Focus on Writing the Best Book You Can
It seems in the last few years, dialogue about all-things-publishing has been focused on platform, marketing, increasing output, distribution platforms, technology, and self-publishing. But I think it’s important to call our attention back to the work.
In January 2014, I posted a prediction for the coming year:
“I think authors will re-focus on the foundational importance of writing a good book. Conversations will be more about mastering the craft and less about the logistics of publishing. People are becoming aware that while options are expanding because of self-publishing, and it may be easier than ever to get your work out to readers, the process of writing a good book is the same as it’s ever been. It’s challenging, it’s grueling, it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting — and it can be incredibly satisfying. People will have a renewed awareness that ultimately, the great writing itself is the very best platform there is, and determine to put most of their efforts in that direction.”
I’m not sure if my prediction came true. Are authors re-focusing on the writing? Some are, some aren’t. But here’s what I know: It’s easier than ever to get a book published because of self-pub and indie publishing.
But it’s not any easier to write a good book.
In fact, it may be even harder to write a good book than it was in days past, because both you and your reader have more distractions. You’re tempted by the Internet, your ability to concentrate for long periods of time has been compromised, and deep focus is more challenging. Meanwhile, your reader has infinite sources of information and entertainment. So a book has to be darn good to to keep both your attention and your reader’s. Now is the time to make sure we’re not minimizing the importance of mastering the craft.
Platform is important if you want people to read your work. But ultimately, great writing is the best platform. A million followers are meaningless if you don’t have something worthwhile for them to read. Marketing challenges, evolving technology, and competition will always be with us. But it’s irrelevant without a good book.
I sense, out there in writer-land, an increasing focus on writing more-more-more. Many want to publish as fast as possible. Volume + speed = more money, or more success, or some such equation. But readers can only read so much. They’ll have shrinking patience for works that feel sloppily crafted and hastily written.
The only way forward is the same as it ever was: run away from the noise, hunker down and wrestle mightily with your prose.
As an agent, I’m here to help with the “other stuff.” Only you, the writer, can do the most important part. Write that book. And make it great.
Let’s collectively remember that mastering the craft is the best object of our focus. There is a time for considering various publishing routes and promoting our works, but only when we have in our hands a book that is the absolute best it can be.
So where are you on this? Are you mainly focused on craft, or do you spend a great deal of energy focused on other aspects of publishing? What’s the right balance?
Image credit: kbuntu / 123RF Stock Photo
At the same time I’m sending out submissions and queries, I’m working to improve my manuscript. I submit to or query people with whom I have already developed a relationship, preferably in person but sometimes, as with you so far, online. I need to know with whom I might be working, she or he needs to know me, and at the same time, I want my manuscript to be as good as I can make it at that point in time. Practically, that means that as I’m taking Suzanne Lakin’s course on emotions, I’m going back through my story to see whether the emotional response cycle rings true in every interaction. If I receive feedback from an agent or editor, I value that feedback and may change the ms accordingly. Eventually the intersection of the quality of the manuscript and its attractiveness to an agent will occur.
I continually focus on the story and well-developed characters that are flawed, with challenges to overcome, struggling to hold onto hope while fear consumes their thoughts. Basically, my characters are real and relatable. My personal success stems from reader reviews telling me how my stories touched their hearts, or inspired them. All forms of art are subjective, and that includes writing; therefore, I remain true to myself and my characters. Although I’m active on social media, most of my time is spent writing and editing. I much prefer face-to-face book signings and conducting author presentations.
How good to hear an agent consider quality of content over the bottom line of making quick money.
I am part of several groups on FB and am astounded sometimes by folks goals for the year ahead – write (and publish) 5 / 6 / 7 books. Folk who say they can write a book in a month and so on.
My target is to 1st draft my third novel in c 8 months and then take another 2/3 to edit it before it goes to a professional copy-editor. I won’t sell myself short in terms of quality even if that means I might be in my bathchair by the time I make a significant income.
What makes it worthwhile is to have some thoughtful reviews from folk I’ve don’t know who derive pleasure from my writing and who are prepared to wait for the next book. I remember one particularly (of my first book of a trilogy) – the person who said they were waiting for book 2, but that if it was going to be as good as the first one it would be a while. That’s the right kind of reader in my opinion – one who knows the value of a writer taking their time and making a book as good as they can.
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Distractions? One of the best things I ever did was give up television back in the 1970s. It’s all on YouTube now, and sampled for use on websites and blogs in endless GIFs—books, models and awards twinkling down runways. Despite how much I use it, I’m almost ready to give up the Internet. Platform? Quite often it’s a shoe that’s hard to stand on. What do you think, Mr. Freud?
Such a great reminder, a very grounding post. I think there is a real temptation right now to sacrifice craftsmanship for production. NaNoWriMo, for all its popularity, sometimes feeds this – quantity of words in short time, versus quality and care. However, there’s some talk recently in the marketing world that the number of followers on social media is proving less valuable for marketing than the quality of those followers. Food for thought.
