The Best Advice I Could Have Given Myself

SignatureCountry artist Brad Paisley released a song in 2007 titled “Letter to Me,” in which he gives his teenaged self advice for the future. It makes me think about what I would have advised myself thirty years ago when I began my freelance writing career. So, with a tip of my own cowboy hat to Brad, here’s my letter to my younger self!

Dear Jan,

I am you thirty years from now, and I want to give you some advice about writing.

  1. Get a day job. You are never going to be on Oprah talking about your bestseller. (Oprah is a person with a very influential talk show in the future. She has a book club, and Tom Cruise jumps on her sofa. Enough said.) Accept the fact that your writing habit will never financially support you. Fortunately, your husband will, so be sure to say “Yes” when a guy named Tom proposes to you. You’re going to think he’s just trying to cheer you up because your car’s water pump broke down, but he’s serious. DO NOT LAUGH IN HIS FACE, because he will never let you forget it. (Although it will make a great blog post. A blog is …never mind. You’ll find out later.)
  2. No matter what you think, your first and second book manuscripts are trash. Really, they are. It would be nice to just skip writing them altogether to save time and effort, but if you don’t write them, you won’t write your third book, which will find a publisher. Just thought I’d let you know.
  3. You’re going to meet a woman named Belinda. Don’t ever tell her you’ve written a book, because even though she’s going to be one of your best friends, she’s going to drive you crazy with her constant stream of ideas for books SHE wants to write. If she ever brings up that she’s thinking about writing a book, immediately change the subject. (You can thank me later.)
  4. Write a YA romance series about a vampire and a high school girl. Believe it or not, it will sell and launch a publishing trend. I’m serious.
  5. Speaking of serious – stop taking yourself so seriously. There are many, many writers out there. The bad news is that you have to compete with them for contracts. The good news is that the writers you meet will absolutely enrich your life, if not your pocketbook. (Reread #1 above.)
  6. Don’t give up writing. You will get published. You will also get rejections, but that’s part of the package, so get over it and get it out of the way. It will give you more time to write and more confidence in your writing. Writing is your gift, so enjoy it, develop it, invest time and effort in it, and it will reward you in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.
  7. Finally, if you ever have a chance to buy stock in a company named Apple, you might want to do that.

Love you!

Jan

What advice would you give your younger self?

Publishing Tips and a Lesson in Humility

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thursdays at the Water Cooler are for writing about the publishing business—an intimidating topic, and it made me take inventory of what I have to offer. Sure, I’ve written six novels. I’m published in print by a traditional, albeit small, New York press. I’ve worked with Amazon Publishing, and I’ve ventured into the indie business with a novel through Kindle Direct, Apple, and Barnes & Noble’s Pubit. I’ve marketed and advertised. I’ve developed a good network of successful published authors along with a few agents and editors. I’m business savvy, and I treat my writing as a profession. And yet…I can’t help but feel lacking on the topic of publishing.

In part, this is because I’m goal driven and I have lots of goals yet to achieve, but it’s also because I’m sincerely humbled by those around me—the extensive experience of the writers of the Cooler, the proficiency of those in my writing chapter, and the aptitude of people with whom I network online. I am one small voice in the mix, plugging along on my own publishing journey—often a lonely road with only rare glimpses of the bigger picture. So, what could I have to offer?

With humility comes wisdom.

I consider myself the average writer. As glamorous as writing sounds, it really is a somewhat lonely road. If some of what I’ve learned can keep me optimistically focused on moving forward, maybe it can help someone else, too.

1. No one knows it all, so don’t be envious of another’s success, and by the way, get comfortable with ambiguity. The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether landing your fifth series with one of the Big Six or newly exercising your empowerment to publish on your own, neither means you have it all figured out. Every facet of this business brings unique challenges, decisions, and discoveries. You are probably where you are in your journey for a reason. No matter where that is, you have more to learn. My tip: look for opportunities to gain knowledge wherever you can from those you admire, published or not. Just don’t get hung up on one source; look far and wide to develop a deep reservoir of knowledge to draw from.

