Please note that I think I sound pretentious when I talk about writing and how I go about it. I’ve been told I don’t, but it’s just how perceive myself when I talk about my craft (see how I used the term ‘my craft’… pretentious as hell). To give you the best bang for you buck, I’ve decided to turn the little voice off and just give you the straight poop.
Also note that this is my personal experience talking. Not everyone does things the way I did and still do. There are also different ways to go about writing and posting online, and my way probably isn’t the best way for everyone.
These are Budgie’s writing tips.
Tip 1: You are nobody.
I know… harsh. You’re obviously somebody, but you haven’t posted your first piece of writing online yet, so you’re technically invisible. You’re entering an arena that’s already full, over-saturated even, of contenders. Self publishing online has an “anyone can do it” base, and there’s too many people doing it who shouldn’t. Remember: there’s a ton of people who think they’re writers, but they shouldn’t be. I’m not saying you fall into that category. You should probably stop here if you do though.
Your first step, before or while you’re working on the first of your works, should be to get yourself a name. Technically, your parents did this already. You can use your real name or a pen name. I used a pen name I had already established on Twitter, which brings me to the second part of this tip.
Use it, and use it correctly. I follow sooooooo many writers on Twitter who do nothing but tweet links to their books and reviews all day long. They fell into the glow of the followback train, not realizing they’re only being followed by others looking to rack up the followers.
Engage your followers. Make friends (this will play a part in Tip 2). Don’t be afraid to offend people. Realize that trolls will rip you down and ignore them if you can’t put them in their place. Twitter is a great tool to meet people put yourself out there. Don’t fuck it up by becoming a non-stop ad machine.
And don’t you dare DM ads to people. DON’T. YOU. DARE.
Facebook is good as well, but Twitter is where you’ll find the real interaction. You’ll probably want to stay away from Facebook until you’re ready to really pimp yourself and start your fan page.
Tip 2: Writing Buddies
This is probably the best advice I can give to anyone who wants to start digitally posting their stories or e-publishing. I’m not telling you to jump on Twitter and start hitting up every writer on there. Make real connections with real people. It’s funny how people with similar interested come together. I’ve made friends with other writers, and I never even knew most of them did it.
Get a handful of friends you really trust. Read each other’s work, even the rough drafts. This is a two-way street when you’ve come to this point. When someone reads your work, expect creative criticism in return. If you can’t handle being told something you wrote needs to be fixed or it’s bad, then you need to hang it up right now (see the later tip on having a thick skin for more on this). In turn, be honest with what you’ve read from others. They are trusting you to give them an honest opinion on their work. Don’t spare feelings. If you don’t tell them they should’ve done something different, then someone else will.
There are other reasons to establish this group of trusted individuals. You’ll help each other promote, build a following, and nudge each other in the right direction. These people don’t even have to be writers to beta-read or edit your work. Some people genuinely enjoy being part of the process, even if they aren’t the ones doing the writing.
This directly applies to Tip 3.
Tip 3: Use Beta-Readers
I’ll keep this one quick since I touched on beta-readers in the last section. The ideal beta-reader is someone who can both read and comprehend. This also needs to be someone you trust not to leak anything you’ve written. Lastly, they have to be someone who isn’t afraid to not spare your feelings.
I have a few people I trust to read my drafts, and they give me sound advice. I don’t expect them to spare my feelings (and they don’t). It’s jarring at first when someone rips you a new one, but you learn to grow from it. This is how I found out a tattoo gun is actually called a tattoo machine (thanks Jim) and a gun’s handle is its grip (thanks Lou). I also learned that an over-abundance of obscenities can take a reader out of your world, and flashbacks during action scenes really fuck it up bad.
Beta-readers are important if you want to get an initial reaction from something you’ve written before you post or publish. I don’t recommend sending the same piece of writing to multiple people. I’ll typically have someone read something I’ve written, and I’ll only send it to them. This way there’s no keeping track of multiple copies floating around.
Be respectful of your beta-reader’s opinions. Sometimes it’s hard to be honest about something when you know the other person might get upset. Beta-read in return whenever you have the chance, and give creative criticism as you would expect from them.
Tip 4: Blogging
I know it sounds lame, but start a blog. I’ve been told a writer should blog two to four times a week, but I think that’s a little much for myself. Keep in mind, most blogging writers only blog a few paragraphs or some thoughts on a photo. If you’re posting long, thought-out pieces, then you’ll kill yourself trying to keep the pace to do two to four blog pieces a week.
