Mark Terry

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Writing Tips

February 28, 2007
A collection of random thoughts that may or may not be useful.

1. Writers write. So write. There's no other way to do it.

2. Enjoy the process. There's a hell of a lot to dislike about the business of writing and publishing, ranging from the S.E. tax, the overemphasis on self-marketing, the overcrowded halls of publishing, perceived lack of support from publishers, the competition for shelf space, the resistance of the American public to new readers (and reading in general) and a thousand other things. But if you don't enjoy the actual process of writing, of firing your imagination, of putting words up on the screen, then for God sakes, find something else to do with your time.

3. Persistence is more important than talent for eventual success.

4. It's true: it's better to be lucky than good.

5. In general, writers are pretty cool people. In my experience, the least commercially successful are the biggest jerks and the most commercially successful are the most generous sweethearts, although there are undoubtedly exceptions to that. That isn't to suggest that the least commercially successful are all jerks. It's just that in my experience the very successful are generous and kind and warm. The one's with which I've been kicked in the balls by through cattiness or rudeness tend to be people at my level or below. I don't understand it, but it's been my experience.

6. The more I work in the field, the more sympathy I have for agents and editors. There really is a lot of good writing out there, but they're not only looking for someone who can make them money, but someone who makes their heart skip a beat. And they have to flog through a lot of shit to find that.

7. I've said it before, repeating the old saw that 50 cents of every dollar spent on marketing is probably wasted, but you don't know which 50 cents, so you keep spending the dollar. Deep down, though, I suspect that 90 cents of every dollar spent on marketing is wasted (along with your time, which is significantly harder to replace), but I have to spend the money and time anyway. Go back to part of #2.

8. I had an e-mail yesterday (regarding some bit of business I needed done for one of my clients) from someone I used to work with at Henry Ford Hospital. He updated me on all the numerous changes that had taken place in the last year or so. Two things occurred to me: 1, I really didn't care any more one way or the other, I'd been gone 2-1/2 years. I've moved on, although it was interesting in a kind of abstract way. And 2, I was sure a lot of people there were freaking out because of all the change. If I had still been there, I probably would have had some complaints about all the change. But I've changed since I left and I try to embrace change. If there's one thing I've realized from being a self-employed writer, it's that things change. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse and you might as well treat the whole thing as an adventure and take an "I can't wait to see what happens next" approach to it or you're going to go crazy.

John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while you're making plans," and I've decided he's right and you might as well try to enjoy the ride.

9. Writing is not life. It's hard to keep this in mind, for me and everyone else. But try to keep some perspective on it. Have a life. Have friends. Embrace your family. Get some hobbies. Travel. Play an instrument. Exercise. Walk the dog. Whatever.

10. Understand if you're writing fiction that you are trying to enter the entertainment business. Most people who write a short story or novel or even TV script seem to think that they're automatically going to be embraced by the industry and the public. But in this country (and probably the world) as you may have noticed, there is absolutely NO SHORTAGE of entertainment. I've got cable TV with about 70 channels playing 24 hours a day; I've NetFlix that delivers movies to my mailbox; I've got the Internet; I've got 50 or 60 books on my shelves I haven't read yet, not to mention the hundreds already there I might want to re-read, or that big building down the road called a library that has a hundred thousand or so, or the bookstore with a million; there's plenty of music for me to listen to that I haven't heard yet or haven't listened to for years; there's a piano I know how to play but don't; there's the gym and my bicycle and my kayak and my karate; there's all the other things that I, like most everyone else in the world, would like to do IF I ONLY HAD THE TIME AND MONEY:

travel and learn to play the guitar and Jet Ski and study Tai Chi and yoga and...

So I can afford to be picky about what I read. And so can other readers, who if they aren't satisfied by what I give them, are going to have no problem going somewhere else.

So those are just a few of my writing tips for today.

Mark Terry


Blogger Ron Estrada said...

Funny you should mention the former co-workers. Last night at Red Knapp's (the closest thing to a 5-star restaraunt in Oxford), I sat across from a guy I couldn't place. He recognized me, though. He's from the Ford Axle Plant I left last year. He told me of the bloodletting that is happening today. About 1/3 of the salary staff is being let go. I don't miss it at all.

8:14 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Good point, Ron. There is really no job security anywhere. In fact, there's a case for self-employment being more secure than working for someone else.

