There’s a lot of writing/publishing/marketing advice out there. (Including what I post here so, yeah, I’m contributing to the problem.) And every site, book, guru, and column purports to know the “right” things that you “must do” in order to succeed as a novelist, freelancer, or non-fiction author. “Oh, you must have a newsletter.” “You must be on social media platforms X, Y, and Z.” “You must pay to list your book on freebie sites.” And on and on and on. There are so many things that you “must do” that it becomes impossible to keep track of it all and, you know, still write.
Worse, if you try to do all the “must do’s” and the “right” things just because someone told you to do them, you won’t be very good at them and it will show. Let’s say someone told you that you have to have a newsletter. But you hate newsletters. You think they are the spawn of the spam devil. You can’t stand to see all the popups begging for signups and you are loathe to subject your audience to that intrusion.
Then don’t do a newsletter.
Because if you do, your hatred of the medium is going to show. Your newsletter is going to be poor quality and no one will sign up or, if they do, they will flee after one issue. (On the other hand, if you love talking to people, being chatty, and sharing information, then a newsletter may work great for you.)
This is true for everything. Don’t sign up for social media if you hate it because your readers will pick up on your lack of interest. Or, if you feel compelled to sign up, use platforms that are less “invasive” like Pinterest and Instagram where it’s more about the picture than your day to day life. (Unless you hate pictures, then chat away on Twitter.)
If someone says, “Your website must have these certain sections,” but you can’t see how a certain section applies to you, don’t put it in. When someone says, “You must write early in the morning to take advantage of your maximum creativity,” but you know you’re a night owl, disregard that advice. If the guru says, “You have to traditionally publish to be successful,” but the idea of someone else having control over your work gives you hives, tell the guru to stuff it. (Politely, of course.)
Here’s the thing: You can only do what’s right for your work, your goals as a writer, and your sanity. Everything else is fine for someone, just not you.
There are people who will find certain advice valuable, but if that’s not you, don’t get tied up in knots about it. Just find something else to do, or some other way to work. Something will click for you and that’s the important thing. It’s not important to chase the trends at the expense of your work and your sanity. Because…
A lot of advice is out of date, anyway. Look at newsletters. Newsletters are on the downward swing these days. Now that everyone has one, they’ve become one more form of spam that readers ignore. Unless you have a super compelling newsletter, it’s not worth your time. (Or your publisher insists you have one, in which case it’s non-negotiable and you have to do the best you can. Ahem.)
The same is true for just about anything. Social media is oversaturated. Traditional publishing isn’t what it once was. Self-publishing is a viable option. The internet means you can work at all hours and adhere to your personal biological clock. Physical bookstores are making a comeback so you can’t do everything online. Some people do just fine working in binges instead of producing a certain amount of words every day. And so on.
By the time you read a lot of advice, the world has changed and what the author is touting as “right” is now wrong. Or at least not perfect.
And here’s the other thing: When you do what’s right for you, people will find you.
They will be attracted to you because your work is authentic. There will be passion and touches that only you can put on your efforts. You won’t be just another cookie cut from the same cookie cutter as everyone else. Sure, the gurus are going to be aghast at your rebellion and think you’re super weird, but who cares? Everything you do, from the writing to the marketing, will be uniquely you. And you will find your tribe of followers eventually. Plus, you’ll actually enjoy your work instead of resenting the hell out of your to-do list every day. That’s worth everything right there.
The must-do’s aren’t a bad place to start if you have no other ideas. Often you can figure out what works by trying things that don’t work. There’s value in at least seeing what all the hype is about. (Or figuring out that the hype is just that and learning that the hype-sters are paid shills.) Eventually, though, you’ll learn which advice is bunk (at least for you) and begin to put your own stamp on things.
That’s when the magic happens. That’s when you wake up every day, excited to go to work. Readers and clients are attracted to that kind of enthusiasm and will appreciate it far more than another tired newsletter, template website, or cookie cutter novel. That’s the point I’m reaching now and it feels fabulous.