The January/February issue of Writers Digest has an article on 7 Inside-the-Box Publishing Rules That Writers Can Break (Or, at the Very Least, Bend) that outlines seven common “rules” of writing that some writers found to be the key to their success, while others found success by breaking (or bending them). For the most part I agreed with the author, Robert Lee Brewer, but thought I’d share my two cents on the rules specifically for romance authors.
Text of this post is below the video:
Resources Mentioned in the Video
💗 7 Inside-the-Box Publishing Rules That Writers Can Break (Or, at the Very Least, Bend) by Robert Lee Brewer
💗 Build Your Author Email List of Raving Fans (YOUTUBE)
Rule #1: Read. A Lot
Stephan King is quoted as saying, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Most authors I talk to agree that reading is an important part of being successful. Reading keeps you on top of current trends in the market, and can be a way to learn the craft.
But Brewer also states that writing trumps reading. In other words, don’t let reading get in the way of your writing. I agree that reading is important but that it shouldn’t be prioritized over writing. But here are a few other thoughts about being a reader and a writer:
- There can be a difference between reading for your profession and reading for fun. Personally, I’ve found it harder to read without paying attention to craft, but I think it’s important to do so. Reading doesn’t always have to be work.
- Many authors indicate that they don’t read within their genre, especially if they’re writing, to avoid accidental plagiarism. I don’t worry about this, but each writer needs to know themselves well enough to know if they’re going to internalize something another author writes.
Rule #2: Write. Every. Day
Brewer reports that he writes nearly every day and indicates many prolific authors are cranking out words daily. He notes that 100 words every day is 35,000 words a year…very doable when you consider writing 100 words should take a few minutes. But he points out there are many successful authors who write once a week or have writing retreats and the rest of the time don’t write at all.
I write nearly every day. The benefits to writing every day (or at least most days) has to do with progress and habit. The more you write, the more it becomes something you automatically do, and the faster you get to a completed book.
Another benefit is the story lives within you, even when you’re not writing. For me, this is great because the story and ideas percolate when I’m not writing, but also, daily writing keeps me emotionally connected to my characters making it fast and easy to resume writing the next day.
With that said, feeling like you need to write every day can make it unfun. Or maybe your life isn’t conducive to daily writing. One thing I would suggest to authors whose writing is a bit more haphazard is to be honest with yourself on why and when you’re not writing. Being stuck or not feeling the muse and therefore avoiding writing means it will take a long time to get the book done. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s an interesting phenomena in which many writers have a story, but have “reasonable” excuses to not get it down (e.g. the laundry). Some of the best procrastinators I know are authors.
I recommend having a writing schedule whether it’s one hour a day, two evenings a week, or one weekend out of a month.
Rule #3: Build a Platform
First, let me share my favorite definition of platform from Jane Friedman because it took me awhile to grasp it. Platform is your visibility, authority, and reach to a target audience.
Brewer notes that there are successful writers who avoid platform building, relying on their works to get seen. Since he doesn’t name names, it’s hard to know if these writers are already successful and don’t need a platform or perhaps their market is highly specific.
The problem with platform building is that it’s time-consuming and frustrating, especially if your platform isn’t reaching your readers. Then there’s the ever-changing nature of what works to reach your audience (TikTok anyone?).
Catherine Baab-Muguira has an article on Jane Friedman’s site titled, You Don’t Need a Platform If You Can Find Your Audience. Ultimately, that’s what all this is about: finding an audience who wants your book.
However, the world is changing, and more and more consumers are pro-active in their buying choices. Readers seek out their favorite authors and if they can’t find you, you could lose an opportunity to sell to them in the future.
I’m a big believer in having a platform, but I don’t think you have to do all the things. At the very least, authors should have a website and email list. Yes, social media is great, and if your readers hang out there to learn about books, then you should be there too. But I wouldn’t rely on social media since you don’t own the platform and can lose your followers at the whims of a bot.
