Okay, guys, I get it. Most of us suck at business. If we were good at business, we’d be working in an office somewhere. Except we wouldn’t, of course, because everyone is working from their living rooms, and I suspect “everyone who can will work from their living rooms” for a long, long time.
But the difference between a mediocre career in…. well, anything, but yes, in writing too, is how professional you are. When you see someone who can’t write half as well as you do raking in the dough? Professionalism. (Yes, there are inexplicable ones that you know it’s not professionalism. But some people also win the lottery. However if that’s your plan for making a living, you’re doing it wrong.)Now I can see the people who were scarred by trad (show me on the doll where trad publishing bit you) rolling their eyes, but that’s something else again. Traditional publishers often demand you act “professional” or ding you on not acting professional, but what they really mean is “tug the forelock harder.”
You’re supposed to always be polite, never remind them of their errors, dress well, and even though what they’re paying you per novel is about the equivalent of what a minimum wage work makes in a month, you’re supposed to act as if this is your main job and your main priority. This even after you know they’re not doing anything to promote your books and have targeted you for mid-list hell. (Yes, it makes sense for them to slate books to fail or putter along. BUT for now I won’t explain what is going on behind the scenes. For now.)
So, what do I mean by professionalism? Well, even in the bad old days some of the things the publishers wanted were part of it:
– Write the best book you can. This means, sorry — and I had a friend who was very promising burned because she refused to do this — learning your trade. Just because you’re published or have assumed a modicum of success, it doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to learn. Even the authors I love madly I can — as a professional — see their issues. (Okay, not Heinlein or Pratchett, but virtually anyone else. One of my favorite authors clearly doesn’t know how to finish books. The plot gets increasingly more challenging, and then some amazing coincidence or deus ex-machina makes everything come out right in ten pages.) You should always studying, learning, pushing ahead.
-Reading in the field is part of it. You have to know what is being done in the fields you write in. Part of this is because fields change. Very rapidly, in the case of those that are indie, because they meander. See what people are doing. And either watch movies/shows in the field, or if you’re like me have a designated “Watcher of crap” who gives you a report. (Not a put down. I have trouble sitting still and watching something, so all visual entertainment gets called “crap” or “time wasting crap.”) Because back when we didn’t own a television, I once wrote a short story with a stargate. Yes I called it a Stargate. (BTW there was a magazine a line of whose rejections was “you got this off a tv show.” I’ll be honest, some of those, to this day I have no clue what they were smoking. I’m going to assume I used a name that someone used in a TV show and that was their cue?)
– Okay, you’re a writer you can deal with the above (sort of. I signed up for a course, and have been startlingly absent, but 2020 has been tough.) But now we’ll get to things you hate. I do too. Like PRODUCE ON A REGULAR SCHEDULE.
I have a schedule. I have spreadsheets, I have a timer that tells me when to work. This year I’ve finished zero of ten books (five short) I was supposed to have done. How come?
Well… It’s not even the lockdown, though worry both about our essential character as a nation of free people is part of it as is worry about all of the people — many of you — who will take it in the shorts over the economy. It’s that 2020 has a bunch of other worries, deadlines and trigger wires for this family, including but not limited to a lot of health concerns. Yes, it will get better after June. Yes, this too shall pass. Probably like a kidney stone.
HOWEVER producing books on a schedule, particularly for series is vital. You’re creating addicts, and addicts need their fix. I’m trying, and you can try too.
– Now we get to things you’ll hate even more: Newsletter. I was working on it as the year started, and then… yeah. So, okay, I need to figure this out. I think part of the problem is that I read Newsletter Ninja (it’s on KUL) which is an excellent book with tons of suggestions. There is only one problem. I feel kind of like when I tried to use the program “Dramatica” to plot a book. Or every time I try to use a Mac (I tried, for velum.) Or when I tried to put books up with Kobo. Look, I might be an extreme case, because my brain is WEIRD. One of the things that utterly defeats me is visual thinking. So, when I’m looking at a computer or publisher where all the clues are visual, I just sit there, frustrated and stewing. But there’s a similar type of thinking, what I call “spatial with words.” It’s used in a lot of computer programming and consists of putting things in the right boxes, even if the “things” are words. And remembering where you put them.
