Doling out writing / career advice is not something I normally do. No matter how long I’ve been at this game (almost 20 years) and how much success I’ve had (hint: none), I don’t feel comfortable opening my mouth about choices others should make on their journey because I don’t feel qualified. But I guess there is one area where I do feel comfortable. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s experience. Maybe it’s jaded cynicism. Maybe it’s because I care. And I do care.
I remember what it was like when I started writing with an eye toward getting traditionally published. The Internet was just starting to take off and there weren’t a lot of resources available for writers to research and vet the people giving out information. Scams still existed and people still fell for them, but technology has changed a lot in the last twenty plus years. More importantly, technology has changed us.
A lot of you might not have had that before and after experience because you were born on the cusp of it and grew up with technology and social media in your face all the time. Now we have YouTube and Instagram and whatever where a creative can attract a following and grow a business—building a brand, if you will. That is great. I’m not bashing it. I know it’s taking me time to get to where I’m going with this, but I want you to know where I’m coming from and that I’m not coming down on anyone specifically. I am speaking in general terms here. No shade. So here goes:
BE CAREFUL WHO YOU GET ADVICE FROM AND WHO YOU GIVE YOUR MONEY TO!
Over the past few years within the writing community, especially since self-publishing took off, I’ve seen a lot of folks setting themselves up as founts of knowledge, ready to help you on your journey to writing success. There’s one big problem with these people, and this is what steams my buns, and that is they don’t really have the experience (time put in to actually writing, finishing, editing, and publishing a book or several), sales to show that they can write a marketable book that attracts and keeps readers, marketing skills to grow a sustainable career, or a background that gives them the knowledge and skills to dispense solid advice.
Because this is what I’ve been seeing in the writing community (more specifically, the self-publishing/indie community):
- Inexperienced writers who haven’t even finished their first book giving writing advice.
- Inexperienced writers who have started a few books but haven’t published anything, giving advice on how to succeed at publishing.
- Somewhat experienced writers who have put the time and words in, who haven’t been vetted by the reading public, telling you how to write, edit, or market your book.
- Experienced writers, claiming they have credentials when in fact the truth is only a mustard seed covered with a heap of manure.
I’ll admit my opinions are strong and very black and white about this, but this isn’t about my opinion. It’s about teaching newbies how to spot someone who doesn’t have your best interest at heart, because the theory of writing a book, of polishing a book, and of publishing a book is one thing; the execution of it is another. After you’ve done it a few times, you’ll see how vastly different these things are.
Anyone can start a YouTube channel and blog about how to write a story. There’s nothing wrong with any of that; however, there are some out there who are probably at the same point as you are in your writing career: they’re just starting out, haven’t written much, still learning about craft (plot, structure, narrative, pov, etc.), and generally haven’t put enough time and work in to convey the nuances of writing fiction effectively. Anyone can find general writing advice on the web. Most of the folks out there giving advice (traditional or self-pub) are giving general writing advice that you can find on your own with a simple Google search.
So here are a few tips to help you sort through those who really are paying it forward and those who are exploiting your eagerness and inexperience:
If a person has a YT channel or website giving writing or publishing advice, ask yourself these questions:
Have they finished any books? If not, why would you go to them for help? If you’re looking for a buddy to commiserate with while on your writing journey, there’s nothing wrong with that. Writers need other writers. This ish ain’t easy. But is it really wise to get craft advice from someone who’s at the same level as you? If they’re asking for money on their Patreon, don’t give it to them. Set up one for yourself if it’s all that. MONEY FLOWS TOWARD THE WRITER.
Do they have any books published? Maybe they’ve finished a few drafts but haven’t published yet. Why would you seek publishing advice from them? They don’t know any more than you.
If they have books published, how are their sales? You can check this, you know. https://kindlepreneur.com/amazon-kdp-sales-rank-calculator/ This is a bit old school, but it will give a ball park idea of how many books per day an author is selling. If an author’s overall ranking in the Amazon store is say 300,000, they’re selling less than a book a day. This author is not a bestseller. If any author is claiming best seller status, check their rank on all sites, not just the major one. Here’s a general hint: If an author’s ranking in the store is in the five-digit range, they’re not a best seller. If they’re ranking is under say #100 in their chosen categories, it means they’re writing for a niche (small) category and might be a best seller in that category, but if the market has 2,000 readers, that’s hardly best seller status overall. Anyway, maybe not go to this person for marketing advice. Others have explained this better, Chris Fox being one of them. Check his videos out on writing to market.
Does this author have the background or education or experience of some sort that gives them credibility? In this day and age, a lot of people are setting themselves up as gurus who are all too eager to exploit you and separate you from your money. Anyone can say they’re an editor. Anyone can say they used to teach writing. Anyone can say they were a literary agent. Anyone can say just about anything. For the most part, we believe them. I was a sucker once, taking outdated publishing advice from someone who thought his way was the right way. Well, it was. For him…twenty years ago. Despite the technology, we can’t always check on someone’s background. Well, you can, I guess, but you have to dig and dig and maybe use the Wayback Machine http://web.archive.org/ . Don’t be afraid to learn the truth about your heroes. If they are legit, they’ll withstand your scrutiny.
Is this person saying there’s only one way (their way) to do things? If so, just run. Go. There is no one true way when it comes to writing. There’s no one true way when it comes to anything.
This post is getting too long, so I’m going to cut it off here. All writers, even experienced ones, are looking for a magic bullet to make this gig easier. I hate to break it to you but it doesn’t exist.
There’s only this: Study your craft from the best people (I heard Master Class is pretty good) and from the best books. Read in your chosen genre but also read widely. Write. Put the words down. Seek beta readers or critique partners who know their stuff. You have to put the work in. I wish I could say you’ll find some sense of comfort in the knowledge you gain, but to be honest, this is the only creative endeavor I’ve ever done where every effort feels like the first time. Surround yourself with good people who aren’t trying to use you to build their platform. Vet people. Ask questions. Research. You’ll get there. I’m tired of seeing newbie writers being taken advantage of, and I hope this helps in some way.
P.S. This also goes for taking advice from message boards. Sometimes those places can be toxic. Let me know if you want to hear my story.