I was thinking this morning — foggily, while getting my first cup of coffee, and I assure you I don’t intend to make it an habit — that you guys starting out now were lucky.
What I mean is, when I started out it would take months or years to make the right connections/meet enough writers/etc to actually know what was going on and what we should do, both in terms of how to write and in terms of how to survive economically. Oh, sure, some people more endowed with clue than myself would go to cons and get to hear things from the horse’s mouth. I didn’t even know about cons, or at least I didn’t know “normal” people (not writers, editors, etc) could attend. At any rate even when I found out about Clarion (a magazine editor — small press — offered to pay for my attending it. I’m forever in his debt, but) I couldn’t attend. We didn’t have the money for the travel, and I couldn’t leave the house for two weeks. I just couldn’t. (Years later I managed it with the Oregon Writers’ Workshop, but it almost broke us.)
You guys, as I kept telling people at Liberty con this weekend, can get free lessons on writing, advice on publishing, just the whole thing, right here. Free. From the comfort of your own jammies.
So it occurred to me you have a different problem. All the “experts” who aren’t. How can you tell the difference.
There is no easy way. I have a sharply developed BS detector simply through growing up where and when I did, but also through reading every bs booklet on reading faces, palms, handwriting (it wasn’t I wanted to do this precisely. It was more that I’d read anything and those were cheap) and also through spending a summer reading “Chariot of the Gods” type stuff.
But there are some pointers to look for before you listen to the wisdom of that writer/editor/publicist/cover designer.
1- Actions speak louder than words. Look at what they have done in their field. If the stuff doesn’t look/sound like what you want, ignore their advice.
2- If they’ve done nothing that’s its own marker.
3- How recent is their experience? Look, I hated being put in beginner panels till last year, and a friend mistook what I was saying and said “you’re not a bestseller. You shouldn’t have such a big head.” It’s not a big head. It’s that the pathway I used to get into published status no longer exists and the industry is completely different now indie-Amazon is available.
4-Someone might be an amazing writing/editor/whatever but if his formative experience was more than 10 years ago, I guarantee he has no clue what’s going on in the field now, unless like Kris Rusch and Dean Smith he’s made a point of staying updated. How do you know if they stayed updated? Well, when they talk and blog they don’t sound like they’re writing in the nineteen nineties. There is no easy assumption that of course trad publishing is the only way.
5- But Sarah, that doesn’t apply to writing styles.
Trust me it does. We all wrote to put in the markers that editorial pin-heads in NYC saw as a “big” book. That is a way of writing I keep finding in trad books, but not in indie. Sometimes I think that’s why indie does better, at least in certain fields (cozy, space opera) that don’t lend themselves to that treatment.
6- Ignore commenters. Often writers and/or editors have a cult of personality going and it might seem to you everyone agrees with this person. That’s not necessarily so. Pay attention again and again to the actions. Is this person good, up to date, well informed?
7 – Remember you have to stay up to date, too. This field changes, I SWEAR, every every three months. You must study and stay with it. What was true three months ago, now that indie is here, could destroy your income if you keep doing it.
8 – Trust yourself. I always try to make clear none of my advice is absolute. There are things I say “never” or “always” do, but you might violate the rule and surprise me with how good you are. Now with indie? Everything is wide open. If my advice, or any advice sounds fishy don’t use it. Trust yourself.
9- Write. Yes, to quote Heinlein, yes, “the game is rigged, but if you don’t bet you can’t win.”
10 – Get out there and place your bets.