My brain was so full after last weekend’s Space Coast Writers’ Guild conference in Cocoa Beach that I think it took a whole week to digest the information I gathered there. The truth about a writers’ conference is that, even if you don’t get practical advice (though you pretty much always do), you’re going to get inspiration. You’re surrounded by ambitious writers, by smart authors and editors and literary agents, and no amount of mediocre hotel food can turn off your appetite for everyone’s enthusiasm. You go home wanting to plot, and write, and do all the things it takes to get your book out into the world. Make that books. Which leads us into five takeaways I got this time around:
1. Your writing career isn’t about getting one book published. It’s about writing and publishing multiple books. Agents and editors are looking for career writers, not one-tome wonders. Even if you’re doing the self-publishing thing, the one sure way to build fans is to write multiple books so they have somewhere to go when they’ve finished reading the first one. To write all those books, you need the discipline to write every day, even if you have another job. There are no shortcuts. And while one project is well under way, another (or two) should always be in the works. (Thanks, author Davis Bunn.)
2. Most writers have another job. Most writers don’t get rich writing. Even authors published by big houses can’t necessarily support themselves by their writing. Your fortune is not assured by a publishing contract. Oh, yeah, and if you sell five books at a conference, you’re doing great! (Thanks, agent/author Lois Winston.)
3. The dream of getting your book into the big bookstore above all else may be misplaced. While it’s lovely to get your book into the big bookstore, more book sales take place online now than in stores. And even though it’s important to know your genre so you can market your book and pick the appropriate categories for it, self-published or not, keywords and online marketing may be just as important as being on a particular shelf. (Thanks, Cadence Group‘s Bethany Brown.)
4. Don’t fear Twitter. It’s a great way to (a) raise awareness of your own books, but (b) even better, learn from other writers and publishing industry types. This is a message I conveyed in my session on how to present yourself professionally to the press, but it was echoed in many sessions during the weekend. Social-media immersion continues to be important, as long as you keep in mind it’s not all about self-promotion. The experts say 70 percent of what you post shouldn’t be tooting your own horn. Share knowledge, share links, and respond to other folks online. In other words, be the person you want to listen to. (Thanks, Jeremy Reis.)
5. This may be the age of DIY self-publishing, but the key to success at self-pubbing is to be just as professional as the pros. Have a professional cover, a professional interior design, and professionally edited text. Readers can smell an amateur project a mile off, and they won’t respect your book if it’s not done well. And as much as we writers would like to hide in our respective garrets/basements/ivory towers and write, and have someone else carry our book outside, package it and share it with the world, that’s our job, too, more than ever. We’re all doing our own marketing. Horrible word, right? So think of it as sharing. Make friends, be supportive of other writers, do your research, spread the word, and people – with luck – will discover your book. Because in the end, it’s not about the money and the fame, both of which are in short supply. At least for me, it’s about the love, it’s about telling the stories, and it’s about finding readers for my book – and writing the next one. See point No. 1.