Writing Advice

 

I have people contact me now and then about writing. I wrote all this up so I decided to post it here in case it helps anyone.

I don’t get that many emails. And I try and help out other writers when I can. This is my morning shitpost so it will be long. You’re welcome.

1) It took maybe 2 weeks for HLH to take off. I had told myself I wanted to sell 50 copies. Because that would be more than my direct friends/family and people I could coerce into buying it. This was after working on it for years (while working fulltime). It took a while to hit 50. I had spent thousands of dollars on the cover, on editing, on workshopping it at the university. Then it started selling more. More. And in a month or so it was selling 50 or 75 or 100+ a day. And I was amazed and I’m going to be a big writer and get to become an alcoholic who dates movie stars. And then in a few months, sales plummeted and I had to start working on the next books.

2) I didn’t do anything to boost sales. Every effort I’ve attempted at marketing has not shown any kind of return on investment. No ads. No freebies. No nothing. I worked my ass off on the content and the cover. There was a point I got a paper copy of my book to proof it. And I was so close to publishing it after so long. And in the content, there was something like: you believe?” And the ?”, because they were italics, ran into each other in the typeset. Just slightly. But I was like, there is no one else here. It’s just me. No one is going to fix it if I don’t. So I corrected it. Republished. Ordered another print copy. All that took weeks back then. My first cover was an oil painting. I spent $1,000 on it and a lot of time. And I didn’t like it. And I’m like, I can let this go, or I can push to make it exactly what I want. So I then spent another multi-thousand to get a new cover. After searching for artists for months. Putting in the effort is what I did.

3) I was still interviewing for regular jobs when I had I think 2 or three books out. I was a computer programmer for almost 20 years. So those were $100K salaries. Easy. Fulfilling. But in the interviews, I think they could tell I wasn’t invested and I could tell I wasn’t. But it’s really hard to give up easy. Writing is one of those jobs like professional athlete or actor or astronaut. If you train as an electrician, or computer programmer, or financier, you CAN and will get a job in those fields. It will happen unless you’re going to interviews in your underwear with a machine gun. You can get 5 doctorates and never be a writer. Never be a playwright. Never be a professional singer. It’s an unbelievably tough gig.

Some others:

z) When I came to Los Angeles, I wanted to be a screenwriter because I thought books were dying. I was right, but I was about 10 years prescient in my calculations. Which shows how fucking smart I am. But everyone I met everywhere wanted to be a screenwriter. But to me, they didn’t feel like real writers. So I invented a scenario to test. Imagine the future you visits you from your deathbed. You’re 115 years old, hospital gown, tubes coming out. You tell the present you that you’ve been given a gift to go back from the moment of your death to tell you something about your life. You say, you will NEVER sell any writing. You will NEVER be a professional writer. Your writing will gain you nothing but ridicule or indifference at best. Do with this information what you will. And you know what the future you said was true. Do you still keep writing? Most people I told that to would get a kind of pained expression on their faces. Of course, you have to pantomime it well and make it stick. And a lot were honest and said, no, I’d try some other avenue. I came up with this when I was like 22 years old or something. I wrote for almost exactly 20 years and never sold anything. 20 years of rejection. I never stopped. Because it’s what I do and who I am. I couldn’t turn it off if I wanted to. So you write because you have to, you like to, it’s who you are. As a profession, it sucks. Being a bank robber in a city with 5 police academies is a steadier career path.

j3) Everyone asks how to be a writer. I’ve gone to many, many conventions and I always asked it. Just give us the facts. Steps 1-30. Why so cagey? Because there is no path. Because every single person who made it will have a different way. When I published Hank, I wasn’t a first generation self-publisher, but I was like generation 1.5. It was very hard. You had to know shitloads of HTML and computer skills to do it. I had pages of text where I detailed how to do it. I had all sorts of algorithms and macros to fix it and make a book work–actually physically capable of being published on Amazon. Because it was in its infancy. So there wasn’t the same competition. But my days are gone and won’t ever be back. I can give you steps 1-30 and they won’t work because the era we are in is no longer the same. Which is why everyone gives general advice. What worked for me won’t, and can’t, work for you. It’s a different world. JD Salinger published one super book and was rich and famous enough to become a weird hermit. No one can do that now. Those days are gone. I’m experiencing the changing world of publishing in that I have to put out more books, faster. I wish I didn’t. Audiobooks are now where I make most of my money. And let me be clear: it’s not a lot of money. It was never a lot of money.

j3a) I had a moment of epiphany when I had finally been allowed into a professional writing organization. They had just started allowing self-publishers and I was like the first 50. I went to our convention starry-eyed, thinking I would now get to hobnob with the Greats. Learn at the feet of masters while being a peer. And every person I spoke to, had a day job. Finally, at our big dinner gala, I asked the guy next to me, how many people do you think are professional writers? And without a beat he goes, you know what they say: a professional writer is someone whose spouse has a regular job. And that was crushing. But he went on. It’s always been like that. There is the top 10 who are rich and famous and that’s what we see. But there are thousands, tens of thousands of others.

yorst) You have to find your own path, your own way, and that’s rough. Some of the best advice I ever got when I was workshopping my book at UCLA was: be careful who you give your writing to, and be careful whose advice you take. 99% of the world is going to HATE your writing. Hate it. People hate Shakespeare. Hate him. Hate Tolstoy. Hate. Hate Charles Dickens, Mark Twain. Every writer’s group I participated in was terrible. Horrible. When you hand someone your writing, there is a 99% chance they won’t like it. But if 1% of the world likes your writing and if you can get a $1 from them, that would be about 79 million bucks. If you can do that every year, you’d be the most successful writer in the history of writing. Just know that the vast majority of people you ping for feedback/support/acknowledgment aren’t your fans and won’t be your fans. You can’t make them fans. I do not like Bollywood films. But they aren’t made for me. I’m not their 1% and they still do fine without me.

bl^3) I personally got a day job. Because I realized how many people wanted to write and how difficult it was. That was my comfort level. Me. Not you. I don’t know you. I couldn’t work as a waiter, eating shit all day, and then use that to fuel my writing. I needed to be happy. I’ve heard different paths. Some need that drive that push. There was a story where Quintin Tarantino moved away from (essentially) where I live now, to Hollywood. Just a short drive north, but a world away. His point was, everyone runs fast up there. Even if I’m at the back of the pack, I’ll be running.

2389) The end analysis is writing is entertainment. It exists because people want it enough to pay for it. You can make them sad entertained, happy entertained, enlightened entertained, turned on entertained, scared entertained. All sorts of angles. But it’s still juggling. It’s taking some bowling pins and tossing them around in front of a crowd so they watch you. And they’re watching because they can’t do that and it’s neat. Take away the bowling pins and no one is watching. But if you don’t like juggling, for fuck’s sake, find another job. I don’t encourage anyone to write what they don’t like or what isn’t in their heart, but realize that not every style is going to make a living. It’s better to write fan fiction you love and never earn a penny, than write shit that crushes your soul so you can make the same amount of money as a coffee barista.

Good luck,
sc

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