Top 10 Ways to Stay True to Yourself in Publishing

Wade Rouse ( is the acclaimed memoirist of, most recently, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream. A humor columnist and essayist, his new memoir It’s All Relative and humorous dog anthology I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship! are forthcoming in 2011.

Here he shares his top 10 ways to stay true to yourself in publishing. This special uncut version of Rouse’s list is an online-exclusive component to WD’s “WD Interview Takes 10” feature in the September “Big 10 Issue”. Be sure to check out the complete issue for more inspiring and informative Top 10s from Sherman Alexie, Mary Higgins Clark, Jodi Picoult and other bestselling authors.

10) Do Not Try to Write Mary Potter & The Half-Price Rinse & Set, or Twilight: But with Zombies!
Listen closely to this, if nothing else: Write what you know, what you feel, what you believe, what needs to come out, not what you think you should write, or what you feel might sell. Writing anything other than what you have a passion for, anything other than that story that burns to be told, and you’ll be a sellout. And you’ll know it. And everyone will know it. And you’ll feel hollow, because what you’ve written is hollow. Follow your heart. Don’t let the market dictate your art.

9) Install a Lithium Drip in Your Home
OK, just kidding. Pills are way easier. Seriously, a balanced life is vital for success in publishing and staying on track. So, exercise. Cook. Run. Garden. Walk your dog on the beach. Turn off your laptop and spend time with the ones you love. You won’t short-circuit, and you will stay whole and true.

8) Realize Upfront That Publishing Isn’t Art, It’s BART
That’s business and art, which is way better than finance and art. Being true to oneself also requires being true to what publishing requires today. A writer needs to realize he can’t just sit at home and write. He must market, promote, blog, Twitter, travel, call, cajole, shake hands, interpretive dance, whatever it takes to build a platform and sell books. I happen to love that aspect; many authors do not. But to stay true to yourself in publishing, you must acknowledge the business aspect and embrace it wholly, because it lets you continue to do what you love: Write.

7) Be Like Dolly the Sheep: Clone Yourself
Whenever possible, choose an agent, editor, publisher, publicist and Web developer who are extensions of your souls (Damn you, Oprah!) and who believe in your work as much as you do. But also realize your weaknesses, and work with those who bring different strengths.

6) Fuggetabout Fear!
Most of us, especially writers, are defined by our fears. They strangle us, prevent us from finding our voices, pursuing our passions, writing what calls to us. So, turn “FEAR” into Free Every Artistic Response. When you do, your true voice will be unleashed, and fear will no longer steer you into a ditch and off your true path.

5) Write Is Always Might
The best way to stay true to yourself in publishing is to dance with the one who brought you to the ball: Write. As much as humanly possible. (I realize, by the way, I’ve officially become my father with my analogies. If I begin to say, “Can you drive me to Walmart to pick up my prescriptions?” feel free to slap me.)

4) Be Funny, Honey!
I used to worry (and read) that humor writing was too subjective to be successful in publishing. But I quickly realized, after ignoring my funny bone, that – besides great hair, a wicked arch and a penchant for spending my Roth IRA on lip shimmer – humor was really the only thing I had going for me. Don’t ever doubt your voice – whatever it may be. If it’s funny, honey, shout it to the world. That’s how you stay true to yourself.

3) If You Look in the Mirror and See Mariah, RUN!
There’s no (more) room in publishing for divas. If Mariah were an author, she should sing, “It’s A Small World, After All,” because publishing is. Everyone knows each other, and word quickly spreads. If four people show up for an event early in your career, be grateful and knock ‘em dead. Booksellers, agents, editors and publishers are like elephants: They have very long memories. But fans have the longest. Treat every single person you meet the way you’d like to be treated.

2) Look Like Your Author Shot
Seriously. If you have to crop out LBJ or Photoshop in a full collar on that Nehru jacket, it’s time for a new photo. Because when you show up looking nothing like you did when you were 25, your readers and fans will consider you a sellout. You’re not being true to yourself, much less the public. I’ve met authors who looked like Raquel Welch on the back cover of their books and Dame Edna in person. Just invest in good lighting. And bronzer.

1) Heed the Advice of My Mentors, My Mom and Erma Bombeck
I once sang “Delta Dawn” in a rural middle school talent contest to a gym filled with Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn look-alikes who all laughed into their cowboy hats. My mom told me after it was over, “You were true to yourself. And that can only lead to happiness.” She bought me a journal, told me to write, and introduced me to Erma’s column, “At Wit’s End.” Though both are gone now, I will forever have two Midwestern moms who taught me, as Erma once said, that “Laughter rises out of tragedy, when you need it most, and rewards you for your courage.” So laugh. Write. Be true to yourself. Happiness will follow and reward you for your courage.

Want to write funny? Consider:
And Here’s The Kicker (Print Edition)
And Here’s The Kicker (Download it Now)

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