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

By May 28, 2012Comms

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 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,, and iBooks. Don’t even bother checking it.

6.) Your sales rank is critical – 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 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.

Author Myke Cole

Myke Cole is an American writer of history and fantasy who leverages a lifetime in military, law enforcement and intelligence service to take you to battlefields, real and imagined.

More posts by Myke Cole

Join the discussion 34 Comments

  • Seamus Bayne says:

    Write, write, write.  Then write.  

  • Seamus Bayne says:

    Write, write, write.  Then write.  

  • Nick Mamatas says:

    You’re half-right.

  • Cegannon2 says:

    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.

  • Anne Lyle says:

    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…

  • Paul Weimer says:


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

  • Jeroen Clemens says:

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

  • Laura Hughes says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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…

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

  • Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I think I want to hug you. Great post.

  • says:

    Great advice, thanks for sharing

  • Kenny Chaffin says:

    Love it and so damn true!

  • Oh, you cruel bastard.  Thank you.

  • Lpstribling says:

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

  • 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.

  • Elisa Nuckle says:

    This is great. 😀

  • NonnieAugustine says:

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

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