Daniel Arenson has summarized in just a few sentences what I think is the essence of becoming a professional writer. This is the most condensed and helpful advice on writing I’ve read.
First of all, I wouldn’t rush into publishing. If you’re a new writer, take time to improve your craft. Write short stories. Read books about storytelling. Study how characters and plots work. Write novel drafts and toss them out and start again. Workshop your stories. Before you step onto that stage, practice. Get good.
When you’re ready, put your marketing hat on. Find what genre and sub-genre your work best fits into. Read popular novels in that genre and understand why readers love them. Write for that audience. Pay somebody to edit your manuscript. Get a cover and blurb that’s on par with what’s selling. If you can choose a clearly defined genre, get a professional cover, craft a catchy blurb, and write an addicting story, you’re already ahead of most writers. You will sell.
Sometimes young writers ask me about writing for a living. My answer is to never count on writing full time. I would guess that 99% of writers don’t make enough money to quit their day jobs. So don’t sacrifice your education or job just yet. But if you write well, work hard, and know how to market, you stand an excellent chance of sharing your work with many readers.
I can definitely say that I have followed his recommendation regarding writing drafts and tossing them out to start again.
My takeaway as an author is this: be very deliberate with your writing.
The cover of a book can help distill the spirit of the story it illustrates and be an inspiration for the writing. As I start to write a new series of stories I can’t help to also start thinking about the cover art for the books.
The Selection Criteria
I went through hundreds of books published the last 30 days. Lots of ladies in sexy poses and headless hunks, let me tell you. I focused on fiction only (genre fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, etc). My personal preference is for clear, direct and minimal covers.
Above it all, this is the criteria of an effective cover:
- Must have readable type and be scannable.
- Must work as a small thumbnail.
- Must build trust about the quality of the work
- Must clearly communicate the genre and style of the book (eg. horror, sci-fi, comedy, ya, etc).
In other words, an effective cover must entice a potential reader to take action (eg: grab it up from the shelf or click preview on an online store).
Here it is the selection of most effective book covers for this month of July 2016. Did I forget any notable book cover? Let me know in the comments section below.
July Favorite List
1. A World Without You
Author: Beth Revis
Cover art: Unknown
2. Dancing with the Tiger
Author: Lili Wright
Cover art: Aitch
3. Dr. Knox
Author: Peter Spiegelman
Cover design: Oliver Munday
4. How to Set a Fire and Why: A Novel
Author: Jesse Ball
Jacket design: Kelly Blair
5. Miss Jane
Author: Brad Watson
Book design: Chris Welch Design
6. Shiny Broken Pieces
Author: Sona Charaipotra, Dhonielle Clayton
Cover Art: Sean Freeman
7. The Muse by Jessie Burton
Author: Jessie Burton
Cover design: Unknown
8. The Wolf Road
Author: Beth Lewis
Frontispiece image: Aleksander Bolbot/Shutterstock
Cover design: Jake Nicolella
Cover photograph: (trees) Gallinago_media/Shutterstock
9. This Savage Song
Author: Victoria Schwab
Jacket design: Jenna Stempel
10. Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes
Cover art: Unknown
I tried to credit all the artist when possible. Cover art owned by their respective copyright holders. Can think of any other book cover I should have included? Let me know.
Last month I finished writing 35K words of my first novel and I made the decision of starting all over again. I’m not just rewriting the story, I’m reconsidering the basic plot structure and genre.
A better plot
The decision to reconsider the basic plot of the story came after reading the book Save the Cat. This is an extraordinary book on screenwriting. It brought home the point that a story without a solid logline is not worth telling. If your premise is not strong enough, your plot will not be powerful enough to drive the audience along.
Looking back over my story I realized that as strong as I thought the premise was, it lacked a punch (or two). In other words, it lacked a sense of irony and anticipation.
A better genre choice
The decision to reconsider the genre of the story came after reading Write to Market. This is a great book by Chris Fox on writing to a specific (existing) audience. A story that intends to capture the audited attention needs to be written with the audience’s expectations in mind. Sounds simple, but few people actually follow this approach.
In my case, I knew my genre choice was not focused and could be better defined.
Learnings from a first draft
Do I think that writing my manuscript was a waste? I don’t. I wrote 35k words and I see that as training. The benefit of writing is not just the published work, but also the writing practice in itself.
In my first draft I learnt:
- Sometimes I’m most productive when I don’t think about writing and simply force myself to write.
- A habit is a writer’s best friend.
- The style of writing that feels more natural and enjoyable, is to plan a plot and write it in short sprints (here’s where my software engineering background comes up).
- A distracted mind is a difficult beast to tame.
- There is a lot to learn about writing. The more I learn the more I know I have to learn. There more I know the more I know I don’t know.
- My preferred techniques for writing are those closer to screenwriting. In screenwriting story trumps style and keeping the audience engaged is paramount.
I now have an initial wordcount. I wrote 35k in 111 days (69 active writing days). This is equal to 315 words per day (or 500 words per active day). A modest figure, I know, but that’s what beginnings look like.
