Friday, 11 September 2009

10 Commandments for Aspiring Writers

This is an extra post that's really just a reprise. When I first started this blog and had about 3 followers, I began a series called "10 commandments for aspiring writers in 2009". Virtually no one read it because virtually no one knew I was here, but some people who did kind of liked it, so I'm reprising with links here. It's also a nice way of leading in to a new series I'm going to be running in the autumn, a 12-step programme to help writers intending to make a serious attempt at a career of it, starting in 2010, hit the ground running with a proper business plan.

So here, goes, my 10 commandmets are:

1.There is no stigma about self-publishing

2.Marketing is something small groups of like-minded writers can in many ways do better than big publishers

3.By the time the recession’s over the publishing houses will be playing catch-up with the new literary business models that emerge in the meanwhile

4.The internet is SOO much more than just another way of getting the same old type of book published

5.Don’t be afraid to give your work away for free.

6.Modern technology cuts out the barriers between readers and writers and brings prose back to life

7.Writing is not a zero-sum game – far from making my success LESS likely, your success makes it MORE likely, so cooperation between writers is a good thing.

8.Money follows innovation

9.Networking is about looking for ways to do something FOR people, not get something FROM them.

10.Writers need to think like musicians and artists; we need to be showmen and women, to work in the public eye.

When I wrote the series I was new at this, and probably too brash, but I think a lot of the points remain valid, and I certainly hope there's at least a bit of useful advice there. Here are the opening lines of, and links to, the separate posts on each commandment.

1. In many ways this debate is already tired. Some writers will never take self-publishing seriously. For others the “stigma of self-publishing” isn’t an issue that figures on the radar. [Read more]

2. Marketing is something small groups of like-minded writers can in many ways do better than big publishersIf there’s one reason writers give more than any other why they don’t want to self-publish, it’s marketing. [Read more]

3. Please note, there are no value judgements in this post. I’m not saying publishing has to change, or ought to change – nor am I saying the current way is bad, or that we are stepping into Utopia. I’m simply saying what I think WILL happen. [read more]

4. Blogs have turned the internet into some kind of noisy Hobbesian nightmare. Twitter has quietened the noise to a series of feint coughs, but the effect is the same – now everyone has something to say and no one has any time to listen. We are all participants; we are all producers; the consumer is dead. [Read more]

5. I’m not going to mention The Pirate Bay in this article. Not once. Except for that, of course. If you want my opinion on the record, it’s this – my only thought as I read the coverage was how sad it was that everything was about file-sharing games, music, videos. [Read more]

6. A lot’s been made of the democratising effect of the Internet. We live in a world where we can all be producers of culture. Anyone with Internet access can set up a blog and pour out their soul. And it takes little more than a mobile phone and to that you can add sound, picture, and film to the “we’re all at it now” package. [Read more]

7. Writing is not a zero-sum game – far from making my success LESS likely, your success makes it MORE likely, so cooperation between writers is a good thing.This column is probably as low on content and high on rhetoric as I intend to get in this series. I want to address an issue that’s vexed me ever since I started participating in online writers’ groups at the very start of 2008, after reading a little snippet in the Writers and Artists Yearbook about [Read more]

8. One of the questions I’m most often asked when I explain what I’m doing is “How are you going to make any money doing that?” Actually, it’s not usually phrased quite that way – more “it’s all right for you, but we’ve got bills to pay” or less family-friendly rewordings of the same sentiment. [Read more]

9. This is my favourite commandment of all, and I’m delighted to save it till last in this series. We’re always reading about networking. Anyone who’s part of a writers’ site like Authonomy knows that success has so much to do with spreading your social tentacles, and we’re always being urged to use social media to increase our contacts and improve our chances of success [Read more]

10. Writers need to think like musicians and artists; we need to be showmen and women, to work in the public eye, and to make our money from selling an experience rather than a piece of hardware. [Read more]

When I first started the series, I thought number 9 was the most important commandment by far. Nothing's changed, although I think 7 is pretty high up there. What the past few months have enforcd are the supreme value of cooperation between writers.

Do let me know which you think is most important, and where I'm totally off-beam.


  1. 10 is definitely important as is 9.

    I can definitely relate to 8 as I hear it everyday from my family. 7 takes time and large levels of commitment.

    6 is correct-to a point. Yes, many people can out their work out there and, yes, time is limited, but people will flock to quality a good percentage of the time so the prospect of going unheard rests on the shoulders of the producer their self. Will go out their to sell themselves or stay holed up in their own little word.

    2-I agree with. One needs not rely solely on corporations to get their voice and prose out onto the market.

    1-Self publishing should be reserved for those who are experienced writers and have developed a community larger than close family and a handful of friends who will go and buy their work.
    -Brandon Rhys Parker

  2. Hey Brandon (I think I'm getting the hangof the triumvirate!!) On 6, yes, one of the things I've really noticed is the way that even in the relatively short space of time there have been so many free books out there, communities andportals emerge that sift the content, allowing quality to rise - just form a larger pool, and driven bottom-up not top-down.

    7 came about not because I wanted everyone to be in a collective (we have 22 and that's plenty!) but because I was fed up of the "we hate it when our friends become successful" attitude amongst writers - the "mwah mwah, I'm so happy for you" said through clenched teeth. I wanted people to start seeing their peers' success as a cause for celebration and not a threat.

    Good point on 1. My rules for self-publishing are you should have a niche-market you know how to reach that's better-served by you than the mainstream

  3. I really don't know how to speak to any of these except for "giving away my work for free!" It gives me so much pleasure, though, to get the feedback from other writers and creative people. (Personally, having taught 12 years olds in an inner city school, it is exciting to discover how many literate people there are in the world!)

  4. Hey! Was about to e-mail some questions to you. I'm so glad to hear that response. One of my bugbears is the hidden barriers (having to learn how to shape a query letter before your work's considered) within the publishing industry that exclude so many amazing storytellers (and the negative effects that can have on people's expectations of what they can do). It's the "From Pitch to Perpetuation of Privilege" post from about a month back. There are so many wonderful projects out there giving vioce and visibility to these stories. But that's not a mitigation of the industry's attitude to stories that don't come in the "right packaging". The rather irate (as irate as a big bearded hippy can get, anyway) slogan I came up with was "the stories we publish are the voice with which we choose to speak to the future". I'll be even more controversial now and say that a few middle class people losing the ability to be paid for doing what they love and having to get a day job is a small price for the excitement and enrichment of bringing millions into the wonderful, dazzling, tumultuous conversation of the written word.

  5. I have tucked my paws underneath me and curled my tail around so as not to have it trodden on. Contemplation, as only a cat can, tells me I still have to aim for someone else to publish. Why? I think it depends a little, perhaps a lot, on what you are writing Dan. But, miaou!, I admire you for taking the plunge into the icy waters of self-publication and coming out alive. Cats do not like to get wet.

  6. Regarding number 7....most of us know what schadenfreude means - enjoyment of others misfortune. I've always wondered if there is a similarly brilliant word out there for resenment at others success.

  7. @CDU it's not just relevant but essential to consider what you're writing. My rules, to reiterate, are: niche books written for a market you know, that you can reach better than a mainstream publisher. My point in the self-pub commandment was definitely not to evangelise self-pubbing but to remove the stigma of doing it.

    @Phillipa, indeed. I always use "dog in the manger" to dscribe such an attitude. Or, if expressed on twitter, "instant unfollow"!