Brain Babies: Thoughts from a Mid-list Writer
I use the term “mid-list” with a certain amount of pride, but also a healthy dose of humility, I think. I have been selling stories for six years now, sometimes at professional rates, mostly not. I’ve been asked to write for specific calls, which is flattering as hell. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to make the deadlines for most of those, which makes me feel like an ass.
I’ve edited a novel and three anthologies of other people’s stuff. I’m reading slush for a small press.
I have a small, but loyal, fan base.
I’ve got some chops.
However, I’m far from well-known. In some horror circles, my name might be recognized, but more likely I’d get a “who? Never heard of him.”
And, I’m okay with that. I really am. It’s cool. I mean, sure, I’d love to be well-known. I’d love to make it, to have my books explode and have readers gushing about me. I’d love to be able to quit my day job (I wouldn’t though, because I like my day job, and I’ve got damn good bennies, but having the option would be cool as hell).
There are writers who are doing it for a living, and I admire the hell out them. Some are wildly successful, and I think that’s awesome! I applaud them. I’m excited for them. Yay!
Which brings me to the point of this post. In the last six years, I’ve learned a lot about, not just writing, storytelling, and publishing, but also about how to conduct myself.
Things I will not do, and would strongly encourage you not to do as well are:
- Don’t be an asshole. You would think this is obvious, right? Apparently, it’s not. Shrug.
- Don’t shout “BUY MY BOOK” in my face every five minutes. Fucksake, buddy. Calm down. I get it: you’re excited. That’s cool. I get pumped when something new comes out, too, but tone it down, okay? The more you hit me over the head with how badly you want me to buy your shit, the more I don’t want to. Think about that for a minute, okay? Yeah. Cut it out.
- On a related note, don’t pimp your shit when people ask for reading recommendations. This is tacky as hell. It’s like the unsolicited dick pic of writer behavior. No one wants to see that; keep it in your pants. But, go ahead and recommend your writer friends’ stuff, if you like it. Don’t do it just because they’re your friends, because books you recommend reflect on you. If you pimp shitty books, no one will trust you, and won’t want to read your stuff.
- Don’t get on social media drunk. Just don’t. It won’t end well. I trust I don’t have to explain this one to anyone.
- Support your fellow writers. If someone you know has a new book, share that shit. Celebrate their successes (I know I’m repeating myself, but this bears it) with them. Get their work in front of readers. The more books sold in general, the better for all of us. It’s not a competition. My success doesn’t mean you lose. There’s no downside. Do this, and do it a lot.
- Be yourself. Seriously. You’re interesting. You are a fascinating motherfucker. No one else is you. People want to know who you are beyond your stories. You don’t need to hide behind some public persona, and (unless you’re hiding from a stalker), you should not. I see a few horror writers especially who create this whole dark, scary persona, who try to come across as Evil Incarnate. Yeah. Lighten up, Francis.
- Keep at it. Even when you’re tired, or depressed, or frustrated, you need to hit the keys (or grab the pen, or talk into your voice-recorder thing). I’m not saying you have to write every damn day, but you do have to write. We’re writers. That’s what we do. It’s cool to take breaks. I do that. I go for days without writing sometimes. When I do that, I usually read a lot, or sometimes edit, or both. But, I always get back to writing. Because, ultimately, that’s where the fun is. Making shit up. I fucking love that.
- Always strive to be better. Read authors whose words sing. Study books on writing (there are some damn good ones out there). Up your game. Read poetry (I personally don’t care for poetry, but it’s a good exercise in controlling language, using the fewest amount of words possible, and it’s good for you). Read bad stuff, too, so you know how not to do it (I highly recommend reading slush: you’ll read a lot of terrible fiction, but once in a while, you’ll find something brilliant, too).
- Listen to feedback. Unless it’s from a reader who says something vague like, “this sucks,” or “you’re awesome, dude!” This is not constructive. Real feedback, especially from editors (frequently found in rejection letters) can improve your writing immensely. Pay attention. Use it. If they took the time to say something, it means you’re on the right track.
- Enjoy yourself. I mean that. If you’re not having a good time writing, if it’s torturous to get the words out, maybe you should stop. If I’m having fun writing something, I’m fairly confident a reader will have fun reading it. If it’s a chore, well, you see where I’m going with this.
All right. That’s all I got for now. Not sure if any of this helps, or if any of you needed my unsolicited advice, but I had to get it off my chest. So, I feel better anyway. Thanks for listening.