What piece of advice have you received over the course of your career that has had the biggest impact on your success?
This is a difficult question to answer, since my career has taken some unexpected twists and turns. I don’t think I’ve received career advice pertaining to writing or publishing from any specific person along the way, but there are three guiding principles I’ve tended to follow. The first is, “Nobody knows anything,” which is a quote from William Goldman. The second is that there’s nothing mysterious or sacred about publishing. Publishing is a business, nothing more or less. The last is that most of the time, what seems like luck is actually just preparation meeting opportunity.
I’ve taken the Goldman quote to mean there’s no fixed blueprint for success in any endeavor; at some point you have to stop trying to figure out the secret handshake and just focus on doing the best work you possibly can so you’ll be ready when a door opens for you at last.
Recognizing publishing for the business it is reveals the fact that signing with a publisher is simply a business partnership, there’s nothing magical about it. If a publisher chooses not to partner with this or that writer, it doesn’t necessarily mean the writer’s work has no merit or commercial potential. All it means is that the partnership didn’t look like a profitable one to that specific publisher at that specific time. It’s easy to get caught up in emotions when things don’t work out as you’d hoped, but emotion has nothing to do with it. There are no white hats and black hats here, just businesspeople making business decisions.
What message do you find yourself repeating over and over to writers?
Forget the so-called “rules” of writing. Sometimes prologues work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes shifts in POV work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes an adverb really is the best word choice. If you must have rules, I’d say these are the only two you need:
1. If it weakens, or adds nothing to the work, change it.
2. If it strengthens the work, leave it alone.
What’s the worst kind of mistake that new writers, freelancers, or book authors can make?
I hate to repeat myself so soon, but I have to go back to treating publishing like a business: most aspiring authors don’t. If you intend to approach an agent or trade publisher, you need to be able to make a compelling case for why they should take a risk on you and your book, why you and your book are likely to be profitable. If you’re going to self-publish for profit, you need to go into it expecting to run a small business because that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. And if you’re going to try and support yourself through freelance gigs, again, you must accept that you’re running a business and operate accordingly: maintain records, keep an eye on the competition, track income and expenses, and so on.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without in your writing life?
Solitude. I’m not good at tuning out distractions, and with two kids and a menagerie of pets in my house, it can be very difficult to find the time, quiet and solitude I need to do my best work. There have been times when I’ve had to hole up in a local hotel for a few days just to get some writing done.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m up at 6:30am to get my kids ready for school. I’ll usually boot up my main laptop before starting breakfast for the kids and take a quick glance at my inbox to see if anything urgent is waiting for me. After I drop the kids off and get back home, I go through my email and then look over my calendar and to-do list for the day. I’ll do a quick check on all my websites, to be sure they’re all up and running normally, then a quick Twitter check to see if there are any pages I need to bookmark for later reading.
I’ll work on freelance jobs until lunchtime, during which I’ll go back to read those pages I bookmarked in the morning. Then I’ve got another couple of hours to work on freelance jobs before I have to pick up the kids from school. I’m a chronic multitasker, so I’m always listening to an audiobook in the car and I’ll usually squeeze at least one errand in on my way to the school pickups.
My productivity takes a nosedive once the kids are home so I tend to spend the afternoons helping them with their homework, checking in on my email and social media, and posting content to my sites. None of those things require as much focus as the freelance work. Most nights, I put in another couple of hours on freelance work after the kids are in bed, when the house is finally quiet and I have all that wonderful solitude. I don’t usually get to bed till sometime near midnight. I’ll often do marathon work sessions on the weekends, when the kids are away with their father.
If you could change one thing about publishing, what would it be?
The one change I’ve wanted most is already happening: self-publishing has gone mainstream, and indie authorship has gained respectability at last. I think the majority of authors and publishing folk alike now see self-publishing for what it really is: just one among several paths for reaching a readership. I think everyone agrees at last that sometimes, self-publishing makes more sense for a given book than a mainstream release would.
