The Secret Handshake

I’m not sure where Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) and I picked up the term, but we use it to describe a certain subset of writers who seem to believe that there really is a Secret Handshake to fame, and that it they learn it, that’s the missing piece they need to make it big.

Of course, that leads to all manner of scam artists preying on said people, promising them that if they take this class or whatever that’s the thing they need. (CAVEAT: Most of the folks I know who do teach are reliable and honest, and I’ll even tag a few at the bottom of this post that I think would help most writers, but that’s a different thing.)

There is no secret handshake.

Read the again.

Oh, sure, you can spend a lot of time on various advertising schemes and scams. You can do things to juice your numbers right now. You can spend a stupid amount of money to make sure everyone on the planet sees your book cover at least once.

That’s lovely, if you want to have a career that’s about 1-2 years long. What we occasionally call a witch’s hat, because you spike up on month and collapse the next. Whatever scam works this week won’t next week.

I don’t want a short career. I want to spend my next 50 years writing down all the crazy shit in my head and getting paid for you by my fans.

The secret is not a handshake, but a way of living.

Sit down. Shut up. Write.

There, you have the secret handshake. Put your ass in the chair and write the next story. Your fans want to reward you buy buying your books. They want to tell their friends about you, so that those people buy your books.

If you have exactly one book, you can advertise the hell out of it, but what do you do after folks have read it? Nothing. You have to go find more fans.

If you’ve been advertising, you have to spend more. (I always ask folks their NET income rather than gross, if I know they do heavy ad spending. And by heavy, I mean four digits in a single month. If you spent $5,000 US to make $7,000, I’m not that impressed.)

You need to write. Then you need to learn to write compelling stories (which is a skill you develop). Then you learn to write clean copy. (I cycle every time I open a document, so that by the time I’m done, it’s ready for copy editors. I don’t ever write a second draft. I’d rather write a second novel instead and get paid twice as much.)

Covers and blurbs are harder skills, but you can learn them. There are also folks out there that you can hire to do good stuff for you, if you just don’t have an eye for what makes a good cover. Listen to them if you are paying them money. (And get references from other folks who use them. Always.)

There is always an element of luck to publishing. I like to compare it to rolling 10d6 (10 six sided dice) and adding them up. If you roll a 58+, you’ve just written the next Harry Potter, the next Hungers Games, the next something.

Every time you pull the lever to publish, you have that chance.

What’s more likely, however, is that you’ll start getting lower numbers to make a decent living. Maybe roll a 40 and you get a thousand pre-order from your book. Something that makes life nice.

The single best thing you can do to advertise is to write the next book. The other morning, Amazon let all my friends on the planet (anyone following me, basically) that I have a new book up for preorder. I didn’t pay them for that. They did it for me.

I’ll get more preorders over the next few days because of that. And the book isn’t coming out for six weeks.

But I’ve trained my fans that I have something dropping in the 10th of every month. And have for the last couple of years now. Amazon lets people know I have preorders. Sometimes it says “new book from Blaze Ward now live” or “Did you miss this book Blaze Ward published two weeks ago?”

I happen to be dropping novels every month, but there is no reason you can’t drop a short story. None. Hell, start a patreon like mine and send folks that story early, letting your superfans read it before anyone else. Maybe even before it has been edited and they can find things for you to correct. and then publish the final later.

But publishing is the key. That supposed Secret Handshake.

Put in keyboard, fingers on keys.

Sit down. Shut up. Write.

Learn to tell a better story with the next one by writing this one as good as you can. You can be a better writer, and that will make you more fans, but it’s hard work.

People complain that it is hard work and a lot of luck. Of course. You need to treat this like a job, not a hobby. (Caveat: I got the best hobby in the world, but I still work my ass off daily.) Work at it.

You need to write. All the advertising in the world won’t save you when your fans have read everything you’ve written and ask “so now what?”

By the time you get back around to writing again in a year or two, they’ll have forgotten you. You’ll have to build up your fan base again. Possibly from scratch.

Just write. That’s it. Publish something that is good enough instead of rewriting it 14 times until you’ve workshopped out every bit of interestingness in the interest of polish. Eventually, you get a mirror when you do that, and I’m pretty sure that most of you could send your first draft to a copy editor, take their suggestions, and publish a better novel anyway.

There is no secret handshake. Not one-more-class that will do it. No magical advertising gimmick. (Those work for a very short time and then fail. If you can see the bandwagon, it is already gone.)

Sit down. Shut up. Write.

However, if you want to get better at your craft, here are some of the people who do have useful things to teach you.

WMG (Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith) teach craft in all sorts of forms, both online and in-person in Vegas. They made my life possible.

Online Workshops

Craft Workshops

Newletter Ninja (so you can look like a pro when you engage your fans)

And I even wrote a Business For Breakfast book on Beginning Marketing for writers, to make you look like a pro when your fans come looking.

Always ask someone offering advice on this sort of thing two questions: How many books have you published? How much WRITING income are you making (not editing, not teaching classes, nothing but words for sale).

Then write.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.



One thought on “The Secret Handshake

  1. Kenny Norris

    I would argue that the secret handshake takes place inside of your skull.

    Think about it, you can keep chasing after the end of the rainbow to find that pot of gold. Or you can start digging deep and finding those small nuggets which, over time, build to being much greater than a single pot of gold.

    Sadly many also learnt the lesson of the service providers: they too get rich.

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