Also, the article says, “…If you Can Find Your Audience,” which points to a crucial factor many authors miss; you have to find your readers. Building a website or even a Facebook Fan Page doesn’t mean readers will find you. So you need to do the work to find readers, but by having a website and email list, you have a way to invite them to come visit you, follow you, and become an engaged fan.
Rule #4: Follow Submission Guidelines
I have to be honest, I was surprised Brewer suggested this rule could be bent considering one of the biggest peeves of agents and editors is writers not following the guidelines. But if you dig down, what he indicates is there is “room for your unique voice to illuminate your submission.” To my mind, being unique isn’t bending the rules. Agents and editors are looking for unique, among other things.
Brewer is also clear that uniqueness in a submission should NOT come in the form of weird fonts or boasting about being the next best seller. This is true. Agents get soooo many submissions a day and have a screening process that first eliminates any submission that doesn’t follow the guidelines (which usually includes font) and authors who brag (tell) instead of letting the writing do the work (show).
Ultimately, I don’t see uniqueness within the guidelines as bending the rules. Your submissions need to follow the guidelines asked by the agent or editor, and use your words to show your talent and uniqueness.
Rule #5: Grow a Thick Skin
Brewer suggests that you don’t need a thick skin, just the ability to dust yourself off and keep moving forward in your writing career. That is true, but this points out how we can interpret words and phrases differently. In my mind, having a thick skin is what keeps the rejection from stopping us from writing. Thin skinned people, in my opinion, are those who give up because they can’t handle rejection. Tomato tomahto, I guess.
Rule #6: Network with Other Writers and Publishing Pros
If you’re an introvert, going out and networking with strangers, even those in your writing tribe, can be difficult. Brewer admits to this, but also points out that networking is important for writers. In my case, I found an agent and a publisher through networking. I’ve learned about author and book events through other writers. Networking has been a factor in my success.
Brewer recommends using social media to network if going out into the world is challenging. I don’t disagree with this, but I would encourage introverted authors to take baby steps to get out into the world. I’m not saying you need to walk into an event ready to hand out business cards and an elevator pitch. But in-person events offer so much from information to inspiration. Plus, lets face it, many writers write because it is a solitary activity that works well with introversion. That means at any given event, there will be many introverts.
Rule #7: Study the Markets
Brewer points out that studying the market can be helpful to understand current trends. True. If you’re an indie author writing to market, it’s especially important to keep on top of what’s selling.
But Brewer shares the downside of market research, primarily reading more than writing (Rule #1) and chasing trends. I agree with this as well. In the article, Brewer says that chasing trends can be problematic because trends change. This is especially true if you want to be traditionally published. A book bought by a publisher today, won’t be out for two years, and by then, the trend will likely be gone or at least not as popular.
But there is another negative aspect of writing to market which is not writing the stories you want to tell. As a ghost writer, I write to market for my client and I can’t tell you how many secret baby/child stories I’ve had to write. I really don’t like that trope. I’m not a fan of daddy’s best friend either, and I’ve had to write those. Under my name, you won’t find either of these tropes even though they clearly sell well.
While you definitely want to have a market for your book, the romance audience is huge and open to a great many tropes and ideas.
They (not sure who) say that rules are made to be broken. That’s not always the truth, but sometimes they can be bent. And sometimes, rules are more like suggestions.
One piece of advice I give to emerging authors is to find their own processes. No two authors are exactly alike in how they plot (or not), write, publish, market, etc. It’s only going through the process, testing and tweaking, that each writer finds what works for them. You need to do the same. Will you read while you’re writing or not? Will you write every day or only on Wednesdays at lunch? Will you build a platform or find another way to reach readers? You should follow submission guidelines, but how will you craft your query and synopsis to stand out? How will you endure rejection or bad reviews? Will you connect with others in the industry online only or out in the world too? And how will you keep tabs on what’s happening in the market in a way that benefits you? There is no one way to do any of these things. In writing, you do you.