Quick: what’s the opposite of success?
You guess it – f… f… f….
Oh, shoot. I can’t bring myself to say it.
And neither should you. We may be lying in the gutter, as they say, but we can still lie back and stare up at the stars.
If you want to get inspired, and actually create books that find readers, your best bet is to listen to people who are already successful. Especially if they’re Jeff Gunhus, who’s made his own success in self-publishing.
(Here’s my interview with Jeff Gunhus from a little while ago.)
Jeff had the best motivation of all to create his Jack Templar series of kids’ books. But the truth is, he was already a successfully conventionally-published writer before he set out to publish his own kids’ books.
That makes him twice as much of an authority, as far as I’m concerned.
These Ten Tips from Jeff, he says, “come from many books and seminars, but a great influence has been Stephen King's On Writing, just the best little book about craft and the writer's life out there.”
1) Write a lot. Every day. Without fail. Even for ten minutes. It's easier to push a car that's already moving instead of one at a full stop.
2) Read a lot. "I don't have time to read," means you don't care enough to be a good writer. Create a book list for yourself and set goals.
3) Create fertilizer. The first draft is the pile of manure out of which great things will come. Allow yourself to make a pile of dung. It's going to be fine, just keep going.
4) Lock the door. Finish your draft and then let people in. A camel is a horse made by committee. If you bring in opinions during the process you will start to second-guess every decision you make. (I break this rule to read cool bits to my kids because they love everything!)
5) Live in appreciation of your art. I recently met thriller writer Michael Koryta (NYT Bestseller) and he ends every writing session by scribbling down his word count for the day and writing the words "thank you" next to it. He's not sure who he's thanking...his muse, God, himself, his wife...it doesn't really matter. What matters is that he comes from a place of appreciation for the time he was given to be a creator. Pretty cool.
6) Let the words bake. After your first draft, stick your book in the desk drawer and don't look at it for a week. It's a hard week, but necessary. You need some distance from the material before you dig back in.
7) Do a pass for each character in the rewrite. Read it front to back, ignoring typos, and just get the bones of the story to see if it works. Then read through for each main character to see what their story is. I sometimes find a character is in a scene but is just sitting in the background, passively watching the action. If it were a movie instead of a book, you would have an angry actor on your hands.
8) Follow the one-read doctrine. Just know that friends and family should only be expected to give you one read, so decide if you want them to read and early draft or a nearly final draft. Don't be offended when they aren't enthusiastic about reading the 6th draft of your 120,000 work masterpiece.
9) Structure your feedback. Michael Arndt (screenwriter for Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) shared his best practice about getting feedback. Don't send out your pdf and ask, "Did you like it?" Arndt sends out a questionnaire to go along with the book. How do you like the title? 1-10 What did you think of the main character's reaction to the news of his father's death? a) Loved it b) It's good c) Could be stronger d) Didn't buy it. You get the idea. If you just want someone to wag their tail at you and say you did a great job, read your book to your dog. Ask for structured feedback and improve your work. However, I also add the following caveat to my email: "Thank you for your honest feedback and your help with this book. I promise I will not be offended by any comments or suggestions you make as long as you're not offended if I choose to disagree with you!"
10) Have your next project ready to go. As the rewrite grinds on (as they tend to do), have the next cool thing you're dying to dig into ready to go. Restrain yourself until you finish and then go after it.
If you do happen to be lying in the gutter, it’s time to get up and do something about it. Pick one of these tips (which one inspires you?) and get moving with it. Write, revise, publish your piece.
Someday it’ll be you sharing words of wisdom about how you became a writing success.
(What will you tell them when they ask?)