Last year, I cut myself down to one post a week. I was doing two (three at most), and it wasn’t giving me much time to work on other projects. Some things are written quicker; an episode of Freedom Lane, for example, can be written in a day or two, but posting it right away had me doing a couple of episodes a week. When I wanted to post something longer, it took longer to get out. I was very inconsistent.
With one post a week, I have time to build a buffer of stories or ideas I want to put out there, giving me the time to work on larger projects or edit. It also gives me a chance to let a piece of writing sit for a bit before I go back to do the final version. I like to try and “forget” about something before I edit it for posting, and that takes time.
Again, this is just me. I’m not against blogging a few paragraphs here and there to keep interest alive. Just don’t force it in order to keep the pace some blogger told me to keep a while back. It will come naturally, and it will be better for it.
Tip 5: Get a Thick Skin
I can’t stress this enough, especially if you take my advice on getting a beta-reader. People aren’t going to like everything you write. The first terrible review you get for something you’ve written is a tough day. It’s just as tough when something you worked hard on gets no hits or downloads. You’ll get trolls on social media trying to tear you down as well. You need to be able to let the negativity go if you want to last.
Be wary of being upset over creative criticism. Things like “this chapter doesn’t flow well”, or “you need to re-edit this draft” are just notes to help you out. I talked about beta-readers before, so don’t beat them up if the tell you something you don’t want to hear. You need to hear it.
Trolls are a different story.
I hate the term “trolls”, but I’m using anyway. It best describes the type of people I want to highlight next. I’ve gotten shit reviews from people I pissed off in forums. I’ve had people on Twitter tear my work down out of jealousy. I’ve had other people tell me I’m a terrible writer under the guise of busting balls, and I was told that’s just how they joke. It sucks to hear it, but it’s an unfortunate part of our digital world.
You need to learn to let it go (like Elsa). The first bad review you get will make you question why you started writing to begin with. After a while, you’ll just shrug it off. The trolls or cyber-bullies or whatever you want to call them might get to you at first too, but you need to learn to block, ignore, and move on. The more upset you get about it: the more they’ll pile on. See my tip about writing forums for a little more on this subject too.
Write because you love writing. Do it for the reaction you get. If you’re doing it solely for the money, then you’re in for a really bad time. This obviously excludes anyone who is already an established writer or celebrity, but why would anyone like that read this anyway?
I find writing as a hobby to be extremely rewarding. I have a small cluster of fans who support me and react to what I write. I do sell books on Amazon, but not enough to consider retiring from my full-time job at the ripe old age of thirty-five and write. The going joke between my wife and me is that I’m rolling in tens of dollars with my budding writing career.
I write mostly in my spare time and breaks at work, and I’m happy with that. Sure, making money hand over fist for something I created would be nice, but I know there’s a slim chance of that happening. Most of what I write gets posted on this site for free, and I’m happy being read.
Tip 7: Internet Forums; Where Evil Dwells
If there’s one piece of advice to take away from tip seven, it’s this: DO NOT VISIT WRITING FORUMS. They are a hotbed of cliques and trolls. If your idea doesn’t line up with their idea, then you’ve made an enemy. You’ll be punished by having extremely negative reviews pop up on your Amazon books (if you have any out at this point) or on any book website with a forum. I’m not mentioning one due to the vigorous trolling for which the denizens of this particular website are known. If you ask me privately I’ll tell you.
Other writers / forum members will tell you that posting in forums is a must for new indie authors. Sure, it’s a way to get your name out there, but is it really worth exposing yourself to the torrent of shit? I found negativity from one forum brings about you being discussed in a completely different forum so you won’t find out they’re plotting to ruin your ass with bad reviews and trolling. Before you dismiss this last statement of paranoia; just know I found at least one forum where some beef I had from another forum was being discussed, and punishments for said beef (for me and at least one other on my side of the bitter argument) was being planned. It wasn’t my proudest moment, but I issued an apology for beefing in order to stop it.
Three-hundred is the magic forum number. Every time I saw a dispute between writers, the more seasoned writer touted that they sell three-hundred copies a day. I’ve seen multiple arguments, and different authors used the number three-hundred to brag how they sell better than the other.
So seriously: stay the fuck off of forums.
Tip 8: Edit, Edit, and Edit.
