The 18 rules I learned in my 1st year as a full time writer


I’ve decided I’m not going to do con roundup posts any­more. Unless some­thing par­tic­u­larly spec­tac­ular hap­pened (in this case — a.) Get­ting to be a guest on Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing pod­cast, live and b.) Having Dave Robison demo a board game pro­to­type he devel­oped based on my SHADOW OPS series), you can assume that I spoke on panels, hung out at the bar, and played games with people so awe­some that they feel like family. This was most cer­tainly the case with Balticon (AKA Blaticon), at which a good time was had, and to which I am looking for­ward to returning next year.

Instead, I want to talk about the rules of writing that I have learned in my first year as a full-timer. I have heard all of the below at one time or another from major pro­fes­sionals in the field (unde­ni­ably suc­cessful authors, edi­tors and agents). As you will no doubt ascer­tain, they are hard and fast rules, utterly fixed and unbending. I dis­pense this wisdom to you, oh ven­er­able reader, free of charge. You’re welcome.

WARNING: The level of emphasis and spe­cific word choice may have been … ahem … mod­i­fied from when I actu­ally received the advice.


1.) You MUST write quickly — The old model of one-book-a-year is dead. The New York Times itself has handed down the wisdom. Audi­ences are con­suming books at a vora­cious rate, and to win their loy­alty, you have to get as many books as you can out there, as quickly as you can. Fans have little patience for down­time between novels, and they will lose interest in your if you don’t feed the beast and feed it constantly.

2.) You MUST write slowly — Craft is king and quality is the most impor­tant thing in novel writing. A book that’s dashed off your com­puter and hur­ried to market will suck and fall flat on its face. The biggest, most suc­cessful writers out there have all had long waits in between novels, while they per­fected and per­fected and made DAMN sure that the fin­ished product was the best thing they could pos­sibly pro­duce (George R. R. Martin, anyone?) Sure, fans com­plained about the wait, but they still turned out in droves to buy the books when they were finally published.

3.) You MUST write for the market — Pub­lishers are con­stantly fol­lowing and buying to market trends. Even when you dis­count pub­lishers, the fans are doing the same. Erotic romance, sparkly vam­pires, urban fan­tasy police pro­ce­du­rals. Nobody reads utopian sci­ence fic­tion sto­ries about big metal space ships any­more. You could write the best one ever and it will hap­pily sit on your hard drive, gath­ering vir­tual dust.

4.) You MUST write what you love — Forget writing to market. By the time your book hits shelves (if there are any left), the trend will have passed, or have been mined so thor­oughly that there’ll be no ore left in the vein. If you don’t have pas­sion for your topic, people will be able to tell and your book will fall flat. In love with 50’s-style utopian sci­ence fic­tion sto­ries about big metal space­ships? Write it. If it’s good enough, it’ll find an audi­ence. Don’t follow trends, set them.

5.) Your amazon​.com sales rank doesn’t matter — Nobody knows how the heck that algo­rithm works. Amazon sure as hell isn’t telling. Selling one book can take you from 200k to 5k overnight. You could sell 10 books and plummet to 500k just because a new author hap­pened to be released that week and is selling like hot­cakes. Amazon is losing market share steadily and your sales rank doesn’t show all the books that are flying off the shelves at brick & mortar stores, bn​.com, and iBooks. Don’t even bother checking it.

6.) Your amazon​.com sales rank is crit­ical — Amazon​.com still holds the lion’s share of book sales. Most people are buying their books through amazon, and your sales rank is the best real time indi­cator of how the novel is doing. Sure, books are selling in other venues, but once your amazon sales rank drops below 30,000, it’s a reli­able indi­cator that the book is done, and bar­ring some kind of major surge in interest, is fast headed for the domain of long-tail prayers and eBook-only-reverted-rights-self-publishing-desperation.

7.) You MUST self-publish — Pub­lishers are clue­less, scle­rotic shys­ters who rip off authors and parade around their offices in tweed jackets with patched-elbows while tossing around money they’ve earned off the backs of hard working ink slingers. They are vicious gate­keepers who rou­tinely pass on bril­liant lit­er­a­ture. They are doomed. You don’t need them. If you self-publish, you only need to sell a tiny frac­tion of what you’d need to sell with a big-six deal, and you’ll get rich overnight because you get to keep ALL THE MONEY. AMANDA HOCKING OH MY GOD AMANDA HOCKING DID I MENTION AMANDA HOCKING!?!?!?!

