Don’t Listen to Your Peers

This is, of course, a hyperbolic statement. Perhaps a better title would be Don’t Always Listen to Your Peers, or rather Sometimes Listen, Sometimes Really Listen, and Occasionally Stop Listening Completely.

There are a number of good reasons why you should listen to your fellow writers—you can learn from their experiences, many know what they’re talking about when it comes to writing skills and the publishing world, and if you like their work you’ll know where to find more of it. Those are all valid, direct benefits from listening to your peers.

But that’s not what this article is about.

No, sometimes, you really should not listen to your peers.

First, writers love to tell other writers how to write. Overall, this is a good thing, but it’s hard to sort fact (or accepted style guides) from opinion. If you read a lot of writing advice you’ll discover that there’s often contradictory information out there, and some that’s outright bad (I’m not naming names, and please don’t go to my blog…). Beginning writers are often the worst offenders, probably because of the you must blog! attitude, and what better topic than writing about writing?

But there’s reasons to be skeptical. Just because something works for one writer—even a very successful one—doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Find the sources that ring true to you and listen to them. Develop your own skills and practices that keep you producing. Occasionally listen to dissenting views, see if there’s something to it, and forget it quickly when it doesn’t pan out.

The bigger point of this article is envy.

In certain ways, writers are like gamblers—when a gambler wins, everyone hears about their big payday. Likewise, writers toot their own horns when it comes to their publishing successes. Some writers are prolific, and good, and publish frequently—and they often announce new sales. We all tweet out a congrats, and cheer them on, and do it again for the next writer friend a few hours later. Everyone is selling something, somewhere, and we’re all happy for all of them.

But some of us have other thoughts, too. Dark thoughts, maybe even hateful thoughts. That should have been me, these thoughts whisper. Or they’re not that great, I could do that. Sometimes these thoughts take aim at your own abilities. I’m crap, they say, or worse—give up now.

The first kinds of thoughts are competitive, though in a negative way. Sure, when you get down to it, writing is competitive—there are only so many spaces in a magazine or anthology, and each publisher will only publish so many books in a given year. But the real competition is not with each other, but with ourselves—to do better, you need to write better than you have in the past.

The second kinds of thoughts are defeatist—self-doubt will keep you from doing things. Too much of these, and you’re done. Hang up your writer’s hat, and start asking people if they like fries with that.

I could go on about how to work through this—you will need to, it only benefits you—because there will always be someone better than you. Someone will always sell more, earn more, produce more—except for one person, and this article isn’t for them anyway. This is how the word “better” works.

But there’s another easy option that brings me back to my overall point—don’t listen to your peers. You don’t have to know what hundreds of writers have done in a given day. Ignore the “new sale!” announcements or the #amwriting wordcount updates. Limit the amount of time you spend on social media outlets.

Writers write—a lot. They tweet, they post, they blog. All. The. Time. You don’t have to read everything, and in fact you don’t have to read anything. Sometimes it’s just good for your own productivity to tune it all out. Focus on your own efforts first. Take whole days—or weeks—away. Really, you won’t miss much.

(Also remember that those who do sell a lot still get a lot of rejections—just like gamblers who never talk about all of the money they’ve lost, writers rarely talk about how often a story is rejected, how many times they’ve submitted to a particular magazine, or their sale-to-rejection ratio. But that’s a different article…)

So there you have it—don’t listen to your peers. At least, don’t listen to them all of time, and maybe even most of the time. Of course, this applies to me, too—hell, you probably shouldn’t listen to the advice in this article. Really, stop reading now.

That’s better.

You Will Fall Off the Horse: Professionalism vs. Artistic Expression and More

**Some warning for strong language**

It is hard to know what to say on the internet, how to balance honesty, personality and humor with respect, tact and professionalism. It’s challenging enough for most people, but creatives have an additional skill-level to maintain.

Most professionals have a business face and a personal face. They take one off at the end of the work day and put the other one on. Creatives seldom wear just one face. Our personalities are part of our brands, our business is an integral part of our life.

This can be wonderful, as it allows us a freedom and dimension of expression not often found in business or personal lives.

It is also sometimes deadly, when the two are not kept distinct enough.

Because, while we always wear both faces, they cannot be the same thing. We’re artists—from the project manager at the multi-national corporation to the editor/developer/author/artist who just produced a game all by themselves. We’re also business people, and that must come first if we are to succeed personally, and as an industry.

Balancing Art and Business and Life

The toughest part of the entire equation is the initial balance. Where do you draw the line between funny and offensive, between expressing yourself and being an ass? When does it stop being free speech and become bullying? How do you separate friendship and professional obligation? At what point do you stop shrugging off someone’s faults because they are your friend and admit that they are genuinely problematic?

That is something every creative individual will have to figure out for themselves. It isn’t an easy battle plan, it’s definitely going to hurt some feelings, and you’ll make some mistakes doing it, but you’ve got to establish those boundaries and expectations fairly early on.

Perhaps more importantly, you’ll have to let them grow and change along with you and your career. That requires constantly revisiting those standards.

