Texas death matches and your future as a professional writer; the former ends with a ten count, the latter begins with one. At least here and now it does.
Author and podcasting pioneer J.C. Hutchins recently had to make several announcements over on his blog
. I recommend you take a moment to read them. What happened with Hutch fucks me up on many levels. First and foremost among them, Hutch is one of my best friends. Unlike a lot of people I donít just throw around phrases like that. It means quite a lot to me. If Hutch called me up and said, ďYo, Wallace, I got a dead hooker in the trunk and a pregnant one in the backseat,Ē I would drive to Costco at 3:00 a.m. to buy shovels, lye, a stone grinder, intravenous drip, and a fistful of Morning After pills. Now, thatís horrible and offensive, and *that* is how much I love Hutch.
So his personal defeat hurts me. But Hutch is going to be fine. In fact, he already is. I am much more concerned with how Iím dealing with it at this point, frankly. I have rage, on many levels and directed at many people and institutions. Because this situation is symptomatic of a lot of things that are wrong with the publishing industry and with purveying attitudes among both professional and aspiring authors.
Every asshole is going to defecate their opinion on why one book or business model or promotional tact succeeds and another fails. Thatís fine. But I know a couple of things to be absolutely true. Hutch wrote a great thriller. Certainly as good as any of the other crap that slops its way up the best-seller list these days. More than that, I have literally never seen or heard of anyone working as hard or as tirelessly or as creatively as Hutch did on the release of his last two books.
What I know to be true is that Hutch was out there on his own for this thing and he backed a horse, it came up lame, and about 50,000 people walked by and shot it in the fucking head. Thatís all. You donít grab that horseís reins and keep pulling. You unbuckle your saddle and move the fuck on.
Iím given to epic meditation, but I donít see the point in meditating on the subject with any more depth than Hutch did. Iíve decided, instead, to attempt something more practical and productive. So Iíve written a ten count. Thatís all. Itís just a little ten count that bullet points everything Iíve seen and heard and learned and distilled over the last three or four years relating to writing on a professional level. It seemed like the appropriate time.
This list is mostly for me, but I offer it to you for whatever you think it might be worth, even if its in pesos.
Social media is 10% of your time/effort/energy as a writer at best. Thatís it. Itís not a religion, itís not a profession, and itís not a genre. Itís just a marketing tool; a limited, niche marketing tool. All it has done, all it has ever done, is get your foot in the door and give a glimpse of what is *possible* (key word). From that point on what it gets you is a few thousand sales out of the gate at most. Thatís it. Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman have fifty trillion followers on Twitter because they did the work first (well, Wheaton did... stuff, anyway). The @ShitMyDadSays guy sold an idea, not a novel. No one has the vaguest notion how to use Facebook beyond sending out those insanely annoying, murder-inspiring suggestions that you become their ďfan.Ē
Donít ascribe to the rock star theory. The rock star theory states that success in music is achievable only through becoming a rock star. Writing is much the same way. Whether you want to be JK Rowling or Hemmingway, you visualize success in writing as becoming a best-selling author. The professional writing field is far more diverse. Every form of media and every facet of the entertainment industry employs legions of writers as its early architects, and all of it allows you to be creative and employ your craft to some degree. I know guys who sleep Ďtil noon, write some ad copy, and get paid exorbitantly for it. Iíve been that guy on rare occasions. Itís awesome. The rest is ego. You can try and church that shit up by calling it artistic pursuit or integrity or whatever the fuck, but in the end all it means is you really need an audience and industry to like you and respect you. Fuck that, and fuck them. Make money and make art on your own time.
To quote Dolph Lundgren, ďA warrior who knows only one side leaves himself vulnerable to attack.Ē You can believe in DIY. You can believe in the free podcast model. You can believe in your boutique publicist. You can believe your publisher is a loving parent who will champion you like the seed of their own skuzzy fruit. Hell, you can believe in secular rooster worship and the single condom theory. But donít become devout. Ever. Donít trust any one method, donít stick to any one avenue. Make like Minnesota Fats and play every angle available.