8.) You MUST NOT self-publish -  For every Amanda Hocking, there are 27 hojil­lion people whose direct to Kindle novels don’t sell a single copy. It won’t happen to you. You need a pro­fes­sional editor, cover artist, proof reader, copy­ed­itor, layout and design expert, and you need 20 years expe­ri­ence man­aging and directing them all. And the good ones are too expen­sive for you to afford. Tra­di­tional pub­lishing has cachet. It has clout (klout?) that will get you reviewed in the right forums, engaged to speak on the right panels, adver­tised in the right places. If a big-six pub­lisher won’t pick up your work, it’s prob­ably not ready for prime time.

9.) Don’t be a dick — Online presence/persona and fan inter­ac­tion is key. If you’re a whiner, or com­bative, or throw around divi­sive political/religious/cultural opin­ions, you’ll alienate your read­er­ship. You’ll become a pariah. Your books won’t sell. You’ll be ruined for all time.

10.) Be a dick — Any pub­licity is good pub­licity. Being a jerk gets you atten­tion. Atten­tion sells books. Make noise, make it often, make it any­where and anyway you can.

11.) Tra­di­tional pub­lishing is doomed — The clue­less gate­keepers of the big-six are about to have their lunch eaten. They can’t change with the times. They pay too much in Man­hattan office rent. The DoJ suit will destroy them. They don’t get it. We don’t need them. Amazon’s pricing schemes will ensure their extinc­tion. They will be crushed under a giant meteor that will mirac­u­lously target only the most pre­ten­tious office blocks of New York City.

12.) Pub­lishing is here to stay, and entering an exciting new era — Pub­lishers have seen the writing on the wall and are adapting at break­neck speed. Look at tor​.com! Suvudu​.com! Tor has dropped that pesky DRM and all the others will soon follow suit. There’s no real evi­dence of col­lu­sion and while beating the DoJ is hard, it’s *pos­sible*. People still need cura­tors to ensure the that one hun­dred bil­lion mouth-breathers swamping the Kindle store don’t make it impos­sible for readers to find great books. The big six are so mas­sive, and so rich, they can sur­vive any­thing. Pub­lishing isn’t dying, it’s *changing*, and it’s changing into some­thing newer, more exciting and better than ever before.

13.) Cons are really impor­tant — You have to con­nect with your fans, not just online, but in person. Being funny and inter­esting on panels sells books. Most books sell by word of mouth. If you show the fan com­mu­nity that you’re a cool person who is approach­able and easy to get along with, you’ll go far.

14.) Cons are stupid — Dude. Who the hell are all these people dressed like french maids with googles and furry ears and tails? They’re FREAKS. They’re CRAZY. They sure as hell don’t have any money, and if they do, they’re spending it on a replica Bat’Leth from the dealer’s room and not on your book. Between hotel, food and mem­ber­ship, cons cost a for­tune. Do you have any idea how many books you’d have to sell to cover the cost? So many super suc­cessful writers are recluses. You can be too. You SHOULD be too.

15.) Social media is REALLY impor­tant — Con­necting with your fans and being acces­sible is crit­ical, and social media is the way to make that happen. Twitter is a game changer. If you’re funny and inter­esting on social media, you don’t even have to write a book. You can just repeat the word “seagull” over and over again on roll of toilet paper and people will come out in droves to give you money for it. Start a blog! START TEN BLOGS.

16.) Social media is not impor­tant — George R. R. Martin has a twitter account. From which he has yet to issue a single tweet. Net­working is not working. You should be writing and focussing on craft. Your 3,000 fol­lowers are all spam­bots. They only follow you because you follow back. They laugh and retweet and sup­port you and DON’T BUY ANY OF YOUR BOOKS. All that time you spend blog­ging? You could be spending it writing prose for WHICH YOU WILL ACTUALLY BE PAID.

17.) This is the WORST pos­sible time to be a writer — Pub­lishing is dying. Brick & mortar book­stores are dying. With better video games, movies and TV, nobody reads. Roy­al­ties are advances are the lowest they’ve ever been. With everyone and their dog self-publishing, the signal:noise ratio is impos­sible to push through. Like writing? That’s nice. You can do it in your copious spare time when you’re off work from your 14-hour-a-day IT job that ACTUALLY PAYS THE BILLS. GO AHEAD. NEGLECT YOUR FAMILY.

