5 Things Not To Say To Writers... And 5 Things To Definitely Say

Last week I blogged about the first world problems of a published author. Yes, our live are pretty awesome. Are the easy? No. We’ve still got problems. They’re just not query trenches problems… and no, I don’t think any of us would ever trade it.

Today, I’d like to talk about things that are said to me… often. They aren’t bad things, or insulting things (although I do get those too, just usually not related to my writing). They’re just… things that I hear a lot, and I’m guessing other authors do, too.

Again, I don’t have a hard life. Consider this post first-world problems of a published author, part two.

5 Things Not To Say

1) You Still Publishing Books? Yes, because it’s my only form of income. I doubt lawyers, doctors, farmers or teachers are often asked if they are still in their chosen career path. But here’s the other thing - what if the author you’re talking to is on a downswing? What if they can’t sell another book and their publisher dropped them and they don’t have an agent anymore? That’s incredibly painful, and not something that’s easily spoken about.

2) How’s The Book Selling? If the author is traditional published, they probably don’t know. We typically get our royalty statements once every six months, and they cover the period of time three to four months prior to that. If they are self-published they have a much better grasp on how the book is selling, but… did you just ask how much money they make?

3) You Should Make Your Book Into A Movie. We all would if we could. A movie requires things like actors, set designers, directors, producers, recording equipment, editors, and probably a million dollars. Movie making is incredibly difficult, very expensive, and best left to the people that do that for a living. We’re writers.

4) I Have The Idea For Your Next Book. No, I have the idea for my next book. Sounds like you have an idea for a book that you’re excited about. You should totally write it.

5) I Love Your Work! I Illegally Downloaded It! Cool. What do you do for a living and is there a way I can reap all of the benefits of it without paying you anything? Let me know.

5 Things To Definitely Say

1) What Are You Working On? Authors are usually pretty happy to talk about our work in progress. This is a safe question because even if the author isn’t under contract or hasn’t sold a book in awhile - or even if they lost their agent - chances are they are still writing, and would love a chance to talk about their current project.

2) Are You Going to Write A Sequel To… Most authors are going to love the fact that you’re asking for more of their work. In my case, I get this question all the time about A Madness So Discreet. I don’t mind answering honestly - as of right now, no. This is because a sequel generally only nets about 40% of the audience of the first book, and A Madness So Discreet hasn’t really sold well enough for my publisher to green light a sequel. But - the fact that you love it makes me happy, and this gives me the opportunity to encourage you to tell your friends about it, in the hopes a sequel could be forthcoming. Word of mouth is still the best marketing out there.

3) Your Book Made Me Feel… Honestly, I love hearing this. I made you feel!! I don’t even mind if it made you angry, or sad, or any range of negative emotions. A couple months ago I had a girl walk into one of my signings and say, “Mindy McGinnis, I’ve got a bone to pick with you.” I loved it. She was seriously aggrieved with the ending of one of my books, and I told her what a huge compliment that is to a writer.

4) Will You Sign My Book? Yes. Always. Forever. Twice, if you want. I’ve had people walk up to my table with a stack of all my published titles, then apologize for asking me to sign them. Don’t apologize! This is the highest compliment that can ever be paid to me. You love my work! You bought my books! The absolute least I can do is sign them for you. Personally, I don’t mind if people approach me in public, either. Don’t hold all authors to this, but if you see me and you have a book on you (or nearby), yes, yes, I will sign it for you. Of course I will, thank you for asking.

5) You Probably Don’t Remember Me, But I Met You At… Honestly, no we probably don’t. We see a lot of faces. But, this is still an excellent thing to say to us because you’re telling us you care enough about us, or our work, to come out and see us more than once. We’re all busy. Making time in your schedule to come to an event is a huge compliment, and signings are notoriously dull for authors. If you met us before, tell us! Give us a little reminder of where, and while we might not remember you, we can probably still recall the event, and thank you for being enough of a super fan to support us by coming out for events!

The First-World Problems of A Published Writer, Part One

My life is awesome, don't get me wrong.

When I was mired in the foxhole of query hell dodging rejection bullets while trying to reload with a better, more awesome query, I looked at published authors as people with no problems. Or at least, their problems were nothing in comparison to mine.

And I still think this is true. But...

Published authors have our own set of issues—marketing plans we don't agree with (Hey, at least you have marketing that you're not funding yourself!), a cover we hate (Um, an art department made your cover, not your cousin with her outdated Photoshop software!), a title change (Really? Because if a pub house wanted me I'd change my title to This Book Sucks & The Author is Ugly), or thematic battles with your editor (Hello!??! At least you have an editor!). 

And to be very clear, in case any of the fabulous people at Katherine Tegen are reading this (I love them all, along with every cell right down to its nucleus in every one of their bodies), these issues are not my issues. I'm culling these examples from years of conversations with other writers.

But the problems I want to talk to you about today are the everyday problems, little misunderstandings that crop up with people who don't understand the publishing industry—and you shouldn't expect them to. In fact, I won't even call them problems because they aren't. They're blips on the screen that have occurred enough times that you feel like it's a problem, like an eye twitch that happens one too many times in the afternoon. What's the remedy? Remind yourself to be grateful you have eyes and move on.