This is the most important (and probably longest) tip in this piece. The biggest complaint you’ll find about indie authors (especially on those ghastly forums) is most of what’s out there isn’t edited well or even at all. I’ve even come across some stuff that seems like it was written in a different language and translated horribly. It’s nuts.
Grammar is becoming less and less important in everyday life. Just about everyone I know speaks in double-negatives, and I’m not sure if anyone really knows the difference between “don’t” and “doesn’t” anymore. The worst part is, I find myself speaking like this when in conversations at work so they understand me. I’ve started to take people speaking in double negatives literally, and it’s gotten me in trouble.
Yes. I’m the one who gets in trouble when someone says something like “I didn’t do nothing”, and I keep asking what they did.
There’s one excuse I’ve heard more than others when it comes to writing in bad grammar: “That’s how people talk”. It can be excused during dialogue, especially when your character doesn’t speak well. For example, I have characters in Freedom Lane who don’t use good grammar at all. I’m constantly dumbing down their dialogue for the sake of the characters. As long as your narrative is concise, your characters can speak as dumb as you want (as long as they’re consistent).
Let’s talk about ending sentences with preposition for a moment.
This I don’t mind so much as the double negatives, but I still look out for them. The work around sounds pretentious at times (there’s that word again). Example: “I have a bag to put my apples in” should read: “I have a bag in which to put my apples.” See. Pretentious. I read about a lot of writers rewriting entire sentences to avoid both the preposition and sounding like a douchebag. “I’m going to put the apples in my bag.”
Again; characters will end sentences in prepositions when they speak, especially in present day America, but try to keep them our of your narrative.
Finding an editor is tough. I got lucky in this regard. See the “writing buddies” tip to my solution. I made a friend on Twitter, and she was more than willing to help me edit. When there came a time when she couldn’t anymore, she taught me how to do it myself. I now have a small stack of books I read to understand grammar, and I read them every few months to keep it fresh in my mind.
Self-editing is a bitch, but it will save you time and money (unless you have money, then you can hire an editor). I suggest you read up on good grammar (I’ll discuss these books I use if anyone wants to speak with me via Twitter), let your books sit without reading them for at least a month, and read every paragraph carefully. Most importantly: NEVER EDIT WHEN YOU’RE TIRED.
Send it through Microsoft Word’s editor once before you have a final draft. It picks up those things like repeated words or anything else you may miss while reading and editing.
Here’s a rundown of how I draft:
Tip 9: Preludes, Forewords & Prologues
Here’s an odd complaint I came across: readers hate preludes, forewords, and prologues. This may only be an issue if you post on Amazon, but readers feel it takes away from the 10% preview of your book they can read when you click “look inside”.
My first book, Askharoth, included a prelude. I thought readers would want a short story of sorts to introduce the character before decided to read the book. It came with mixed reactions. People who downloaded and read the book liked the inclusion of said prelude, but some hardcore indie book fans took umbrage to it.
I also had a foreword in Askharoth (being overzealous about my first self-published book and everyone who helped push me to get it out there). I have since moved it to an afterword because of this and my want for the people who helped me to still get credit.
I don’t understand the point about not using a prologue though. I haven’t done a book without one. There’s a guide somewhere online about when to use one. Basically, use one when you’re writing a scene from the end to set up the story as a flashback, using a point of view that won’t be utilized again, or giving a brief history that sets up your story. To put it bluntly: when the prologue gives something to your story.
This is another odd tip. It covers two different subjects: book length and pricing. Both scenarios are “damned if you do; damned if you don’t” situations. Again, this has been my experience from selling ebooks and some information I came across while doing so.
Let’s start with length.
There’s a few lists floating around of what word count indicates what you’re writing. It varies depending on who you ask or where you’re looking. Here’s the most recent word counts I’ve seen:
Under 7,500 words – Short story
7,500-20,000 words – Novelette
Here’s where the “middle ground” thing comes in.
If you’re story is too long, then it will turn off readers. I’ve been told most readers of self-published authors like novella or short novel length books. I’ve also been told they don’t like anything on the short side (novelettes or short stories). A longer novel or epic is only marketable once you’ve established yourself with some novellas or novels (or so I’ve been told).
The same goes for pricing. I’ll use the Amazon price range since that’s where I sell. Their range for a self-published author is $2.99-$9.99 (you can deviate from this range, but your cut goes from 70% to 35%). If you price yourself at the minimum (because you feel you’re still a nobody), people will assume you’re book is crap and not buy. If you price your book too high, they’ll claim you’re asking too much as a newer indie author.