2. Times have never been more dynamic or uncertain for publishing. I’m not talking about ebooks vs traditional publishing. I’m talking about the markets themselves—what readers will connect with and want more of, what’s hot and what’s not, new genres or formats cropping up. One extremely valuable lesson: do not try to chase a trend. It doesn’t matter how fast you write, I promise you, it will be over before you catch up. I write young adult fiction, and as hot as concepts like the Hunger Games are now, I’m already hearing dystopian is giving way to middle grade—but don’t pull out that old Harry Potter derivative; you’ve got to have something fresh and unique to offer to fit that trend. My tip: you should absolutely consider marketability as you write, but write from the heart nonetheless. It will come through in your writing, and you’ll wind up with something you can feel good about, whether or not it happens to be the latest publishing flavor of the month.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

3. One size doesn’t fit all, thank goodness. I listen to a lot of author speakers, and I have to admit, I grow weary of hearing some say things like, “I pursued New York publishing—because I’m serious about my career…” If that was their publishing journey, great—but not only does that imply there’s only one ‘right’ way to go about it, it doesn’t even make sense anymore. Variety and choice are the best parts of the publishing industry today. Fact is, you can be plenty serious about your writing career, have a far-reaching readership, and make a steady income without pursuing traditional NY houses these days. That doesn’t mean NY isn’t still a valuable and highly sought-after option. They may still even be king of the playground, and they’re no doubt busily trying to reinvent themselves to make sure they stay that way, but there are other viable options out there. My tip: remember you have choices, and stand tall no matter what avenue you decide to pursue on your personal publishing journey. There is no ‘wrong’ way to go about it. Even if you make a mistake, you can learn from it and move on.

There are a lot of experienced writers out there, and I’m just scratching the surface. What tips do you have to share about the publishing industry?

To Market We Go. . .But Why?

I admit, I’m a bit of a marketing geek. I find trends and patterns fascinating. Behind every great or dastardly marketing campaign lies a motivation—a why. And I want to know it, understand it, and pick it apart.

Why did it work? Why didn’t it work?

Some campaigns are obvious from the get go. Take Netflix’s recent adventure of separating streaming video from disc. We witnessed their invention (or misguided intention) of Qwikster. The name didn’t work, nor did there seem to be any reasonable point for separation. Their “why” just didn’t make sense. Thankfully they abandoned the idea before they got neck deep. In fact, I give them kudos for having the courage to admit to their customers that it would have made things more difficult.

Here’s an example of my latest fascination. Honestly, I stood in the mall laughing at this one.

I freely confess that I’m an Apple geek as well. Microsoft’s obvious attempt to copy Apple could be taken as a compliment, but I could only wonder, is it effective? How effective does our marketing become when we’re simply copying what the other guy is doing?

Yes, we’re talking about similar products and thus overlapping markets. Not identical markets though. And then I’m curious as to how the everyday consumer perceives such a clear attempt to piggyback on another company’s successful model?

Of course, there’s the other side of the argument. Why reinvent the wheel? It worked for them, why not do the same? That’s fine to a point—to use a successful model as a launching point. But don’t we still have to come back to the beginning? Back to the “why?”

I find this especially amusing because of this:

The Apple store is directly opposite this soon-to-be Microsoft store and has been there for years. Their Genius Bar and staff have been serving people for many a season with their gadgets in hand and uniformed colored shirts and badges. (Uh hem. . .)

It’s all about service and Apple makes an art of it. Never been in one? Take a field trip one day and check it out. We can learn a lot from Apple’s successful model of creative marketing. To them, it’s not just about the product. It’s about the costumer and how they’ll use it, right down to the feel and experience. It’s all about the “why.”

I wonder if Microsoft thought through their campaign beyond the “well it works for them” to their customers and who they’re trying to connect to. Or are their customers just potential collateral gain or damage in the race to be number one?

So this brings me to my point (yes, I do have one other than finding this Microsoft imitation so very amusing). Do we think about why we are marketing our books or do we just do what everyone else is doing?

And finally, does it work? Now there’s the real question. What do you think?