Wednesday, August 3, 2011

10 tips for new authors - A guest post by Jerry Hanel


I've invited fellow Indie Author Jerry Hanel to write a guest blog.  We both published our first books right around the same time at the end of 2010.  Jerry has been a valuable member of the self-publishing community since the outset, helping other authors wherever possible and offering advice to anyone who asks.

He has responded with 10 tips for new authors.  I've read through them and agree whole-heartedly with every single one, particularly the first two.  Becoming a self-supporting Indie Author will take an immense amount of work and one must always improve their craft if they truly wish to succeed.

Jerry's 10 tips for new authors:
Lately, several people have asked me for advice on being a writer and the writing industry. I hope that I can shed some light on some things I've learned over my short time in this industry. These are my ten tips for new authors that want to break out and get their stories heard.

1) Don't expect to get rich quick. This is my number one rule because, I think, with the advent of Kindle, nook and other e-readers, there's a myth going around that if you publish a book you will instantly have thousands of sales and can quit your day job. While I would love to say that is true, it is not. 

Most of the published authors I know, self-published and traditionally-published alike, have a day job. Why? Because writing doesn't generally make much money. There are some exceptions, and they are making enough to survive. But unless you are one of the 1% that strike a chord with the world readers, or are incredibly prolific and  can produce four or five high-quality works each year, or get lucky and somehow end up on Oprah's reading list, then get a day job and write for the fun of it, not for profit. At least for now.

If you are considering self-publishing your works, it is true is that sites like Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes & Noble make becoming an independent author much easier. Yes, you can now self-publish your books and have as much exposure to the public as Stephen King. But you still have to do the marketing, and you still have to write a quality book. And don't forget about fans. It takes years to develop and cultivate a fan base; the wonderful folks that actually shell out hard-earned cash to read about the worlds in our heads.

There are a few exceptions to this rule; Amanda Hocking and Victorine Leiske, for example. I've read their works and they deserve the fans and praise. They are not only great writers, but incredibly wonderful people. I've talked at length with them both and I loved every second of it because they were genuinely interesting. But their rise to stardom took countless hours of self-promotion and they hit a great trend while it was hot. They are the exception, not the norm.

When you set your expectations right at the start, everything else flows so much better.

2) Write more quality books. If you are going in as a self-published author, it is true that you are the general manager, publicist, art-director, writer, editor and agent, all rolled into one. And while each of these tasks are vital to the success of a new work in the marketplace, you can't forget about the love of the stories in your head. You can't write just one book and expect overnight success (see rule #1). And you can't build a fan base without giving your fans quality work to read. Don't get so bogged down in the details of running the business of writing that you forget about the art of writing itself.

I write like mad until I get a new work complete. I then have to put on a different hat and do the artwork, publishing, promoting and the business of making money. I do that for about three months. I then take a month off to be with my wife before jumping back into the writing again. You have to find the balance in your own life that works for you, and any successful part of balance needs to include significant time set aside just for writing your next amazing work of art.

Yes, I'm always jotting new ideas for stories, taking notes on new plots or character concepts. But when I'm the business manager, I focus on that role. When I'm writing, I ignore the sales numbers. When I'm promoting, I don't spend time worrying about chapters. When I'm laying out the book and formatting it for the different reading platforms, I don't worry about character development.

When you produce more works, each subsequent book will help build a fan base many times more effectively than any self-promotion you can do. The more quality work you write, the more of a following you can generate. Put the links to your new books directly in the back of your other books. Cross-link your books and re-publish old works with new links each time a new book is released. In doing this, you'll be able to drive fans to all of your works and may even make an extra sale.

3) Hire an editor. Maybe even two. I don't know how many times I've heard "I can't afford an editor." Being the notorious cheapskate that I am, I did the same thing when I released my first book. And I lost many, many loyal fans over it. The story was thrilling, but the art was so damaged by the mistakes that many people returned the books, or worse -- decided to not buy my future books. That one action has probably hurt my career more than anything else. Your brain will replace wrong words with right ones, tricking you into leaving those words on the page. It's a subtle, cruel, evil thing, but it happens to all of us. Anyone that says that they do not need an editor is lying. I learned this the hard way. Trust me when I say, you can't afford to NOT hire an editor.

Everyone needs an editor. I eventually hired a fabulous woman named Rebecca Eagleton. She's a member of (her user name is Rebecca Jane) and does incredible work. She also is very inexpensive, which made the scrooge in me very happy. I've since republished that tarnished work, and it has really exploded since then. Whoever you hire, make sure that they are willing to do a sample chapter and get references of their quality. You don't want to pay someone $1/page on a 500-page manuscript just to discover that they left half of the typos in.

4) Get great cover art. While it is said that we should never judge a book by its cover, the fact is that we all do. Every last one of us. The cover should relay the genre, theme, and overall concept of the story itself in two seconds or less, and look great in the process. Why? Because that's all the time that the average person takes in evaluating whether they want to even turn the book over and read the book description. You have a whopping two seconds to capture your reader. Make it count. You cover art is just as important as your editor. Pay for it, if you have to. That cash will definitely come back to you in terms of sales later.

5) Don't give up. Many authors will write a book, maybe even two, and when the sales aren't what they expect or when that one very rude person leaves a scathing review, they give up. Don't give up. The more you write, the better you become at writing. You need to have the good sense to know what is publish-worthy and what isn't. But just because you didn't produce publish-worthy material doesn't mean that you're not a good writer. Writing good stories takes time, patience, and an immeasurable amount of practice. I'll say it again, the more you write, the better at the art you become. If you love the art, don't give up.

