In the last week I went to a couple of different events meant to give writing advice. One was by an author on self-publishing and one was by an author talking about writing series. Both were useful, but I was glad that I read widely in my field, because if I didn’t there were things said at both presentations that could’ve been problematic if someone where I am in my career were to take them to heart.
See, here’s the problem. A traditionally published author who has sold over fifty books and been at this for thirty years really can’t advise someone like me on how to sell a first novel. Oh, sure, it’s interesting to hear that person’s story about contract negotiation and how they broke in, but the publishing world of today is not the publishing world of thirty years ago.
Same with someone who had self-publishing success four years ago. What worked then will not work now. Hell, with self-publishing, what worked a year ago won’t work now. I’m not even sure what worked six months ago works now. There are too many people trying to break in for a secret to success to last for more than the time it takes for someone to talk about it on a writing forum.
Which is why I think any writing advice from anyone, other than maybe storytelling or grammar/writing technique advice, has to be approached with caution. The best bet is to read widely to see if there’s any sort of consensus out there and then to experiment and see what works for you.
Where do you gain traction with your writing? What ideas seem to attract interest? What story length seems to be natural for you? And then try to refine and hone your approach to take advantage of your natural strengths.
Also, don’t lose patience. Don’t give up too soon. Try new approaches, but maybe don’t abandon the old ones.
(Of course, this is a bit of do what I say, not what I do. I may be one of the only self-publishers I know who tends to unpublish books. Most of what I’ve published is currently up, but that hasn’t always been the case over the last year and probably won’t be in the future. Right now I have a few things out there because I figure there’s no harm in having them out, but I’ll probably pull them again at some point when I have the time to really evaluate them. Anyway.)
On a side note. Speaking of an excellent writing advice book. I can’t recommend Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain highly enough. It’s from 1965, believe it or not, but it is chock-full of good advice. (Odd examples, but good advice.)
Interestingly, it’s nothing you don’t hear elsewhere. You know, “show don’t tell” and “avoid adverbs”, but the way the information is presented made me truly understand some of that advice in a way nothing else I’ve read did.
I struggle with maintaining tension throughout my books so that readers want to keep reading and I thought his discussions around how to do that were excellent. Also, I think I now understand some of the weaknesses of my earlier stories based upon what he said. Basically, I can’t summarize some of those stories into “Will Suzy achieve X? Or will Y defeat her?” I still think they’re decent reads, but selling them becomes trickier when the main character doesn’t have a clear and concrete goal that readers can root for.
So, anyway. If you like reading writing advice books as much as I do, check it out. I literally almost bought this book four times and returned it each time because the price was so high, but I think it was worth the cost in the end.