Writing is a tough business. And there's a lot of advice out there and inspirational stuff. Sometimes, I just want to give the advice that maybe isn't so romantic but has gotten me through the rough spots. So I'm doing that today. Take it for what you will—the advice of a slightly-jaded, midlist author.
In no particular order:
If You're Writing Something "Different," Brace Yourself For A Long Haul
Publishers say they are looking for unique, fresh, new, etc. And I think maybe in their minds they genuinely do want that…as long as they can also be sure it's marketable and will sell and isn't too big of a risk. You might be thinking, "Well, that's a bit of a Catch-22—unique and fresh is usually unpredictable and risky."
Well yes, there in lies the problem. Not to say nothing unique and fresh gets through, but you might not be selling that book in 2 days, you know? And the more you deviate from "commercial" the harder it will be to find a place for your book, even if you're a great writer.
Write What You Love, Sure, But Don't Expect That Will Equate To Sales
I am a big proponent of being passionate about what you're writing. I have to love my work because I spend so much time with it. Feeling that excitement over a project is irreplaceable. A treasure.
Just…try to tear that idea away from the one where you will make bank on those ideas you love. Maybe you will, but lots of people write what they love and they write it well and those books fall into the nether of obscurity. All the time. And, well, that's okay. It's okay if your amazing book isn't a bestseller. Join The Club Of 99.9% Of Authors Not On The Bestseller List. It's fine here. Not the end of the world by any measure.
Hard Work Doesn't Always Pay Off
This was one of the most difficult concepts for me to accept about being a writer. In non-creative occupations, it's a pretty simple thing—work your ass off, see results. In a creative pursuit, you could work yourself into the ground and never see results. Hell, you could be an amazing writer and never sell to the Big 5. Because you as a writer, writing what you love, are writing something "too different." This happens all the time.
This is why I have other hobbies where my work actually pays off in a logical manner. I exercise, and I get strong. I cook, and there's a good meal to eat. It keeps me sane, because writing is sometimes like exercising and cooking but without getting stronger or being able to eat.
Make Writer Friends—They Will Understand You
Being a writer is something not all people understand. We're weird people. We live in our heads a lot. People who don't do that can have a hard time empathizing with all the things a writer deals with. Having friends who are also writers saves me. They get me. It's fabulous.
Keep Your Day Job. Nay, Learn To Love Your Day Job.
OR have a spouse with a day job who loves you very much. Because writing, if you do make money at it, probably won't pay all your bills. And if you get there, it will take a long time (I'm in year 8 of pursuing publication, in year 3 of making some money, certainly nowhere near a viable amount). Even if you are lucky enough to get that "dream deal," there are no guarantees you will earn out or even sell again at that level. Always have a back up plan. Be frugal.
Sometimes You Have To Cut Your Losses
I've grown to kind of dislike the "Never Give Up" advice. Sometimes you gotta give up on something to move forward. Maybe not on writing as a whole, but on a story idea that is not strong enough to hold its own. Or on a novel that's been on sub two years. Or on that first novel you ever wrote that has seen 200 rejections. Moving on can open up a new world. I've done it a lot. Never regretted it. If you find yourself pining over something from the past, you can always go back, too.
Your Book Is Your Baby. To Your Publisher, It's A Product.
Publishers need to make money on the books they buy, plain and simple. Of course they have to like what they buy, but the bottom line is…there's a bottom line. No matter how much your editor loves you or your book, if you aren't selling, well, things will get sad. It will maybe make you feel worthless, which isn't true but it will be hard to feel otherwise. It's the reality of putting a price on your creativity.
Live Somewhere Cheap
We've heard this one plenty of times, and it's very sound advice. I'm pretty poor in Utah as a writer, but I'd be downright destitute as a writer in, say, California. So live somewhere that will let your meager dollars go further.
Luck Is A Thing
It really is. Of course there is also skill involved, but most professional writers are already very good at what they do. It's very difficult for anyone to tap into what will resonate with the market, to predict what people will buy in droves and what they will ignore. It's a total crap shoot. Everyone wants it not to be one, but accepting this is very important.
Keep Your Options Open
Publishing is an ever-changing beast. Trends go in and out like waves. Editors hop houses all over. Agents leave the business. More than ever, stuff in publishing is changing at a rapid pace. As a writer, it's important to be flexible, adaptable, and to keep an open mind. Look at all the avenues to publication as possible to you, depending on what a particular novel requires.
Learn All The Things You Possibly Can
Writers always strive to improve. I think it's an amazingly admirable quality we possess. There is never a "point of arrival." We are all perpetual students of the writing craft, and taking every opportunity to learn is never a waste of time. Never rest on your laurels, because all the writers around you are working to get better.
Take Your (And Others') Mental Health Seriously
Mental illness is a Big Deal in the writing community. Recent studies out of Sweden showed that writers have up to a 50% higher chance of suicide than non-writer people. That's…scary, guys. Depression, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, and more have been shown to be more common among creative types, and as far as I can see within my own writing circles this is true. I know a lot of writers who struggle with mental health—myself included.
So if you are planning to make this a career, learn about mental health issues. If not for yourself, for all the other writers you may meet who face these every day. Be sensitive and respectful to it, because chances are you will talk with multiple people daily who have these conditions.
Eyes On Your Own Paper. Reviews Included.
The worst thing about the internet is that you can see what all the other writers are doing and getting and where they are going and who loves them. Envy is a real thing. There was a recent study in Business Insider that named writing the #2 most competitive job. It creates a stressful, smile-in-public-but-growl-in-private type work environment. The more you can focus on your own stuff and block out the rest, the better.
I may be a jaded, practical type writer nowadays, but I still believe in the merits of having fun with your work. Because c'mon, writing for a job—if you can manage to make it a job—is pretty awesome. I started writing because I had FUN doing it. Sure, sometimes I really, really don't have fun, but if I can get out of my own self-doubt cycle I really do love what I write. Of course I do, otherwise I wouldn't spend all that time with it in the first place. Let go and let yourself have fun. Even when you're editing.
Be Proud Of What You Do At Every Stage
When reviews start coming out, when you see all the amazing stories others create, it can be very easy to get self-conscious and to maybe decide our stories aren't worthy of being out there. We can forget that we wrote a story we loved to the best of our ability—and that is a serious accomplishment. Since I'm writing my 17th novel, I often forget how big of a deal it is to do all this. I start to think what I do is commonplace.
But it isn't. There really aren't that many people in the world who can write a novel. And there aren't that many who end up editing and publishing that novel. Sometimes when you get into the writing community it feels like EVERYONE in the whole world writes, but they don't. So be proud of yourself. Hell, chances are there will be a lot of people trying to tear you down out there—don't spend your time tearing yourself apart on the inside, too.