Examples:

1) Where can I buy your book?—Well, a bookstore is a good start. Just saying. Or this magical thing called the internet. Don't say that. Yes, they might be the 1000th person to ask you that—and essentially it might feel like a silly question—but it's not their fault they weren't the first person to ask you back when you had patience. If they're the 1000th person to ask—and you answer politely 1000 times—you might sell 1000 books.

2) How much is your book?—This depends entirely on who is selling it. Seriously. Amazon is selling it cheaper than Barnes & Noble, and both of them are selling it more cheaply than the local Indie. It all relates to the magical Amazon algorithm and overstock and price gouging but Indies count on support and... oh wait, this person doesn't care about the politics behind everything. Just answer the question with the jacket price. If this launches them into a long story about how they found it cheaper on eBay, fantastic. Listen to it. Don’t launch into a diatribe about how the secondary market hurts you. It does, yes. But it’s only going to make them feel bad, and they just supported you… or at least they thought they did.

3) Can I buy it from you? - Technically, no. In order to do that I have to have a vendor's license and charge tax and declare it as income. Also, I don't carry my books around in my trunk like I'm selling roses on the corner or meat out of coolers. If fact, this is one of the major reasons why I went the traditional publishing route—I don't want to handle sales myself. Again, just answer the question. They want to buy the story that's published, not the long boring one you're telling in response to a simple inquiry.

4) Hey, I wrote a book too! Will you read it?—Here's the thing, 200 million Americans have written / are writing / want to write a book. Chances are you know a few of them, and if you don't already they are going to seek you out. The quick answer is no, however it's also a fairly rude answer that will make people think you are too big for your britches now that you're a fancy-pants published writer. Definitely say the no part, but say it nicely and with encouragement, along with a list of writing blogs and podcasts (this one is a good start), and suggestions on how to find a critique partner more suited to where they are in the journey. You might be passing on a chance to usher in the next Margaret Atwood, but that's not your job. Your job is to write, and you can't do that when you're mentoring someone else.

5) My cousin in Tucson bought your book! How did you get it in bookstores out there?—Yeah. Here's the thing, the general public doesn't know the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Remember, 200 million Americans want to get published and they now have the opportunity to do exactly that (and more power to them). So those authors are selling their books themselves, they are hand delivering their stock to bookstores, and this is the average person's concept of how books get "out there" now that they probably know someone who is doing exactly this. Your publisher did all this for you, and you sank a third of your lifetime into getting the deal that made that possible. Explaining this will make you sound elitist, even if you're not. So what's the best answer? The simple one: my publisher. Period.

These are some of the tiny, silly, nagging little problems of a published author. It's not the questions, it's the repetition. And there are days when none of these are asked, followed by days where I get all five multiple times each and I want to drink bleach just to see how it makes my intestines smell.

Then I say to myself, "Mindy—you get paid to make up stories about things that didn't happen to people that don't exist. Shut up."

10 Writer's Resolutions for 2019 & 10 Things NOT To Do

Regular readers know that it took me ten years to find an agent, and another six months after signing with her to land a book deal. During that time, every New Year's Eve I'd stare down into my drink and resolve that this year I was going to get published.

That is not a good resolution. I'll tell you why.

A writer has very little control over whether or not they become published. Nuances of the market, trends, financial belt tightening in the industry, a book too similar to your own that breaks out... all of these things are beyond a writer's control. You might as well make your New Year's resolution that this year you're going to win the Westminster Dog Show - as the dog, not the handler.

(Side note - it's not impossible. In 1903 unaware Victorians named a lemur best in show for the Foreign Breed Class at the Crystal Palace Cat Show in London)

On New Year's Eve of 2009 I looked down into my drink (they were getting bigger) and told myself to come up with a better resolution, because the old standby of "get published" wasn't coming through for me. I decided instead that I would join an online writer's group.

And that changed everything.

My forum of choice was AgentQueryConnect. First I lurked, occasionally sending direct messages to posters whose commentary I enjoyed. Then I began posting, throwing myself into the world and meeting people that I continue to interact with to this day. Next I found a few posters that I thought would be a good fit for critique partners, and made that personal connection leap.

And as Frost says, that has made all the difference.

I continue to use the critique partners that I met on AQC, all of whom have gone on to become published writers as well. Through AQC I learned how to write a query that works, format a manuscript the right way, write a synopsis, and navigate the industry in general. I learned how to take control of the little things that could add up to "get published."

So here are some writerly resolutions that I suggest for 2017, ones that are entirely within your power to execute.

1. Join a writer's group or forum. AQC is my touchstone, but there are some other great ones out there such as AbsoluteWrite and the forum at Writer's Digest.

2. Get serious about tracking those queries. Sure, you've had rejections, but do you remember from who? Or even why? QueryTracker.net is indispensable, and I highly recommend going for the paid version. It's worth it.

3. Find a critique partner that isn't your mom or a friend. If you want a real critique it needs to come from another writer - not just a reader. Finding someone online to give you feedback takes out the awkward quality of a friend who might not want to tell you something isn't working, and also allows you the freedom to go ahead and cry in front of your computer without them ever knowing you did. A good CP should be at about the same level you are in terms of craft and career. Get online, find someone in your genre, and trade manuscripts.