In what way (if any) has your writing/publishing life changed in the past 5 years?
I started out intending to be a novelist, but somehow ended up taking that fork in the road that leads to nonfiction-slash-reference and ended up making a career of banging the indie drum and helping other authors go indie. It’s been a good thing, though.
Of course it makes me feel great to hear someone enjoys one of my novels or stories, but I don’t think I ever could’ve found the kind of fulfillment I have today if I’d stuck exclusively to writing fiction, even if I’d scaled the bestseller lists. When I get an email from someone who says I’ve given him the information, tools or confidence he needed to make his lifelong dream of becoming a published author a reality, I know I’m right where I belong and feel very fortunate to be there.
Do you have any advice for new writers on fostering a strong network?
It can’t be all about salesmanship, especially in the beginning. The key to success with networking and social media is to seek out those people and opportunities you’d be attracted to even if you didn’t have a book to sell. Play to your strengths, and be willing to offer help without any expectation of payback.
Too often, people look at networking and social media as nothing more than a system of bartering favors. Approaching it with a self-serving agenda will undermine your efforts, because it won’t take long for those around you to realize you’re only willing to minimally invest in them and their work, and only if some kind of payback is forthcoming. Sometimes someone I’ve helped is in a position to help me later on, but that’s more the exception than the rule. If you can surround yourself with like-minded, positive-thinking individuals, you’ll never feel the time and energy you invest in them is wasted.
What do you see as your biggest publishing accomplishment?
My self-published novel, Snow Ball. It’s a book my then-agent disliked, but I believed strongly in it and eventually, it became my first self-published book. It hasn’t sold enough copies to make me rich, but it was very well received right from the start and that early, positive feedback gave me the confidence I needed to know I was on the right track with indie authorship. Everything else, right up to writing The Indie Author Guide and founding Publetariat, came as a result of that first successful self-publishing experience.
What do you see as the biggest benefit of indie authorship?
The biggest benefit of indie authorship is also the biggest potential drawback: the freedom to get your work out to the public without having to go through any intermediaries. Trade publishers are only interested in large audiences for their books, but there are plenty of smaller audiences to be tapped, too. If your book is right for them, you can serve those smaller populations. If it’s not, you’ll find that out pretty quickly without any ego-buffering agent or publisher running interference for you.
What is the biggest challenge for indie authors?
Sorry, but I have to repeat myself yet again: it’s accepting, and excelling at, the business side of things. The most successful indie authors are also the most entrepreneurial, but many aspiring authors don’t have the skills or disposition to become entrepreneurs.
Lots of people will say the biggest challenge facing indie authors is getting the necessary exposure and public acceptance for their work, but that’s the same challenge faced by any small businessperson bringing a new product to market. If the author has educated herself on things like marketing, branding and public relations, the challenge of reaching the public with an effective promotional message is much easier to overcome—and certainly no more difficult to tackle than it would be for any other entrepreneur selling any other product.
Even if a given writer doesn’t expect to earn huge profits with his book, it’s still necessary to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to produce a quality product, whether he’s publishing in print or ebook formats. Indie authorship just isn’t workable for technophobes.
Any final thoughts?
My personal motto is, “Never say you don’t know how to do it; say you don’t know how to do it yet.” Successful indie authorship demands certain skills and knowledge, and self-publishing has become a fairly high-tech process. Even so, it’s not all that difficult or complex. Anyone with a good manuscript who’s willing to learn, can keep an open mind, and is willing to invest the necessary time and energy can be a successful indie author. Easily 60% of the success formula is just overcoming your initial fear of the unknown and taking that leap of faith in yourself and your work.
About the Book
For more must-have know-how for self-publishing and promoting your work, check out The Indie Author Guide by April L. Hamilton.
Read an Excerpt!
Find out how to create and develop your brand to set your work apart in this excerpt from Chapter Three: Creating Your Brand.