If you’re part of a small company, that balance gets trickier. When it’s just you, there’s some leeway. When other people become involved, the mixture can become explosive. You’re not just looking out for your own welfare anymore, and you’re not just dealing with your own issues.

Suddenly you’re not just balancing a ball on your nose, you’re juggling half a dozen of them. What happens when you start dropping them?

Everyone Can Fail, Everyone Will Fail

There’s an old horseman’s saying: “If you ain’t been throwed, you ain’t rode”. Grammatical color aside, it’s true. Every time I get on a horse, I risk being thrown off, whether from a lack of attention, a mistake in communication, or something outside my control. It’s a calculated risk I take, but I do everything possible to make it a lower probability.

More importantly, I know how to react when I fall. I know to protect my head, to roll, to go boneless, to suspend time and make sure that I’ve got various body parts untangled and am falling away from powerful hooves, to use hands and feet to steer my roll, and so on. I’ve acknowledged the possibility, double-checked all my gear, and planned for the worst.

Failure in other endeavors isn’t much different. You’ll fall. Get used to that idea. Accept it. Plan for it. Admit that you’re human, come up laughing and apologizing for scaring people. Be graceful and dignified so that even a nasty mistake can become a benefit.

But don’t set yourself up for it. Don’t become someone who falls off for the attention, because sooner or later, you’ll break your neck, and no one will be around to see it.

Censoring Is Not What You Might Think It Is and Assholes Are Not Awesome

Some people make a very viable persona out of outrageous behavior and a nasty attitude. I don’t need to name names here, they’re some of the most visible figures in the industry. Some of them are genuinely nice people, others appear nice while they quietly plan how to spin the situation to cast themselves as the victim.

Don’t do that. You’re throwing yourself off the horse now. See the last sentence above for why that’s a bad idea. Some people can get away with it. Those people are usually well-known, quite talented, and already established. But even they miss out sometimes. A newer author who makes the choice to present themselves this way will, most likely, wind up regretting it.

There’s another angle, too: don’t be the victim. Don’t post something offensive, call it a joke when someone gets offended, and then cry ‘censorship!’ when they don’t laugh it off with you.

“It’s a joke” does not absolve all your sins, and trying to hide behind that excuse just makes you a spineless dick.

If you have an opinion you want to state, make sure it’s backed up by knowledge and understanding. If you want to make a joke, make sure it doesn’t exist solely at the expense of or for the belittling of others. And if someone says ‘hey, that’s hurtful’, it’s not censorship. You might have fallen off the horse, and you’d damn well better acknowledge that and get up gracefully.

The internet has a long memory, and the long hours of BarCon are full of stories. Make sure the ones about you are good.

Tune in tomorrow for some tips on how to fall gracefully and manage a crisis.

So You Want to Start a Blog

Amy Sundberg is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and YA. Her short fiction has appeared in places such as Redstone Science Fiction and Daily Science Fiction. She blogs regularly at The Practical Free Spirit and is currently working on a book about social media strategy for fiction writers. She lives in California with her husband and a ridiculously cute little dog. You can follow her on twitter @amysundberg.

Maybe your agent (or editor, or writer’s group) has been pressuring you to start a blog, or maybe you’ve seen what other writers are doing with their blogs and become intrigued. Maybe you’re interested in building community or connecting with your readers in a closer way. Or maybe you already have a blog, but it collects dust most of the year or could use a reboot.

Here’s what you need to consider before getting started:

1. Commit. Decide up front on a period of time to really devote energy to getting your blog started. You won’t attract readers overnight, and if you’re revamping your blog, it takes time to feel comfortable with the change. It also can take time for you to find your own unique voice for the blog. I recommend committing to at least six months.

2. Assess your time and energy. Are you willing to devote the time and energy necessary to maintain a blog? Because if you absolutely hate the idea, you might be better off putting the majority of your online time into other social media platforms. Readers can tell if you’re dialing it in on a blog, at which point it might not be worth the time grudgingly invested.

3. Choose a platform. The two main blogging platforms right now are WordPress and Blogger. Many writers use because it can be incorporated directly into their author webpage. If you want to try blogging out and don’t already have a blog-enabled webpage, you can start out with and port all that content over to a future website that uses when and if you need something fancier. Blogger is a bit simpler to get started on, if you find the technical aspects of beginning a blog to be intimidating.

4. Decide on a schedule. How often are you going to post? It doesn’t have to be every day, but you need to think of an ideal posting schedule before you get started. Be ready to adapt that schedule if it doesn’t work with the rest of your life, but otherwise, make your best effort to stick with the plan. When starting a new blog, it is often better to post at least once per week; two to three times a week is fabulous. More than once a day can be a bit much for some readers. When you have an already established blog with a loyal audience, you can dial back the frequency.

5. Keep a balance between promotional content and the main focus of your blog. It’s fine if you want to use your blog to promote your work: letting people know about your published stories, upcoming novels, exciting reviews, guest posts elsewhere, and scheduled appearances. However, if you are only ever talking about you, you, you, and buy, buy, buy. that can be a real turn-off to prospective readers. So keep a careful eye on how much time you’re talking about promotion vs. how much time you’re running other content that will interest (and maybe even captivate) your readers.

