Top 10 and the Flipside


In keeping with the list format this week, I thought I’d toss out a new list or two. My Top Ten and my Flipside Top Ten.

Being a writer involves a flexible lifestyle and a flexible state of mind. On FaceBook the two sides of me (my two pen names) argue, bicker, and discuss constantly. (Okay, I admit that there are more like four or five sides of me, but keep it under your hat. People think I’m too weird already.) I thought I would put that ability to see all sides of an argument to work here with: What a Writer Must and Must Not Have (and Be) to Find Success in the Marketplace. In other words, I’m arguing with myself. And both of me are right. Which just makes me all kinds of happy.

You can read the following in any order, but to read it the way I wrote it, you’ll have to read number one, then scroll down and read number one. Scroll up and read number two, then scroll down and read number two, etc. etc, etc. (Sorry. I saw part of the King and I recently, while flipping stations.) So, yes, to read the lists the way I wrote them, requires a bit of work. But you can read them any way you want.

Without further ado, and with my tongue stuck firmly in my cheek, here you are.

Top Ten Needs of a Writer:

  • 1. Thick skin. Like a turtle’s shell. Because agents, editors, and hopefully reviewers will slice and dice your creative soul to shreds. It hurts. And you can’t argue, cuss, throw things at them or shoot them. (Well, you can. Come to think of it, if you killed your editor it would be great publicity. Your book might make it to the NYT bestseller list. But do *not* take this as a suggestion. It’s far easier to build a relationship with editor number one, than to find a new editor after you shoot the first one. They might get kinda weirded out should bullets start flying.)
  • 2. Willingness to listen to the opinions of others even when it defies your own thinking. Other people are often right. We get so tied up in our own work that we can’t see the forest for the trees—or the errors in our work because hubris is standing in the way. (Mama said I’m a great writer, therefore I am a great writer. New York must be stupid because they can’t see it. Yeah. Right.) Accept that sometimes our (your) work is gonna stink.
  • 3. Ability to sit unmoving for hours. You have to do this for deadlines. I once sat for 16 hours straight, with only bathroom and tea breaks. My hubby brought food to the desk and I ate sitting at the keyboard. When I finally got up, my legs were numb. But I made my deadline.
  • 4. Ability to focus for extended periods of time. Obvious, yes? Not really. So many things can interrupt, and once upon a time it drove me crazy when the hubby walked through, the phone rang, the doorbell rang, my mother needed something, whatever the world tossed at me to get in the way of writing. I would have the devil of a time getting back into the story. Now, after all these years of writing, not much penetrates my focus. Unless it’s active flames or the smoke detector starts wailing, I won’t notice dinner burning on the stove in the next room.
  • 5. Ability to see and comprehend both sides of any argument, even when it disagrees with your own. (How else can you make characters believable?)
  • 6. Ability to use words to negotiate story line points with editor. I call this positional, flexible conversation. You have to see his POV (point of view) and understand it, and if you really disagree, you have to be able to make your case with reasonable words. No tears. Crying on the phone to your editor when you disagree is not cool.
  • 7. Total lack of fear. You are putting yourself out there for the world to read and comment on. You have to put on your armor every single freaking day and go into battle. Sometimes you battle your own creative self. Sometimes you battle the world. But there is always a fight of some kind. And you can’t really run from it.
  • 8. Understanding of the market and your (potential) place in it. If you don’t go to bookstores and movies and watch TV, you should. Knowing the market can put you on the cutting edge, ready to ride a wave into success.
  • 9. Always be working on and thinking about the marketing possibilities for your book. For Jane Yellowrock, I may have arrowhead necklaces made as promo items for sale or for use as giveaways. Why? Jane is a Cherokee. And I can give her an arrowhead necklace in the next book if I want.
  • 10. Have clear cut, comprehensible, and stated goals. Goals that don’t limit your possible success, but are reachable and attainable. Don’t just throw yourself and book out there. You might get hit by a train. And by train, I mean you could sell a book to a small press, and have them go under. You could sell your vampire a book to enthusiastic editor Ms. A, and have her lose her job the day after the contract goes through. Only to find that her replacement editor, Mr. B, positively hates vampire books and won’t get behind yours for love nor money. There are a million different possible ways to fail in this biz, and you have to have a flexible plan and goals that you want to (and can) meet. Yeah goals. Real, tangible, concrete goals. Not self limiting goals. And you have to be willing to do whatever you can (within the confines of the law, professional ethics, and your morality) to met them.
  • Flipside Top Ten Needs of a Writer, or the Must Not Have:

