This thing is long. I don't blame you if you don't want to read the whole thing. Of course, if you're that sort, you'll never, EVER finish writing a book, much less publishing and selling one. You're probably the kind of person that thinks life is so unfair and you never get your shot and the world hates you and blah blah blah. Guess what: life isn't fair, but it does favor those who DO THEIR RESEARCH AND THEN WORK REALLY HARD. So you really should read my whole guide, you lazy bastard. But if you don't want to, here's the synopsis:
No one from a big publisher is going to come knocking on every door in your neighborhood looking for that one perfect person with that one great idea that should be transformed into a book. Guess what - you don't need them to, thanks to the Internet. Get off your ass and write your book or shut up about it. Don't let anyone stop you. Don't sit on it, paralyzed with fear that it'll be hated or stolen. Create a book you love, and let it live. Self publish it. Tell everyone you know, but never spam or annoy people.
Also, it's a lot of hard work. A. LOT. You need to be completely in love with it, because it takes a LOT of commitment and time. So if you're the sort that only reads TL;DR's, seriously... Just stop now. Go play World of Warcraft.
If that doesn't do it for you, watch this:
(can't see it? Click here)
Pre-Introduction (Or, "You've Been Warned")
This is the guide which tells you the truth about the whole thing. This guide is free because no one pays for the truth. It doesn't sell; bullshit sells. Anyone selling you your dreams is after one thing, and it's not your well being.
I don't presume to know everything about writing. In fact, I know precious little compared to the most successful authors and the great writers of our time. But I know what I went through, and I know what it takes to write a book, stick it out there, and make it work.
Let's cut the shit.
Writing a book is a lot of hard work. Some people are deluded into thinking that it's not. Well, I'm here to tell you it is, and I have a TON of other author contacts who will confirm this. In fact, the only people for whom writing a book isn't hard work are the ones who hire ghost writers, like Sarah Palin and Paris Hilton (or just about any celebrity who decides to "write" a book, except Steve Martin - he probably writes his own stuff, and I'm sure he'll tell you it's really hard work).
I hope not. I sincerely hope you're like me: someone who simply must write. Someone who sits up nights thinking of ways to have people read and be affected by what he or she writes. Someone with stories that must be told, regardless of whether or not anyone wants to hear them. Someone who will NOT be held back by people who are either too jealous or too lazy to support you.
If you're that person, then I'll make a deal with you: follow this guide, and you'll have a book out and for sale. And when you do, I'll buy one from you. Email me and let me know when it's coming out, and I'll buy your first copy. Deal?
This guide is a challenge to you as a writer and aspiring author. I want to remove every single excuse you might have as to why your book doesn't exist yet and see what you do once the path is laid before you. If you get through this and still can't get your book together and out -- and I mean this in the most loving, honest way possible -- you need to find something else to aspire to.
I did. If I can do it, anyone can.
I get a LOT of questions about writing, creating books, publishing, and marketing them. The vast majority of them are at least three steps ahead of where the person should be. "How do you manage a book tour?" "How much of an advance should I ask for on my book?" "How do you get published by Penguin?" "How do you sell [x] number of copies?"
To butcher a phrase by Dave Sim, asking these sorts of questions without first establishing that you can even write a book is like asking Tiger Woods what putter he uses on the 7th hole in Augusta before you even buy your first set of clubs. You're doing one of two things: grossly misunderstanding the process, or looking for shortcuts. Cool down, relax, and start at square one.
First, a list of things you should never, ever do, no matter how desperate you feel at the moment:
NEVER pay an agent to read your work. No legitimate agent charges a reading fee or submission fee or any other sort of fee. Legitimate, working agents who have relationships with publishers and sell manuscripts on behalf of their clients make their money by having relationships with publishers and selling manuscripts on behalf of their clients, PERIOD. Absolutely never ever no matter what should you pay an agent. They collect when they sell your work.
Don't be an idiot. Work hard nights and weekends and make your book happen. Or, do be an idiot, whatever. It's your life. I'm not your dad. But don't email me crying about how my guide didn't make you rich and famous even though you cut off your only revenue stream to follow your dreams.
Some people are going to be very jealous of you, believe it or not. The mere process of writing a book is something a LOT of people aspire to, and you're doing it. People will scoff. Sometimes, it'll come out of left field from someone you love and trust. A friend or family member's look of shock and horror when you announce you're writing a book will leave scars on your heart. I have several.
Don't let them stop you, ever. If they love you -- really love you -- they'll support you.
Don't let them hide behind the mask of "critique" -- Note the tone in which something is said. "You can't write a book" is much different than "You need to work on [x]," where [x] is some aspect of your writing. People are assholes. They stand on the ground shooting arrows at the birds in the sky. Soar.
The greatest gift someone can give another person is empowering them to follow their dreams. If someone in your life is holding you back, decide now whether you want to be their pet or run free.
Don't use your book as an excuse to stop doing everything else. All that stuff I just said in the last few paragraphs is 100% true. That this doesn't mean that you're allowed to stop doing your share of the laundry and then yell at your wife because she's holding you back when she calls you on your bullshit. The world keeps turning, and you're still on the hook for anything and everything you agreed to do before writing your book. Want more time to write? Finish everything you're responsible for early.
