Thursday, July 11, 2013

"How to be successful as an author" and why I want you to shut the hell up.

Kat Heckenbach recently posted a pretty "common sense" blog post I felt like mentioning here because it's completely true.

Do any kind of search online for writing and marketing tips, and you will find about fourteen gazillion articles on blogs touting advice on how to be successful as an author.

Most of them say essentially the same things:

Learn and hone thy craft.
Get critique.
Start thyself a blog.
Join Facebook, Twitter, and/or other social media. Promote thyself there, but don't be obnoxious about it.
Get thee an Amazon author page and establish thyself on Goodreads.

Y'know, while it may be good advice, it isn't. Not when there's such an abundance of "authors" all struggling for the same recognition. Sure, there's different demographics (the day I write a romance novel is the day I tattoo "I <3 TWILIGHT" on my scrotum in hot pink right before I commit seppuku) but in the end, there's only so many people who enjoy reading. Let's go down this list and point out the flaws.

  • Learn and hone thy craft.
    There's only so much you can learn about writing. If your sentence structure is well-written, you don't have to spell-check every third word, you know how to use proper punctuation and you're familiar enough with the language you're writing in, there isn't a whole lot to learn aside from "how to tell a better story."
  • Get critique.
    This is easier said than done. As I said above, there's only so many people who enjoy reading and trying to find people who are interested in your work and trying to find those people is a feat in and of itself (especially when you're competing with larger, more popular authors who have established themselves as proven entertainers in the literary field).
  • Edit-edit-edit.
    Editing your own work. This is a point of contention I've got with a lot of other authors. People will constantly say "You need to edit what you've written and make it better." Sure, that's a great idea but there's plenty of authors who have been sitting on a finished piece of work for quite a while, and they literally don't see how else they can improve upon it. Without the ever-elusive critiques (see point two, above), this can be considered a brick wall; running into it over and over and over isn't going to accomplish anything.
  • Start thyself a blog.
    Hi! Welcome to my blog! On top of this, I've got the Unda Vosari wiki that I use for updates (and free stories). So far, I don't see this helping a whole lot.
  • Join Facebook, Twitter, and/or other social media.
    I've got a couple of Facebook pages going on and a TVTropes page as well. Still not interested in diving into the Twitterverse quite yet... (Update: See sidebar. Twitter.)
  • Get thee an Amazon author page and establish thyself on Goodreads.
    Got the Goodreads page going on but am wary about Amazon Author Pages because they rather enjoy "exclusive rights" to things... I'll go on about that later.
In short, doing all of these things is the same thing everyone else is doing, so what's supposed to make you stand out as an author?

Good question, and I believe the answer is originality. For every Harry Potter, Twilight or Hunger Games "tribute" that's out there, there are an overwhelming number of stories that are truly original works. For every character that's nothing but a blatant ripoff of something that's already out there that's been done before (and to death, I might add), there's a herd of original characters with a personality and history that's never been seen by the world. For every knock-off of a popular story, there's something worth reading.

A good friend of mine, Andrew, has written at least a hundred thousand words (if not plenty more) for Last Mage (and I've read a good bit of book one, and as someone who isn't a huge fan of modern fantasy, I've got to admit, it's not only a damn good read, it's a truly original fantastic story that deserves to be published). I, personally, have written close to a million words worth of fiction, information and notes on Unda Vosari alone (not to mention things completely unrelated to Unda Vosari). I can point out another half-dozen would be authors on Facebook that I personally know that have written a substantial amount (if not professionally, for their own enjoyment of the craft).

Sadly, I don't think most of those will never get read, and I don't think it's much to do with the works themselves. I think a good portion of it is what society's done to itself. We've become attached to "shiny special effects" ('lo, Hollywood!) and "amazing computer graphics" (I'm lookin' right at you, first-person shooter developers). The world has let itself become lazy, wanting nothing more to be spoon-fed this month's ration of pap and stupidity. Frankly, the half-dozen unmentioned authors up there may as well take everything they've written and change it just enough to be compared to Harry Potter, Twilight or Hunger Games - people would buy it.

I don't want to do that. I want those authors to be able to tell original tales and stand out based on those merits. I want those authors to be successful not because they were carbon copies of something that's already been milked to death but because they had thoughtful, exciting stories that they came up with by themselves.

Then someone sends me some lists of "tributes" for popular works that are just going to push the original, good stories out of the way.

Nothing on the list of things to do "to be successful as an author" can fix that.

1 comment:

  1. Good post, Brad. And thanks for the shout-out!

    I agree especially with the comments about over-editing and running into a brick wall. I know authors who get stuck in this perpetual cycle of editing and never actually submit anything or move on to other projects. At some point, you have to just say, "This is as good as I can get it," and move on. (And you can't please every critter you have either.)

    BTW--I'm on Twitter, but I hate it.

    And blogs, imho, tend to be more for the people who've already found you through some other means.

    And I know Amazon can get greedy with their exclusivity thing, but the author page just gives readers a place to go right there on Amazon to see what other works you have. I love that my novels and every anthology I'm in are all listed there, and I'm able to stream my blog through the page, too.

    Anyway, I think indie authors each find their own way to success, when they can find it at all, and there's no magic "list" to follow. (Big, trad-pubbed authors are a different story, of course, because they have a Big Marketing Budget behind them.)