How to Sit Down and Shut the Fuck Up: Rookie Publishing Etiquette Made Easy

So you just got published. Congrats! Nowadays, achieving what you just did is almost impossible. This means you have talent and someone wants to work with you and help you build a career. You have the proverbial foot in the door. Now you have to try to make the best of it, sell some books, and not fuck it all up. We are on the same boat, so I thought I would share some of the most important things I’ve learned so far. The following tips might help you accomplish your goals. If you’re still struggling to get your work out there, this is also for you.

1. Stay humble.

I know you feel special. Getting published was your dream. However, it doesn’t make you better than anyone else and it certainly doesn’t mean your work is infinitely superior to that of unpublished authors. Furthermore, and this might sting a little, no one gives a shit. There are about 330,000 book published each year in the US. Sadly, about 99 percent of them are awful. You can’t blame folks if they suspect yours might suck. Don’t feel insulted. Also, be thankful for every word of encouragement, constructive criticism, and review you receive. Minus the folks whose neck you’ve saved before, no one owes you anything, so be truly grateful for any support that comes your way.

2. Help other writers.

No, it’s not about getting helped in return or building good karma. Simply put, it’s about loving books and the awesome people who write them. I know a lot of authors and do all I can to help get the word out there about their work. Not everyone has the time or inclination to become a professional reviewer, but anything you can do to help a friend sell a book is a small contribution that actually matters. The publishing industry is pretty damn cutthroat as it is, so lend a hand and help make it a better place. After all, this is now your world.

3. Sit down, shut the fuck up, and pay attention.

Regardless of how good you think you are, you can always get better. There are successful authors out there who regularly share what they’ve learned about the publishing business. Listen to them. Ask questions. Take notes. Having a conversation with or listening to a panel being offered by someone like Joe. R Lansdale, Carlton Mellick or Brian Keene is the equivalent of taking a master class and should be treated as such. Not everything they’ll say applies to you, but chances are at least some of it does. You know, that whole thing about two ears and only one mouth or some crap like that.

4. Keep you name out there even if it means writing for free.

In the past, if I wrote fifteen things in one month and got paid a few bucks for one of them, I was happy. Now that I’m a published author, things are exactly as they were. Remember that blog that published your stuff when no one else would? They’d be more than happy to publish more of your work now. Remember the editor from that small, “exposure only” magazine that praised your work and didn’t mess around with it? Send him or her another story once or twice a year. He or she will appreciate it. Chances are a few folks and places made your day when all you wanted was to see your work in print or shared online. Now that you have a book out, find the time to be good to those who were good to you when publishing anything seemed fucking impossible. Believe it or not, it might even lead to someone new finding your name out there and checking out your book.

5. Don’t become a nuisance or turn your book into spam.   

Talk to people about your book, share it on Facebook when there’s something relevant to be shared, and tweet about it every ten days or so. Getting the word out there is very, very important. However, you need to make sure you don’t become a spammer. Don’t share the link to your book every hour. Don’t nag until folks get tired of your continuous self-promotion. Exposure is great, but overexposure turns people off and makes you look like a douchebag. No one wants to read a book written by a self-centered idiot.

6. Don’t be an asshole.

This one is probably the hardest because if you’re already an asshole (i.e. a racist, a homophobe, someone who wakes up with the desire to make everyone else’s day a living hell, etc.), there’s little you can do. However, if you’re none of those things, then just follow a few simple rules and you should be okay. For example, keep bullshit drama away from your name and writing (unless it’s incredibly fun, drunken, sexy, Hunter S. Thompson-esque drama, in which case you should share it and build your persona around it). Treat everyone you meet with respect until they prove to you they don’t deserve it. If you think someone’s work is so bad it makes you want to poke your eyes out, don’t say anything and concentrate on spreading the word about books you love. Don’t attack anyone online simply because they gave you a bad review or said something negative about you. If you can kick someone’s ass in person and they deserve it, do it. If not, don’t use the web as a ring; it’s boring and makes everyone involved look like a whiny bitch.

7. Read and learn.

A writer who doesn’t read will probably be as successful as a blind plastic surgeon with no hands. Read until your eyes bleed and then read some more. Read outside your genre. Read shit that’s so great it makes you feel uncomfortable about your own writing. Read established names and new authors. Read on the bus. Read on the toilet. Read when you can’t write and then try to write again. Also, realize you can learn from those that know what they’re doing. When you have the dough, take workshops. Make time for them and take them seriously. I’ve taken two workshops with Garrett Cook (one co-taught with Bradley Sands and one with Jordan Krall). The stuff I learned there is still with me. Oh, and read some more.

8. Respect your editor(s).

Great editors who are also authors need great editors. An editor is a fresh, knowledgeable, critical pair of eyes that look at your work when you’re tired of looking at it or can’t see the typos because you’ve memorized it. If you can’t deal with constructive criticism, maybe you should consider doing something else. Even if you’re taking the self-publishing route, spend money on an editor. For a reasonable price, you can get John Skipp to edit your shit. There are no excuses. As a writer, reader, and reviewer, reading unedited work tells me you don’t really care about your readers.

9. Be careful.

No one would publish you before. Every rejection felt like a punch in the heart. Now that you have a book, some of those who rejected you might come calling. As someone who’s been a victim of unscrupulous “publishers,” I can tell you that it pays to have someone out there who knows the ropes and is willing to answer questions. If none of your friends are publishing veterans, then ask your friend’s friends. This might be a ruthless business, but most of the folks I’ve met are truly amazing, kindhearted individuals.

10. Have fun.

You published a book and folks can buy it and read it! That’s as awesome as it gets. Have fun. Share your work with readers. Blog about it. Go to the park and read it to whoever wants to listen. Meet other authors and bounce ideas around. Write like a soul possessed. You’ve earned the right to call yourself a writer, now have fun with it. If all goes well, you’ll be celebrating that second book before you’ve had time to enjoy your time as a newbie.

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