Since the beginning of time — okay, within the last 75 years — we have been told that are ways “to write” and “not to write.” Lots of editors, publishers, and even some authors, are pushing the idea that there aren’t just guidelines, but actually very strict rules for how to create a novel that “the whole world” will be guaranteed to like.
Personally, I take major issue with this.
Number one — not everybody is going to like your book. Sorry, but it is just the truth. Maybe they won’t like it because you simply write outside of the genres they’re most interested in, or you happened to create a novel a bit too long/short for their taste, or maybe you wrote it in Elvish and they don’t speak the language. Anyway, it is quite important to remember this very wise saying: “You cannot please all of the people all the time.”
And there is no reason to consider yourself a “bad” writer if you don’t fit into the pigeon-holes of the current creative writing industry.
I’m a self-published author. One of the major reasons I chose to go this route is because I received positive feedback from my submissions to traditional publishers, but they weren’t going to pursue my work because it didn’t fit certain pigeon-hole criteria. So, I got fed up with waiting for somebody to break the mold and decide to accept work that was “outside of the box.”
Hence, I paid for my work to be printed. But I also retained the copyright, and complete control over editing, cover selection, marketing, distribution methods, and pricing.
Is it worth it? I say yes, because now I’m making sales, my novel is being well-received (already with cries for the immediate sequel), and I firmly believe that this is only the beginning.
And I don’t have any issues with my agent/editor not seeing eye to eye with my vision, or feeling that I’m not getting enough money/appreciation/time to write how I want to.
Too many authors have complained that what they felt was their masterpiece was butchered by publishers who were more concerned with the almighty dollar than with the quality of their art. I refuse to be one of them.
So, what advice would I actually give to writers, hoping to get sales and loyal readers?
Here are some things I’ve learned so far on my journey:
Don’t worry too much about making it perfect. There will always be a few things that may bug you about your finished product. But over-editing and constantly second-guessing yourself is not healthy.
Listen to your beta readers/early reviewers. This is especially important when attempting the final draft, or crafting a sequel (as I presently am). Now, you don’t have to take every piece of feedback into consideration. But do pay attention. If several people recommend something, seriously think about it. Maybe even write a draft of how a chapter would look with that change or direction.
Be true to the voice of your story above all else. Don’t listen to the “creative writing rules.” Some readers honestly like novels that are 400 pages long and heavy on exposition. If you truly feel parts of your story need to be told in song, or with flashbacks, or including illustrations, do it.
Remember what the point of your story is. I don’t mean in terms of themes or messages; I mean in staying true to what has to happen to/for the characters and with the plot. Everybody think of JK Rowling, how she apologized for killing off so many of people’s favorite characters, but how she also stands by those decisions, for the sake of what would happen to her protagonist and the conclusion of his tale.
Since different people enjoy different sorts of writing styles, feel free to revel in yours. Again, your genre/style won’t be for everybody, and that truly is all right. Do I expect folks who normally gravitate towards historical fiction,biographies, murder mysteries to be interested in The Order of the Twelve Tribes? No. Do I hold it against them? No.
When your loyal reader base becomes established, thank them. Don’t forget that your Goodreads giveaway may be receiving so many entries because of that great review somebody put on their blog. Thank your fans (yes, fans!), not just with a note to that effect, but with occasional prize packages, or putting your work on sale, or promoting their blog/new video/Wattpadproject.
Be aware that if what you’re doing is working, there isn’t much reason to change it. Too many authors (I feel) get into the “must select the most dramatic/shocking/inappropriate ending for this series” syndrome, and it loses them a lot of readers. If you’ve built your fan base on having certain elements continue through your trilogy/quad/whatever it’s becoming, then leave that alone.
And even though we’re seriously trying to make a living off our art, the fact that it is art should never be forgotten. We write because we want to write, we feel a calling to it, we know we can’t give up on it. Keeping our original intention and purpose in mind is essential.