For our anniversary last weekend, my wife and I went to the Indiana Comic Con. Yeah. We’re nerds. We saw awesome LEGO superhero costumes, got pictures with Jason Momoa and Jenna Coleman, and also heard a really good presentation on self-publishing.
The presentation was by Bill Mize, who is a self-published mystery author in addition to a self-help author. He’s consistently in the top ten new releases for mystery fiction, and was self-publishing before it was cool. That means he has a lot of credibility for what works and what doesn’t, so I’m sharing his “ten commandments” here, as well as linking to his blog and books at the end. Some of these have been editing for language, but all of the ideas are his. The links are books or products he recommends, but the affiliate links are mine.
#1: Thou shalt not write crap.
One of Mize’s best points was that Amazon has almost made publishing too easy. You can throw up a horribly formatted first draft that has seen no criticism whatsoever. I’ve started reading a couple of those. Bad books have always been around, even in traditional publishing (Fifty Shades of Grey, anyone?), but the first rule is the most obvious: don’t write one of them.
#2: Thou shalt write every day.
The brain responds to habits. As much as you can, write every day and at the same time and the same place every day. Depending on what kind of day job you have, this may not be possible, but do it to the best of your ability. Mize also recommends getting a low-tech word processor like Alpha Smart. It doesn’t have internet, which limits the number one writing distraction, and it also shows a few sentences at a time, which prevents you from editing as you write (my number two distraction). The way Alpha Smart works, as I assume most others do, is it holds a certain amount of storage, and once you hit that amount, you transfer it to your computer by a USB chord, where you can edit and format it. Mize also recommends screenwriting books as a way of outlining, and recommends the book “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story
#3: Thou shalt write only what you love
A lot of writers can get burnt out just writing whatever the latest fad is. That’s thinking like a consumer, whereas you should be thinking like a creator. If you just write what you love, you won’t be as likely to get burnt out, and you’ll probably be more successful, because people can smell that kind of insincerity from a mile away. And I’ll add to those remarks that fads change so often, and books take so much effort to write, that the fad will probably have changed by the time you get it out anyway.
#4: Thou shalt read every day
Reading is important in general, especially for any author, but Mize recommends to take special attention to writers in your genre. Read the important writers who formed the genre, and read their biographies. He also recommends reading “how to write” books, but be selective with which ones you read. Read them on recommendations from people you trust. And in that vein, pick a writing system and stick to it.
#5: Thou shalt edit
Mize had four primary recommendations for this: read your work aloud, only send your manuscript to people after you’ve hit the third draft, focus on writing style first and do research later, and choose your editors carefully (and focus on people you know read in your genre). He also recommended the book “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
#6: Thou shalt pay for a cover
I would also add to pay for editing, but paying for a cover is a really big deal. The mantra “Don’t judge a book by its cover” has almost no sway in the real world. People do it every day, and if you want people to buy your book, you have to have a good cover. That makes or breaks a book’s marketing. If you’re looking for a cover designer, I’d recommend Cheryl at ccrbookcoverdesign.com. Her design for A Gray Crusade blew my mind.
#7: Thou shalt invest money in your career
There’s a big difference between the indie authors who just publish for free every time and those who pay for professional services. In addition to stuff like editing and book cover design, you should be reading writing books, getting hosting for a website, getting bookmarks and other promotional materials, and maybe even going to conferences and writing seminars. That makes an enormous amount of difference in a writing career.
#8: Thou shalt be a professional
“Take yourself seriously and others will take you seriously.” Where I see the biggest need for this is in paying for professional services like editing, formatting, and book design, but Mize also brought out an area that we as authors need to think about: behavior online. Too many people get drawn into name-calling and other hateful behavior online. I’ve personally unfollowed several accounts on both Facebook and Twitter because of that kind of behavior, and I told people about those groups as well. Word of mouth travels fast, and you don’t want that kind of behavior to be the reputation that preceeds you.
#9: Thou shalt network
I found this one of the most helpful parts of the presentation. When it comes to networking, most people think about making connections so that these people can do things for you, but Mize says it should be just the opposite: “Networking is about asking ‘How can I help you?'” He urged everyone to remember that every person you interact with is a potential reader and a potential marketer, and that if you approach each of those relationships just being about what they can do for you, they’re going to broadcast that. You don’t want everyone knowing that you’re selfish and just want to use people. But if you aim to do what you can for others, that gets around too. Be sincere and be helpful.
#10: Thou shalt not be a jerk
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I want to specifically draw out another especially helpful thing he said: don’t worry about how many followers you have on Twitter. Being obsessed with that kind of thing is a distraction, and getting into all kinds of online debates can propagate the idea of you being a jerk. And that doesn’t mean you can never ever touch anything controversial–I tweet about my opinions on things like education and abortion, largely because it’s part of me being real on those accounts. But take care with how you approach other people.