Updated March 2019
When did you decide to become an author? When did you start writing?
These are the typical interview questions people ask me. They’ll ask you these questions, too, when you become a writer (if you haven’t published yet). You pull out your rote answers, not because they’re boring and you think you’re all that, but because you already know them since you’ve been practicing them most of your life anyway:
“Oh, you know, since the age of ten when I fell in love with The Secret Garden and knew I just had to write,” (which is totally true, by the way). The thing is, there’s a huge leap from practicing your Oscar speech for Best Writer in the Whole World Ever (why don’t they have that anyway?) in your cracked bedroom mirror when you were a teen, to ya know, writing a real live book you hold in your hands (and hope readers do, too).
- There’s a difference between writing silly little stories about goldfish when you’re eleven and learning about the craft of writing.
- There’s a difference between learning about the craft of writing and writing a book.
- There’s a difference between writing a book and getting it published.
- And where you go from that first step to that last step (and it’s by no means the last step because, hello, you have to market that shit), are worlds away from each other in thought, expectation, and execution.
This is the Biggest Misconception Writers Have About Writing
This is Number One — right here:
“I’m going to write a book and it’s going to sell millions of copies and be in Barnes and Noble and on the New York Times bestseller list and oh, I’ll be on TV and, and…I’ll sit on Oprah’s couch and I’ll buy a new house and I’ll never have to work again.”
Do you hear how ridiculous this sounds? Like some drunk kid reciting the beer bong version of The Game of Life. *hiccup*
Yet, isn’t this all of us at the beginning? This is every aspiring writer out there in the world (even people who aren’t writers). This is the dream of the uninformed, the ingenue, the babe who hasn’t learned of agents, distribution channels, queries, advances, keywords, book marketing, or the publishing industry in general (sorry to burst your cotton candy vodka bubble).
This is the reader who asks: will I see your book at my local bookstore and you think, I guess? Why not? (Oh, so many reasons why not.). The library? (Hahaha.) Barnes and Noble? (If you want to pay to play, sure…).
Go read anything on Writers Beware (the most legit of legit sites out there) which gives you the low-down on everything publishing related. Or Writer’s Digest (well, til they’re out of business) or Publisher’s Weekly or shoot, Wikipedia FFS.
Learn the industry you plan to enter. Would you enter any other industry without learning about it first? No. So, it kinda boggles my brain how writers jump in with these unrealistic expectations and then don’t understand why their books aren’t selling. Google shit. Ask people whose work you admire (many are busy and won’t answer back, though some will surprise you). Buy books on the topic. Read articles, blog posts, take a course. Do the fucking work.
I’m not saying it can’t happen and you won’t be the next J.K. Rowling or James Frey (I’m still mad at Oprah about that, by the way). I’m saying figure out what you don’t know and learn from there.
Learn the Craft of Writing
Someone asked me on a chat the other day if I feel everyone has a book in them. I do feel all our experiences and stories are valid and a book is a wonderful way to honor this, however, I don’t feel everyone has the talent to write a book. Which isn’t to say they can’t learn, or don’t have the right to write — we all have that right. Whether it will be great and will sell? That’s a different story.
As I said, I started writing at the age of ten, always excelled in English classes, took every possible writing class in high school (AP classes which I sailed through and started college with six credits), Communications studies in college (minored in Journalism) with an emphasis on written skills, and continued to take additional creative writing classes while working. Somehow, I ended up in Big Pharma for seventeen years (don’t ask), which really quashed my creativity (though I did journal throughout). I’m pretty sure that’s one of the reasons I experienced some pretty soul-crushing depression during that time.
Point is, all that work swirled around in my head all those years, and when I finally was able to start blogging in 2008, I could breathe. I’ve blogged pretty much every week for almost 10 years (either here or on BadRedheadMedia.com) or on one of my guest or paid gigs. Writing consistently and a lot makes you a better writer.
I wrote my first book in 2011, the second in 2012, the third (Broken Pieces) in 2013, the fourth (Broken Places) in 2015, and the fifth (The BadRedhead Media Book Marketing Challenge) in 2016 — working on six and seven now. I’ve self-published, signed with a hybrid, had an agent and small publisher for my business books, and am back to self-publishing my memoirs and poetry (by choice). I market all my own work (more below). Click here to find all my books on Amazon.
Learn how to write. I may not be the best writer in the world and don’t consider myself as such, yet my words resonate with people which gives me grateful shivers. I’m humbled to receive fan mail (Me — fan mail? I still cannot wrap my head around that at all. Truly. I’m just this girl typing at a computer), sell a decent amount of books, and win the occasional writing award.
A final note: I encourage writers to ‘Write what scares you,’ because that’s really the only way to have your words resonate with readers. I don’t mean, for example, that you must be explicit in your descriptions of violence or sex (whether real or imagined) unless you feel it’s necessary, depending on your genre.
What I mean is to dig deep inside yourself and pull out those emotions you hide, that terrify you, that make you vulnerable — these are universal truths that bond us. When you feel that, others feel it, too.
