So, uh, I’ve never attended a full-fledged writing conference before. I’ve gone to one-day workshops (I even wrote a post on the last one I went to, the 2015 Writer’s Digest Workshop!) But the real deal? Multiple days, in a hotel? I’ve… never done that.

And after many years of dragging my heels, I finally went to one. I attended the annual New England Society of Children’s book Writers and Illustrators conference (which I am now going to just call “NE SCBWI,” even though that’s only slightly easier to type.) I only went for one day and I didn’t do any critiques or queries, so I really just did the bare minimum one can possibly do. But I still learned a ton!

The absolute best part of the conference was the networking.

My favorite experiences happened during:

  • An after-hours regional meetup, where people could meet other authors who lived in their area
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • The periods when were were waiting for the keynote speeches to begin.

Every time we were herded into the ballroom, I would hunt down a half-populated table, sit myself down, and introduce myself to everyone there. I usually found at least one person who I had something in common with–a similar genre, a similar location, or a similar place in my publishing career–and we’d have a nice chat.

The panels were neat and the speeches were cool, but my absolute favorite moments–the “Oh, I met someone who wrote steampunk!” or “I had an awesome talk with a career author!”–happened completely by chance.

Lesson Learned:

  • Bring loads of business cards. Lots and lots of business cards. Mine are old (I made them before I published Justice Unending, so they have very little meaningful branding on them) and I forgot to replenish my stash before I left… But holy moly, I threw those out like candy. YA writer? Lives within 20 minutes of me? We had a fun conversation? CARDS, CARDS, CARDS FOR EVERYONE
  • Speaking of business cards, it can be helpful to make notes on them. “Guy at lunch who wrote MG fantasy” or “lady at breakfast who wrote a steampunk” can help you with the next step, which is…
  • … Email every single one of those people when you get home to say how nice it was to meet them. It’s very hard to make a lasting friendship in the ~10 minutes you talk during breakfast. But if you connect with them afterwards, you may be able to meet up afterwards!
  • Be prepared to talk about your stories–not in a pitchy sort of way, but a one sentence, “It’s about a girl who gets possessed by an immortal…” kind of summary. You’ve probably prepared a 2-sentence elevator pitch for agents/critiques/pitch events, but your peers just want to know what kind of book you’re writing.

The panels were interesting, but not exactly life-changing.

I only attended one day of the conference, so I definitely missed out on some panels that would have been really cool. Still, the panels weren’t the best part of the conference.

They were interesting, yes. I met some cool people. I heard some inspiring tips. But I didn’t come away from the panels thinking, “Holy moly, I never thought of that before!” But when an experienced author or a well-established agent says, “This is what really gets me excited” and you think, “Hey, maybe I can do that!!” that’s pretty inspiring. And that’s the whole point of these things, right?

Lessons Learned:

  • Panels are hit or miss.
  • If you have time before the class, introduce yourself to the people sitting nearby. At least those people are likely to be interested in a similar genre and topic as you are, since they’re at the same panel as you are.
  • Consider using a notebook. I tried to take mine on a laptop, and I spent the entire day worrying about my battery life. It’s far easier to just take notes on paper, even if that means you might need to transcribe it to computer later.

You probably should have something ready(ish) to pitch.

I didn’t, and… I kind of regret that. Kind of. There were two (maybe three?) kinds of pitch-related opportunities at this event.

The first one–and the one I was aware of– was the good ol’ “pay money for an opportunity to pitch to an agent” thing.

But I was surprised about the other kind: the incidental, accidental kind of pitching. I was in a panel where an agent took volunteers to read their first few lines. There were casual pitch events where your peers gave you suggestions on how to improve it. There was a panel event where you put your name in a hat and got to pitch to a panel of agents if you were chosen. There were tons of free events where you could get suggestions, even if you weren’t directly sharing with an agent.

Finally,  some of the agents who attended the event said they’d accept pitches from attendees, even if they weren’t otherwise open for queries, which meant that attendees now have a limited, 3-to-6 month opportunity to query certain agents.

