The Ten Commandments of Writing

The EndIn discussing indie publishing with a friend recently, we were talking about how we both read a lot of indie books, and the majority of them are pretty lacking. That’s not to say that there aren’t good indie books out there, but there’s no filter anymore and that means there’s a huge pile of stuff that isn’t up to a minimum standard for publishing.

I don’t want there to be a concrete barrier to publishing again, as there was under traditional publishing, but I think people need to consider some things before they publish.

These are not the rules for new writers. New writers should feel free to experiment, but they shouldn’t feel free to publish those experiments. I have three complete novels on my hard disk that will never see the light of day. To be honest, it should be more, but:

These are also commandments I may have broken myself, so feel free to shout at me about it in the comments. However, personally, at this point in time, these are things I feel everyone should be considering more.

1. Thou Shalt Cut Unnecessary Drivel

A lot of people tend to ramble in their writing. Ask yourself a question about every scene in your book: What’s the point?

There should be at least one, but hopefully more than one point to every scene. Readers don’t care about the length of your book. They care about being entertained. Cut out the rambling drivel or they’ll drop your book and move on.

A word count is not a goal, an entertaining story is.

2. Thou Shalt Get a Second Opinion

You’re too close to your book or story to see its flaws. You need someone else to take a look at it, and not your friends and family. It needs to be someone who can be brutal with you, or it’s not worth wasting their time.

It also needs to be someone who knows what to look for, if you want real help improving.

An editor is best, of course, but at the very least get the opinion of another writer. The more people you ask, the better.

3. Thou Shalt Concentrate and be Patient

In this indie world, it’s very easy to chase the butterflies. There’s always something new to run after. However, your readers don’t care. They want you to finish the series and not to start ten different ones.

Is your original book not selling? That’s because it’s the first, and only, book in that series. Or it hasn’t been out long enough. Or you haven’t marketed it. Or you didn’t do the other commandments. Fix it and write more in that series until the series is done. Don’t annoy your readers by never finishing.

4. Thou Shalt be Flawless

Alright, so flawless is a little much, but that should be your goal in copy-editing and presentation. Have you gone over your book ten times?

Obviously, the best thing to do is hire a copy-editor here. At the very least, read it out loud, though, and try to catch as much as you can. Know that if you do that, you’ll miss things.

5. Thou Shalt Improve

You weren’t born a writer. You’re not even the best writer you can be right now. It’s your duty to your readers to get better with every passing month. So ask for brutal feedback and listen to it.

Not everyone is going to be right, but if you hear the same thing over and over, listen to it.

Personally, I highly recommend Jefferson Smith’s Immerse or Die:

Jefferson pointed out flaws that no-one else had dared to tell me. As soon as he did so, they all said that they’d seen them all along.

6. Thou Shalt Have Interesting Ideas

You could write a book based on any idea. Of course you could. And you could copy-paste the same ideas for that genre that everyone else already used. But why would you waste your readers’ time?

Come up with your own twists, your own ideas and your own world. Make it fascinating. Spend longer on your world-building phase if you have to, but make it come alive.

7. Thou Shalt Follow Convention

Doesn’t this contradict number six? No, it doesn’t. What I’m saying is that you should follow the established conventions of writing. At least until you’ve published fifty books or so.

Don’t switch point-of-view in a scene, it’s confusing. Don’t make up sentence structure that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Don’t mess with the formatting of the words on the page too much. Don’t have someone change their personality mid-story.

Perhaps controversially, follow the “good guy” and let them win. There’s a reason most stories do this. You’re not Vince Gilligan or George RR Martin. Not yet, at least.

8. Thou Shalt Find Your Own Path

Of course there are successful writers out there that have followed a certain path to get there. However, that doesn’t mean treading in their footsteps will get you there. You are you: a unique individual with your own way of thinking, working and creating. Try things and drop them if they don’t work.

Sure, other people can be smart, but can’t you be smart too? Think about your books, your process and your publishing and work to what you think is best.

9. Thou Shalt be Nice to Other Writers

Why be a dick? Seriously, everyone is trying their best. Alright, so some people aren’t trying their best. But so what? Be nice to them anyway.

10. Thou Shalt Ignore This List

Let’s be honest, you’re not going to listen to me. I’ve made a bunch of mistakes in writing and I’m going to make more. If I’d read this list two years ago, I would have though, ‘Yeah, nice list, buddy. I’m going to publish anyway. What do you know?’

I’m not a big name writer. I have read a lot of indie books, though and I believe there’s a danger looming. At the start of this year, I read a lot of indie books in a row, and then dropped each one in turn. I tried to give them the best chance I could and read as much as I could of each one.

After a lot of them, I thought, ‘Time to read a traditionally published book’. However, I knew I was reading indie books and that there was an alternative. Most readers don’t know that. They might think, ‘See, I knew reading was boring. What’s on TV?’

Reading can be just as entertaining as TV, movies and music, if it’s good. But people have prejudices held over from school, where they were forced to read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or Shakespeare. If we publish good books, we can convert those people. We can make them into lifelong readers.

Let’s show people how good books can be, by taking pride in every book we publish and respecting our readers’ time. Thanks for reading!


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