101 — with Nicholas Kaufmann

As part of my ongoing 101 section for newer writers, I’ve asked a handful of colleagues—and mentors of my own—to participate in the name of preventing mistakes and paying knowledge forward. I asked them all the same question… This edition is brought to you by Nicholas Kaufmann, author of General Slocum’s Gold, Chasing the Dragon, and more. And now, Nick…

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If there’s one thing I wish someone had told me when I was just starting out, one thing I wish I hadn’t had to learn the hard way, it is simply this.

You can say no.

You can say no to publishers. Sure, it can be enormously flattering to have a publication offer, especially when it’s your very first. But as any woman who has ever been hit on in a club or bar can tell you, not every offer is a good one. There are a lot of shitty publishers out there—many of them in the horror micropress—who prey on writers for content and give them nothing in return, not even that elusive promised “exposure,” because nobody actually reads the books these publishers put out. And you became a writer to be read, didn’t you? So aim high instead. There are plenty of publishers out there whose authors are read, they’re just not as easy to publish with as the crappy ones. But who said anything worth doing is easy? Keep striving. Keep challenging yourself. You’ll become a better writer for it, I promise. And you’ll feel a lot better about yourself knowing you’ve made business decisions (and yes, this is a business, folks) that value the time and effort you put into your work.

You can say no to idiots online. Message boards and social media sites are full of them. Mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging, reactionary boneheads who don’t know what they’re talking about, but who insist there is only one way to become a writer. You have to start with short stories. You have to start with the small press. You have to read Ed Lee or Richard Laymon or some other splatterpunk darling. No, you don’t. Thousands of successful authors have started with novels. Thousands more have had their first novels published by major New York houses. (And don’t give me that old sawhorse that the major houses don’t publish horror. They publish horror every day, it’s just by authors you may not be familiar with because the online idiots don’t start threads about them.) Read widely, following your interests, not the interests of others. Put simply, there is no single path to success, no matter what any of these morons say. I wish I hadn’t listened to them when I was starting out and they told me to stop reading literary novels with gothic or horror bents and start reading the horror small press instead. I honestly believe my own career is ten years behind where it should be because I followed their advice.

You can say no to services that are clearly intended to do nothing more than separate authors from their money. For example, there are review sites that charge a fee to review your book. They’ll tell you that without reviews your book won’t sell well, and they’re not entirely wrong about that, but that doesn’t mean you (or your publisher) have to go paying for it. That’s not how it works. Real reviews, the reviews that actually have weight, the reviews that matter to readers, appear in magazines, newspapers, or websites that pay their reviewers themselves. (Blogs are a whole different subject, but in short, blog reviews can move copies, too. It’s just another form of word-of-mouth.) Publishers and authors never pay for reviews, because reviews that are paid for are meaningless. Once money changes hands, they’ve lost any possibility of objectivity. There are other examples of this pervasive fleecing of writers, too, such as companies that offer to turn your novel or story into a film treatment written by “professional screenwriters,” often for several thousand dollars. They’ll tell you that you can’t sell your work to Hollywood without it. Don’t believe them. It’s bullshit. Books are optioned all the time without treatments attached, and authors are rarely asked to write treatments themselves. Be smart, and beware. Use your noggin. There are a ton of scams out there that prey on desperate and eager authors. Don’t fall for them. Remember, money always flows to the writer, not from the writer.

When you want something really badly, saying no can be the hardest thing in the world. But when it’s for the right reasons, it pays off. Be smart. Keep your wits about you. Treat this business like a business, and treat yourself with respect. Keep in mind through all the ups and downs, all the waiting and disappointment, that nothing worth doing is ever easy. And remember, as a writer you are creating the content that publishers want. You’re supplying the commodity. That gives you the power, and the right, to say no

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Thanks to Nick for playing along. Please visit him at http://www.nicholaskaufmann.com to see what he’s up to and grab the books you haven’t read yet…

 

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