THE RULES OF WRITING a Guest Post by Myke Cole

A drum roll please, as Gollancz is delighted to welcome a guest blogger, debut author Myke Cole, to our blog today! Some of you may have already seen his fantastic piece about the 18 Rules he has learned as a writer . . . but if you’ve not then you are in for a treat. Read on, for some top authorly tips:

I want to talk about the rules of writing that I have learned in my first year as a full-timer. I have heard all of the below at one time or another from major profes­sionals in the field (unde­ni­ably suc­cessful authors, edi­tors and agents). As you will no doubt ascer­tain, they are hard and fast rules, utterly fixed and unbending. I dispense this wisdom to you, oh ven­erable reader, free of charge. You’re welcome.
WARNING: The level of emphasis and specific word choice may have been … ahem … modified from when I actu­ally received the advice.


1.) You MUST write quickly — The old model of one-book-a-year is dead. The New York Times itself has handed down the wisdom. Audi­ences are consuming books at a voracious rate, and to win their loyalty, you have to get as many books as you can out there, as quickly as you can. Fans have little patience for down-­time between novels, and they will lose interest in your if you don’t feed the beast and feed it constantly.

2.) You MUST write slowly — Craft is king and quality is the most impor­tant thing in novel writing. A book that’s dashed off your computer and hurried to market will suck and fall flat on its face. The biggest, most successful writers out there have all had long waits in between novels, while they perfected and per­fected and made DAMN sure that the fin­ished product was the best thing they could pos­sibly produce (George R. R. Martin, anyone?) Sure, fans complained about the wait, but they still turned out in droves to buy the books when they were finally published.

3.) You MUST write for the market — Publishers are constantly fol­lowing and buying to market trends. Even when you discount publishers, the fans are doing the same. Erotic romance, sparkly vam­pires, urban fantasy police procedu­rals. Nobody reads utopian sci­ence fiction stories about big metal space ships anymore. You could write the best one ever and it will hap­pily sit on your hard drive, gathering virtual dust.

4.) You MUST write what you love — Forget writing to market. By the time your book hits shelves (if there are any left), the trend will have passed, or have been mined so thor­oughly that there’ll be no ore left in the vein. If you don’t have pas­sion for your topic, people will be able to tell and your book will fall flat. In love with 50’s-style utopian sci­ence fiction stories about big metal space­ships? Write it. If it’s good enough, it’ll find an audience. Don’t follow trends, set them.

5.) Your amazon​.com sales rank doesn’t matter — Nobody knows how the heck that algo­rithm works. Amazon sure as hell isn’t telling. Selling one book can take you from 200k to 5k overnight. You could sell 10 books and plummet to 500k just because a new author happened to be released that week and is selling like hot­-cakes. Amazon is losing market share steadily and your sales rank doesn’t show all the books that are flying off the shelves at brick & mortar stores, bn​.com, and iBooks. Don’t even bother checking it.

6.) Your amazon​.com sales rank is critical — Amazon​.com still holds the lion’s share of book sales. Most people are buying their books through amazon, and your sales rank is the best real time indicator of how the novel is doing. Sure, books are selling in other venues, but once your amazon sales rank drops below 30,000, it’s a reliable indi­-cator that the book is done, and bar­ring some kind of major surge in interest, is fast headed for the domain of long-tail prayers and eBook-only-reverted-rights-self-publishing-desperation.

7.) You MUST self-publish — Pub­lishers are clue­less, scle­rotic shys­ters who rip off authors and parade around their offices in tweed jackets with patched-elbows while tossing around money they’ve earned off the backs of hard working ink slingers. They are vicious gate-­keepers who routinely pass on brilliant lit­era­ture. They are doomed. You don’t need them. If you self-publish, you only need to sell a tiny fraction of what you’d need to sell with a big-six deal, and you’ll get rich overnight because you get to keep ALL THE MONEY. AMANDA HOCKING OH MY GOD AMANDA HOCKING DID I MENTION AMANDA HOCKING!?!?!?!

8.) You MUST NOT self-publish – For every Amanda Hocking, there are 27 hojillion people whose direct to Kindle novels don’t sell a single copy. It won’t happen to you. You need a pro­fes­sional editor, cover artist, proof reader, copy-­ed­itor, layout and design expert, and you need 20 years experience managing and directing them all. And the good ones are too expen­sive for you to afford. Tra­di­tional pub­lishing has cachet. It has clout (klout?) that will get you reviewed in the right forums, engaged to speak on the right panels, adver­tised in the right places. If a big-six publisher won’t pick up your work, it’s probably not ready for prime time.

