The Most Important Advice I Can Give You About Writing, Editing and Publishing (Seriously)

Hey Folks,

This post might have as easily been titled “What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Writing.”

Yesterday (as I write this) I published my 35th novel and the fourth in a series. I also have 2 books in another series (SF), 10 books in another (Wes Crowley Western), and 9 in another (Pulp). And then there are all the stand-alones and novellas.

I also am closing in on 200 short stories, many of which are included in 31 collections. So below is what I can share with you about writing.

First, a disclaimer: Many folks write only to cross an item off their bucket list or to leave a family record or simply as a hobby. All of that’s fine. But the advice that follows is not for you.

If you think of yourself as an aspiring professional writer (or as a professional writer), please read on. I’ll present my advice in a moment.

But first, one more disclaimer: Whether or not you call yourself a professional writer, if writing isn’t absolutely the most fun you can have with your clothes on, don’t do it. Seriously. Life is short. If writing is tedious for you, go find something fun to do. Again, what follows is not for you.

Okay, if you’re still reading, here’s the rest:

1. Follow Heinlein’s Rules 1 – 4 and then write the next story. (To see my personal experience with Heinlein’s Rules, download them here.)

2. Learn the basics of grammar, sentence structure and punctuation. The best and easiest way I know is my own Punctuation for Writers, 2nd Edition, available at Smashwords and Amazon. Heinlein’s Rules presume a basic knowledge of the language.

3. Don’t hover over one work (rewrite). If you do, at some point you will experience a sinking feeling in your gut. That’s because you’re stripping your original voice and anything else that’s good off of it.

4. Instead of hovering, practice. Practice will never make “perfect” (nor will rewriting) but it will make you a better storyteller. Rewriting won’t. Writers write.

5. Never stop learning from people who’ve been there. (Don’t listen to advice from people who aren’t farther along the road than you are.) What your conscious mind takes in will seep into your subconscious and come out through your fingers as you write.

6. Don’t be a control freak. You are not the General Manager of the Universe. Let the characters tell the story. They’re living it, after all. Instead of directing them from your Authorial Ivory Tower, roll off into the story and run through it with them. I promise, you’ll enjoy the trip.

7. Find a good READER to be your first reader, preferably one who is interested in your work. His/her only job will be to note (and report to you) typos, misspellings that your spell check misses, and inconsistencies. At no time should your first reader tell you how you “should” have written something.

8. If you don’t know punctuation and pacing (especially these two), get thee to a good, conscientious copyeditor. His/her job will be to extend the reach of (or replace) your first reader. If the copyeditor you find does not provide a free sample edit, or if s/he charges more than two cents per word, email me.

9. Create and maintain a professional website. Most often, the “free” ones look shabby, and they’ll nickel and dime you to death with “extras.” A professional website is an investment, and a good one.

10. Create (or commission) a good, attention-grabbing cover that’s appropriate for the genre. You CAN judge a book by its cover, and readers do so every minute of every day.

11. Force yourself to take the time to follow Heinlein’s Rule 4: Submit or publish your work. This is the one I most often fall off of, and I always regret it. Readers can’t buy it if it isn’t available.

12. When it’s time to publish, go traditional if you must (be wary of the contract), or go indie. But stay the hell away from subsidy publishers. Every one of them is a scam. They exist only to separate you from your money. (If your first thought begins with “But,” read this one again.)

13. Publish wide. Avoid exclusivity. Most of my sales come from Amazon. But I also receive a nice check every month from Biblioteca (libraries), Kobo and Barnes & Noble. The others will come, but they can’t if the books aren’t available to wide segments of readers.

Okay, that’s all I can think of for now. Enjoy!


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8 thoughts on “The Most Important Advice I Can Give You About Writing, Editing and Publishing (Seriously)”

  1. Very true about #4. I had to get off writing message boards because beginners were advising other beginners. They’d pass around clearly untrue “rules” as fact, and at the same time dissing best selling writers as not knowing what they were doing. Yet, they all wanted to be best selling writers. It really boggled my mind.

  2. “If writing is tedious for you, go find something fun to do” – I’m so surprised to find many writers talking about the struggle of writing (and usually that’s writing the first draft). I don’t get it. Writing is great fun (as you said).

    And on going wide – most of my sales come through Apple. If I was exclusive on Amazon, I’d lose all those readers.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks, Sean. Excellent points. Most of my sales lately come from Biblioteca and Apple as well. Seems odd, but I’m not about to question it.

  3. I always have problems with ruke 1. I’m afraid to repeat myself being prolific.

    Like writing novel after novel about PI catching serial killers one after one

    • Hi Rikki. Thanks for the comment. Believe it or not, I had exactly the same problem when I started. It’s your conscious, critical mind trying to “protect” you by stopping you from writing. Look at it like this: Why pre-judge your works for the readers out there who are clamoring for them?

      Your job is to write the stories. Liking them or not liking them and seeing or minding repetition in them is the readers’ job.

      In many cases (to use your example) the protagonist in your PI novels will be the same, as will many of the people (team) around him or her. But the criminals will change. Even if they’re all serial killers, they’ll all have different MOs (methods of operation). Also the “good” people your PI has to deal with in each case might change, at least occasionally. Police officers turn over, and maybe your PI deals with people in different parts of the country, etc.

      Entertain yourself first. Let your subconscious, creative mind (your characters) tell you their stories. If you enjoy them, so will a certain number of readers.

      You might also be interested in my (almost) daily Journal over at I just put up a post over there on Challenges and my own personal goals, etc. You might find it of use.

      Also, you don’t “have” to be “prolific.” Just keep the writing fun and enjoy yourself. The numbers and the publications will come. I promise.

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