18.) This is the BEST pos­sible time to be a writer — You have more ways to reach a wider audi­ence and keep more of your profits than ever before. You’re in more con­trol over your writing career than ever before. The walls are coming down. The gate­keepers are being swept aside. A bright and fab­u­lous future awaits you, in which you will spend your retire­ment swim­ming in the money flowing in from your self-published eBook back­list while resting your feet on the back of the big-six pub­lisher who rejected the book in the first place, and now works as your footrest because he’s out of a job.

So, as you can see, clear, forth­right and iron­clad. Want writing suc­cess? There’s no need to be uncer­tain or to worry that you’re doing it wrong. Just follow these simple steps to fame and fortune.

Or, you could cut your­self a break and do what feels right.

Up to you.

  • Seamus Bayne

    Write, write, write.  Then write.  

  • Seamus Bayne

    Write, write, write.  Then write.  

    • http://francisknightbooks.co.uk/ Francis Knight

       Bwa­ha­haha. Oh yes, heard all those given as fact. But as with every­thing writerly, what works for one won’t work for another.

      Nice post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=622335384 Nick Mamatas

    You’re half-right.

  • Cegannon2

    Listen to all the advice, then follow your own gut and informed instincts. Because your spe­cific nature is part of your answer for giving ypur­self the best pos­sible chance for suc­cess. The problem is when advice that should be cpn­tex­tu­al­ized as “Good,bad, indifferent…here’s what worked for me” become defin­i­tive suc­cess mantras “here’s what works; do it.”

    This may be more true for artists than anyone else. Part of why we sell is the appeal of our dis­tinc­tive voice(s). HOw do we keep that unique if we become slav­ishly com­mited to any external schema? Answer: you don’t. Solicit all the know how and adviceyou can…then listen to that dif­ferent drummer inside.

  • http://twitter.com/AnneLyle Anne Lyle

    Awe­some! I too have seen all those opin­ions in the past year, to the point where I weary of them (espe­cially the self-pub vs Big Six arguments). 

    I par­tic­u­larly like 5/6 on your list — my Amazon rank­ings are up and down like the Assyrian Empire, but Bookscan fig­ures sug­gest that bricks’n’mortar sales are pretty solid. I find it amusing that Amazon them­selves are let­ting me know they are by no means the major outlet for my books…

  • http://twitter.com/PrinceJvstin Paul Weimer


    Making a syn­thesis out of all this–there’s the rub and there’s the trick. :)

  • Jeroen Clemens

    can you use another font, please. Hard to read on screen

  • Laura Hughes

    Thanks for putting it all in per­spec­tive. Some days I tear my hair and gnash my teeth trying to figure out what to believe about writing and pub­lishing.  This made me smile.

  • Shack

    The reality is in the middle. Quality always wins but, unless you are GRRM, you need to get product out there so people don’t forget you (but it better not suck). Write what you love but hope that it’s right for the market (no ones going to buy that Joey the Uni­corn rom-com epic fan­tasy). Don’t be a dick but have some­thing to say that gets attention…

  • Shack

    The reality is in the middle. Quality always wins but, unless you are GRRM, you need to get product out there so people don’t forget you (but it better not suck). Write what you love but hope that it’s right for the market (no ones going to buy that Joey the Uni­corn rom-com epic fan­tasy). Don’t be a dick but have some­thing to say that gets attention…

  • http://www.chevenga.com/ Karen Wehrstein

    I enjoyed this.  It was pre­cise… yet vague.  Defin­i­tive… yet inde­ter­mi­nate.  Serious… yet hilar­ious.   Sur­prising… yet expected.  Omi­nous… yet reas­suring.  Black… yet white.….….

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  • Jeff Van­der­Meer

    I think I want to hug you. Great post.

  • http://twitter.com/upcoming4me upcom​ing4​.me

    Great advice, thanks for sharing

  • Kenny Chaffin

    Love it and so damn true!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Lyle-Jordan/100001250873003 Steven Lyle Jordan

    Oh, you cruel bas­tard.  Thank you.

  • Lpstri­b­ling

    Myke — Hilar­ious. 9 and 10 are my favorite. I love that you posted this. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexvdl Alex Von Der Linden

    I can see like to ride a thin line between 9 and 10… 😉

    But, I thor­oughly enjoyed your panel appear­ances, and the ten min­utes I got to talk to you in the hall before you ran off for your game demo.

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  • http://twitter.com/elisanuckle Elisa Nuckle

    This is great. 😀

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  • Non­nieAu­gus­tine

    I feel illu­mi­nated. I love it when that hap­pens. Thanks

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