I figured, “Hey, I don’t have something that’s ready for an agent, so I won’t spring the $50 for a meeting!” And then I didn’t prepare a pitch at all. That was a mistake, because there were a lot of other ways to get feedback.

Lessons Learned:

  • There may be other opportunities to pitch your story, even if you don’t pay for one.
  • Even if you don’t pay for agent queries/critiques, it’s helpful to have a brief pitch ready.
  • If you do intend to query, it can be helpful to have a manuscript more or less ready to go around the time you go to your event–just in case, like with NE SCBWI, the agents say their inboxes are open for your pitches!

Overall, it was a super fun experience!

I got halfway through breakfast before I realized that I… should have signed up for more than one day.

It was a fun experience, and in all the most unexpected ways. It was very different than the one-day workshops I’ve attended in the past, and in a much cooler, richer way.

They’re definitely expensive, but if you can manage to attend one? It can be a great way to meet other authors.

I’ve been quiet the last couple of weeks. It’s been busy! I’ve been absolutely neck-deep in edits on my YA fantasy, which has kept me from writing yet another post about how you shouldn’t get your book-hating best friend to proofread your novel.

But I have been making use of Susan Dennard’s Resources for Writers. And it. Is. Amazing.

Susan Dennard is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly and Witchlands series. And while it’s always fascinating to see how people write, I love that there’s a whole section on fear. Want to read about tossing out hundreds of pages and rewriting a book that sucks? Or being afraid that what you’re writing is garbage? Well, here’s a NYT bestselling author who has an agent, and she has tips for dealing with this, too!

It’s glorious. Go read it.

Otherwise, I’ll be up at the SCBWI New England writing conference this weekend! It should be a ton of fun!

Let’s talk about Standard Manuscript Format!

(Wait, no! Come baaaaaack…)

OK, so it’s not the most exciting topic. But I was on Reddit’s r/Writing when I read a post where more than one person said it took them hours to format their manuscripts. And oh good golly, no! This might not take you five minutes, if you don’t know Word very well, but it’s fast. Super fast.

So let’s use Microsoft Word 2010 to put a story into Standard Manuscript Format. You can do this for novels and short stories.

Let’s get started!

What are we aiming for?

When we’re done, it’s going to look like this. If you’re confused at any step of this process, just try to duplicate this (or the first page of the Standard Manuscript Format link.)

SMF - Template.PNG

You’re going to:

  • Format the text of the story.
  • Create a title page that includes:
    • Your word count.
    • Your personal information.
    • Your title and byline.
  • Add a header to the top of every page.

Step #1: Double space your lines

  1. Select all of the text in your document (shortcut: Control+A).
  2. Go to the “Page Layout” tab.
  3. Hit the little box-with-an-arrow icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the “Paragraph” section.Screenshot of the Page Layout tab, showing the Paragraph section.
  4. Find the “Line Spacing” drop-down menu. Change it to “Double.”
  5. A screenshot of Word's Paragraph: Indents and Spacing tab.Hit “OK.”

Your text is now double-spaced. That’s 95% of the work right there. And while you’ve got all that text selected…

Step #2: Change the font

  1. Select all of the text in your document (shortcut: Control+A).
  2. Go to the “Home” tab.
  3. Change the font to Times New Roman. (Or Courier New, I guess. But Courier is gross.)
  4. Change the font size to 12pt.

SMF - Font

Now your font is standardized. That’s most of the work right there.

The next step is optional!

(Optional) Step #3: Change the italics to underlines

You only need to do this if you’re using Courier New font. And, as you can guess, I hate Courier, and very few places require it.

In novels, emphasis is usually shown with italics. But  Standard Manuscript Format suggests two different ways to handle emphasis: either with Times New Roman and italic font or Courier New and underlines.

The vast majority of places are perfectly fine with Times New Roman and italics. Check the submission guidelines of the place you’re submitting to. If they explicitly ask you to use underlines, follow the instructions in my previous post.

