Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dishing Out a Little Tough Love

One of the things I love best is helping new and aspiring authors. After all, many published authors gave me helpful advice when I was starting out. But today I’m enforcing tough love.

Recently, someone asked me about promoting and marketing her book. From our conversation, I assumed that her book was done and she was at least in the searching for an agent/publisher phase. Not so. When asked about the book’s status, she told me that she was in the final edits, which she estimated would take her another couple of years.

A couple of years?!!!!! To edit genre fiction? Boggles the mind.

More and more I’m being asked for advice about marketing from folks who have never finished a manuscript. They are putting the cart before the horse. They are getting geared up to play author without first doing the work that makes one an author. And the brutal truth of it is, unless these folks change their ways, they may never be published. Or if they are, will find it difficult, if not downright impossible, to handle the demands of a writing career.

While publishing seems to move at a snail’s pace, in reality it is a face-paced business – for the author. If you write a series, your publisher will expect a complete book a year, or at the very least one every eighteen months. Putter in your kitchen. Putter in your garden. There is no puttering in the business of professional writing.

Tips for puttering writers who are serious about becoming professional novelists:

1) You’ve heard it before, but I’m saying it again - decide on a writing schedule and stick with it. If you are serious about becoming a published author, you will make the time. If you don’t, you need to rethink your commitment to writing. It’s really that simple.

2) Pick up your writing pace. Which is not the same as slapping a book together. Learn to focus your writing so that it is more efficient when it hits the page. Editing is an important part of writing, but you can keep massive edits to a minimum if you organize your plot points and character development better. Use index cards, Post-Its, a white board, computer notes – whatever it takes to keep your manuscript on track. Learn to do this now, not when you’re staring down the double-barrel of a deadline.

3) Make steady progress by setting daily, weekly and/or monthly goals. Tell yourself that you MUST complete so many words or pages in a set amount of time. And hold yourself to those goals. Learn to sacrifice to meet these goals.

4) Put marketing and promotion on the back burner. Don’t waste valuable writing time worried about something you don’t need yet. About the time you start looking for an agent (when your manuscript is done), put together a marketing outline for your book. Your agent may want to use this when approaching publishers.

5) Do not start promoting your book until you have a publisher and a release date. Otherwise you may lose the element of excitement when the book is finally released.

Now go forth and write … and don’t forget to have fun doing it!

Ghost a la Mode, the first Ghost of Granny Apples mystery, is out NOW!


Keith Raffel said...

Good advice from your friendly neighborhood literary dominatrix!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great points. I've heard some of this type thing, too, and usually didn't take the time to set the person straight. Good for you for doing so--it might help them to get farther in this business than they otherwise would have.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lisa Bork said...

I never understood why a writer needed a website before they sold their book. To me, that was cart before horse, too.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Darn it, Keith. I should have posted a photo of a leather-clad, whip-wielding dominatrix instead of a puppy and kitty photo. Might have gotten my point across better.

Alan Orloff said...

Setting goals and sticking to them--my favorite advice.

(I like the puppy sitting on the kitty photo.)

Jeanne Hartman said...

Sue Ann, As always you give great advice AND you have shown to all of us what one person can accomplish. I call you the Juggler! You can juggle more jobs than anyone I know!!!
thanks for taking the time to share.
Jeanne Hartman

Jeff Sherratt said...

Good advice. When I'm at a bookstore signing, a few people always say "I'm going to write a book, someday. Tell me a good publisher to send it to. And how much will they pay me?"

From now on, I'll just give them your email address, Sue Ann. You can tell them how easy it is to became a success, just throw a few hundred pages together and send it out to Random House, or someplace. You’ll get a check by return mail. Hey, what so tough about that?

Kathryn Lilley said...

This is excellent advice, Sue Ann, for the published as well as the unpublished writer! It's very easy to let one's energy and output flag, at any level. I was just listening to a session by NYT Bestselling author Lisa Gardner, and the take-away lesson for me was, decide what type of writer you are going to be, and put the writing first!

Morgan said...

You're so right, Sue Ann. Like most creative pursuits, many people view writing as pure fun...not a serious endeavor that requires a business approach along with the creative side. Fortunately, I learned that lesson during my years as an interior designer, a profession everyone looked at as "so much fun," so I was armed with knowledge when I started my writing career.

Any system is a system as long as it works for you, but having one is a necessary part of being productive and published.

As for promotion, in my opinion, it does need to start early for an identity on the web by the time the book comes out.

The second Silver Sisters comical crime caper, SEVEN DEADLY SAMOVARS, will be released in September, and I've been promoting it from the time the manuscript was finished. A search now produces several hits for that title which will all tag on to the press releases and other current info.

Thanks to you, Sue Ann, for all of your encouragement and sage advice during the time I've known you. Our September Sisters in Crime/Southern Nevada ON THE PROWL newsletter will carry a full page promo for your upcoming September appearances in Las Vegas.

VP Sisters in Crime/Southern Nevada
Proud member of Sisters in Crime/LA

A World in a PAN said...

Good and friendly advice for new authors! (love the puppie in the top picture)

Mike Dennis said...

Good post, Sue Ann. I generally agree with the thrust of it, that is, that writers should write, and be serious about it. These days, though, with the rising importance of the internet, they must also promote themselves and their work, epsecially if they're not a major force in the literary world. Promoting a lesser-known or first-time author is something that publishers seem increasingly reluctant to do, given their preoccupation with pushing their top dogs. So that leaves it up to the newcomer to carry his/her own water.
--Mike Dennis
Las Vegas