Wolf Majick Reviews is very happy to have a very insightful guest post by non other than Rivka Spicer.
They say that everyone has a story in them and I have no doubt that it's true. The first thing that everyone says to me when they learn that I'm an author is some variation of "I've always wanted to be a writer" or "I've got this story I want to write". Usually I try to encourage them, giving them tips and advice on writing discipline and directions to head in, but for the vast majority of them, it's futile.
Writing can be the most rewarding, amazing and life-changing experience. It's also really hard work. That's why most people never write the book that they've been dreaming of. If writing isn't your life, if you don't live and breathe with your characters and dream of doing it full time one day, chances are you won't make it. Writing takes discipline, creativity, boundless enthusiasm in the face of rejection and a skin thick enough to resemble well-tanned leather. It's not the easy path.
All that said, I'm still going to keep giving advice because I hope that one day my words will inspire someone who will go on to complete that book. I want to give a person who writes that step up in the world so that they, in turn, can pass on what they've learned. So here, for all future generations of writers, are my top five pieces of advice:
1. If you want to be a good writer, you must learn to read. I don't mean reading as in basic literacy, I mean reading as in understanding the structure of a book. You need to get your head around the concept of a character arc and the separate acts of a story (Intro/event - conflict - resolution). You need to spot the scenes that are superfluous to the story so that you don't make the mistake of filling your own novel with pointless words and dead end subplots. The absolute best way to learn this is by reading the work of others - start from the worst of the unedited rubbish out there and work your way up to the polished creme de la creme and see if you can spot the differences between them.
2. No-one is great at writing when they start out. My early books are absolutely cringeworthy. The few authors that write exquisitely on their first time out of the stable are an extreme rarity. You just have to persist. Keep writing and keep learning. Keep polishing. It's like most things in life - the more you do it, the better you get at it. As a subplot to this thread, I want to tell you not to be so hard on yourself. Every author that I know has a critical self-doubt issue, to the point that it's absolutely crippling to some of them. Whenever I upload a new book, I have to retreat into hiding with excessive amounts of chocolate and tea and hibernate until the first reviews come in and I know I haven't failed the world by producing something sub par. If you're struggling with your self-doubt, go back to something you wrote six months or a year ago. I guarantee you'll be surprised by it. Even if it's rubbish (as first drafts often are) every now and then there'll be a turn of phrase that's so exquisitely perfect it'll blow your mind that you were the one that wrote it. You are capable of astonishing beauty if you don't smother it with your self-criticism.
3. Write the story that grabs you by the heart and won't let go. Every now and then you'll get an idea that just won't stop running through your thoughts. It'll take on a life and magic all of its own, until you're spending most of your waking hours plotting it out. When you get one of those ideas, DROP EVERYTHING ELSE AND WRITE IT. I don't care if you're halfway through another novel, or you're editing, or it's not the next thing on your writing schedule; you need to write that book. The reasons are many. Writing is a long process. If an idea is speaking to you that loudly, chances are it's going to keep you engaged for the months it's going to take you to get it down on paper. There's no greater risk to the unfinished novel than boredom. When a book has that kind of magic, your readers will know. The books I got excited about and wrote in a frenzy are my best sellers, without fail. If it's engaging you, it'll engage them.
4. Don't expect to become a bestseller, or even to do particularly well. I haven't looked at the figures for a long time, but they estimate that for the world of self-publishing it takes an average two years to make it to the top of the game, with a minimum of 15-18 books under your belt, and that's only a handful of writers. Very, very few make it up there. Most people can expect to have middling sales and that's okay. If you want to have any kind of moderate success, you really have to work at it. Build your online platform, send out ARCs to blogs and sites for review, organise or attend conventions and launches, write press releases, put up posters, join your local writing groups...whatever you do, really work at it. A good marketing campaign can only go so far, though, and what I'm going to tell you next is probably the most important thing anyone will ever say to you in your career as an indie author.
5. THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR GOOD WRITING. You can have the best marketing campaign in the world and if the book isn't up to scratch, you'll still get nowhere. You might not crash out into the world in a blaze of stunning glory, but slow and steady will win the day. If your book is good, people will recommend it to their friends and it will spread exponentially. The last estimates I read showed that the single most important factor in the purchasing of a book was the recommendation of a trusted friend. I know you're all thinking of at least one book (possibly trilogy!) that are incredibly badly written that have gone stellar. The truth is that you can't account for an unusual phenomenon like that and neither can you rely on it. If you can find a surprisingly popular niche market and take it by storm, all power to you, but it's a risky game to play. When I say "good writing" I maybe don't mean what you think I do either. Yes, having gorgeous prose and deep characters is optimal, but the books that spread like wildfire are the ones that sock the reader in the chest with emotion. They're the books that are utterly absorbing, that made their readers laugh and cry and get so caught up they could forget about the world for a while. If a book can make you feel, REALLY feel, it's already halfway to you passing it on to someone else. I bundle editing in with the good writing category too - even if a book is emotionally involving, if it's littered with spelling mistakes, plot holes and continuity errors, it'll put people off. You need to spin the magic and then polish it before you send it out into the world.
In closing, I realise I've made writing sound like a grim career choice, but it's genuinely not. I just don't want you to make some half-hearted attempt and then wonder why it's not working. Writing is a commitment and some dreams are worth the elbow grease to chase. I live and breathe books - when I'm not writing or working, I've got my nose glued to my kindle or that pages of a book. If you can write a book and write it successfully, it'll be the most amazing thing you've ever done. You'll make so many wonderful new friends. There's nothing quite like the feeling you get when a total stranger sends you an email telling you that you've affected them profoundly. And maybe in three years time, you'll be where I am - handing out advice to people who are just starting on the way up. When you do, please think of me fondly!