If they don’t mention it, skip this step.

Step #5: Check your margins

If you’ve never changed your margins, they’re probably fine. But let’s check.

  1. Click on the “Page Layout” tab.
  2. Hit the little box-with-an-arrow icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the “Page Setup” section.Screenshot of the Page Layout tab, showing the Page Setup section.
  3. Ensure that your Top, Bottom, Left, and Right margins are all set to 1″.
  4. Screenshot of the Page Setup section, showing all margins at 1".

    If they aren’t, set them to 1″. Then hit “OK.”

Step #6: Set up your title page

Now that your story is formatted, it’s time for the title page!

Step #6-A: Add your title and byline

  1. Put your cursor at the start of your file and hit return until you’re about 1/3 or 1/2 of the way down the page. It doesn’t have to be exact.
  2. Enter the title of this piece.
  3. On a new line, type: by YOUR NAME
  4. Select both of these lines.
  5. Center them (shortcut: Control+E).

Step #6-B: Add the word count

  1. Figure out how many words your story has. You can find this in two places:
    • Under the “Review” tab, in the far left (next to the Spelling button) is a small button with “ABC123” on it. That’s your word count button.SMF - Word Count 2
    • Word 2010 also keeps a running word count at the bottom of the file. You don’t have to open anything! Just look at the bottom of Word.SMF - Word Count
  2. At the top of the manuscript, add “#### words.”

Step #6-C: Add your name, address, phone number, and email address

One important note: Your personal information (and, by extension, your word count) are all SINGLE-SPACED. But you double-spaced this file back in step #1, right? Yeah. That’s why the last step in this section changes that.

  1. Put your cursor before your word count.
  2. Type in your name.
  3. After your name (but before the word count) hit tab until your word count is at the right edge of the page.
  4. On the next two (or so) lines, put your address in.
  5. On the next line, add your email address.
  6. On the next line, add your phone number.
  7. Select all of this new text.
  8. Go to the “Page Layout” tab.
  9. Hit the little box-with-an-arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the “Paragraph” section.
  10. Find the “Line Spacing” drop-down menu. Change it to “Single.”

Step #7: Add a header

  1. Double click in the empty header area of your document. Word will open your header editor.
  2. Go to the “Insert” tab.
  3. Select “Page Number.”
  4. Choose Top of Page > Plain Number 3. This will add the page number to the top of your document, aligned right.Screenshot of the Insert tab and the Page Number section, showing Plain Number 3.
  5. Put your cursor in front of that page number.
  6. Type in your information: LAST NAME / NAME OF PIECE /

Now you’ll have a pretty header. It’ll appear on the top of all of your pages, complete with an accurate page number.

At this point, your story should look like the screenshot at the top of this page. You’re pretty much done! There’s just one last thing to do…

Step #8: Add the Ending

  1. Go to the last line of your story.
  2. On a new line, type: END
  3. Center it. (shortcut: Control:E)

Tada!

And, when in  doubt…

This probably looks like a lot of steps. And if you’re not super used to Microsoft Word, it might feel like a lot of work! But this is really, really easy.

If any of this IS confusing, just mimic the example at the top of this post or look at the Standard Manuscript Format guidelines.

Once you get the hang of it, this is fast! This is so easy, in fact, that I never write in Standard Manuscript Format. I find 10pt single-spaced Arial font to be soothing to look at, so that’s how I write my stories. I only format them when I’m done with them.

There are definitely a few other things you can standardize–this definitely isn’t everything. But most of the other stuff you can do is small, and it won’t get you into hot water. A manuscript that follows all of the above steps will be perfectly acceptable for submitting at most places.

Of course, that’s not a promise. This’ll work for most places. Most! Always check a place’s submission requirements before you submit! But for everything else? You’re done, and it only took you 5 minutes.