6) Publish your quality works. When you feel you have something publish-worthy, jump out there and try. With the advent of self-publishing, you have more freedom than ever before in the history of story-telling. Just don't let those great ideas sit on a shelf until "you are ready." I'm not knocking traditionally-published authors. If you can find an agent or a publisher that will work with you, great! But if you've done all of the rules up to this point, and you consistently get feedback that your story should be shared but can't find someone that will take your work, don't be afraid to jump into the water. 

Getting into writing is like getting into the pool; whether you enter through the ladder (traditionally published) or the cannonball (self-publishing) the end result is the same. Don't be afraid to get wet. The worst thing that can happen to an author is that no one reads their published work. That is the ABSOLUTE worst thing that can happen, right?

Okay... let's look at that from the other side. If no one read your work, and you learned more and more about the business of self-publishing, you received a free education. And since NO ONE read your work, what have you lost? You didn't get a bad reputation because... say it with me; no one read your work.

And this is the worst thing that can happen. What if you put yourself out there and it receives only a little praise? That's awesome. That's exactly how you build a fan base... one fan at a time. And who knows if you'll strike a major trend with a third or fourth novel and it takes off? 

If you feel that you jumped in too early, and your name is tarnished forever due to what you didn't know that you didn't know when you published your works, that's okay. Don't worry. Write under a pseudonym and keep writing (see rule #2). 

7) Get a great critique group. Or two. I have a weekly critique group of local writers. We meet on Monday nights, and I can't even begin to tell you how valuable that has been for me. I've learned about writing, but I've also received encouragement to follow the rules above. After a while, I learn to edit myself. I can almost predict what Steve or Carolyn is going to say about a chapter I've brought. I'm also a member on where I can branch out and get feedback from several other authors, and help break off even more rough edges that my Monday night crew has become used to.

Despite the stereotype, writing is not performed in an isolated environment. It takes twice as much input to produce quality work. 

8) Grow thick skin. Seriously. There will come a day (probably the first day you step out there) that someone will say that your plot was too flimsy. Or your characters were too shallow. Or that they didn't like how you ended your story. While all of that is important feedback and should be taken into consideration, don't attach an emotion to it. Don't allow yourself to become sad, angry or defensive. It is simply more feedback that you can use in your next work of art. Take it in like a calculating computer. It is a fact of that person's perception. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Joining a critique group (Rule #7) greatly helps you learn how to take criticism appropriately. not only is a critique group great feedback, it helps you learn how to evaluate the information you get and separate the emotion behind it so that you can focus on what you need to do, and what you need to ignore.

For example, consider the source. If Stephen King or Janet Evanovich were to tell me that my characters were too shallow, you can bet I'd spend the next five months making my next novel with deep, rich, colorful characters. With the beauty of electronic publishing, I would probably fix that in my current work, and re-publish the current work with richer characters. Remember that just because you release a book doesn't mean that it is set in stone. 

On the other hand, if someone on the Internet named Strykrgrrrl says that my characters are "stoopid and I diddnt undrstnand thm. This autor is dum." I'll consider it and ask my two editors if they think my characters need work, but I'm not going to worry much about it for the current story. I will shrug and move on.
(John here:  My favorite negative review on one of my works is for "The Emo Bunny that Should":  "i hope that bunny is emo so it can stab itself to death") 

9) Do something other than writing. "Wait, you just said write more books. Aren't you contradicting yourself?" No. Write more books, but you can't do so without experiencing more stuff. Writing reflects what we know about life. The more you experience, the richer your stories become. Go square-dancing. Climb a mountain. Walk around your city. Join a knitting club. Do something -- anything -- on a regular basis that has absolutely nothing to do with the business of writing. You'll be amazed at the people you meet and the things you can learn doing something other than writing.

For me, I serve in the community, helping out the homeless and those that don't have much. I love going to the elderly center and listening to them tell me about their day. Miss Zenobia (yes, that's her name) and Miss Dani regularly give me lessons in dominoes and Skip-bo. I take the beatings like a champ and smile because I know that each time I go there, I learn something more about humanity itself.

10) Have fun. Seriously, if this is something you love, then have fun doing it. Don't let the business or the need for money swallow the art of writing. Release the stories that you enjoy. Don't try to write about the hottest trend like vampires or sorcerers if that isn't your style. Trust me when I say that it will show to your readers, and you will hate your own work and the act of writing will be painful. Enjoy what you do, and find the corner of the writing world where those readers want to read your unique story.

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Jerry Hanel is the author of the Brodie Wade series of Paranormal Thrillers. You can find his novels, Death Has a Name and Thaloc Has a Body, on Jerry lives with his beautiful wife in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
You can find his work and follow his writing on these sites:


Anonymous said...

Sir, you are so full of good sense and wisdom that nobody will ever believe a word you say...

John H. Carroll said...

@Anonymous - lol, Jerry did make complete sense. I hope at least a few people take it to heart.

Clover Autrey said...

This is some of the best self-publishing tips I've seen. Thanks for redirecting me back onto the tracks.

John H. Carroll said...

Hi Clover,

Thank you for the comment and follow. :) It is easy to get sidetracked or lose site of the long term goal. Keep plugging away.