9.) Don’t be a dick — Online presence/persona and fan inter­ac­tion is key. If you’re a whiner, or com­bative, or throw around divi­sive political/religious/cultural opin­ions, you’ll alienate your reader­ship. You’ll become a pariah. Your books won’t sell. You’ll be ruined for all time.

10.) Be a dick — Any pub­licity is good pub­licity. Being a jerk gets you atten­tion. Attention sells books. Make noise, make it often, make it anywhere and anyway you can.

11.) Tra­ditional publishing is doomed — The clue­less gate­keepers of the big-six are about to have their lunch eaten. They can’t change with the times. They pay too much in Manhattan office rent. The DoJ suit will destroy them. They don’t get it. We don’t need them. Amazon’s pricing schemes will ensure their extinction. They will be crushed under a giant meteor that will mirac­u­lously target only the most pretentious office blocks of New York City.

12.) Pub­lishing is here to stay, and entering an exciting new era — Publishers have seen the writing on the wall and are adapting at break­-neck speed. Look at tor​.com! Suvudu​.com! Tor has dropped that pesky DRM and all the others will soon follow suit. There’s no real evidence of col­lu­sion and while beating the DoJ is hard, it’s *possible*. People still need cura­tors to ensure the that one hundred billion mouth-breathers swamping the Kindle store don’t make it impossible for readers to find great books. The big six are so massive, and so rich, they can survive any­thing. Pub­lishing isn’t dying, it’s *changing*, and it’s changing into some­thing newer, more exciting and better than ever before.

13.) Cons are really impor­tant — You have to connect with your fans, not just online, but in person. Being funny and interesting on panels sells books. Most books sell by word of mouth. If you show the fan com­munity that you’re a cool person who is approachable and easy to get along with, you’ll go far.

14.) Cons are stupid — Dude. Who the hell are all these people dressed like french maids with goggles and furry ears and tails? They’re FREAKS. They’re CRAZY. They sure as hell don’t have any money, and if they do, they’re spending it on a replica Bat’Leth from the dealer’s room and not on your book. Between hotel, food and mem­bership, cons cost a for­tune. Do you have any idea how many books you’d have to sell to cover the cost? So many super successful writers are recluses. You can be too. You SHOULD be too.

15.) Social media is REALLY impor­tant — Con­necting with your fans and being acces­sible is crit­ical, and social media is the way to make that happen. Twitter is a game changer. If you’re funny and interesting on social media, you don’t even have to write a book. You can just repeat the word “seagull” over and over again on roll of toilet paper and people will come out in droves to give you money for it. Start a blog! START TEN BLOGS.

16.) Social media is not important — George R. R. Martin has a twitter account. From which he has yet to issue a single tweet. Networking is not working. You should be writing and focussing on craft. Your 3,000 followers are all spam­-bots. They only follow you because you follow back. They laugh and retweet and support you and DON’T BUY ANY OF YOUR BOOKS. All that time you spend blogging? You could be spending it writing prose for WHICH YOU WILL ACTUALLY BE PAID.

17.) This is the WORST possible time to be a writer — Pub­lishing is dying. Brick & mortar book­stores are dying. With better video games, movies and TV, nobody reads. Roy­al­ties and advances are the lowest they’ve ever been. With everyone and their dog self-publishing, the signal:noise ratio is impossible to push through. Like writing? That’s nice. You can do it in your copious spare time when you’re off work from your 14-hour-a-day IT job that ACTUALLY PAYS THE BILLS. GO AHEAD. NEGLECT YOUR FAMILY.

18.) This is the BEST possible time to be a writer — You have more ways to reach a wider audi­ence and keep more of your profits than ever before. You’re in more control over your writing career than ever before. The walls are coming down. The gate­keepers are being swept aside. A bright and fab­ulous future awaits you, in which you will spend your retirement swimming in the money flowing in from your self-published eBook backlist while resting your feet on the back of the big-six publisher who rejected the book in the first place, and now works as your footrest because he’s out of a job.

So, as you can see, clear, forth­right and ironclad. Want writing success? There’s no need to be uncer­tain or to worry that you’re doing it wrong. Just follow these simple steps to fame and fortune.

Or, you could cut your­self a break and do what feels right.

Up to you.

Myke Cole is the debut author of Control Point (‘Military fantasy as you’ve never seen it before’ said Peter V. Brett), which is published by our sister company Headline in August this year (you can pre-order it here or here!). It’s a sizzling debut, and you can find out more about Myke and his work on his website or by following @MykeCole on twitter.