  • 1. Thin skin. You will bleed to death in this business. Your heart will feel shredded and torn more times than you can count. Figure out how much of the torture you can stand and then don’t do anything beyond that. Can’t stand to read negative reviews? Stop reading reviews. Like that.
  • 2. Ability to stand firm on the rare occasion when your work demands it. I say rare, because when an agent or editor says you need to change something, they are usually right. And as above—sometimes our work stinks.
  • 3. Sit unmoving? Get real. You sit for too long and your legs get blood clots. Get your butt out of the chair and stretch or jog in place or go for a walk. Then sit back down and get back to work. No one ever sold a book without BIC (butt in chair), but you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labor if the fruits are blood clots, stress-induced digestive illness, loss of muscle tone, bad back, etc.. I sat once for too long; I learned my lesson.
  • 4. Focus? Okay, I get this one. But you also gotta have a life. You have to be able to turn it off, put it away, and focus on family, job, loved ones. Get a life, people. And savor it.
  • 5. I’m not going to argue with myself on this one. Why? Because, hey, I’m right.
  • 6. You get so nervous that you can’t talk without throwing up? Not a problem. When I started out in this biz, I was so scared I’d say the wrong thing that I was useless on the phone. Why? Because I have spent large portions of my life with one or the other foot (or both) in my mouth. I have skid marks and calluses on my tongue from it. So I learned to listen to my editor on the phone, take notes, and then send him or her an email with my points of view. It worked. I have friends who have a bracing glass of wine before making such calls. Only one small glass, please. Calling your editor while drunk is not cool either.
  • 7. I lie. I hate battle. I don’t have lack of fear. I’d like to have lack of fear, but I have buckets of it. I’d like to be brave and stalwart and take on any comers. But I’m a wuss. Sometimes I am a total bowl of Jell-O. I’ll have panic attacks. I’ll lay awake for three nights straight worrying. All because I have to call my agent or editor about something and present my case. It sucks. I hate it. I really hate. It. But still stand behind my other self. You do have to have lack of fear. You really do. Or you have to fake it really, really, really well.
  • 8. Know the market? Watch movies? I have seen one (yes, one) movie in the last 3 years. I seldom follow my own advice. I mean, what do I know? Movies? I’d rather read a book. But I read a *lot* of books. So, I do know the market. So, I’m right again! Yea me!
  • 9. I hate (positively hate) marketing. My hubby used to do it all for me, but his business took off and now he is too busy to help me. I detest it, but I do it. I have to. I do, after all, want … Oh my.  I’m going to say it. (Squeezes shut my eyes.) Go back up to number ten above. Really. Read them in order. Do It! (A la Jeff Dunham’s Peanut puppet. See. I keep up with markets. Sorta)
  • 10. Goals. You have to have goals. I have to have goals. I am developing a five year plan. You wanted to see it. Well, here is one small goal on it: It starts with getting back on the NYT extended bestseller list. It’s been years since I was there, and years since I was in the very low hundreds on Amazon. That isn’t the end-goal. But it is attainable with my next book, with good marketing. Eventually, I want to be a NYT bestseller. Top Ten. Yeah. Top Ten. (Dang. I said it.)
  • Anyone got more Needs and Don’t Needs? 100 words or less: share away.


    9 comments to Top 10 and the Flipside

    • In my experience the most important thing for a writer to remember is, there aint never nothing going on.

    • Judy

      Great blog!

      Makes me glad I’m NOT a writer, I can’t even get past rule #1!

      ~Judy aka “Ms Thin Skin”

    • Alan, that is great. It has a corollary. Whatever *is* going on is the opposite of what I’m writing.

      Judy, I still practice my *bland face*, the one I wear when someone says something mean to my face and I have to suck it up and take it. It is sort of a vacuous smile with brows lifted in a polite query. You’ve heard the statement, “I was biting my tongue.” That face.

      Of course, it only takes a fraction of a second to turn it into a sweeter-than-sugar-insult face which is not something I have to practice at all, and, in fact, have to guard against. Like I said — skid marks on my tongue.

    • Okay, I have one: The ability to work on your own, to spend ours alone with your thoughts, your imagination, the characters talking to you in your head. Except that we don’t really need that, because none of us is really all alone in this. We have an agent or an editor, a reader or a crit group. We have family who love us and support us, even if that support has nothing to do directly with writing.

      Great lists, Faith. Skid marks on your tongue. I just love that.

    • So true, David. We have to be loaners. One footstep away from being the one the neighbors claim was, “So quiet. Kept to her herself. Well mannered. But just a bit strange, you know?” (laughing)

    • Lily

      Wow, thanks for the tips! I’m writing my own story at the moment and was looking into publishing. I had no idea it was so hard!

    • Misty Massey

      Lily, no, it’s not easy. But incredibly rewarding!

    • AWere

      Ha! Faith, you said “loaners”. That’s funny, because that is what writers do. Except, you mostly give, not loan.

    • Lily

      Do you think it’s smarter to self-publish or to get a publisher?