Friday, September 3, 2010

How to Survive

So Deathday has been out now for a couple of months.  Now when I tell people I'm a writer and they ask where they can get my book, I can tell them.  I've now been in the publishing business for almost two years.  And I've been thinking a lot about what I've learned.  So if you're an aspiring author or you've got a book coming out soon, maybe something here will be useful to you.

1.  Start a diet and exercise regimen now.  I'm just going to say it:  writing/editing/revising/stressing about Deathday made me a fat ass.  I put on fifty pounds after signing with my agent.  I got all caught up in the craziness of revisions and copy edits and I began stress eating in-between every call with my agent and/or editor.  I'm back down to 170lbs thank goodness but it's a daily struggle to keep it off.  The biggest impact was on my author photo.  Luckily it's not in my book, but it's on my publisher's website and I'm pretty embarrassed to see my fat face staring back at me.  Trust me when I say that your revisions/copy edits/next book will be waiting for you after you've gotten back from your run.  And trust me, the chocolate eclairs can't solve the issues with Chapter 7.

2.  Make yourself a budget...then stick to it.  There are going to be so many things that fly at you all the time.  Conferences, websites, bookmarks, marketing, that you need to decide where you're going to spend your money and how you're going to spend it.  My best marketing push was the free one.  Goodreads giveaways are free except for the cost of the book and postage, and they reach a lot of eyeballs.  Bookmarks are also great.  $90 in bookmarks is the best money I ever spent.

3.  If you're into social media, that's cool.  If not, don't do it.  I blog because I like it, not because I want to sell books.  I've been blogging since the early 2000's on various sites.  I started this one when I began to take writing seriously again.  Personally, I think I'm a sucky blogger.  I tend to ramble more than write.  But I still enjoy doing it, so I do.  Same with Twitter.  It's a fast, easy way for me to connect with people, and I like that.  But nothing drives me crazier than people whose sole purpose on blogger/twitter/facebook is to sell you stuff.

4.  Websites are easy to make, easier to screw up.  Listen, I'm not a fancy website designer, but I've been building websites long enough that I was able to design a nice, professional looking site that pimped my book for people who were interested.  So here's the rule:  you need to have a website, you don't need to spend a ton of dough, but it does need to look like your second-grade class didn't design it.

5.  Reviews:  don't read 'em.  Good, bad, in-between.  Just don't.  I mean, I know you're going to, but if I can save you the pain now, just don't.  Listen, the good ones are amazing but the bad ones will cut you to the bone.  And I believe it's a mathematical truth that the worse a review is, the longer it will haunt you.  But here's the thing:  they don't matter.  I recently got two reviews on Goodreads (see, even I can't follow this piece of advice).  One person absolutely LOVED Deathday.  The other absolutely DESPISED it.  Which one do you think I'm still thinking about?  But it goes to show you that two people can read the same book and have majorly different reactions to it.

6.  Prepare a one sentence breakdown of your book.  Then memorize it.  That way when everyone and your mother asks you, "So, what's your book about?" you'll be able to tell them without having to dig around in your pockets for a description.

7.  You haven't hit the big time.  Trust me on this.  Selling one book is great.  Selling multiple books is better.  But eventually, amidst all the hustle and bustle of revisions/copy edits/marketing you'll still have to put your butt in the chair and write more.

8.  Don't quit your day job.  I know that I've said this before and that I'm not the first person to say it, but having a day job has saved my sanity over the last two years.  Even though I hate working with computers, I work for nice people, at a nice company, and having one place I can go to and NOT think about writing is strangely cathartic.  Writing makes me appreciate my day job more and my day job makes me appreciate writing.  Plus, it pays the bills.

9.  Do one awesome thing with your advance.  Then save the rest.  The bigger the advance, the bigger the awesome thing.  See, I made the mistake of taking my advance and using it to pay living expenses.  And that was great.  But then this year came along and I didn't have that extra income.  So, while my cost of living is the same, my actual income is lower.  So this year has been something of a struggle for me as I juggle finances without that extra income.  Obviously, since I followed rule 8, I'm not in any kind of dire straights, but my discretionary income has been slashed, which means I spend a lot of nights in watching TV.

10.  You need at least TWO beta readers:  one to tell you you're awesome and one to tell you you suck sweaty balls.  Sure, it's great to have more but two should be the minimum, and at least one of those readers should be capable of being honest with you about the state of your book.  I always trust my best friend Rach to be honest with me.  She's the person who can say to me, "Whoa! That would never happen." Or tell me when I've taken a joke too far.  My agent and editors can do those things too, but Rach knows my mind and has saved me from myself more than once.

11.  Cheer on your fellow authors and then ignore everything else about their journey.  Here's the thing:  Whatever year you're published in, there are going to be a bunch of other debut authors doing the same things you are, not to mention the non-debut authors.  There are a million different ways you can compare yourself to them.  They got more press, they got a better cover, they got picked up by the major bookstores, they got nominated for awards, they have better Amazon rankings, they got more press, and on and on and on.  You'll go crazy if you compare yourself to them.  So here's what you need to remember:  They worked just as hard as you did.  They deserve everything they have coming to them.  Cheer for them, congratulate them, and then move along.  Because if you sit around wondering why they got something and you didn't, you'll ruin your own journey.  Readers are fickle.  Sometimes there's just no rhyme or reason why one book becomes successful and another doesn't.  You can't change it, so just go with it.

12.  It's out of your hands.  Seriously.  This is the biggest thing I've learned and how I've learned to survive.  Write the best damn book you can.  Pour your heart and soul into it.  Employ every single writerly trick you've ever learned into it.  Kill your darlings, slash and burn the adverbs, make your prose so tight that not a single word is wasted.  Then turn it in and let it go.  Your agent may love it, your editor may hate it, it might sell at auction or never find a home at all.  Readers could bash it, it might win a Printz.  Those things are simply beyond your control.  If you're going to survive, you have to accept that.

13.  Your agent's time is valuable.  Try not to waste it.  Get a firm grip on your expectations.  If you turn in a manuscript to your agent and he says he'll try to get to it in a couple of weeks, understand that he's probably as poor as you are and has a million things to do.  Don't start badgering him after a day or two.

14.  Your editor probably likes cupcakes.  Crumbs is a great bakery in NYC that delivers.

If I'm being honest, this writing thing is way different than I expected.  It's both easier and harder, more boring and more exciting.  It's not the path to riches, yet I feel richer than ever.  The people who say publishing is dead obviously haven't heard about a little book called MOCKINGJAY which sold 450k copies in its first week.  This is a great business to be in but it's tough and you have to be ready.  It's heartbreaking and awesome and sloooooooow.  But I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.


  1. Great post! I'm a long way from needing this advice so I've bookmarked it for later.

  2. Thanks, Shaun (& Shannon for linking to the post on Twitter). I'm sending it to all my writer friends. And yes, I've noticed that the chocolate dish in my kitchen has been getting refilled more and more often these days. Maybe that thing needs to go. :)

  3. Brilliant post! A good one to read when I head out on sub next week--thanks!

  4. Great advice! Thanks for sharing your experience.


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