Monday, March 05, 2012

Writing Matters

I've been making weird use of my time these past few weeks, doing something that is antithetical to blogging about the publishing world.

I've been writing.

Right now we're in the middle of a revolution. These are exciting times. It's easy to get caught up in the ebook/self-publishing momentum and spend all of your time thinking about how to publicize your books, or position them correctly, or decide which platforms to commit to.

But at the end of the day, the one thing that truly matters is writing a good story. Because without that, there is nothing to sell.

This is a Newbie's Guide to Publishing, not a Newbie's Guide to Writing, so I don't blog about the craft too often. Writers come here seeking information about Amazon and the Big 6 and agents, not about narrative structure and characterization.

That doesn't mean you should ignore narrative structure and characterization.

There has been much speculation about why some writers hit it big via self-publishing. We all wonder how John Locke sold 1,000,000, or how Amanda Hocking made $1,000,000. In the last two weeks my writing buddy Blake Crouch has made more than $40k on his thriller ebook RUN (incidentally, that brilliant book was rejected by every major NY publisher). I just had two back-to-back $75k months. There are always new stories of some indie writer making big money, or cracking the NYT bestseller list.

But very few talk about the essential ingredient in a successful ebook. Namely, the book itself.

Locke, Hocking, and Crouch are good storytellers. They've worked very hard on their craft. Their books entertain, and when someone reads one they tell other people about it and recommend it. While there isn't any book that pleases everyone, if you look at these writers' reviews on Amazon you'll see they're averaging about 4 stars, and they've been reviewed hundreds and hundreds of times.

I've also seen the opposite thing happen. A book has a good cover and a few 5 star shills, and it does well for a few weeks, and then because it isn't very good the 1 star reviews take over, killing its sales. If you put a fresh coat of paint on a turd, it's still a turd.

The writing counts.

If you're a writer in 2012, it's important to be savvy about social networking, publicity, marketing, platforms, covers, formats, and all the things associated with self-publishing and ebooks.

But the most important thing is the book itself.

My 14 year old son is writing a story. He sees Dad making a lot of money, talking about how ebooks will earn forever, and I'm pretty sure he thinks Kindle is a one-way ticket to fame and fortune.

A few days ago I finished the final draft of Timecaster Supersymmetry, and celebrated with the prerequisite bottle of expensive beer (a Bruery Black Tuesday). The following day, when he came home from school, he saw me at the computer and asked if I was working on a new book.

"No. Still working on Timecaster."

"But you said you were finished."

"I am. I'm just not finished with being finished."

I love writing. I loved it for the 12 years where I didn't sell a single thing, and I've loved it for the 12 years I've been a professional. I have all the conceits that every writer has. I think about my characters as if they're real people. I dream about scenes. I secretly believe my stories are the best in the world. I laugh at my own jokes, cry at the emotional parts, and often dislocate my elbow patting myself on the back after a good bit of dialog or a fun twist. Being a writer does more than define me; it isn't a job, it's a way of life. And when I put my life out there for the world to see, I want it to be the very best that I am capable of. I want readers to enjoy it as much as I have. I want every chapter, every scene, every sentence to be deliberate, to convey exactly what I want it to convey.

Do you know what the real definition of success is? It isn't about how many books you sell, or how much money you make. It isn't about winning awards, or getting great reviews. It isn't about having fans.

A successful writer is one who can defend every single word in their story. Because the ones they can't defend should get cut.

It isn't easy doing that. It takes a lot of time, a lot of commitment, a lot of work. But it's work I embrace, because I'm having a lifelong love affair with storytelling, and I want to keep getting better until the day I die.

I'll never be finished with being finished.

When my son asks me to read his story, I know what he wants to hear. He wants to be told it is brilliant, and wants me to upload it to my Kindle account, and wants to buy a car with all the money he thinks he's going to make even though he's still too young to drive.

But praise is like candy. Even though we love it, it isn't good for us. So I'm going to be critical. I'm going to tell him exactly what is wrong with his story, and why, and try to get him to figure out on his own how to fix those problems.

If he's got the bug, he'll rewrite. And rewrite again, and again, and again until the story works and he knows exactly why it works. Then he'll be ready to self-publish.

That's what all of us should be doing.

If you love writing, and you know you're doing it right, readers will find you.

Keep at it until they do.