• THE
    Writing Prompt
    Boot Camp

    Subscribe to our FREE email newsletter and get the Writing Prompt Boot Camp download.

  • Guide to Literary Agents

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Michael Logan, Author of APOCALYPSE COW

Categories: 7 Things I've Learned So Far, Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Horror Agents, What's New.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Michael Logan, author of APOCALYPSE COW) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

GIVEAWAY: Michael is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: spacehg won.)

 

Apocalypse-Cow-US-cover         michael-logan-author-writer

Michael Logan is a Scottish journalist, whose career has taken him across the globe.
He left Scotland in 2003 at the age of 32, has lived in Bosnia, Hungary, Switzerland
and Kenya, and reported from many other countries. His experience of riots, refugee
camps and other turbulent situations helps fuel his writing. Apocalypse Cow is his
first novel. Booklist gave the novel a starred review, while Publishers Weekly called
it, “an impressive start for an author who’s going places.” His short fiction has
appeared in literary journals and newspapers such as The Telegraph, and his
piece “We Will Go On Ahead and Wait for You” won Fish Publishing’s 2008
international One-Page Fiction Prize, and his. He currently lives in Nairobi
and is married with a young daughter and son.

 

 

1. Your first book often defines your career. You may see yourself as a genre-spanner who dabbles in whatever takes your fancy. Most publishers will think you are just a spanner if you do this (Americans: please do not hold this very British joke against me, and accept this definition). They want to build a brand. That process begins with your debut. If your first novel is crime, that is what your agent and publisher will want you to deliver again in order to keep any readers you have hooked. In the words of one big publisher, they want ‘the same but different’ for subsequent works. If you give them something totally new, there is a strong chance they will turn their noses up at it even if it is staggering work of heartbreaking genius. While it is better to be published than not, choose your first book wisely: it may define the next 20 years of your career.

2. You may have to compromise to gain commercial success. As an artist working in a commercially driven industry, you could face an uncomfortable choice. Your agent and publisher will usually look at your labour of love with an eye on what is right for the market, not what is right for your vision. Publishing is an industry, and industries want to make money (although kudos and credibility in the form of prizes or critical acclaim from the intelligentsia form a lesser part of the equation). It is up to you whether you refuse to compromise your vision, and thus run the risk of your career facing a potentially fatal setback, or accede to their requests. Just make sure you can live with the consequences of your decision.

(When building your writer platform and online media, how much growth is enough?)

3. If you want to sell, you have to market. This has been said before, but bears repeating. Your publicist will send out review copies and gab about your book on social media for a while. Then, like a serial philanderer, they will make eyes at the next author to come along and you’ll be ditched. Instead of bemoaning your fate, get marketing yourself. The one nugget I have to add to the reams of advice already out there is that you shouldn’t neglect the real world. Social media is awash with self-promoting authors. It’s hard to rise above the noise. So get creative. I wrote a comedy about zombie cows so I am hiring some panto cow outfits, wearing which a group of us will roam around London and prompt a few cardiac arrests. The cows will have posters for the book pinned above their over-the-top udders and I will hand out flyers. At the same time, I will film a silly book trailer. It may have zero impact, but I will feel that I am doing something constructive and we will have a lot of fun in the process.

4. To call publishing glacial is demeaning to glaciers. Never mind how long it takes from starting a book to getting a contract to being published: getting the damn thing widely read can take years. Word of mouth is still the most powerful way for a book to go humungous, and despite the internet we feel is so omnipotent this doesn’t happen overnight. Your marketing will help, but it won’t pay instant dividends. Good reviews don’t prompt immediate sales. Learn to be patient and play the long game.

 

Don’t let your submission be rejected for
improper formatting. The third edition of
Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript
has more than 100 examples of queries,
synopses, proposals, book text, and more.
Buy it online here at a discount

 

5. Look forwards, not backwards. In the age of instant feedback, it’s tempting to spend hours trawling Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter monitoring your sales and reading reviews. Don’t do this unless it is a way of gauging the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. There is nothing more crippling or demoralizing than passively observing how your last book is being received. Concentrate on your next project.

6. Don’t try to please everybody. So you’ve ignored the advice above, as the majority of published writers do, and read every review. The positive comments give you a glow at first, but after a while you can only think about the criticism. When this happens, understand that you can’t please everybody and shouldn’t try. Don’t change how or what you write because some people don’t like your work. This is a sure path to losing your identity as a writer. Just be grateful that Dorothy Parker isn’t around any longer, and for the love of God do not read the Kirkus review of your book.