Recommended word counts cause so much angst.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, check out this Writer’s Digest post, or this post on children’s fiction. (Unfortunately, they’re both pretty old. Still, you get the point.)

Agents and publishers look for novels with word counts within a certain range. This length varies by genre and the rules aren’t set in stone, but they’re pretty good guidelines for what an “average” book looks like. And that makes sense, right? A cozy romance the size of War and Peace would probably struggle to find a niche, wouldn’t it?

(None of this matters if you self-publish, of course. You may have a hard time finding a lot of readers for a 300,000-word MG epic, but you know what? No one’s going to stop you.)

But when folks go the agent and/or publisher route, this whole “word count” thing causes them no ends of angst. And while too-short novels can be an issue, the real heartache happens at the other end of the spectrum, when someone wants to pitch a much longer-than-average novel.

So let’s talk about it!

Why are word counts important?

If there was a mandatory law that debut authors could never go over 100,000 words, authors might agonize less. But instead, it’s a messy, messy world.

Let’s take YA fantasy as an example. A totally informal, but often-quoted rule of thumb is that a debut novel should be under 100,000 words. That’s fuzzy enough as it is, of course, because sub-genres differ, and contemporary stuff tends to be shorter than high fantasy and SF. But let’s give a huge range: YA fantasy debut novels can be 60,000 to 100,000 words long, with a sweet spot somewhere around 70-80K.

But there are people who have sold much longer books. And you will find lots of novels that are well over this range. So word counts don’t matter, right? Write whatever you want! But that can bite you in the butt.

Here’s why: if you’re querying a YA fantasy and it’s in the normal range, the agent probably won’t bat an eye. That’s a “normal” book. That’s fine.

But if it’s 200,000 words long, that’s going to raise some eyebrows. Like… was that intentional? Is this really the right length for this story? Does the author know much about the market, or read many books in this genre? And did they still submit a story this length, even knowing that most other books aren’t? It’s not the end of the world, but it’s… not a red flag, certainly, but an orange one? A small sign that this might be a difficult, weird, or unedited book?

And in the end, agents look for any reason to say no. If they’re on the fence and they see a potentially weird word count–something that you’d have to justify–they might just pass.

So that’s it. You’re making a difficult job harder. Now that agent won’t just ask themselves “Is this premise killer?” Instead, they’re thinking, “I like the premise, but it’s really long. Do I love it enough to request it anyway…?”

And word counts are exceptionally agonizing to fantasy authors.

Do you like fantasy? I like fantasy. I’ve read tons of high fantasy novels, and man–they are long. That’s the sign of a great one, right? Sprawling epics! Massive scales! Immense detail! ZILLIONS OF WORDS!

And there are lots of novels out there–some of them even debut novels!–that are well over 100K. Heck, you’ll find ones in the 200,000 range. So authors often put two and two together: Fantasy is long. Some people have written very long books and been published. So I shouldn’t worry when I submit my 175,000-word fantasy, right? It’s perfect! The length probably makes it better!

Sadly, every fantasy author thinks they’re the exception.

I know the pain. You want to write an epic. And if you have four POV characters, two countries, a war, and a plague, 100,000 words might seem a little restrictive. And if some people have gotten away with more, then surely you’ll be OK, right?

Except, see above. It bites people in the butt. And an agent isn’t going to waive the word count because you’re a fantasy author. They’ll see a very high word count, raise an eyebrow, and wonder: Is this 175,000 words after it’s been edited into lean, clean, streamlined perfection? Or did the author not know about the market? Or maybe they just didn’t edit themselves, because they thought it’d be fine because it’s fantasy?

It’s a pitfall. It’s tricky. But remember: There are a lot of new and hopeful fantasy authors writing mega-epics, all hoping that theirs will be the one that is so good that an agent picks it up anyway. And you could make your life a little easier by being at least somewhere near the 100,000 limit.

Besides, why does this have to be a bad thing?

Writing within word counts can actually be helpful!

