The One and Only Absolute Rule for Writers

I end up mentoring a lot of new and beginning writers. Frequently, they approach me about some "rule" for writing - no passive voice, no head hopping, floating body parts, and the list goes on. I can nearly always find exceptions to each of these "rules." That makes them suggestions or guidelines and not rules. Even the "rules" of spelling, punctuation and grammar can be artfully ignored. Consider the work of James Joyce and e.e. cummings.
Photo by Eduardo

However, their is one absolute rule for writers. Ready to jot this down? It's very profound, very subtle, very esoteric. It is not something you might think of yourself. Ready?

Writers Must Write

I told you it was profound. I remember being at a writer's conference several years ago where the keynote speaker began by looking out over the audience and saying, "Why aren't you all home writing?" 

It was a good question. Writer's today have a lot of non-writing things to do. Marketing, personal appearances, book signings, social media, and the list goes on. Today, the writers I mentor are as likely to be asking about how to build a Facebook page or what to put in their blogs as how to build a story. 

At some point, though, we have to get back to basics. What is taking up most of our time? Is it blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting, speaking, pinning or is it writing? 

I can hear the objections now. "But you have to be doing all these things to sell books." To a certain extent that is true, but you have to be realistic about some things. Take blogging, for example. Average conversion rate for any type of social media per book release is about 1 percent. So, even if you have 1000 people following your blog (which is pretty high for most bloggers), that means you are going to sell maybe 10 copies of each book from your blog followers. 

Let's say your average blog post is 500 words and you do three a week. That's 75,000 words a year or a short novel. With virtually no promotion, if you self-published a novel of 75,000 words and kept the price reasonable, you could expect to sell 5 copies a month. Or 60 copies a year.
In other words, you would have to release six novels a year and announce them on your blog to match that in terms of sales. 

I'm using the most visble example and most easily quantified. However, consider how much time is spent on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others. Yes, we need that presence. (I'm not so sure blogs are that important to marketing for my reasons you can see a previous post. Is Blogging Necessary. ) However, you need to keep your priorities straight. You can have a great wonderful platform, but if you don't turn out the copy, you won't have anything to sell.

And, as a writer, you cannot get obsessed with one book. You need to have volume. I don't mean becoming a hack, but it is important to have out a number of titles. I made this mistake with my first novel. I spent hundreds of hours promoting it, going on blog tours, guesting on websites and podcasts, plugging it on social media. So much so, I didn't have time to write the second book in the series which came out almost three years later. I had lost much of the momentum and still didn't sell as many books as I did just putting the book up on Amazon and optimizing for the Kindle search.

One author suggested you not publish your first book until you have two more to publish. I don't know that I would go so far as that, but you can't think only in terms of the book you have just released. You have to thing about the next three books. If someone likes that book, what are they going to buy next? There is a relatively finite audience for that first book immediately after publication. It continues but at a lower pace after that, but to build up an income base, you need several books producing lower sales over an extended period of time as well as new releases coming out on a regular schedule. If you are spending all your time promoting one book, you won't be writing the next one. 

So, what are we to do? We do have to be out there promoting our books. Certainly, indie writers more than traditional ones. Although, having been traditionally published, I know that if you are not a "name" writer, the promotional backing of the publishing company is minimal at best. 

I'm not saying forget promotion. However, we need to be work smarter. Watch your analytics on websites, browsers and facebook. How many people are you actually reaching through those venues. How does that compare to the time you spend on each? If you have 500 people following you on facebook, 700 on Twitter and 100 on your blog, then maybe you need to split up your time accordingly. Instead of three blog post a week, one every two weeks might suffice. Maybe you need to do more on Facebook and Twitter. 

Secondly, set a limit. How much time are you going to spend on marketing activities during a week? Start with how many hours you have to work on writing related stuff. Maybe it's 10 hours a week. Then I would say spend no more than two and a half hours or about 25%. If you look at your schedule and you find you are doing more, then you might have to cut down. I find setting a timer works for me. 

Third, just say "no." You will receive all sorts of "promotional opportunities." People will want you to guest on their blogs. Visit their blogs. See how many followers they actually have. If it is less than a few hundred, then you might want to turn them down. Sure you might sell one or two books, but if that takes away from you writing your next book, is that really a good economy. Any chess player knows you sacrifice the pawns to protect your queen. 

So, back to the beginning. The one rule for writers - Write!


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