A community is not your career. This applies to writing groups, workshops, message boards, ďtribesĒ of any stripe. Immersing yourself too deeply in any of these things is dangerous for a writer with serious professional aspirations. It can very quickly become a lifestyle, and then your life, period. And itís not. Itís called a hobby. Hobbies are fine. This list is for professional writers and those aspiring to be professional writers. Iíve never understood the need for a major support system, anyway. Writing is not rape trauma. Get somebody or two bodies you trust and who arenít going to suck your cock or lady parts to do your beta reading, maybe catch whatever spellcheck missed, and youíre good. The rest is group masturbation, and it leads to needing to be appreciated by others as a writer more than you need to actually write.
Mainstream media is God. Do whatever you can to get anyone in it to talk about you and/or your product and anyone who controls its commercial outlets to display your wares. A good review in Publisherís Weekly is a hell of an ego boost. And everybody who reads it is probably going to get your book for free. Every podcast you will ever record, every blog post you will ever write, every tweet you will ever tweet, it will all be consumed by an amount of people that couldnít fill a millimeter of Al Rokerís shrunken stomach reservoir. And even that number is totally unreliable in terms of sales. Everybody is your friend until the check comes. If you can get 50,000 people to listen to your podcast you can count on less than 2% of them to turn out when the book actually drops. A shelf at the supermarket is more valuable than any of that bullshit will ever be.
Donít get caught up in the bullshit unless thereís a percentage in it for you. I do this all the time. I do it in this blog. Iím doing it right now. I latch on to the hot topic of the moment and I rant like Dennis Miller before he became an old, grouchy Republican. I waste massive amounts of time and words on speculation and reprobation. Your goal should always remain to be the upper 99th percentile of author who could give less than a shit about eBook prices. Let John Scalzi do the ranting. He gets paid for it. Keep your head down and focus on yourself.
Stop submitting short stories. Just stop. It does nothing for you. The short fiction market is dead. Itís absurd to even argue about it. I love short stories. I love writing them. You can too. But youíre better off hoarding them until you have a marketable, profitable name and can release your own collection and see some legitimate return on your investment of time and energy. Six years of rejection may seem pious and noble and like a good paying-your-dues mantra, but it is horseshit. Same goes for awards. A best-selling book will get you an award faster than an award will ever get you a best-selling book.
Your fans are not your friends. This is probably going to be the most misconstrued joint on the list, so let me clarify that by saying I respect and appreciate my readership, my listeners, my fanbase, pretty much anybody who takes even the slightest interest. That is awesome. But I donít know you, you donít know me, and when push comes to shove in my career you donít get a vote until itís on the shelves. The level of accessibility Iíve seen around me has often had very adverse effects on my colleagues. I see authors worrying more about perception than their output, perception among a public that quite frankly canít even support them as a writer. You open this door and suddenly youíre trying to be everyoneís friend and give everyone their two-cents and placate everyoneís aggressive assumed familiarity and opinions about you and your work. Thereís a wall, and on this side of it Iím going to do what I do and youíll choose to respond to it however it strikes you. You want to know what the most dangerous question a writer can ask their fans is sometimes? ďHey, what do you guys think?Ē
Trends are made to be broken. Donít start writing a novel based on whatís actually managing to sell books right now. By the time youíre done, the vampire/zombie/shaman detective phase will be, too. At least until it comes back around again. The same is true for the style in which you write, the genre in which you write, and the way you deliver all of it. Donít try to be the Apple of novels. Steve Jobs decides it needs to be smaller and yet more powerful every time he takes a piss.
Ignore everything I just laid down. Donít manage your expectations. Donít be smart or hip or businesslike. Shoot the fucking moon. 99% of you will fail, but 99% of you are going to fail anyway. Donít let authors everyone lavishes with internet worship (and Iím not referring to myself) tell you what to do or how to do it. You know why? Because the most successful authors in the world right now didnít do it that way. Thatís why their books drop like atom bombs and your ďpopularĒ authors with all the good advice are a few notches above the mid-list. The literary mega-stars were literallyÖ literallyÖ no different than you and despite their success they still arenít. They donít know more, they are not better writers, and they donít have any secrets to impart. They were simply at the right place at the right time and lightning struck. So just write the book you want to write, make it as good as you can, and do whatever stupid, unrealistic thing you think you need to in order to get an editor behind it. Chances are it worked for somebody.