(Read tips on writing a query letter.)

7. Never forget why you started writing. I’d like to think most authors started writing not because they desired riches, but because they felt driven to share another worldview or needed to silence the voices in their head (maybe that’s just me). Once you’re in the industry, it’s easy to lose sight of this. You will have setbacks. You will doubt yourself. You will despair that you are ever going to make it. You may even be tempted to set fire to the only copy of your WIP and lob it from a tall building. Through it all, don’t lose your love for writing. If this happens, you may as well go and do another job you hate that pays better. Nothing makes me feel the way writing does, and I will never stop even if I don’t make another penny.

GIVEAWAY: Michael is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: spacehg won.)

 

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.

 

You might also like:

  • No Related Posts
  • Print Circulation Form

    Did you love this article? Subscribe Today & Save 58%

22 Responses to 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Michael Logan, Author of APOCALYPSE COW

  1. Staci Troilo says:

    Points one and two really resonated with me. My agent recently got a reply back from an editor regarding my MS. It was quite favorable, but she said although the writing was strong, she couldn’t market it because that particular genre was already maxed out. While my agent is continuing to shop that MS to other pub houses, she suggested I try writing a different genre. I’ve kind of been blocked since hearing the news. Do I stay true to my vision or try something else, knowing I might be labeling myself a writer of a different genre? My agent didn’t seem to think that was an issue, but it sounds like you think the same way I do: what I publish first I’ll be publishing for a while. Definitely something to consider. Thanks.

    • ‘Do I stay true to my vision or try something else, knowing I might be labeling myself a writer of a different genre?’

      It really depends what you want from your writing career. If your vision means more to you than anything else, you stick with it. If you are prepared to run the risk of being labelled as something you don’t want to be, you write in another genre. Having said that, the fact you are blocked is a sign that you’ve probably already made your decision.

      Anyway, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a genre ‘maxing out’. Within every genre there is always room for fresh, original and exciting fiction. Perhaps another approach would be to find something within your preferred genre that has not been explored.

      Anyway, good luck with whatever you decided.

    • ‘Do I stay true to my vision or try something else, knowing I might be labeling myself a writer of a different genre?’

      It really depends what you want from your writing career. If your vision means more to you than anything else, you stick with it. If you are prepared to run the risk of being labelled as something you don’t want to be, you write in another genre. Having said that, the fact you are blocked is a sign that you’ve probably already made your decision.

      Anyway, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a genre ‘maxing out’. Within every genre there is always room for fresh, original and exciting fiction. Perhaps another approach would be to find something within your preferred genre that has not been explored.

      Anyway, good luck with whatever you decide.

  2. fuzzzilla says:

    I’m with you on the voices in the head! ;)
    And good luck to everyone who’s doing NaNo! My first year was absolutely life changing.

  3. Vicky says:

    Great advice! Thanks so much for offering your insights. Your new book sounds awesome! Hope I win it!

  4. Aceyroch says:

    Number 7 got me. I’m writing during NaNoWriMo right now, and I have to admit, I wasn’t happy at first. I was trying to sound a certain way, and do things differently because I thought it was be better for this type of story. But then I started over because I realized I wasn’t writing like myself. And now, I love the way it’s going. I had to remember why I liked to write, and that helped me to re-like to write :).

  5. R.J. Carr says:

    Very good advice for someone who is trying to start on his first novel. It is always a pleasure to hear from someone who has been down that road and has insight into where I’m hopefully heading. It is also nice to see that you read and respond to our posts on the article that you’ve written. Best of luck in the future.

  6. kacin14 says:

    I’m a natural people pleaser. I find myself either reluctant or bold when it comes to showing my writing to others (writer bi-polarity?). Your point about being unable to please everyone helps me breathe a little. Thanks for the fresh air. Insightful.

  7. Love your book promotion idea about the zombie cow and dressing up as one! Hilarious and great fun, too. Doesn’t get any better than that. Trying to figure out how to promote my book and how to dress to do it.

    Would love to read about your cows and hope I get the free copy.

    Carolyn

  8. smitchell says:

    Good, realistic words about spanning genres and the need for compromise. You packed a lot of advice into this article.

    Thanks

  9. happy says:

    Michael, Appreciate you taking the time to share your wisdom…thoughts. There is always something gained by delving in to lessons learned by others. The marketing aspect appeals to my left brain so I look forward to that!

