we're doing why do it?

Andrea Downing said...

You're incredibly well organized, is all I have to say--I love writing, but I tend to be more haphazard about it, although I do get to it every day. thanks for the pep talk!

Rolynn Anderson said...

JL, Great advice! I suppose we all have to learn the hard way what works and what we have the stomach for in this biz. But l should feel like fun!

Betsy Ashton said...

I'm right there with #3. If you're in it for the money, find another line of work. That said, #5 is spot on. I write for the fun of it. When I hear from readers who like what I've written, I'm on cloud nine.

Alicia Dean said...

Awesome, awesome post. I love your list of rules. And, your 'voice' and your books are great, so you're doing something right. I am afraid I spend more time than I should on things other than writing, promo included, and I don't write every day, but I am going to try to make that a habit I get into. I also work full-time, so I have limited time for other things as well. I do it for the love of it rather than the money. Or, as I like to say, I write because I can't not write. :)