I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast ‘Fake it Till You Make it’ and it got me wondering about the kinds of things that writers can do to make themselves more professional.
Specifically what got me thinking was a comment that Howard Taylor made about his self-imposed rule that when he started he wanted to upload something every single day as he knew that the professional webcomics had a set schedule.
But what can writers do to appear professional? Much of a writer’s actual work is done behind the scenes and I think that working to appear as a professional author is a lot different when you have a manuscript published versus one that you’re sending out, or even haven’t finished yet.
Another idea that was floated in the podcast was that you could pick someone that you admire and do a kind of ‘I want to be like them when I grow up’ brainstorm. With that in mind I thought I’d bounce off a few authors that I admire and see how I can be like them when I grow up, adding in a little flair for an aspiring author who’s yet to be at the agent querying stage (you won’t be able to do book tours or anything like that, after all!)
Given which corners of the internet I frequent and the kinds of books that I read these authors are going to have a distinct fantasy theme running through.
Author of The Kingkiller Chronicles, his most recent published work is The Slow Regard of Silent Things and also has numerous short stories out there.
I don’t remember specifically when I read The Name of the Wind but I remember that as soon as I put it down it became my favourite book in a long time. On the very first page of the book is my favourite single line of prose I think I have ever read. On top of that he’s a really great guy that does a lot of work for charity and always stays to make sure all his fans are happy when he does a signing. Although I think that something I can take away from the long wait between books is that – should I ever get into a similar situation – even a little news on how the book is doing will help people become less frustrated with the wait.
Author of The Broken Empire trilogy as well as loads of short stories and the publication of his newest trilogy The Red Queen Trilogy has recently been finished and another book set in a new universe is coming out this year.
Prince of Thorns is a book that comes back to me again and again for its brutally poetic prose, visceral action, and compelling characters. Jorg’s story is one of my favourites, he’s a great anti-hero, absolute bastard that knows it and doesn’t care, and you still love him. Mark Lawrence’s writing in The Broken Empire is some of my favourite and I remember flicking Prince of Thorns to a random page and finding a line I loved.
Mark Lawrence is very consistent with his release schedule which I know that I appreciate as never-ending series can be a bane of the fantasy genre.
On top of that Mark Lawrence is active in social media and online and seems to get involved with fans, giveaways and what have you quite frequently and isn’t afraid to speak his mind on controversial subjects like piracy.
Author of the Bel Dame trilogy and the Worldbreaker Saga as well as numerous other stories and essays. She is a multi-award nominated author and has won the award for Best Newcomer from the British Fantasy Society in 2011 and won more than one Hugo Award.
I read The Mirror Empire this year, the first book in the Worldbreaker Saga, and I thought it was brilliant. I thought that it had a lot of things that I think the fantasy genre should push towards: a lot of weird things going on and built into the world and the people. It meant that it took a bit of time to get used to it but it was a wonderfully weird and visceral book and I look forward to reading the rest of her work. I hope that I can push my work out there and be a bit weird and push the boundaries of speculative fiction.
I also think that she has an absolutely astounding work ethic as she’s had a consistently busy release schedule for a few years now and keeps publishing heavy tomes whilst keeping up a full time job (I know that many writers pump out books whilst working full time jobs).
So: what do they all have in common and what can I do?
They are all involved online and present themselves as people rather than just as monoliths to crowd around and hear the latest news about their books and where you can buy them. A lot of authors (that I notice on the internet-o-sphere) are doing just that and it makes me much more likely to pick up their book.
However, there is a hidden edge to being active on the internet which I think is perhaps best demonstrated with Patrick Rothfuss. Although Patrick Rothfuss is an avid updater and internet-er and all round good guy he very rarely talks about what kinds of progress he’s making on the final volume in his trilogy. I know that there are reasons he would not want to update too much – we’ve all felt the stressful pressure of high expectations at one point or another I’m sure – but for his long-term fans it is also becoming frustrating. Name of the Wind came out in 2007 (almost 10 years ago now!) and I remember one of the reasons I was so pleased to enjoy it as much as I did was that he mentioned the whole thing was done so we wouldn’t have a long wait.
Now I don’t want to get into this in too much detail because, as I say, I know that he’s working on it and revising it and I’d rather have a book he’s happy with than a rubbish read that he’s pushed out just to appease the masses.
But the lesson I would take away from it is that updating readers on progress of the next work is an excellent way to keep them appeased and engaged. Brandon Sanderson, for example, has several progress bars for progress of his books on his website.
Additionally, I think it’s really important to present a personality and not just spew ‘Buy my book’ messages. I’m sure that everyone out there will agree that only hearing someone squawk on about buying their book (or anything really) but nothing else is a major turn off.
I’m going to endeavor to be more up to date with the blog and generally poke around with other people on the internet. There’s loads of forums and things where people share the love of their books so I’ll be sharing my own thoughts as I want to review my reading more this year too.
This is obviously the most important thing for any writer: the words!
There are two pillars here that move someone from an excellent author I enjoy to a favourite author: one is being prolific; and two is writing excellent prose.
These definitely combine with everything else here but it’s becoming increasingly the case that readers expect (or at the very least would like very much) for authors to put out books and stories on a regular basis. Some of the writers above (as across much of the publishing world) put out more stories/books than others but they all engage and put something new out when they can.
For me this means that this year I have set writing goals and self-imposed deadlines and want to make sure that I get at least one long-body work of fiction (either a novel or novella) out for reading by some beta readers and critiquers and a few short stories too. And then hopefully by the end of the year I will have felt confident enough in one of them to send them out for perusal by an agent or magazine.
I think that those two things go a long way to moving a writer up in my estimations. There are other factors of course but I don’t think I need to go into that now (I’ve already one on for way longer than I thought!).
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post the things that you can do to be professional as an aspiring author as opposed to a published one vary wildly but there’s a lot you can do that’s the same and I think it really comes down to engaging with the community whilst working your socks off to get your work out there.
So you will see more updates on what I am doing throughout the coming year and hopefully I can make some new friends and writing colleagues along the way!