Word counts don’t have to be an arbitrary cap on your creativity. They can be very useful things:

  • An average-length book will be easier to sell and market.
  • Writing with a word count limit can help you with pacing and plotting. If you want your book to be around 80,000 words long, for example, you’ll know that you’re in trouble if nothing has happened by word 50,000, or if your climax hasn’t ramped up by the 70,000 mark.
  • It makes the querying process easier, as it removes one reason to say “no.”
  • It makes it easier to find publishers, because your book will most likely fall within their requested range.
  • If you do happen to have a huge book, intentionally capping it at a certain point gives you a good idea how much you can “fit” in one book–and gives you content for sequels.
  • If you can get yourself established with an agent or publisher with a “normal” book, you can always use your early success to justify taking risks on much longer-than-normal books later.

Does every book have to be exactly the same? Of course not. Are there books that need to be long to tell their stories? Absolutely!

But if you’re a debut author, you don’t have a lot of clout. These people don’t know you. No one knows how popular your works will be. So it’ll be extra-difficult to convince someone that you shouldn’t just be the one rare soul they choose to work with–but that they should do so, even if your story is longer than what they’re looking for.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to take that gamble, of course! Lots of people win out. But it’s always good to know the potential pitfalls before you start.

Way back in 2015, I wrote an article called “Fun Ways to Use Excel to Track Your Writing Process.” It’s been getting a lot of visits lately, so I thought it was time to do a new, improved, and updated version of it.

Let’s talk numbers! Writing numbers.

Tracking your daily word count is awesome.

I love knowing how much and how often I write.

Writing is so very, very slow. Sometimes the amount of work you’re doing is obvious–it’s pretty hard to not feel proud when you’re staring at 10 new chapters or 30,000 new words. But what about when you’re brainstorming, outlining, or editing? Or when you’re rewriting chapters? They can take tons of time, and most of it’s invisible. You could spend a whole season editing and come out feeling like you did absolutely nothing at all.

So I track my work. I keep track of every time I sit down at the computer, how many words I write, what kind of work I did, and how many hours I spent on it.

It sounds complicated, but it’s not. It takes me less than a minute. (Literally.) In exchange, I know:

  • How many words I wrote in a day, week, month, or year
  • How much time I spent doing writing-related tasks (and how much time was specifically spent writing, editing, or whatever.)
  • My average words per hour
  • The average amount of time it takes me to finish a novel or short story.

It’s fun. No, really! I promise!

So here’s what my current Excel tracker looks like.

If you checked out my 2015 post, you’ll notice that my current tracker’s a little different. let’s go through it!

Screenshot of an Excel spreadsheet with a month's worth of work recorded.

Click to see the full image. Yes, January was a lousy month for me.

It’s simple, but it works. Here’s what it tracks:

  1. Date: When I wrote.
  2. Title: The name of the piece.
  3. Chapter: I only use this field for novels. (It makes it easier to keep track of new and old word counts for the “Words Written” section.)
  4. Story Type: Short or Novel.
  5. Work Type: Can be anything. Usually this is writing, editing, or outlining. But I’ll talk more about that in a second.
  6. The “Words Written” Section: I enter the word count this piece or chapter had when I started (and “0” if it’s a new chapter or short story) and the number of words it had when I finished. Excel automatically calculates the number of new words.
  7. The “Time Spent” Section: This includes the time I started, the time I finished, and the number of minutes I spent writing. Excel automatically calculates my words per hour.

And I track everything. Absolutely everything.

I track everything I do that’s related to writing. Everything. I track:

  1. Writing
  2. Editing
  3. Outlining
  4. Worldbuilding (i.e., writing character profiles or theme files)
  5. Anything else I feel like tracking. For example, in January of this year, I logged a bunch of stuff under the super-unclear term “Analysis.” I was reading the first draft of my novel and taking notes about what to change. I wrote several thousand words of notes, so I recorded them.

If I’m working on my story, I track it. If I stop to outline a story for a couple of weeks, I’m not “doing nothing,” so I don’t record it as such. Everything counts. It’s all work, and it’s all helping me prepare to write a novel.

