August 22nd, 2012


What Else Writers Need to Learn

I made great progress yesterday, until I hit a wall and had no idea what happens next. I think today I need to list all the big events that need to happen before the end of the book and then figure out the little events that lead up to each big event. Alas, it's not rainy anymore, but it is relatively cool, and according to the newspaper, we're supposedly done with 100-degree temperatures for the year and the fall will be cooler and rainier than normal.

In my previous writing post, I talked about the education and training that are needed for becoming a writer, but I've thought some more about it, and in today's publishing world, I think there are additional things that are necessary. If you get a contract with a traditional publisher, you're probably going to be expected to do the bulk of the publicity for your book. Only the really big names (who don't need the publicity) get the full-on marketing effort. Everyone else does most of it themselves. But it's increasingly looking like the publishers are using the self-published market as a kind of farm team or slush pile, so that instead of buying books by totally new authors, they watch the self-published market and pick up authors who prove themselves successful there.

So, in addition to learning to write a good book and learning enough about the industry to know how to submit a book and where to submit it, you should probably learn something about:

1) Public relations and marketing -- at least know some of the major terms so you can talk to a publisher's publicity department, but you may need to learn enough to do a bit of publicity for yourself. You can find books on the subject in most libraries, and there are a lot of blogs about book publicity on the Internet. This is something that's constantly changing, since the media are in a transition phase. This was my professional field, and it's changed dramatically in the ten years since I've worked for a PR agency. It's even changed a lot for the book business in the four years between my last book and the one I'm promoting now.

2) Graphic design and web design -- even if you hire people to do your web site and covers for your self-published books, it helps to know enough to understand if what the people you've hired are giving you is good. Again, there are books in the library and web sites that cover these topics.

3) Budgeting and finance -- I used to say that this would be important if you ever wanted to make a living as a writer because writing income comes in sporadically and isn't always something you can plan on. Now, though, you may have to self-publish your first book to get noticed by a publisher, and doing it well enough to achieve that kind of success generally involves some financial investment to get professional copyediting and cover design, so you might need to save money to invest in your career even before you sell a book.

The rule used to be that all money flows to the writer, and that should still be the case when you're dealing with an agent or with a publisher, but the ballgame really has changed in the last few years with publishers taking fewer risks. Instead of buying a manuscript from a total unknown, they can watch what's selling on the Kindle and then take those books. People are still selling from the slush pile, but it's hard to say what will happen in the next few years, and a lot of authors are discovering that they don't even need traditional publishers, that being in business for themselves gives them more rewards. That's why it's more important than ever for aspiring authors to learn about all aspects of the business so they can make wise decisions. You not only have to be a creator, you also have to be an entrepreneur. That doesn't always come naturally to creative types, so it may take some effort on your part to learn what you need to know.