  10. mtrybak says:

    Thank you so much for this invaluable advice, the most important part being that I am not the only one who hears these people and their voices in my head! Now that I’m thinking that my first book defines my career as a writer, it’s back to the drawing board for me!

    Michele Rybak

  11. Michael Logan says:

    Hello everyone.

    I’m glad the advice was useful.

    Pen names are definitely one way to get around writing in different styles. However, my experience is that when you are starting out publishers won’t look kindly on you wanting to immediately jump into using pen names. That way they are essentially investing in two new authors instead of one.

    There are also authors who stomp all over my first point. Christopher Moore and David Mitchell are two good examples, although there are very good reasons for their success. The unifying factor in Moore’s work is humour, which allows hum to dabble in whichever genre he pleases and do it very well. Mitchell has written historical fiction, comedy, crime and scifi – often in the same book – but his unifying factor is his very literary style. He is seen as literary fiction, rather than the sub genres he deals in. The same also applies to Margaret Atwood.

    So, you can beat the machine if you are good enough and create some kind of unifying thread through your work. You just have to understand that you are swimming against the publishing tide, and build up those writing pecs to allow yourself to haul yourself through the current.

    There is, of course, also the self-publishing option, and I think we will see more traditionally published authors going down the route of mixing and matching. It’s something I’m considering myself. If I write a book that my publisher doesn’t want because it doesn’t fit what they think will sell, I will put it out myself.

    In short, I know the publishing industry seems daunting and perhaps even more closed off than ever, but I believe there has never been a more exciting time to be a writer in terms of the options available to all of us. These options are only going to expand.

    So, keep working hard, enjoy your writing and define your own success.

    Michael.

  12. RJK1981 says:

    Thanks for those tips, they seem very useful! I will be bookmarking this page for use in the future

  13. Kris Krukowski says:

    Now that advice is thought-provoking indeed. I’ve often gone back and forth between “this novel is what I need to write” and “this novel is so weird, I don’t know if anybody will be interested”. This article is making me lean toward the former. Thank you!

  14. exiledcrusader says:

    Thank you for you insight. I myself write in more than one genre but I use a different pen name for each. While I have never had a novel published I thought it made sense for each to have a different author. The tone and style of writing differs greatly between my pen names. I wonder if this could be a way around branding. Number 7 is by far my favorite piece of advice you have offered. Thanks again.

  15. JenP says:

    Zombies AND cows? It almost sounds too good to be true.

    It’s somewhat daunting to think that your first book can define your career. I’m hoping that publishing my books myself will allow me to be more flexible in my writing. We’ll see.

    Marketing is daunting to think about but a fun challenge. Sometimes it’s the simple things that get noticed. Although, I would adore seeing zombie cows on the streets…

  16. Thank you for the advice! I’m an aspiring writer, and I’ve been wondering whether or not an agent will put up with an author who writes more than one genre. I guess I’ll stick with fantasy, though my first novel was science fiction. I’m a much better fantasy writer. :) I agree that you should never lose sight of why you chose to write. I write to create something beautiful, something that makes me look back and say, “wow, I did this.” It’s the best feeling in the world.

    Awesome and solid advice! Thank you!

  17. spacehg says:

    Great advice. I’ve seen authors pass out business cards and leave them everywhere they go (even on top of a tip).

    I agree with not reading every review and accept that you won’t be able to please everyone all the time; look at the fan backlash Veronica Roth is getting from “die hard” fans.

  18. kylegwhite says:

    “Your first book often defines your career … While it is better to be published than not, choose your first book wisely: it may define the next 20 years of your career.”

    This is advice that I’ve started hearing more often from more authors. To think you might have to discard future ‘great ideas’ because they are too different from the ‘great idea’ that became a first novel is not only frustrating, but a little scary. I understand that branding is important, but even everyday consumer products alter themselves over time.

    However, I suppose any brand of dishwashing detergent is still just soap no matter how NEW and IMPROVED it claims to be. Along the same line, an author’s readers expect his/her tenth urban fantasy to be similar to the author’s debut. That is a sobering thought.

    Great tips. Thanks.

    Kyle

    gkylewhite.blogspot.com

  19. vrundell says:

    Thanks so much for your insights. Clearly, many of us have to write to quiet the ‘voices’, but it’s just as important to hear the outside voices–the helpers who can make this path easier. I’ll try and remember to not read my reviews–should I ever get a book out there.
    Best of luck–the book sounds terrifyingly fun.
    Veronica
    http://vsreads.com

Leave a Reply