That’s great, but why do I do all this?

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not doing this so I can stick to some arbitrary words-a-day habit. (Heck, I don’t even think “write 1,000 words a day” literally means “you must write 1,000 new story-related words a day.”) My goal is to know how often I work on my projects and to measure how much work I’m doing.

I know exactly how I’m using my writing time, when I’m being productive, and when I’m slacking off.

This is especially fun after you’ve done it for a year. I’ve been tracking my writing for nearly two years now, and I now know all sorts of stuff–how long I usually take to write a novel, for example, or when my biggest lulls in activity are.

I don’t know if I’ve ever made major decisions or changes based on this data, but it’s been invaluable in learning and refining my writing process.

Now that you’re (hopefully) convinced, I’d like to tell you about pivot tables!

COME BACK. I PROMISE IT’S INTERESTING.

Once you have all this cool data in Excel, its easy-peasy to make some cool tables that help you see your data. Here are some of the pivot tables I’ve used:

Number of Words by Month

Screenshot of my word tracker, showing the number of words written per month.

This fun one takes the number of new words I wrote, the type of content, and the type of story, and organizes them by month. This lets me see how much work I did each month and what kind of work it was.

Number of Words by Month and Title

Screenshot showing the number of words I wrote, by month and title.

This is similar to the above graph, but it organizes them by title. This way, I can see what projects I worked on each month and how much work I did for each.

Number of Words by Week

Screenshot of my word tracker showing the number of words produced by week.

And, of course, you don’t have to track anything by month. This is the same as the “number of words by month” graph, above, except it breaks it down by week.

There’s no limit to the type of data you can track and the ways you can display it. If you’re interested in learning more about how you write, give it a shot! You might learn something interesting about yourself.

I started writing this post a while ago, after I read a rash of posts about people quitting their jobs to write. It was always in the most terrible ways, too–they were the “I’m struggling to support my boyfriend because he doesn’t work, but he says his ‘big break’ will come as soon as he finishes his book” or “I’m just out of college, and writing is my DREAM, so I’m not going to look for a new job” kinds of stories, which always fill me with a sort of cold-stomached dread. I forgot about this post until early this week, when I saw *another* “Hey guys! I don’t like office jobs, so I quit my job!” post And here we are again!

So let’s talk about the logistics of being a career fiction novelist!

Conventional wisdom holds that if you want to write for a living, your best approach is to:

  • Find a job that pays the bills.
  • Write and publish in your free time.
  • Quit your job once (or if) you make enough money from publishing that that change won’t ruin you.

This is a cautious approach that ensures you have enough to eat and live while you establish yourself as a writer. It’s not very sexy, but it’s a reliable, safe path.

It’s also agonizingly slow, especially if you already have a lot on your plate. Consequently, there are always people who would rather throw caution to the wind. They aren’t making much, if any, money. They may have never even written anything before! But by golly, they want to be an author. So they save up money, quit their jobs, and plan to become a professional author before their money runs out.

But this… really doesn’t work. Here’s why.

Hardly anyone supports themselves on the sales of one book.

Let’s just start out with some fascinating stories, like:

  • Paul Kemp, the author of more than a dozen novels, who explained why he still needed his day job when post was written
  • Rachel Caine, author of a considerable number of novels, who quit her day job 17 years after first being published.

These are successful authors with many, many books, and they are absolutely the norm.

You, too, will most likely have to have a lot of books, and a lot of success, before the sales start adding up.

But let’s go into the details. Let’s imagine you have less than a year of savings. You have a completed manuscript. You want to sell your debut novel before your money runs out, and you really, really want to make a sale that’ll give you enough of a salary to recoup the time you spent pitching, with enough left over to write your next book. What would happen?

Agents are slow.

If you’re on a strict timeline, you can forget about agents. Let’s say you send out 100 queries today. What would happen?