I was an okay programmer back in the day, but it’s been a long time. The methods Newsletter Ninja suggests, with onboarding and offboarding procedures and…. I can do it. But I need to block the time and be in the mood for it. And some services I tried, I can’t even understand what they want me to do on the sign up. So, perhaps if you guys have a newsletter service you like, suggest it in the comments. (I’ve got one, but I’m thinking that one is best for Elise Hyatt. Yes, I’ll need a different one for her. For Sarah D’Almeida too, though I don’t intend any new historicals this year, because I knew what it would be like and that I’d have no time.)
Anyway… You should have a newsletter. I should have a newsletter. Do you have any bullets? I need to bite one.
– You REALLY won’t like this, but you need a website. I keep half doing mine, then forgetting about it for three years. You might be as bad. Anyway, your website needs, at a minimum, to be kept up to date on your latest books.
Btw, with that and the newsletter, if you’re as painfully bad as I am but can get someone to do it for love or money and can afford the money (Alas!) do that. Truly, it’s important. And it shouldn’t be frigging expensive.
– You’ll like this even less…. Covers. No one is asking you to do your own, though you probably can with stock photos and a little practice, honest. But covers….
I know about your dysfunction with covers, dear habitues of MGC, because I get your books for promo every Sunday (Good cover last Sunday, Pam!)
It’s not that most of it looks like bad photoshop. No. I mean, that ain’t good and marks you as a newby indie. But it’s relatively survivable.
It’s that most of your books don’t look in any way shape or form like what they are. The ones you pay people to do often ping “Literary and little” (though beautiful covers.) and the ones you contrive yourself range from “Travel log of suburban parks” to “Why does this science fiction have a cozy mystery cover.”
Look, every genre and subgenre has a “language” on the covers. Remember above where I said I’m not visual. Well, I can’t think VISUALLY in a logical way, but I can sense it, which is why I do art. So–
Because it’s not rational, I just set myself a job, and spend a day a month or so looking at covers in the genres I am working in.
Yes, your super-hero thriller with romantic elements will be hard to cover (I’ll get on it, I’m assured newly built computer is ALMOST ready) because it’s such a weird mix of sub-genres. And historic mysteries are hard to cover, because they’re mostly indie, which is to say…. well… covers styles are weird and change really fast.
BUT most genres, the cover requirements are obvious once you look at a hundred covers or so.
– And speaking of that….
Your blurb dysfunction is possibly worse than your cover dysfunction
Yes, I DO know how hard it is. My blurbs suck hairy …. never mind. Bad things. Mostly because once I’ve finished the book, I don’t want to TALK about it. I think once, before I fixed it, I put up one of the Musketeer mysteries with “This is a mystery. There are musketeers in it.” Because that was my level of functioning.
But remember you are competing with people who are better at this.
So, what should you do? Go read bestseller blurbs. Ten or twenty of them in a row. Maybe more. Then do your own. (BTW, I don’t get putting things like “An exciting thriller” which sounds more like a cover quote than a blurb on the blurb, but it seems to sell. All bestsellers have it.)
So…. If you’re like me, particularly while writing from “office family room” when everyone else is working from home too, it’s hard enough to get writing done, much less this business stuff.
Well, I was never very good. In the bad old days, I often did every other week. One week I wrote, one week I sent stuff out, wrote to agents, etc. I don’t think that will work great with indie though with the publishing computer down and waiting for the build to be done on the new one, we might end up this month with that, but I think it is very silly to go a month with nothing, then put out three books in a week or whatever.
I hear people have a day for business, and maybe I should try that. Like everything else it should get easier (or massively worse, of course) from mid-year on.
Anyway, I stand before you admitting I suck at all of these. I deal with you enough to know you also do. But the sad truth of the matter is that I think we all need to take the next step forward and level up. Part of it being that I think traditional publishing will have imploded by early next year. The shutdown is not doing good things for the paper brick business, and that’s what they’re invested in.
So if you had a dream of having someone do everything else for you and you just write? Well, it was sort of a dream of winning the lottery, but never mind. Now it’s more unlikely than ever.
There’s just you. And you HAVE to step up.