Definitely mastering the craft and producing the best work possible is always the top goal. However, (IMOP) until publishers are willing to pick up the marketing piece that has been financially cut from their loaves, that work will still be required of the author, traditional or otherwise. The bag of platform, writing, marketing, and writing more is still pretty mixed for the majority of writers.
Happy New Year, Rachelle. I totally agree. In fact, a year ago, I revamped my book, “The Power of Faith” and paid for new cover design and everything. I’m trying to divvy up my time between the platform/marketing activities and improving my writing skills. A good writer needs both. “They” say you should create your platform and marketing plan first, and then write the book, but I felt so passionate about helping others heal, I did the reverse. Thanks for the encouragement.
Well said! It is so hard to find a balance of working on your art, crafting your words just so, and trying to build your platform so that editors will give you a second look.
Yay! Finally people start to see it that way.
Good words. I agree with Richard about the distractions, and competing for our reader’s attention is a challenge. I’m still at the point where my time is spent studying the craft almost as much as I write. I will Indie pub my first novel in a month or so and I’m a bit nervous about it not being vetted by a pub company, but it’s in the hands of a reputable editor right now, and I think that’s so important for Indie authors to do – have it edited! That’s part of learning the craft as far as I’m concerned.
Excellent reminder! From what I’ve seen, the emphasis is definitely on producing more faster to make more money. It’s almost like the entrepreneurs/sales types have invaded the writing world. With self publishing so accessible, it can be a good way to make some money by producing lots of shorter non-fiction books. Trying to build a platform for me has been an exercise in futility so far, so it’s a great reminder to focus on what’s really important – good writing – and not feel like I have to turn into a shmoozy salesperson just to get my work published and read.
This is great advice, as always. I am slowly but surely building my platform, but I’ve had to pull back from it or I would never have the time to write! Still, it’s hard to know where to focus when my agent is pitching my novel to publishers, and I’m unsure whether they would rather have me spend my time building an audience for that book, or get started on the next one! So much of this business feels like a Catch 22, but it’s always good to get perspective from pros like you. Thanks Rachelle.
No doubt at all; the craft is where I focus. There so many ways to make a simple statement and to discover those ways and how each affects the prose is fascinating.
Writing a novel, editing and proofing a novel (which are IMHO part of writing), and getting a book published are at least two different things. Of course the storyline has to have structure. Scrivener-type software helps, but the story still has to be “fresh and original” (words by Rachelle several weeks back) in order to obtain interest. Richelle reminds us of the basic thing in literature.
Thank you for this! Platform building was so disheartening when I was actively blogging. It seems like controversial and heated is what gets the most views. At midlife, I don’t have the energy I had in my thirties. I am a ponderer, a thinker. I felt hopelessly lost in a world of “reactors.” I went back to my goal: writing a book. And I am so thankful I did. I wish I had done so three years ago and ignored the advice of so many in publishing who said I needed a bigger platform. Your post gives me hope that there is still room for people like me in Christian publishing. Thank you.
Thank you for this post Rachelle! I seriously needed to be reminded that not only is there nothing wrong with focusing on writing, but that writing should be the priority in a writer’s career.
“In fact, it may be even harder to write a good book than it was in days past, because both you and your reader have more distractions.”
This being the case–and it is–that means a new definition of what constitutes a “good book” is needed. From what I see, the distractions that result in a fragmented attention span have led writers to use shorter chapters, shorter paragraphs, etc. The end result mirrors what’s happening. The ultimate evidence is the ever-increasing importance of video to sell books.
“It’s challenging, it’s grueling, it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting — and it can be incredibly satisfying.” You pegged it right there! Thanks for the encouragement to keep on writing, and rewriting, and tweaking and editing and…
Great article and a very good point! I think it’s important for writers to regularly remind themselves of this. It is so easy to fall into the internet wormhole and feel pressured to produce things fast and market yourself and be online all the time (and the internet is full of articles that promote and perpetuate that approach), but in the process they might spend too little time on the most critical thing: writing a fantastic book.
If I think about it from a reader’s perspective it’s pretty clear – an author can be prolific and talked about and active on lots of sites, but if their book (or a sample from their book) doesn’t thrill me I won’t be reading it. If it does thrill me, I’ll be telling everyone who’ll listen that they should read it too!
Rachelle, this is a good reminder. Thanks.
I’ve always believe that good writing was paramount, and I strive to do so. Yet it seems the successful indie authors are successful because of good marketing, more so than their writing. That’s a hard implication for a writer to consider.
Rachelle, I agree that the reading audience has too many potential distractions. In addition to our computers and smart phones, we’re a TV generation, rarely sitting through a 30 minute program (22 minutes plus commercials) without a break. Even if the Broncos or Cowboys are on TV, it’s hard to hold our attention for very long. Then there are distractions the author has–the same ones facing the reader whose attention we’re trying to hold.
So, I agree. We, as authors, have to write the best book we can–every time. Thanks for the reminder.