  1. The agents have to review your query. While each has a different reading schedule (that they’ll list on their submission page), most of them… well, most will never respond at all. But the ones who do will respond with rejections or requests somewhere between 1 week and 6 months.
  2. If they do like your manuscript, they may ask to look at a partial or the full manuscript. And if they don’t get to it quickly and read it in a month or two, which is all very common, it’s considered bad form to prompt an agent about those until after 6 months have passed.
  3. If an agent does offer you representation, they still have to find a publisher to publish it. And, guess what? That can take months, too! There’s also a non-negligible chance that they won’t find anyone to buy it at all. This would be horrific for you and your agent, and agents are as picky as they are precisely so this is a rare occurrence, but it’s not impossible.

Can this go faster? Absolutely! If your query is perfect, the agent loves it, and the stars align, an agent might respond to your query within days and offer representation within weeks. Is that something you should count on? Of course not. Agents can be perfectly interested and still take months to respond to every step of this process.

And, of course, an agent is just step #1. Now you have to accept that…

Traditional publishing is slow.

Again: if you’re going to starve to death if you don’t get money in a few months, traditional publishing is too slow for you.

Advances are slow. Also, they’re small.

If you publish with a publisher large enough to give you an advance, then congrats! You’re guaranteed some money!

But while numbers vary widely by content and genre, the average advance for a debut author is under $10,000. Writer Beware used to link to a famous survey of SF/F authors and their advances–it was posted in 2005, the link’s dead, and I can’t seem to find a good mirror–that famously stated that the average advance for a SF/F author is about $5,000. And that was more than a decade ago!

Also, you don’t get it all at once. You get advances in chunks. The publisher may give you it in chunks of 1/4 or 1/3 at a time, spread over months. That means your already-small advance is now divvied up into even smaller chunks.

And, of course…

Publishing is slow.

They have to edit it. They have to do art. They have to market it. Also, they put out books at certain times of the year. Your book probably won’t come out for–wait for it–months.

You don’t start making monthly royalties until you sell enough to make back your advance.

And now you can look forward to making $0 until you sell enough books to recoup your advance. If you do. (And if you don’t, erk. That can happen, too. And then you have the added pressure of disappointing a publisher.)

None of this is good if you need money fast.

So you can see what this means, right?

If you had a book that was done today and decided to go the agent –> publisher route, or even just went directly to a publisher, it could easily take you more than a year to see any money, and it will, most likely, not be a lot.

And that’s a big “if.” A lot of the “I’m quitting my job to write!” posts I’ve seen involve people who haven’t even started their novel, and who may have never written a novel before. So, yes. That’s not helping, either.

Small presses are fast. Self-publishing is faster! But…

…They also don’t pay advances, so you’ll have to make all your money off of royalties. So all of your money comes from sales.

On one hand, this is great for the author who’s in a blinding rush to become an author, because you can publish as fast and as often as you want. Also, you keep more of the royalties!

But, uh, what’s your platform like? How many devoted fans do you have?

Unless you’re an internet phenomenon, you probably don’t have hundreds of thousands of fans lining up to buy your books. If you’re like most of us, and you’re just a nobody on the internet, you’re not going to sell a lot. While this article is from 2012, it includes a not-too-unbelievable fact: most self-published authors make less than $500 per year. (EDIT: This last sentence was rewritten to better reflect the facts reflected in the article.)

ALL authors, no matter where they publish, typically support themselves on volume.

No matter how you cut it, your first book, whether it’s traditionally or self-published, will likely net you somewhere between a few hundred and few thousand dollars. And either way, it’s going to take you months to get that money. So how do people afford to quit their jobs, ever?

Well, that’s why so many don’t.

But the more books you have out, the better chance you have. Most authors who quit their day jobs have several books out. They have fans! They have series! Their royalties have reached a semi-predictable state where all their books, selling together, can guarantee a reasonably predictable amount of money per month, even if sales on one book dip while the others rise.