6. Let people know about your blog. It is okay to promote your blog. Otherwise, how will people know to read it? Make sure you include an easy-to-locate place on your blog where people can sign up to receive your posts via email and via an RSS feed. Let your Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ followers know when you have a new post. You don’t want to be obnoxious about it and post the same link several times, but one time (or two times on Twitter–some people like to tweet their blog post once in the morning and once at night) is perfectly okay.

7. Decide on your content strategy. This is one of the most critical steps in blog creation. Think about who your desired audience is, and then figure out ways in which you can add value to their lives. If you already have an established fan base for your work, your strategy will be different than if you’re a new writer just starting out. You also want to think about how you can make your blog original, the blog that only you could possibly write. For example, many writer blogs out there have very similar and repetitive content about writing. It’s important to either find a niche for yourself within the writing blogs if your desired audience is other writers instead of readers (see Chuck Wendig‘s or Juliette Wade‘s blogs) or figure out what you can blog about that is not exclusively writing. (If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around this idea, here is a primer to get you started.) Finally you want to consider what you’re comfortable talking about, what you’d prefer to keep private, and what tone you’d like to set in terms of appropriate behavior in the comments section (or if you even want comments).

We’ve only just begun the conversation about blogging, and about content strategy in particular. Blogging does require a certain commitment of time, energy, and willingness to experiment. But at its best, it can be quite a fulfilling and impactful experience.

Do I Have to Have a Facetwibblogger+ Page?

Jim C. Hines is the author of the forthcoming Libriomancer, about a magic-wielding librarian, flaming spider, motorcycle-riding dryad, and other miscellaneous fun. He’s written seven other books and more than forty published short stories. Jim hangs out at and other online sites, but occasionally pokes his head back into the real world. (Mostly for the ice cream.)

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably encountered the common wisdom about social media. These days, in order to succeed, a writer has to have a website and a blog and a Twitter and a Facebook and a Tumblr and a Pinterest and a Google+ and a Goodreads, and if you don’t, you will plummet into obscurity, a forgotten FAILURE forever and ever!

Do me a favor. Since you’re already online, open up another window and do a search for Suzanne Collins’ blog. Nothing? Try searching for J. K. Rowling’s blog. Stephenie Meyer’s?

Wait, Meyer does have an update feed on her website … which mostly seems to be updates maintained primarily by someone else. Rowling has a Twitter feed, but it has only a handful of updates from the past few years. It seems like these authors have somehow managed to do all right for themselves without being active on all the social media. I could name more, but hopefully this is enough to make my point that you really can succeed as a writer without spending every free second updating various websites and feeds.

This might sound odd coming from someone who’s active on Facebook and Twitter, made a Tumblr feed for a goblin advice column, and spends a lot of time blogging. I do believe these things have helped to get my name out there, and have led to more people finding and reading my books. Social media can be a useful tool. But it’s not a requirement, and it’s not as easy as folks sometimes make it sound:

  1. Build your Facetwibblogger+ page.
  2. ???
  3. Profit!

Most of us can point to authors who have become online superstars, folks like Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi, who get tens of thousands of hits every day. Over on LiveJournal, authors like Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire have thousands of followers and routinely generate hundreds of comments.

The thing is, these people have spent years building their online presence. It takes a great deal of time and work, and none of them are doing it because they’re “supposed” to. Nor are they doing it just to promote their books. I’ve studied these authors and others to try to learn how to improve my own blog, and one of the things I noticed is that the most successful author-bloggers are those who, the majority of the time, aren’t talking about their own books at all.

Compare them to Author X, who joins all the sites because that’s what he’s supposed to do to promote his book. He posts reviews of his stuff, links to Amazon and other sites, and … nothing happens. Eventually, he gets frustrated and gives up. Virtual dust soon blankets the Twitter feed. His Facebook cover photo is a tumbleweed, his wall empty save for those Happy Birthday wishes from six months ago. Because, while most of us will tolerate the occasional ad or self-promo, very few of us want to tune in to watch a neverending infomercial.

I believe every author should have a website with their publications and a way to contact them. Beyond that, if you decide to build an online presence, do it because you want to. For me, I spend time online for the people. For the community and for the conversation. I hate playing salesman, and the last thing I want to do is spend my time and energy pushing books on people. I’d much rather geek out about Avengers or Doctor Who, or jump into a conversation about sexism in the genre.

You build a name by being interesting, not by hard-selling yourself and your work. People can and do succeed with a minimal online presence. If you choose to get active online, remember you don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to share things that make you uncomfortable. You don’t have to do what That Other Author did – just because it worked for her doesn’t mean it would work for you. If it’s something you choose to do, then find the way you can enjoy it. The rest will follow in time.

(P.S. – I wrote this from the perspective of a “traditionally” published author. For someone who is self-publishing e-books, I do think it’s a lot harder to succeed without more of that online marketing presence. As always, everyone’s experience is different, and there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all advice.)