Don't sign SHIT without having a lawyer read it first. It's worth the money. Find a lawyer in your county, ask them if they'd be willing to help a starting author out. You'll pay a few hundred bucks. DO IT. Don't use LegalZoom - not that they suck; they're actually fantastic for simple business filings. But you want someone you can punch in the face if they screw up when it comes to your intellectual property. Same goes for an accountant if / when you need one.
Things I wish people had told me when I started out:
- You've got a LOT to learn. I'm ten years into this and there isn't a day that goes by where I don't learn something new (usualy by mistake) about the process of writing. I can get you most of the way toward having a book, but the actual process of being a writer? That's a lifelong thing.
- 4000 books will fill an entire garage.
- If you decide to fill your garage with 4000 books, seal your garage door, lest it rain and flood and ruin about 300 of them.
- Friends make awful employees. If you choose to hire a friend as an editor, envelope stuffer, or any other job, know right off the bat that at some point, you two are going to fight over how something should be done. If you fire them, you're not firing an employee, you're firing a friend. Either accept it, or cough up the dough for an employee.
- The realistic daily goal for shipping books is about fifteen an hour, per person. After about four hours, fatigue begins to set in - stop for the day, lest half your envelopes come back because the address was illegible.
- Shipping on time is hard, but it saves you a LOT in make-up copies and apologies and refunds.
- Rejection letters suck. It doesn't matter how much you prepare to get one, they suck. Period. What you need to know is that agents and editors at publishers get THOUSANDS of submissions a year. Some get thousands a month. You are one of several thousand. You didn't cut the mustard for that particular person at that particular moment during the brief scan they did of your work. Take it any harder than that, and you're reflecting and wallowing in self doubt.
- The return on investment for writing my first book was about $1.20 an hour. I seriously cannot stress this enough: Love it or don't do it. It might pay off later, after it's done. Don't even bother looking for money before or during the process, unless you're searching the cushions of your sofa.
Things people did tell me, but I was too stubborn or stupid to pay attention:
- You never, ever have it all figured out. The moment you think you do, look up, because there's an anvil of reality hurdling toward your head.
- You're not clever, interesting or even remotely unique when you break established laws of writing. Sprinkling exclamation points in the middle of sentences or using one-sentence paragraphs 200 times in one story isn't hip or cool or rebellious. It's obnoxious. The point of breaking convention is to make a point. Do it when you have a point to make, or don't do it at all. Anything else is just abusing your reader for the sake of your own cleverness.
- Buying books about writing, working on your outline, designing your book cover, writing character cards, arranging post-its full of plot items into lines... None of this actually qualifies as working on your book. It feels like work, but it's not. Work begins with line one, word one, and ends with the very last word of your manuscript. PERIOD. Everything else is masturbation. Not that it's useless -- it's a fun and worthwhile endeavor, and sometimes it's totally necessary. It's just the stuff you do for yourself that you should never, ever talk about in public if you respect yourself. "I worked on my plot through-lines today" sounds like "I totally played with myself" to everyone within earshot. Line one, word one.
- Keep a notepad with you at ALL times. You will not remember that clever turn of phrase when you get home or when you get out of the shower. You can use a voice recorder if you like, but in my experience, writers are self-conscious enough as it is without having to hear themselves say things aloud that aren't quite fleshed out. But if it works for you, go for it - just know you can't use it in the shower. I use Field Notes notepads - they're cheap, very durable, and come in three packs, so I can put one by my bed, one in the car, and one in my bag for when I'm on the go. In the shower, I keep a dry erase board above the shower nozzle.
- Write every single day. It's just like the gym - taking one day off makes it much easier to take two days off, and before you know it, you're three months off practice. Three months off of writing doesn't hurt your technical ability to write, but it REALLY screws with your ability to shut off the inner voices telling you things suck.
- If you're writing a blog or publishing your work on a schedule and you stop writing, you're also risking losing readers in addition to messing with your internal processes. It's tempting to think "They're not paying me, they get what they get when I give it to them." They ARE paying you, in time and attention. Those two things are worth 100x the price of what you'd charge for your writing. By establishing a schedule, you've signed a social contract. You owe your readers material to read, when you say you'll deliver it. If you don't pay up, they'll break their end of the contract. Sure, they might love you enough to forgive you some of the time, but eventually, if you bend the reed of trust too many times, it'll snap. You need them much more than they need you.
- Never, ever publish anything at four in the morning. Nothing good ever happens at four in the morning, no matter how good it feels at the time.
- Ask other writers, especially established authors, questions about the process, but make damn sure that none of them sound like "can you get me a book deal?" As long as you're asking honest questions, the vast majority of them are more than glad to talk through it with you. They were once you, after all. And if they're assholes, just let them be assholes.
The rest of the process is covered in the next four chapters. Anything else is pretty much trial and error, or covered the laws established by the municipalities governing our land. Or, I just forgot to put it in here.