Writing a book is a ridiculously niche concept that everyone thinks they know everything about. As soon as you even casually mention wanting to be a writer, it’s like everyone and their dog has advice for you, right? Then you’ve got to boil it down to logic and reason. How do you know who to listen to in the midst of an information overload?
That’s why, at least in my experience, I’ve had to tune in only to the advice that resonated with me. Sometimes, other pieces of advice may have ended up being totally valid and helpful. But if it caused me more stress than anything else, it got chucked out the window.
I’m not saying to ignore wisdom from those more experienced than you if you’re just starting out, but if I’ve learned anything from people that think they know everything – they usually don’t. Something my holistic doctor taught me that I love is that you don’t have to digest everything that people feed you. Even valid advice needs to be received at the right time for you. If it’s too soon, that’s valid too. The biggest piece of advice that I’ve found trumps any and all unwanted advice – is that your vision rules. If you have an idea, you owe it to yourself to chase it however and whatever way you want to.
That’s why for this week’s article, I’m sharing five pieces of advice I didn’t take. But you know what? I learned and grew so much in that process, and wouldn’t change it even if I could. I’ve never been so glad that I broke the rules, because they broke me out of the limitations that would’ve held me back. You develop your own voice by writing things that matter to you, in the way you want to say them.
1. Don’t publish your first book about that guy because he’ll find out.
There’s a long story to this one, but I’ll save you the headache. Long story short, teenage me fell head first for this stereotypical long-haired guitarist I met in band camp, so college me wrote a whole novel about it. It’s not formatted perfectly and looking back, I definitely could’ve fleshed out the characters more. But you know what? It’s got a lot of heart and honesty. It’s also cheesy as heck, but I laugh at it now, and love that it shows how far my writing has come. And hey, some people have mentioned they really enjoyed it! That just proves that things don’t have to be executed perfectly to still be really good.
As far as the guy, he may have figured it out by now. But the thing is, I really don’t care anyway. It’s a good laugh, and when I hit the big time someday, it’s just the kind of juicy thing I’d tell some talk show host. The moral of the story? Write about anything and everything that matters to you. Who cares what people think! If it matters to you, your writing will matter to your readers too.
If you’re curious and want to check out the book I’ve mentioned, you can find it HERE.
2. Don’t settle for anything less than perfect stock image cover art.
Okay yes – book covers matter. But I’d argue that the metric is way off. I’d say that the author has to resonate with the book cover. When I have my art made, I always think about what would cause me to stop and pick up the book. So that’s the driving force behind my designs – what I like, not what I think people want to see. In my opinion, cliché stock image-clad books are boring as heck. So I typically opt for a cool symbol or drawing that sits at the crux of my plot. The best covers, I think, act as a subtle nod to something you don’t figure out until halfway through the book. I’ve had various human hands, aquatic tails, and the ultimate power-move of the decade – my own face – on my covers.
And oddly enough, I’ve still had so many compliments on my cover art at book signings and expos. People actually like raw ingenuity – so don’t let yours get stifled by what you thought you should be doing!
3. Unless you hire a professional editor, you’re wasting your time.
When you think about it, all editing really entails is reading with a keen eye. Like anything, it’s a muscle that can be strengthened in practice. Granted, I myself started editing my own work because I started doing that professionally anyway, but honestly, if you just need straight copyediting, that is totally doable. I hope I’m not putting myself out of work by saying that, but I think a lot of potential authors get scared away from trying once they hear about all the expenses. You don’t have to pay for things for them to still be really great! Even traditionally published books have typos in them, I promise. That’s because even the big publishers are only human, after all! Don’t let thinly veiled delusions of prestige scare you away from writing. I’ve read mainstream books that paled in comparison to the quality of indie books.
At the end of the day, good writing shines above all else. And that doesn’t require shelling out hundreds of dollars. The only caveat I would say is that if you know you personally struggle with proofreading or plot development and really need input, hiring an editor can make a world of difference. But if you’re like me and have that natural talent or drive already, I think it’s a safe bet you can go it alone.
4. Go big or go home.
This is a vague one, but what I mean by it is that sometimes looking around at other authors makes you feel small. When you see someone in a similar genre absolutely killing the game, you wonder if you’re not doing enough. I feel like this daily, actually. Despite having finally hit 1k followers on Instagram, I feel like I’m slacking in my writing. Of course, I rationally know that’s not true, but imposter syndrome is real.
Something I’ve learned in the course of being an author, is that putting your effort into something small but effective for you is more profitable than spreading yourself too thin. Seems logical, but far too many people forget this. Like being an expert at one thing rather than a jack-of-all-trades but master of none, this applies to marketing as well. If you have a passion for social media, pour yourself into platforms relevant to your audience. But if email or blogging is more your thing, make those your focus. In time, you may even be able to streamline your approach and do more. Starting small, with manageable chunks, is key.
5. For a better chance at breaking into the writing market, track what sells and write that.
Heck to the no. We are not automatons – creatives must always write what they know and love. There’s just no getting around that. Network all you can, learn from other authors, and read books in your genre that fuel your creativity. But under no circumstances should you sell out just because something is popular. Readers want stories with heart that sing a song they recognize. Tap into your human experience, making your characters well rounded and deep. That will come through louder and clearer than a story you wrote because you felt like it was the only thing that would sell. To help you feel motivated to chase your goals relentlessly, read my latest New Year’s resolutions HERE.
Always listen to your gut, because it will never scare you wrong. When you do that, you unlock all the potential that was already inside you, before the deluge of unsolicited advice poured in.