Getting Your Book Published
Which direction do you want to go? Most authors figure they will get an agent and go traditional so they don’t have to market their book since the publisher does that for them.
Publishers don’t market your work. Even the Big Five. They will do more traditional PR, like set up signings, get top interviews, book you on some great guest blogs or a top-tier blog tour (this is all if you’re a big name), pay a placement allowance for face-out, front table placement in chain stores, etc. Online marketing (social media, newsletters, advertising, blogging, promotions, giveaways) is primarily all on the author.
You can read more about book marketing over on my blog or in my book. That’s not really the purpose of this post.
My point here is to commit — if you are dedicated to this writing thing, and truly want to see your book in print (or eBook), and want to make it happen, either hire someone to help you navigate it all, or learn how this shit works. You are not a child, and this is adulting (though I’ll say here: I’ve worked with seventeen-year-old authors who are more mature and informed about this than many middle-aged authors). You will pay taxes on royalties. This is a business, so treat it as such.
If your goal is to make a pretty book or just to say you did it, cool. Awesome. Foozle (as my dad would say — hey, he’s eighty. He can call it whatever he wants.) Lots of people write books that never sell and that’s okay, too. Manage your expectations.
Now That You’re A Writer…
Be proud of yourself. Writing, publishing, and marketing are hard work. It’s a creative pursuit and it’s a job — yet not my only job and certainly not the one that pays my bills. Art is work, as Patti Smith so famously said.
In realistic terms, it most likely will not pay your bills. At least not for a good, long time. I sell about 50 books/month right now (not a lot, not a miniscule amount). Sometimes more, if I do promotions and stuff.
Upcoming releases Broken People and the BadRedhead Media 30-Day Twitter Challenge will also help up my visibility and my backlist. Meanwhile, I keep writing and working and doing my thing. Fortunately, I love what I do — working with authors, offering free help via #BookMarketingChat every Wednesday, and hosting #SexAbuseChat every Tuesday as well, and writing articles for various publications.
Do what fills your soul.
Pursuing a creative life is a wonderful endeavor in this hard reality we live in. I encourage you to dive in and utilize those spaces in your brain we don’t typically access as we slog through the daily detritus. If you can imagine other worlds, share emotional planes we don’t often visit and help people feel and dream what stirs their soul, writing belongs to you. Sprinkle that shit everywhere.
But first, realize it fully.
Purchase Broken Pieces or Broken Places to see what I’m all about, or to get real-life, practical daily tips with your book marketing, buy the BadRedhead Media Book Marketing Challenge and conquer the shit out of selling your book.
carol Hedges saysSeptember 18, 2017 at 2:59 am
YES! And YES again. I am always being asked how to write a ‘bestseller’ ..my advice, read some …study them, learn how they do it. Then write what you want to write, coz you can’t copy them. And when you’ve written it, that is only the beginning of the journey, as you and I know!
Lev Raphael saysSeptember 25, 2017 at 6:50 am
This is great advice. Too many people want to be a writer without thinking through and studying the career, the work, and understanding what doing the work, living the work means.
On another note. I started in legacy publishing and still sell more copies of my books, many more there than ebooks. I got in late. A friend of a friend was making 30K when I jumped in, retrieved the rights to 5 of my crime novels back and started to launch them one by one. But she had already started to see her income dropping. There’s so much more competition on line than there was even five years ago. Just a fact of the business.
Maggie Colombe saysNovember 28, 2017 at 4:42 pm
Very interesting, thank you for all of the advice that you have given here.
Thank you very much.
My own book is “HOW HE ROBBED ME OF MY THREE BABY DAUGHTERS” This is my first book.
DANIELLA SHEPARD saysMay 15, 2018 at 1:42 pm
I really enjoy your articles on marketing yourself as a writer. I haven’t seen much on the tax side (paying taxes on your earnings from your writing, treating it as a business vs. a hobby, deductions, etc). That would be a great guest blog.
Rachel Thompson saysMay 20, 2018 at 10:32 pm
Hi Daniella — thank you so much. Most of those posts are over on my other blog BadRedheadMedia.com (a few here as I’m obviously a writer and share the realities here occasionally).
I don’t share much about the tax side of it only because I’m a) not an accountant so I don’t want to give out tax advice and b) it’s really dependent on how much one makes in royalties. That would be a great guest post from an accountant, though — probably more suited to my biz blog, I think maybe…not sure. Will have to think about that one! Thanks for the idea. xx
Bill saysSeptember 15, 2018 at 11:20 pm
This article talks about many things. Which of them is “the Number One Misconception Writers Have About Writing” ?
Rachel Thompson saysSeptember 22, 2018 at 2:59 pm
Hi Bill – if you look at the first sub-head where it says in bold: This is The Biggest Misconception Writers Have About Writing and then just underneath I wrote: This is Number One, Right Here, you can find it.
Hope that helps! Thanks for visiting.