4. Pay for membership in a writer's group that fits your needs. Whether you write mysteries, sci-fi, picture books or adult literary, there is a professional group that fits your style. Most groups offer different levels of membership depending on whether you are published or pre-published. Examples are SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators), MWA (Mystery Writers of America), SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), ITW (International Thriller Writers) and RWA (Romance Writers of America). You can learn a lot from these communities and their publications.

5. Scout out local opportunities. I've met with various writer's groups that home-base out of a local library or private home. Ask your local librarian if s/he knows about any such groups.

6. Subscribe to a professional magazine that seems like your style. I highly recommend both Writer's Digest and Poets & Writers (even though I totally hear Adam Sandler's "Hoagies & Grinders" in my head every time I get a Poets & Writers in the mail).

7. Learn about what's going on in the industry itself. Yes, I know. You're a writer, not a business person. In this day and age you must be both. You can glean a lot of information about the industry from both online forums, writers groups, and professional subscription listed above. However, if you can afford a subscription and want to mainline industry info, Publisher's Weekly is the way to go.

8. You need to know what's selling if you want to position yourself and your work in the market. A subscription to Publisher's Marketplace will tell you who's buying what, and what agents are selling right now in your genre. This is not a necessity, but it can be a good tool.

9. Go to a writing conference in your area. I only attended one as a pre-pub - and it was romance centered - but it was close, convenient, and affordable. It gave me the opportunity to sit down at a table with agents and published authors, and most importantly, I learned how not to approach time by watching other people make snafus.

10. Lastly, write your book. Yes, that's what I put last. Everything above is instrumental in getting your work published, and most of them are actionable before you have something to show and share. If you have a finished manuscript, most of the above goals will help change and craft that ms during the road to publication. If you haven't started yet, you can still dive in and learn as you go.

Now, 10 things you shouldn't do in 2019... or really, ever.

1 Like I said before, don't set goals that aren't in your power to meet. Broad goals like get published aren't going to do you any favors. Find the baby steps towards that big goal and make those your aim.

2 Don't be frustrated by the success of others. Comparison truly is the thief of joy. If you're reading a book that has sold a million copies and you think yours is better, that's actually a good thing. Maybe yours will sell a million and one copies. Take heart. Getting angry only wastes your energy.

3 Similarly, don't trash other authors in public. If you think someone's writing sucks, that's fine. Is it really important for you to tell them that? In a few years you might find yourself looking for blurbs for your book, or your publicist might be trying to place you on panel - and that author you badmouthed will remember.

4 Don't be fooled by the positivity machine. This is something that has come up again and again on the podcast, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate here at the beginning of the year. People use social media to make themselves look good and authors are no different. In 2019 we're be posting our new covers, great blurbs, and book tour dates. Don't think for one second that we didn't go through a dark night of the soul to get there, or that that night only happens once. Writing is not easy for any of us. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

5 Don't let anyone tell you there's one right way to go about writing. We all have our methods and many writers will tell you that each book requires a different approach. There's no quick and easy method. There's no magic bullet. What works for one will fail for someone else. Find your way.

6 Don't let anyone tell you there's one right way to get published. From self-publishing to small presses to the Big Five, you've got to find what fits you. That means learning your strengths. Are you good at marketing and promotion? Would you rather write than spend your time hand selling? Know the answers to those questions - and many more - before you decide which path to take.

7 Don't grind yourself into the ground. Seriously. One of the worst pieces of advice that I hear is never give up. It's fine to give up. In fact, it's healthy. I've said it on the show before but it bears repeating. It took me 10 years to get published but I wasn't sending out queries everyday. A person can only handle so much rejection and stay mentally and emotionally healthy. Take a break sometimes. For months, even. I did. Give up for a little bit. Then jump back in.

8 Don't convince yourself you're an undiscovered literary genius. Sure, there's a chance you might be, but it's much more likely that you're a good writer with a decent idea who needs to hone their skills a little bit more to break through. The tortured starving artist thing doesn't look good on anybody.

9 Don't blame the system. Yes, writing queries sucks. Yes, it can feel like you're on the outside looking in. Yes, the gatekeepers can feel like your enemies. They aren't. The system exists for a reason and that reason is because it works. The vast majority of the writers I know found their agent through cold querying, and it took an average of 7 years for them to find that agent. There could be many reasons you're not published yet: your writing just isn't ready, the market isn't right at the moment for your story, or maybe you're great at novel writing but aren't very good at queries. The answer to why you haven't broken in yet isn't the query process, and telling yourself so is only an excuse to not see the real reason.

10 Don't beat a dead horse. I meant that literally - why would do that? But also, don't keep querying a book that isn't getting anywhere. I received over 130 rejections for a particular novel, as well as partial and full rejections. I kept querying it. I was determined. This was my ticket. I started writing the sequel to the book that no one wanted to read. Then I got smart, realized I was wasting my time, and moved on to a new idea that was titled Not A Drop to Drink.