Last December, I offered our WU readers a set of New Year’s resolutions to consider, and the post sparked some lively discussion. As this year draws to a close, I thought it might be fun to offer up a few more resolutions.
I say this not because I have already completed all of this year’s resolutions. On the contrary, I have yet to lose 30 pounds, master the Lambada, or go para-bungie-wind-scuba-roller-diving off the White Cliffs of Dover. (In my defense, there are still 22 days left for me to cross these off my 2013 list – hey, it could happen! But I digress…)
Below you’ll find five more New Year’s resolutions to consider. Let’s start with one that’s guaranteed to put your name in print around the world…
1. Grab a URL already.
Although Prince may have decided the Internet is completely over, so far his opinion places him in the scant minority. The online universe – and the marketplace that has developed within it – is clearly here to stay, yet many writers drag their feet when it comes to staking a claim on their own slice of the interwebs. It is a truth universally acknowledged that every author needs his or her own website, so if it’s an author you aspire to be, there’s no time like the present to try to nail down a web address that will make it easy for readers to find you. The obvious first choice would be YourName.com, but if that’s already taken, there are usually some decent options left.[pullquote]It is a truth universally acknowledged that every author needs his or her own website.[/pullquote]
Even if you’re not ready to build out a full website, you can reserve a URL for the future for a small annual fee. A note to those of you who are parents: consider grabbing URLs for your children’s names. I did this for my daughter years ago, figuring it might one day come in handy for her to have a URL based on her name. Now her law firm is using the URL that I grabbed back when she was in middle school. I use Go Daddy, but there are a variety of providers who offer similar services.
2. Write more than you Tweet.
I arbitrarily chose Twitter as an example, but feel free to substitute Facebook, or blog, or Pinterest, or whatever your online addiction may be. While I’ve heard many writers complain about feeling obligated to be active in social media, the reality is that this stuff can become a diversion that is entertaining to the point of addictiveness. I understand the attraction – I mean, I like Facebook (although I could never get into Twitter), and I’m a major junkie for online discussion forums. But it’s important to take a look at just how much time – and writing energy – you are devoting to these activities.
Case in point: I’ve logged more than 6,000 posts at Backspace, the online writers’ forum I’ve been active in (okay, addicted to) for the past eight years or so. If the word-count for each of my posts averages out to 50 words per post (which I’ll admit would be a surprisingly low estimate for a talkative type like me), we are talking about three hundred thousand words. That’s the equivalent of three or four novels! Don’t get me wrong – I have benefited immeasurably from my membership at Backspace, but still, that’s a whole lotta words, and a whole lotta time. So it’s worth measuring what you gain versus what you put in, and remember, any time you put into writing blogs, tweets, or Facebook statuses (or is it stati?) is time you’re not spending on your book. I’m just sayin’.
3. Invest in yourself.
Over the years I’ve been surprised by how many aspiring writers I meet who seem reluctant to spend their money on writing- or publishing-related goods and services. Many don’t own a dictionary or thesaurus, relying instead on the spell-check function in their word processors. People of Earth, do you really want Bill Gates or Steve “damn you, autocorrect” Jobs making editorial decisions for you? Noooooo! As an alternative, many people will simply use free online tools. I urge you to dig deeper. Yeah, dictionary.com is okay, but I’ve still never found an online thesaurus that can compete with a basic paperback copy of Roget’s.[pullquote]People of Earth, do you really want Bill Gates or Steve “damn you, autocorrect” Jobs making editorial decisions for you? Noooooo! [/pullquote]
Similarly, the amount of bandwidth I see eaten up on writers’ sites discussing basic style issues like capitalization, punctuation, abbreviations, and so on is just mind-boggling. Folks, there are style guides out there that make it easy for you to write consistent, professional-looking prose. The Chicago Manual is the industry standard, but at 1,000+ pages, it’s a massive doorstop of a book, and not cheap. A great and economical alternative is this guide from Merriam Webster, and for business writing a copy of the AP Guide is essential. And no writer’s desk is complete without a copy of The Elements of Style. Spend a few bucks, and put some basic tools within easy reach, and I guarantee your writing will reflect well on the investment.
There are other areas where writers short-change themselves. Author photos are a biggie. I’ve seen countless shots that are clearly taken from the company holiday party, with the person-the-author-is-no-longer-dating cropped out of the picture. Just like a website, it’s a simple reality that an author is going to need a decent photo – and in multiple sizes and levels of resolution. If you’re putting a book out – whether on your own or through a conventional publisher – put a little time and money into a good headshot. It’s an investment that will serve you well for years to come.[pullquote]It’s a simple reality that an author is going to need a decent photo – and in multiple sizes and levels of resolution.[/pullquote]
At a broader level, there are countless opportunities to invest in yourself as a writer, such as:
- Books (how-to’s, and books by authors you admire and want to compete with)
- Writers’ conferences
- Writing courses at local colleges (I highly recommend these, if nothing else to clean the rust off of your tools, since the last time most of us actually studied writing was years – if not decades – ago)
- Writing software and other related technology
- Membership in professional associations (RWA, MWA, etc.)
Look, I know money doesn’t grow on trees (although that might make a cool idea for a sci-fi novel). But if you’re serious about being a writer, put some serious thought into how best to leverage your own economic resources to help your writing, and ultimately, your career.
4. Back up your computer.
I know, I told you this last year. But it bears repeating – a point I had driven home vividly this year, when my Acer netbook spontaneously decided to become the world’s most expensive paperweight. Fortunately all my files were backed up on Carbonite, and I was able to load them onto my hastily purchased replacement laptop quickly and easily.
Guys and gals, this is NOT a hard thing to do. Particularly if you use a service like Carbonite, the process of backing up your files can truly be a set-it-and-forget-it thing, happening automatically in the background without you having to remember to do anything. The risks for not backing up your stuff are just too high, and with computers now being made with approximately the same life expectancy as a disposable razor, it’s simply crazy to play an ongoing game of Russian Roulette with the files that contain all your hard work. Back ’em up!
5. Be open to change.
I started working on my first novel back in 1999, and the changes I’ve seen in the publishing industry since then are simply staggering. The marketplace now is nothing like what it was when I first began studying this business, and the rate of change is accelerating so much that I wouldn’t dare predict what the landscape might look like five years from now. My takeaway from all that I’ve witnessed is that it pays to be nimble, and to remain open to trying avenues that might initially seem non-intuitive or flat-out wrong.
An excellent example is the new direction we’ve seen our own Allison Winn Scotch taking, which she has been generous enough to share with us in her recent WU posts (along with this excellent related post from her agent Elisabeth Weed). Even though she was well-established in conventional Big House publishing, Allison weighed her options carefully, and has now embarked on a new leg of her journey, which I bet she would never have envisioned a few years ago.[pullquote]It pays to be nimble, and to remain open to trying avenues that might initially seem non-intuitive or flat-out wrong.[/pullquote]
Although the breakneck pace at which changes are occurring in the publishing business can be daunting, the reality is that we writers have never before had as many options as we currently have. With the freedom to choose from those options comes the responsibility to stay on top of these seismic shifts, and to consider our choices with a cool and analytic eye. Sadly, the days are long gone where all we had to worry about was the writing. But the tradeoff is that we now have far more control of our journey than we ever did before. So I recommend you approach that journey with your eyes – and your mind – wide open.
What about you?
What resolutions are you making? Do any of these resonate with you? Please chime in, and remember one thing while you’re chugging that fourth glass of champagne as the clock strikes midnight on December 31st: Friends don’t let friends read Clive Cussler.
Happy holidays, and thanks for reading!
Image licensed from iStockphoto.com