What to look for
If you want to make sure your story stands in solid ground, answer these two questions:
- Does the story have a strong premise with irony, punch and clear genre?
- Is the story written the audience in mind instead of the writer?
I hope you won’t feel the need to rewrite your manuscript but if you do, remember that it was not a lost effort.
What do you think? Do you need to reconsider your story in progress?
Joining the conversation in twitter can be a bit daunting if you don’t know where to start. Here are a few of the most popular hashtags1 for writers. Topics range from writing techniques, self-publishing advice, events, etc.
If you are curious to know what are the most effective hashtags for connecting with other writers, take a look below.
Note: Before we get into the details a mandatory disclosure. I am not a professional data analyst, but rather just a writer with OCD inclination and a coding problem.
Hashtags with most users
These are the hashtags with the largest audience, in other words, the most popular hashtags with the largest number of users participating.
Hashtags with the most potential
Knowing what hashtags have the largest number of people listening to is very useful, but some hashtags are so active that your tweets might disappear in the stream. The list below has the top hashtags by amplification, in other words, the hashtags that have the largest audience but least participation. Don’t be fooled, though, these tags are still very commonly used.
The raw data
How was this data put together? I looked into the most common hashtags used for twitter profiles, post, other popular lists and related hashtags. I then compiled them all, and used several social reporting tools to extract data (eg: posts, users, reach, impressions, amplification, influencers, etc).2
If you want an even more comprehensive list of hashtags for writers, check out these links:
Wanna share the data and connect with other writers? You can use the graphic below.
I just wanted to mix all these things into a book and I wanted to read that book. But I couldn’t find it anywhere so I just had to write it instead! I think that’s how a lot of authors come up with their ideas because they have this idea and they really want to read that book and they can’t find it. They just have to do it themselves. I think writing is like reading a story that you can decide. It’s like you choose your own adventure as you write.
Writing a book that one wants to read is only half the equation. A writer should also consider if the topic and the plot are going to be of interest to readers.
This one is an oldie but goodie:
Writing is a business. Act like it.
“Every writer who writes for pay is running a small business. You have to create product, track inventory, bid on work, negotiate contracts, pay creditors, make sure you get paid and deal with taxes. Work has to be done on time and to specification. Your business reputation will help you get work — or will make sure you don’t get any more. This is your job. This is your business.”
—Unasked-For Advice to New Writers About Money by John Scalzi
Traditional writers (or traditionally minded writers) might be less inclined to treat their art as a business. This might be because it is the job of the agent, the editor, and the publisher to take care of the business side of things.
The world of self-publishing, on the other hand, is very driven by authors that spend as much energy in writing as they do promoting. Many of those independent authors plan the business side of writing, even before they write the first sentence of their books.
In summary, act like a pro, if you want to be one.
It happens to me quite frequently. Every now and then, specially around new people, I get the strange look and the question: “Why are you carrying a pen around?”
I have built this habit over the last few years and now I feel naked if I don’t carry a notebook to write on and a pen I like to write with. I stuff it all in my back pocket and move a long with my day. This habit is so ingrained by now that I’m always surprised when somebody points it out how unusual of a habit it is.
We all carry cellphones that we can take notes with, doodle, do research, etc. Phones are amazing tools, but not a replacement for a notebook. When you take out a notebook, you are not distracting yourself with notifications, news, social media, etc. With a notebook you are focused. Handwriting is also quick. I can write a sentence in my notebook quicker than I could unlock my phone.
Don’t get me wrong. Phones are amazing, and I have my favorite app to write things down on the go. But the thing is, the act of writing by hand can’t be replicated by a phone. Handwriting gives ideas another dimension, you can doodle, underline, write in the margins, etc.
Above it all, handwriting—like painting and drawing—connects our mind and our body in a way that no digital device can’t (yet).
Here is a quote attributed 1 to the Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky (“Solaris”, “Stalker”, “The Mirror”):
“An artist will never, ever have ideal conditions to create, so don’t ever expect them.”
Do you believe that you need ideal conditions to create?
I know I fall victim of that fallacy every now and then. Surprisingly, I also realized that the times when I feel less inspired, or less motivated to write, I end up with some really good ideas if I only force myself to just write.
By forcing yourself to write when it feels most uncomfortable, you will push against those barriers in your minds that block your progress. Use that resistance as creative juice and push forward.
Here is Tarkovsky’s full quote extracted from the documentary “A Poet in Cinema”:
“An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn’t exist, for the artist doesn’t live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.”
As I write my first book and look at all the work ahead, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. When my motivation goes down, what works best for me is to answer the question: Why do I want to write?
In my case there are two clear reasons:
So that’s it in a nutshell for me. When I’m low in motivation I remind myself that I have to work like as pro if I want to be a pro, and that there is value in sharing my ideas and experiences.
So, what is you’re motivation? What is the driving force for your work? What is at the core of your desire to write and create? If you know it, congratulations. If you don’t, think about it, write it down and come back to it whenever you need that extra push to keep you going.