You are not a Special Snowflake – When it Comes to Writing, that is

I’ve heard writers say this all the time.  You are not special, you are not going to make it ‘big,’ you are not so great and so wonderful at what you do that publishers will want to snatch you up lickety split.  Well you sure as hell better be.  Because if you are not setting yourself apart as a writer then you sure better have one hell of an ego then. 

As a writer, you are going to have to have something that will set you apart from all the other writers out there.  Whether that be a fan-fucking-tastic storyline that no one has ever come across before,  a really unique style of writing, or even an ability to be the best weaver of a literary plotline in publication, you better make yourself into an individual snowflake somehow or else your work is going to get lost in a sea of all the other mediocre material floating around in publication land.

People are going to tell you that you are not the next Anne Rice, or Stephen King, or Stephanie Meyer, etc.  Believe it or not, that is actually a good thing.  Seriously, because who in their right mind wants to be like them?  If I want to read someone who writes like Anne Rice, I’ll go read Anne Rice, because anybody else is just going to be a very poor imitation.  Same thing with Stephen King, Charlene Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, Stephanie Meyer, etc.  The most important thing you can do as a writer is write like you and stop trying to be like other famous writers.  Stop trying to be “the next -insert famous writer’s name here-” and just be you. 

That’s not to say that you will not have to abide by some basic English rules.  Incomplete sentences are fine, in moderation.  But don’t expect an entire 400 page novel with nothing but fragmented sentences to suddenly make you famous.  It might make you infamous…and very embarrassed if critics are talking about how poorly you write as opposed to what a fantastic story you have weaved.  Misspelled words?  Only if you are trying to imitate a Cajun accent during dialogue.  Actually, about the only time misspelled words could possibly be excusable is within a character’s dialogue with himself or another character.  Feel free, however, to make up a word…if it gets used a lot in the story (remember Laurell K. Hamilton using the term “wereanimals” when she referred to any type of lycanthrope in her stories) .  And all those too/to/two and there/their and but/butts being used incorrectly are not going to get you anything but a big, fat, red “rejection” stamp on the front cover of your manuscript.

Now about your ego.  Yes, it pays to have an ego.  Otherwise you are going to get stomped on by every writer, publisher, agent, critic, reader, editor, etc. that comes across your work.  That is not to say that you do not have any room for improvement.  Even Anne Rice is always pushing herself to the limits.  After all, you are only as good as your latest novel.  So yes, take criticism for what it is:  constructive, deconstructive, or at-a-glance (see articles on Criticism:  the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) and adjust your work accordingly.  But never take, “you are not good enough to make it in the publishing world” as a final answer.  Seriously.  There are tons of really bad writers who get book deals all the time.  Just ask anyone who has ever read a lousy book.  We’ve all been there.  Ever remember picking up a book, start reading it only to think to yourself, ‘How the hell did this jackass ever get a book deal?’  This is where that whole “a good story is in the mind’s eye of the reader” thing comes into play.  Trust me, when you are a writer then there are two things that will happen, regardless of how good or bad of a writer you are.  One, you will have someone out there who will absolutely love your work.  And two, you will have someone out there who will absolutely hate your work.  Your goal, as a writer, is to get as many people who like your work together, interested, and purchasing your work as possible.

Everyone thinks that they are a really great writer.  And if, at the end of the day, your grammatical mistakes and misspelled words have went the way of the dodo and you honestly do not think that anything could possibly make the story better, then sure, think that.  Just don’t expect others to think it.  Because if you are going to boast about how great of a writer you are, then you had better be able to back it up.  Now stop and think about this.  If you are going to start selling books/ebooks, then you are basically saying to the world, “Here, I wrote this.  I think it’s pretty good.  Read it and tell me what you think.”  Yes, when you put your work out there for others to read, you are inviting them to give you feedback whether you want it or not.  And if you think that is not how the publishing world works, then you are sadly mistaken and maybe even a bit naive.  It’s time to put on your big boy pants and smell the coffee.  Even books that are sitting in the top spot on the New York Times Bestseller list have critics bashing them all the time.  It’s their job.  Your job is to decide if what they say has any actual merit to it and adjust your work accordingly.  Better yet, set out to prove the nay-sayers wrong by writing something even better than your last work.  Nothing says, “F – U!” like a few thousand fans telling critics that they are idiots.

