We’re so glad to welcome back WU friend and Twitter team member L.J. Cohen today!
First, a caveat: this is not some best practices list or definitive expert advice; it is the experience of a single author over a brief and specific span of years. If something here resonates with you, that’s great. If it doesn’t, you aren’t doing anything wrong – your experience is simply different from mine.
- YMMV is more than a cute saying, or, in other words, avoid dogma at all costs.
If you peruse the writing how-to shelves, you will find book after book after book of guides. If there was a single way of doing this thing called writing, there would only be one text and we would all have it.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard “never edit as you write” or “no one is buying books about _____” or “you have to have an outline” or “just write a crappy first draft”, I’d have a heck of a lot of nickels and I wouldn’t need to be selling books to earn a living.
The thing is, people analyze their own process and experience and then apply causality to it. That’s a common fallacy after the fact: post hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for ‘after this, therefore because of this.’ For example: Author notices that books which have more than fifty reviews are in general ranked higher than books that have fewer reviews. Author makes the assumption that having more than fifty reviews convinces Amazon to rank your books higher. What is likely happening is that more sales translates into more reviews (sales drive reviews, not the other way around) and it is the number of sales that primarily drives rankings.
I often say there is no secret sauce. Why? Because there is no secret sauce. Learn the process and method that works best for you for a particular project. And even then, don’t be afraid to try something else.
- Not succeeding doesn’t equal failing, AKA perseverance is key.
There’s a great scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail movie where a king is talking about the castle he built in the middle of the swamp: “It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. And that one sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up.”
There are many days where writing feels like building a castle in the middle of a swamp where the construction of logic you have built will burn down, fall over, and sink into the morass. But so much of the process – both of writing and of publishing – is finding ways to make the impossible and the untenable somehow work anyway. And it doesn’t happen without a lot of sinking into a lot of swamps.
It’s crucial to find a way to see this as part of your personal narrative. In 2009, I was signed by an agent. Over the next four and a half years, every project she shopped sank into the swamp. Three novels received glowing, personalized rejections by big houses. It was hard not to see this as anything but utter failure. In reality, it was a gift. It showed me that I had the ability to write good stories, but those stories weren’t what major publishing houses were willing to take a risk on at the time. Ultimately, my agent and I parted ways and five years ago I went on to create my own publishing imprint and release stories which found their own audiences. One of the titles that my then-agent didn’t believe could find a publishing home has sold over 12,000 copies in two years. Small beans for a big house, but hugely successful for an author/publisher.
- Luck plays a bigger role in this game than we want to admit.