This week I am super excited to have Pauline Jones as a guest poster.
Going Pro with your Writing
by Pauline Baird Jones
Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
This is an exciting time to be a writer. It is hard to miss the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, or not feel why not me? Digital publishing has forever changed the landscape for writers, opening up a direct conduit from author to reader. Now fan fiction authors have been talking direct to their readers for years, so they have an important edge—as evidenced by Fifty Shades—when taking their writing from fun hobby to professional business.
But there are some important differences that can trip the unwary and turn going pro into an exercise in miserable.
I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.
~Peter De Vries
Because there are so many options, it has become even more important for the savvy writer to understand the various options, the upside and downside of each, and what’s best for your work. That means you need a basic understanding of intellectual property rights before you sign anything. If you don’t know what IP is, then that’s a good place to start doing your research.
Here are a couple of good places to start:
The Business Rusch (Kristine Kathryn Rusch)
Dean Wesley Smith (her husband)
The Passive Voice (an intellectual property lawyer)
Joe Konrath (writer and voice for indie authors)
Most of these blogs will open you up to more resources and information. Information is power. Don’t fear knowledge. One of the biggest problems writers have is mixing fiction with their reality. They hear or believe what they want to hear, what feels comfortable, or what will let them continue in happy ignorance.
Happy ignorance will not last if you get published. Truth will slap you around. It can cost you time and sometimes control of your intellectual property.
Be in charge of your own business.
Yes, you are, or will become, a small business if you decide to begin selling your work. How much responsibility you take on will depend, in some part, on which form of publishing you choose to pursue. But even if you choose to use a publisher, you will sign legal contracts that will affect your rights to control your work.
And no matter who publishes your work, ultimately you will be responsible for your author brand. Your author brand is your name, or the name that will be on the cover of your published work.
Your published work is your product. Each book is a package that you hope to sell to readers. When you are writing for friends and/or family, story telling is king. And friends and family tend to love you, so they love what you write. They read it without a critical eye. They can overlook typos and badly constructed sentences and meandering plots.
When you are asking readers to pay money for your writing, storytelling is still king—but craft is the queen. If you don’t believe me, just peruse some reader reviews on Amazon, paying particular attention to the 1-2 star reviews.
Whenever I see comments like, “This could have been so much better with the help of a good editor,” you know the author didn’t respect their story or their reader enough to do the hard work of learning the craft. Authors who know they are running a business will hire the best people for their business, so that they protect their brand.
The first law of protecting your brand is to make sure your story is the best it can be before money changes hands.
When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.
~Enrique Jardiel Poncela
Let me repeat that: when you are asking readers to exchange money for your story, you need to deliver the best story possible.
Once a reader pays for your product, they have a right to comment on their experience with it. Reviews are hard. Rejection is really hard. But understand that readers who aren’t related to us, or who aren’t our friends, aren’t going to love us unless we do our job.
One of the hardest lessons for me to learn, as a beginning-going-professional writer, was how important it was to be patient, to take the time to get the story right. For many readers, you only get one shot at making a good impression. You fail with them, they are gone.
Doing it right the first time is part of protecting your brand.
~Almost Every Successful Author
Our job is to deliver a well-written, satisfying story. There is too much competition to drive off readers who wanted to like your book. Because there will be readers who don’t engage with your story no matter what you do. “This just didn’t work for me” is very different from “needs a better editor,” or “an editor.”
When you collect reviews like that you ready to face the second rule of protecting your brand: don’t go bat crap crazy on people who don’t like what you write. Even if they are wrong, don’t engage. Take the long view, drive the high road, bite your tongue, step away from the computer—whatever it takes. There are people out there who like to see authors melt down, lose control, whatever. It’s reality Internet for them. Don’t let them play you.
Who you are, what you did, what you wrote, what you didn’t do, will follow you around like a whining dog/child/reader. If you can’t handle bad reviews, don’t read them. For some authors, bad reviews don’t just hit their ego. They stomp on their Muse. Which brings me back to: protect your brand. Yes, your Muse is part of your brand. Writing more books is the most important part of your business.
