I recently attended my FIRST writing event ever! I've never been to one in real life, so when I heard about this session on writing/publishing with a bestselling author, I jumped at the opportunity and registered to hear him talk. Best decision I could have made!
His name is Hugh Howey and he wrote the fantastic WOOL series. If you haven't heard of these books, you need to get to a store or library ASAP, because they are truly awesome. I made sure to read the first novel before I went to see him, and now I'm inhaling the next book. And you know post-apocalyptic is not my usual cup of tea!
Because Hugh got his start in self-publishing, the talk was very much in favor of that path of publication. WOOL was once a short story that he self-published on Amazon, and after much reader acclaim, he turned it into a novel that went on to become a New York Times bestseller. He's got an agent and a publisher now, after the fact, but he kick-started the process himself.
He was both cool and funny, and extremely well-spoken about his experiences in the industry. I'm pretty sure I was not the only aspiring author in the room who began to waver from the idea of traditional publication, after hearing the passionate and positive way he talked about self-publishing and the freedom and self-assurance that come with it.
I was so busy taking notes the whole time that whenever I had a question, someone else would ask it before I could muster the courage to raise my hand. (Fine by me, as I am petrified of public speaking, even if it's just to ask something for 5 seconds and have every single person in the room looking at me. *hunches in seat*)
Anyway, these were some of the awesome tips I jotted down:
On the Writing Process
- Join a writing group. He described the very well-organized, professional-sounding group that he had been a part of (they had a president! and a treasurer! and dues, so they could buy refreshments!), but it doesn't have to be that intense. Just write with other people, because it's a great learning opportunity.
- Write for readers. Don't write for agents; don't write for publishers. Think about the actual people who are going to be reading/buying your book, because they matter the most.
- To be a good writer, you need to read. Everyone knows that... but Hugh stressed that you shouldn't only be reading for pleasure. You should also be paying attention to craft. You can write a dozen books, but if you don't read, you will never grow as a writer. He recommended "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" and Stephen King's "On Writing." (Speaking of which, I really need to read King's book; it seems like everyone recommends it!)
- To be a good writer, you need to live. He said that MFAs and writing programs can only teach you so much. A truly well-rounded writer is one who gets out there and lives life, has adventures, falls in love, gets their heart broken, travels, and - most importantly - talks to strangers.
- If you're a plotter, write for the reader who will read your book twice. Hugh said he's a hardcore plotter (woo-hoo! plotters represeeeent) and that he could be writing Book 1, but already know what will happen in Books 4 and 5. He likes outlining because you can stick in foreshadowing and Easter eggs that repeat readers can have fun picking out.
- Six CPs is the perfect number. Too many CPs is not good, as you'll get pulled into too many directions. He also advised us to stagger our submissions. Send out to 2-3 CPs, incorporate their edits, revise, and then send out to 2-3 more. That way, people aren't all reading the rough draft and wasting time picking out the same mistakes.
- If you're self-publishing, write a lot of shorter pieces instead of one giant novel. He said that this would be 1) easier, 2) more practice, 3) help you build up readership, and 4) allow readers to finish faster so that they can review and spread the word faster.
- Enjoy your anonymity. I loved that he brought this up. He said that he misses the days when he could just write and not worry about deadlines and tours. Appreciate what you have now and don't lose sight of it.
- Tell yourself your 10th book will be a bestseller; not your debut. He compared this to being an athlete and said that it's not likely you'll make MVP your first time on the field. He said that each book is like a lottery ticket; the more you write, the more you expand your opportunities. He also suggested writing different lengths and different genres. (This tip made me really happy because, as you guys remember, I worried a while back whether jumping around genre-wise was a good idea.)
- Don't be in it for the money. He repeated this so many times that I could tell it was an extremely important point he hoped to pass on. "Dream, but don't expect" were his very words.
- Self-publishing vs. traditional, and how writing is like a painting. Hugh compared a book to a painting, and explored this metaphor down the paths of traditional and self-publication. On the traditional path, a writer can make the sketch, but someone else will paint it onto a canvas, someone else will decide what frame to put the canvas in, and someone else will decide what to call it. Self-publishing can give the writer a lot more control, creativity, and freedom.
- All writing is practice... even crap. Especially crap! Never underestimate the crap.
- Tearing down other writers is tearing down yourself. His exact words were, "That's just crazy talk!" He warned us not to hate on people who've had an easier time (like the ones who get an agent on their second query letter, or a movie deal and tons of money right out of the gate, etc.) and not to judge writers - especially self-published ones - whose books aren't perfect. They are out there making art, and that's the most important thing. Someone else's success (or failure) takes nothing away from you; don't wallow or revel in it.
I really wish I could have talked to him afterward (and that I'd brought my copy of WOOL for him to sign), but he was swarmed by everyone else so I just left and tried to absorb everything he'd said.
The session really gave me a new perspective on self-publishing. When I first started to get into serious writing, I (very ignorantly and stupidly) thought that the only people who self-published were the ones who could not cut it on the traditional path. And that's just a very self-limiting, close-minded way to think. I'm glad that my years of being part of the blog community have shown me how much incredible talent there is out there, regardless of publication style - self, traditional, small press/big press, agent or not, etc. - and that I learned so much from this event.
It's way too early to make hard and fast decisions (and my heart still tells me that I want to be traditionally published, because I want to focus on the writing itself and leave the design/heavy marketing stuff to the pros), but I am happy to know that there are so many roads I can take.
So what do you think about Hugh's advice? What's your opinion on self-publishing vs. traditional?
And what would you think if - one day down the road - I ever released PPP as an e-book, since so many of you have asked to read it? :) :)