I just finished up an interview with the folks at Dead Robots Society for an upcoming episode of their podcast. It was a great discussion, and it really got me thinking.
There are a lot of aspiring writers who focus on the wrong angles in their efforts to go pro. When I was coming up, I was easily distracted by the need to network and market myself. I joined webrings, I had a blog, I went to cons and put a lot of effort into schmoozing.
You know what I didn’t put enough effort into? Writing.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. In this business, craft is king. You can be a great person, you can be gorgeous. You can be bestest buddies with every industry pro in the business. You can have an inspiring personal story. If you don’t write a manuscript that a publisher thinks is going to blow the doors off, guess what kind of a book deal you’re going to get?
If you guessed “the kind where you don’t get one,” you’re right.
The latest distraction is social media. I’ve actually heard panelists at cons say that publishers look to see what kind of a social media presence writers have before buying their manuscripts. I *highly* doubt that this is true (I know it wasn’t for my deal), but even if it is, it’s wrong headed.
Example: I have 673 Facebook friends and 251 Twitter followers. Now, let’s be generous and say that I had twice as many, for 1,848 people. Now, let’s say that by some miracle, every single one of those people went out and bought a copy of my book. And then let’s say that by an even greater miracle, they each told a friend and that friend also bought a copy. I’d have sold *less* than 4,000 copies. It’s a nice number to be sure, but is it a living? Is it enough to convince my publisher to go on buying manuscripts from me in the future?
I’ll give you 3 guesses.
“But what about writers who have over a million followers, like Neil Gaiman?” Some of you may ask. I’d answer that with a question of my own: “How do you think he *got* all those followers?”
By writing amazing books. Fame can become a self-licking ice cream cone as popularity feeds on itself, but at its root, attention is a reward for quality.
Social media has a role, of course. So do interviews, book signings, con appearances and everything else you do to promote your work.
But in the end, only *one* thing is going to make you a success. You have to write a DYNAMITE story. You have to have compelling characters. You have to have a gripping plot. Your prose has to be evocative. Your concept has to be original.
There’s no end run around it. If writing is something you want to do for a living, then you have to be *good*.
And you get good by working. So get to it.