Hey, everyone! I was asked by H. R Phoenix if I would share a few writing tips and pieces of advice for any aspiring authors out there to include in their new Ebony and Fire Writing Club, on their blog Penable. Thank you for the opportunity, H. R!
My advice can be broken into these specific points.
- Know your voice.
- Be teachable.
- Be fearless.
- Be open.
- Know your limits.
- Keep your promises.
- Value those you write for.
Now, what do I mean by these things? Keep reading to find out.
- Know your voice.
Each of us has a voice. The way we express our experiences in life and connect with another person. Knowing how you articulate things in a way that’s clear is extremely important. Yes, we all have other authors we look up to, but not one reader wants to hear you try to be just like your hero. The world already has that person’s voice. What it doesn’t have is yours. This also extends to what you write, which my friend and fellow author John Watson pointed out recently. Don’t write a story just to follow a trend. Write it because you want to.
Now, how do you find this unique voice of yours? You write. Write about what you see out the window, in your living room, or even when you look in the mirror. Then, write it as another person. What’s this person’s story? Their life experiences. You’ll find your voice by finding the similarities even when you’re writing as a different character.
- Be Teachable.
Let’s say you know your voice. You know the things you want in your books, what you want readers to get from them, and how to convey these messages (because at the end of the day, being an author is as much about the readers you serve as it is about the art you create). But, none of us, whether we’ve written all our lives, or are just beginning, are perfect. We all have places to grow and improve. As you write more, you’ll see where your weaknesses lie. Maybe you’re not as good at description as you could be, or your dialogue could be better, or you head hop. If you’re really not sure, take your work to a trusted friend or family member who will truly tell you what they think. Others can see the things we miss.
- Be Fearless.
This one is something I say somewhat tongue in cheek as a recovering perfectionist, but when it counted, I have been fearless. I took each opportunity that crossed my path, from the first anthology I took part in, to submitting my debut novel Would You Have Believed Me? to my publisher Crazy Ink, or even being interviewed recently on camera live on YouTube. Being fearless isn’t about not feeling fear, it’s about asking, would I be feeling this no matter what, or is this truly not the right move for me? When I was getting ready to submit my book to CI, I was so nervous. I almost didn’t do it. But, I asked myself if this was a feeling I needed to take seriously, or if I would feel it no matter what publisher I was considering working with. In the end, I followed through with it because I trust God to guide me (yep, I’m a Christian), and I also realized I would be nervous no matter who the publisher was. Because I did it, I now have 13 published titles under my belt less than 2 years later.
- Be open.
Before I came to Crazy Ink, I was rigid in the dream of the self-publish path I saw myself taking. I was in the process of putting together the funds for everything I’d need (self-pub is not cheap because the payment for the team you work with comes out of your pocket, if you aren’t one of the 1% of the population who can do it all yourself). Before that, I was dead set on being published by one of the big traditional companies…a bad run in with an editor quickly put that idea from my mind. My point? Whether you self-publish, manage to publish with a traditional publisher, or sign with an indie publisher like I ultimately did, be open. All these paths are valid because they get your work out there to be read. My one tip about this would be, don’t pay a publisher to publish your work. This is called a vanity publisher because you pay for the vanity of being published. A real indie or traditional publisher will not make you pay for anything. They need to have an incentive to see your work do well, not make their money off your back before you sell a book.
Wondering where to even find a publisher? Join a few author groups on Facebook and follow writing threads on Twitter. Authors talk. You’ll find out who the good publishers are if you talk to people and do a bit of digging. Also, read contracts carefully before you sign. Wanting to publish a series? Make sure the publisher can’t drop the series after one book if you don’t meet their quota of sales.
- Know Your Limits.
Okay, now let’s say you have your publisher. You’re in their stable (meaning the authors they know and work with regularly) if not signed exclusively. This means you have a pretty straight path to getting whatever book into the world you want to. Before you take any project to your publisher, especially if it’s not a finished piece but you want a publishing date on the schedule, make sure you can meet your deadlines!!! There is a reason I put that in bold and underlined it with several exclamation points. Deadlines, turning in quality work, and your sanity, are all equally important, but when you bite off more than you can chew and your publisher is counting on you, guess which two of these things take a massive hit? Sanity and quality. It won’t be fun for you and it’ll be torture for your editor. *Another tip, never turn in a first draft. Edit it as best you can before sending it to your editor. Turning in a first draft is extremely unprofessional and rude.
I’ve seen authors who have found themselves in the position of a deadline staring them down and nothing to turn in. It’s not good. If you don’t think you can make a deadline, don’t even bring the project up. I keep Excel spread sheets with titles, publishing dates, the date my publisher needs me to send them in, AND then a separate sheet with the dates I want the books drafted and then edited and sent in by. I do this to double and triple check that when I have a new idea, I have room to make it happen before I take it to my publisher. This brings me to my next piece of advice.
- Keep your promises!
If I could make this point jump off the screen, I would. This is by far the most important one. In any business, your word and the ability of others to depend on you, including your readers, means everything. What happens when an author keeps pushing a deadline back on a book? If they’re self-published, readers get frustrated. If they have a publisher, the publisher may find them in breach of contract or they may think twice about working with them again, and also, readers get frustrated. Your readers are excited about your work and that excitement is the lifeblood of your sales. Yeah, sales aren’t the fun part to talk about, but they are what make it so you can keep doing what you love and eat. When you say you’ll be somewhere for an event (online or otherwise) be there. When you say you’ll have a project done by a certain time, do it. We all know life happens sometimes and things have to be canceled or shuffled when a catastrophe hits, but those don’t happen every day. Keep up with the daily promises.
- Value Who You Write For.
This point too is extremely important. Whether you’re to the point where you’re publishing your work yet or not, love and value the people you write for. Without readers, we writers can’t do what we do. Not to mention, our job wouldn’t be half as fun without them. Get to know the people who read your work and thank them. Treat them with common courtesy and respect as a fellow human being. This will flow over into your work and you’ll find yourself putting even more into your words because you want to put out a good product for people to enjoy. Bookworms read when they’re sad, scared, happy, or in any other head space you can think of. Or at least I do. Your words could have the power to touch their hearts and give another human the courage to give life one more shot when they’re in a dark place. Value who you write for as a fellow human being.
At the end of the day, all of these things have one thing in common, give your best; to your work, to your readers, and to yourself. To any future authors out there, I hope you don’t give up, and I look forward to seeing your books out in the world.
p.s. Want to find out more about the books I have for sale or the projects I have coming up? Visit http://www.authorjustinaluther.weebly.com