Let me repeat that: writing books is the most important part of your business. It is the reason you have a business. If readers love your books, the first thing they will do after “the end,” is to go looking for more.
I promise you there will be times when it is harder to write for money than it was to write for nothing. If that seems counterintuitive, welcome to the publishing business.
So, to recap:
- Quantity of words does not equal quality. Writing is rewriting and rewriting some more.
- If you want to be a professional writer, find where professional writers hang out and talk to them, learn from them, pick their brains, read their blogs, learn.
- Protect your brand. Put your best writing foot forward in your books and your best self forward when you promote. Learn from others how to do this. (See a pattern emerging here?)
- Be nice. (I don’t have to explain this, do I?)
- Learn the business of writing. Craft, contracts, rights management, promotion and publicity–all of it. If you don’t manage it, it will manage you. If you’re not savvy, you risk losing time, money and control of your intellectual property.
- Grow a thick skin. You’ll need it when the first rejections and/or reviews start coming in. Realize that not everyone likes chocolate and not everyone will like what you write. When you go pro, that means putting on the big girl/boy pants.
- Keep writing. If you write a book that readers like, they will look for the next one and the next one and the one after that.
- Don’t take your readers for granted. Don’t disappoint them or yourself by being less than your best.
- Love the process, love the writing, love the story telling.
Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason; they made no demand on those who wrote them.
~Charles Caleb Colton
Every business, from widgets to frozen waffles, is in it for the money, but they start with a passion to provide a service or product that people are willing to pay for. People who make widgets love making them. I know, seems crazy, but to people who don’t write, we’re the crazies and widgets are normal.
If you are only in it for the money, it will show in your writing and readers will know. Books aren’t widgets. They are a deeply personal experience to readers. You know when a book isn’t quite right, don’t you? And your job is to convince a reader to pick your story over the millions and millions of books out there.
We all know the stories of the overnight success, the authors who cut corners and struck gold their first time out of the gate. It happens. Lightning strikes sometimes. And if you don’t get out there, it sure won’t strike.
But the authors who endure, who build a readership that comes back for more, are the authors who respect themselves and those readers. They are in it for the long haul. They are in it because they love telling stories. They are the ones who bring their passion for great storytelling to the process and not just a longing to strike it rich. These writers create fans, not cash cows.
I’ve been in this business a long time. I delighted over my first sale and I still get a thrill when I release a new novel. But the deep satisfaction, and the will to keep going, does not come from the money. I am amazed and delighted when a reader takes the time to write to me, or to write a review about how much they liked something I wrote. When I realize they get what I was trying to do with the story, knowing they took the journey into my imaginary world and had a great time—well, there’s nothing quite like that glow. It feeds my Muse and keeps me going through recalcitrant characters, tricky plots and even the not-so-nice reviews.
Is it hard? Absolutely.
Is it worth it? In my humble opinion, without a doubt.
But then, I don’t want to make widgets. I want to write books.
Pauline Baird Jones had a tough time with reality from the get-go. After “schooling” from four, yes FOUR brothers, she knew that some people needed love and others needed killing. Pauline figured she could do both. Romantic suspense was the logical starting point, but there were more worlds to explore, more rules to break and minds to bend. She grabbed her pocket watch and time travel device and dove through the wormhole into the world of science fiction and even some Steampunk.
Now she wanders among the genres, trying a little of this and a lot of that, rampaging through her characters’ lives like Godzilla because she does love her peril (when it’s not happening to her). Never fear, she gives her characters happy endings. Well, the good characters. The bad ones get justice.
She is currently at work on her fourteenth novel and has twelve audio books in production. Her publisher will release three collections of her short stories in the upcoming months: Project Enterprise: The short stories, The Romances and The Mysteries. For more information about Pauline, her books and to check out her blog, visit: www.paulinebjones.com