Bottom line: find the best middle ground for you (as silly as how that sounds after what I just described).
Tip 11: Do Not Sell Erotica
Erotica is OK for the writing section of your Fetlife profile, but it’s not good for self-publishing. This is the most over-used and over-saturated genre out there, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing. We have trashy books like 50 Shades of Nonsense to thank for the boom of books of glorified penthouse letters.
Now I’m no prude. I’ve written my fair share of sex scenes, but erotica is hard sell. I’ve read only one or two authors who can do the genre any kind of justice, and that’s only because they mashed their sex with other elements and genres. That, and they’re decent writers.
Most erotica based indie fiction is sloppy, poorly written, even more poorly edited, and there’s no flow. What I’ve read consists of a woman doing a random task, getting nailed by some dude, and then nothing. That’s it. Just scene after scene of this.
So think before you start a 50,000 word draft of “50 Shades of How I Blew the Milkman”. Most erotica sells on Amazon for cheap (usually 99 cents for short story from what I’ve seen), and there’s tons of it out there. Unless you can do something creative with it, keep it in your pants.
P.S. Selling sex is called prostitution.
Tip 12: Most Writing Contests are Bullshit
This one came up very recently when a certain company with multiple Twitter accounts bombarded me and people with whom I converse with ads to join their site and their writing contest. But I’ll get to them.
There are dozens upon dozens of Internet-based writing contests out there, praying on indie authors who think they’re a cut above the rest. Most are scams, aimed at getting your money or your information.
Let’s start with the classic: vanity press. Basically, the prize you win is also the prize you buy. You enter the writing contest, and you soon receive word that you’ve been selected as a contender. There’s no guarantee you’ll win anything, but you’ll be printed in their collection of other contenders if you buy an advanced copy. So you buy the copy of the book. You don’t win, but you’ll get a copy in the mail, enjoying the writing of all the other contenders who also bought the book just to be in it.
Do you feel like a winner yet?
The newest scam I’ve come across is a writing contest for the sake of information farming. The site that was connected to the Twitter accounts hitting up me and my followers is called “Inkitt”. Here’s the scam: you enter their contest for the prize of having your novel submitted to a major publisher through them, earning you an 85% if picked up. If, by some odd reason, you’re not picked up by the major publisher, they’ll post your novel on their site for a 50% cut.
But that’s not the full scam.
They urge you to get all of your friends, family, and social media followers to vote for you to win. That’s right… This is a public vote oriented contest. They aren’t judging you based on skill or material, only your ability to get people to vote. How do you vote? Well you sign up for an account at Inkitt with an email address or Facebook profile.
And there you have it. Now do you feel like a winner?
Tip 13: In Conclusion, Don’t Write
I’m not saying don’t write at all. I’m saying to practice and hone your skill before you decide to post it publicly. And definitely don’t ask for money for something you haven’t had beta-read, edited, and edited again. There’s a lot of people who think they can write but can’t do it well. Find out if you’re one of these people before you hit that publish button.
Writing is a great hobby for me, and it’s extremely fulfilling. One of the tips I left off this list was an obvious one, but I’ll post it here: make time to write. I make sure to write something every day, even if it’s just a few paragraphs. It gets tough when you’re balancing writing with a full-time job and a family like I do, but it’s worth finding time for yourself. It’s a great outlet for those little problems in life, making the tedium of the surrounding bullshit melt away.
But that’s just me.
If writing is a chore for you, then what you’re putting out will suffer. Don’t force anything out that isn’t ready (pause for poop joke giggles). Everyone thinks they’re great. You wouldn’t post word one online if you didn’t think you were worth other people’s time. Just be sure you’re still doing it for you, and that will come out in what you write.
So don’t write if you don’t enjoy the process from start to finish, even when editing makes you want to rip your hair out. Don’t write if you resent others who do it better than you or have more success. Don’t write if a little bit of criticism (creative or otherwise) makes you curl up in a ball, holding your knees and sobbing all over your cat. Don’t write if you can’t see there are areas to improve yourself, no matter how long you’ve been doing it.
Someone recently said “the more I get to know ‘writers’, the less I want to know ‘writers.'” I hope that’s not me she was talking about.
That’s the point I was trying to make. I think I did a pretty good job.
-Budgie Bigelow; author