This is true for everyone. If you go the agent and/or traditional publisher route, you’ll find that publishers take bigger chances and pay better advances to authors with established, successful track records. (The process also goes much faster if you already have an agent on hand when you finish your next book.)

And library-building is an extremely common approach for self-published authors. One of self-publishing’s greatest strengths is that you can put out novels as quickly as you want. While everyone publishes differently–that’s the charm of self-publishing!–a lot of people support themselves on sheer volume.

And that’s why publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

If you want to write for a living, your plan shouldn’t be “I’m going to do everything I can to write one book.”

You should plan for the long run. Find a system that allows you to write often and regularly. Set long-term goals for multiple projects. Get yourself on a sustainable, steady schedule that doesn’t burn you out, but still pushes you toward your goals. Produce, polish, and finish content regularly.

You may reach a point where you can support yourself after one, two, ten, or twenty books–or it may not ever happen. But while it’s slow and steady and so-very-uncertain, a gradual approach is more likely to work out in your favor than the “Burn your entire life down and make gutting sacrifices to write your first novel” one.

Sometimes people get a little obsessed with their rejection letters.

Thanks to the internet, you can find examples of how agents and publishers have responded to other people. And that means you can compare yourselves. Did you get a form letter? Did it include a sentence that sounded a little like they read it? Did other people get feedback like that? Maybe, if you just dissect every single word, you can figure out how much they liked your story and how close you were to getting a “yes!”

This road leads to madness. Avoid it at all costs.

A rejection is a rejection is a rejection.

A form rejection and a personalized rejection mean the same thing: the publisher or agent is passing. They don’t want to see revisions. That door is closed.

And even a personalized rejection isn’t oh my gosh so very close, because if an organization really loved your piece, they could have asked for a Revise and Resubmit (or R&R). Not everyone asks for R&Rs, but it’s as close to a “I would totally buy this if you made some changes” as you can get.

So a rejection is a rejection. And at that point, the difference between a near hit and a swing and a miss is a pretty fine distinction.

People pass for a lot of reasons, and you’ll probably never know why they passed on you.

Sadly, you’ll probably never know that much about an organization’s editorial process. They aren’t going to tell you, “Hey, I might have bought this if I hadn’t signed a contract for 3 exceptional pieces this month and you had tightened up the ending.” They wont tell you that your piece was in the “maybe” pile for a while. They definitely won’t tell you that they hated your piece, thought the premise was ridiculous, and stopped reading at the end of the first page.

So people guess. They lay out the 2 or 3 sentences of their rejection and read it like a pile of tea leaves. This agent said I should submit other works to them! Did they add that sentence because my submission was unusually good?! This publisher says they got so many good stories this month that they have to pass on a lot of excellent ones! Did they add that to my rejection letter so I’d know they still liked my work?!

(By the way, the answer is usually “no.” Those turn up regularly in rejections. Rejection emails can actually be really encouraging!)

But hey, even getting a personalized rejection doesn’t mean that you were one tiny detail away from victory. It can be helpful, and it’s usually a sign you did something right (particularly if you’re submitting to agents, who rarely give any feedback at all.) But on the other hand, getting a form rejection doesn’t mean your submission was terrible.

It’s like a job application. You never know why they’re turning you down. You can guess, and you can try to be better, but you’ll never know for sure.

Let’s be serious. Does any of this help you feel better?

It takes a lot of emotional energy to dissect a rejection letter.

And everyone’s different, so maybe this isn’t the case for you. But when I see someone asking a lot of questions about a rejection, I see someone who wants to know if they should feel completely crushed or tentatively encouraged. They want to know if someone was saying “I don’t want this story at all, ever” or “I didn’t want it, but it was really very good and I think it has a lot of merit.”

That doesn’t seem like an exercise that’ll leave you feeling happy and empowered.

So let it go. Resubmit. If you get a rejection that inspires you to make edits, do so. If not, then don’t worry. Rejections are a fact of life. File the rejection and keep going.