Now, all you snowflakes go out there and make something of yourselves.  After all, being special means nothing if no one else knows it.

How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys

The number one reason why authors get burned when it comes to self-publication is the fact that they are usually woefully undereducated on the subject.   Just like buying a good used car, insurance, or a house, the lack of education and knowledge on the subject attracts all sorts of shady characters to the playing field.  Like anything else that you are thinking about doing for the first time, a good knowledge of the field will help you make the best decision for you.  The self-publishing business is no different.

Many companies will often try to sell you products or services that are ineffective, are drastically overpriced, or maybe even be something that you really don’t need.  Often they will charge you hundreds of dollars for services that you could have easily done yourself, have contracted out for a much smaller fee, or even gotten for free through creative marketing.

Here are a few things that you need to ask yourself when shopping for a self-publishing company.  By answering these questions honestly and doing some research, you will be better prepared to help weed out The Good Guys from The Bad Guys.

1:  Is this company charging me for something that I could easily get for free?  One thing that you have to keep in mind is that with today’s technology, the amount of free advertisement and ways to get your name out there are about as limited as your imagination.  That’s not to say that you should never spend a dime on advertisement.  Just keep in mind that if you can do the same thing on your own, for free, then your money is better spent on the type of advertisement that you cannot get for free.

2:  Is this company charging me for something that I can do for myself?  If you have extensive knowledge of document formatting and can format your own manuscript, then paying someone else to do it for you is a waste of money.

3:  Is this company charging me for something that I know I can get done for a much cheaper price elsewhere?  If you have your own tried-and-true editor that you know you can afford, spending money on one that you have never used before can spell disaster. 

4:  Is this company rushing me to make a decision?  Forcing an author to make a rash and uneducated decision is a ploy that some companies use to bully an author into spending a lot more money than they had planned on services and products that they may not have wanted or needed.  If their offer is good today, then it should still be there tomorrow or next week.  Sure, that 15% off offer might expire, but if the entire offer expires, then there is something fishy in the mist.  If they give you an unrealistic time frame to make a decision (Act now!  This offer good only for the next 4 hours!), then your best bet is to let the ‘offer’ get on by.  But keep in mind that companies cannot be expected to sit around and wait on you forever.  They should, however, be willing to give you a few days to think about it.  If not, you might want to try a different company.

5:  What, exactly, am I getting for my money?  If you are going to spend a lot of money, you need to know beforehand exactly what you are getting for that price.  How many books will I receive?  Exactly where are you going to submit my work?  Who all will be receiving the news release?  What type of guarantee is the company making in regards to the amount of success of their services?  How long will it take for them to deliver on their promises? 

6:  Read the fine print!  You will definitely want to read their disclaimer.  Most companies will allude to the idea that you will have instant success with their company.  Usually the disclaimer tells another story entirely.  Make sure you understand the difference between what they can guarantee, what they hope to achieve for you, and what you can realistically expect with their services. 

7:  GET SAMPLES!  What is my finished book going to look like?  The best way to gage the company’s quality of work is to order a few random books from the company’s site.  If you are going to use their editors or designers, make sure you request samples of their work first.  If they don’t have samples, then they are most likely a scam.

Finding a good quality self-publishing or POD company is easy when you keep these things in mind:

                *don’t pay for something you can easily get for free

                *don’t purchase a service if you can hire someone else to do the work for a lesser price

                *don’t pay for something you can do yourself or get done yourself for free

                *don’t get rushed into making a quick decision

                *don’t pay for ‘promises’ that they cannot deliver on

                *read the fine print

                *make sure you know what you are getting for your money

                *make sure you know what type of quality your work will have before purchasing anything