Dear Josh — an advice column?

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Free fiction page updated Sunday, April 28!

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Over the years I’ve been fortunate to get feedback on my work from a number of incredibly talented writers, Rob Sawyer, Mike Resnick, Kris Rusch, and Steve Sterling to name a few. There have been others, to whom I’m equally grateful, but I don’t wish to be accused of name-dropping. The deal we make when accepting their help is that we pay it forward. If, God willing, we’re able to achieve some measure of success, we agree to help those who follow in our footsteps.

meaning_of_life_1763245I had just such an opportunity this past week. A young writer was directed to me for advice and counsel on the business of independent publishing. My response may be of interest, and I post it here for what it’s worth. I make no guarantees other than that I fully believe everything I’ve said in here is true.

To wit:

Dear <Identities and initial niceties redacted>,

As for self-promotion, I’m probably the worst person on Earth to ask! The name of the game, these days, is “Platform building.” One’s platform is the crowd — hopefully vast — which one can influence. You build said platform by being active in social media, through contacts (professional, collegial, recreational, whatever), and by taking advantage of any and all opportunities to put your work in front of people who can act on it. That means they can buy, review, recommend, praise, and/or promote.

But understand this: the promise you’re making when you embark on this promotional odyssey is that what you’re publishing is top flight, first rate, numero uno material. It won’t have sloppy formatting or a wandering story line. It won’t have lifeless characters or a pointless plot. It’s going to be worth every nickle the reading public pays for it, and more! You’re promising quality, but if you deliver crap — and all too many indie publishers do <sigh> — you’ll condemn yourself to failure. Worse, you’ll very likely condemn all your future work to failure, too.

So, make sure you’ve got good stuff to sell, or don’t try to sell it. Make sure it’s thoroughly vetted. If your friends and fellow writers aren’t ecstatic about it, hold off on publishing it. Get another opinion. Figure out what’s wrong and fix it. You’ll *never* get it perfect — no one does. But get it as close as you can, because the market is brutally honest. If your stuff sucks, they’ll let you know in no uncertain terms.

If it’s truly excellent, you might get a few positive reviews. Revel in them! Nasty reviews are much, much easier to write, and disappointed readers are more apt to write them than the happy-talk feedback Mom and Dad give us.

That’s just the way it is.

Best of luck!–Josh

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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One Response to Dear Josh — an advice column?

  1. Annel Martin says:

    Josh: Thanks for this very direct and important advice. You really know how to send a message home; it will be remembered. A-nel

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