Sure would be nice to have health insurance and a regular, predictable paycheck, though!

9:38 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

One of my arguments for national healthcare--aside from the fact that it would be better for businesss who wouldn't foot the bill (it's destroying the US car companies, that and their own arrogance)--is that you're encouraging entrepreneurship and a lot of people who won't open their own businesses because of health insurance would if it were guaranteed thru the gov't.

9:49 AM  
Anonymous gregory huffstutter said...

A comment on point #2... the past couple weeks I've noticed you expressing some frustration about the business side of writing & self-promotion.

Before I was a writer and Ad Guy, I used to be a high school and college volleyball coach. That involved running practices for 2-3 hours a day, watching film, meeting up for team meals, holding weekend fundraisers, driving hundreds of miles in a van... just for the pleasure of competing against another team once or twice a week.

The most successful coaches and players tended to be 'gym rats'... people who, for whatever reason, LOVED to hit buckets of balls and would stay after practice to get extra reps. They were people who enjoyed the whole experience... the team meals, the video review, the road trips.

The ones who resented having to give up their nights and weekends usually didn't last. They'd quit, spend more time with the girl/boyfriend, and sit in the stands on game day.

So what I'm trying to say... 'enjoying the process' should be more than deriving pleasure from putting your words on a page.

What if you were to re-wire your brain and become the 'gym-rat' of the writing world... where you loved promoting your book as much as writing it?

Personally, if I get to the point where I've got a 2-book publishing deal, I'm going to try to relish working with a publisher and coming up with inventive ways to self-market. Because that would mean I'm in the game and not a spectator in the stands.

Just some thoughts for your Wednesday afternoon!

11:05 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I'm working on it. Honest to God, I am. It's just my Achilles heel.

And you wouldn't believe how much more promotion I'm doing now than I did for my earlier books.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous gregory huffstutter said...

Keep repeating this mantra:

I love marketing... I Looooove marketing... I love mmmmarrrrkettting... IIIIIIIIIII

11:42 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Repeat after me: I spend 2 to 3 times on marketing than I make on the books and I'm just like every other writer.

Now do it and keep a smile on your face.

12:33 PM  
Anonymous gregory huffstutter said...

"I spend 2-3 times on marketing than I make on the books... III speeeennd--"

OK, I can see how that would be a frustrating mantra.

But I'd prefer to think, "I'm laying the groundwork. I'm building my backlist."

That way, if lightning does strike on your 5th book -- it gets a phenomenal review by Janet Maslin, or lands in George Clooney's lap as he's mulling his next project -- you'll be able to capitalize on new fans seeking out your older work.

Today I made a comment on JA Konrath's blog about how the business model of selling your book is similar to opening a new restaurant. And if you think about it, writing has an advantage... because if it takes 3 years for a restaurant to become profitable, you can't go back and re-coup all those empty tables during the set-up phase.

With writing, if it takes several books to attract an audience, your original work is still available for purchase (granted, at a lower royalty rate, but still...).

I've already accepted the fact that if I wind up getting published, for the first couple books I'll reinvest every penny I make (and probably more) on setting up my 'brand.' In fact, I've already spent several thousand dollars hiring a graphic artist and web developer -- even before attracting an agent.

It's a gamble, but if you'd wanted a normal life, you would've stuck with medical research, right?

1:41 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

All good points, Greg. I do view it as an investment. Hopefully not a wasted one. Yes, restaurants do go out of business. So do a lot of almost any type of business.

I think what frustrates me, and probably most novelists, is that, in the case of a restaurant, you focus locally and you essentially are the distributor.

A novelist has to focus nationally although you work locally as much as possible. But, and this is a big freaking deal, you don't have control over distribution. Your publisher, the big distributors and the booksellers control distribution and that can be a big headache to a write.

On the other hand, to-date no big shouldered dudes with broken noses and ugly scars have come by my office offering "protection."

There's always that. And no health inspectors, either.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Rob Brooks said...

I like #1. "Writers write." That is what writers do. You're not going to ever sell that book if you don't sit your butt down and write it first. Simple observation, but true.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Keith said...

I'm trying to think of who's been snarky with me, and the only example I can think of was a little above my level. Everybody else, at just about every level, was either very nice, too subtle for me to pick up on, or a proud member of the arrogant prick club. Which, I admit, I enjoy attending every so often, just to make sure I still have those skills. But I don't think I want a full membership.

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