Understand That What You Write First Is A Draft
It doesnt matter how good you think you are as a writer the first words you put on the page are a first draft. Writing is thinking: Its rare that youll know exactly what youre going to say before you say it. At the end, you need, at the very least, to go back through the draft, tidy everything up and make sure the introduction you wrote at the start matches what you eventually said.
My former writing teacher, the essayist and cartoonist Timothy Kreider, explained revision to me: One of my favorite phrases is lesprit descalier, the spirit of the staircase meaning that experience of realizing, too late, what the perfect thing to have said at the party, in a conversation or argument or flirtation would have been. Writing offers us one of the rare chances in life at a do-over: to get it right and say what we meant this time. To the extent writers are able to appear any smarter or wittier than readers, its only because theyve cheated by taking so much time to think up what they meant to say and refining it over days or weeks or, yes, even years, until theyve said it as clearly and elegantly as they can.
The time you put into editing, reworking and refining turns your first draft into a second and then into a third and, if you keep at it, eventually something great. The biggest mistake you can make as a writer is to assume that what you wrote the first time through was good enough.
Now, lets look at how to do the actual editing.
You Dont Disclose Conflicts Of Interest
Most publications have codes of ethics and/or guidelines around conflict-of-interest disclosures. They can vary widely, so always always! err on the side of over-disclosure. The worst-case scenario is that outlet finds out you had a conflict after publication , which usually results in a correction with the disclosure and that writer possibly being blacklisted from the publication.
A travel editor at an international outlet shared this story:
Im not allowed to accept press trips, and same goes for people who write for us. I can usually tell when someone went on a press junket even if they dont disclose it, because multiple writers all pitch me the same story about the same destination all at once. Often, it was a trip I was invited on myself and had to decline.
A writer pitched me one of these stories, and I wrote her back politely giving her a heads-up about the no-press-trips rule. Her response: You must have figured out I was on a press trip because YOURE STALKING ME.
Good tip: Dont accuse editors of stalking you. And also be honest about stuff.
So now you know what not to do heres what you should do. It boils down to basically three things:
Be concise yet informative.
Very few cold pitches need to be more than, say, 10 sentences, and the best ones are often less.
Explain why anyone should care.
Get me interested to learn more, but more important, make me want to tell this story to the readers of my publication.
Show that you can pull it off.
Accusations Of Liberal Bias
In mid-2004, the newspaper’s then-public editor Daniel Okrent, wrote an opinion piece in which he said that The New York Times did have a liberal bias in news coverage of certain social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. He stated that this bias reflected the paper’s cosmopolitanism, which arose naturally from its roots as a hometown paper of New York City, writing that the coverage of the Times‘s Arts & Leisure Culture and the Sunday Times Magazine trend to the left.
If you’re examining the paper’s coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide if your value system wouldn’t wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you’re traveling in a strange and forbidding world.
Times public editor Arthur Brisbane wrote in 2012:
When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism for lack of a better term that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.
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Velocity Of Sales Is Key
In this case, velocity of sales is defined as amount of book sales within a specific period.
Selling 5,000 books in a year is a pretty solid performance, but its not going to get you on any of the big bestseller lists. Concentrate those sales in a week, though, and now youre looking at possibly hitting many of those lists.
That is the key concept you must understand for bestseller lists: its not how many books you sell, its how many you sell in a given time. The timeframe changes depending on this list, but the more velocity of sales you createmeaning, the more sales you pack into the shorter period of timethe better.
It is hard to sell 5,000 books in a year. To sell 5,000 in a week is ridiculously difficult, as evidenced that only a very small percentage of all books published each year do it.
In fact, barring some extreme stroke of luck, the only way Ive ever seen first-time authors hit any significant bestseller list is by first creating a large platform with an installed audience that is waiting for the book, and then selling the book into that audience.
Simply put: creating an audience of buyers for your book prior to your release is the best way to get the velocity of sales needed to hit a bestseller list.
Does It Pay To Be A Writer
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Writing has never been a lucrative career choice, but a recent study by the Authors Guild, a professional organization for book writers, shows that it may not even be a livable one anymore.
According to the survey results, the median pay for full-time writers was $20,300 in 2017, and that number decreased to $6,080 when part-time writers were considered. The latter figure reflects a 42 percent drop since 2009, when the median was $10,500. These findings are the result of an expansive 2018 study of more than 5,000 published book authors, across genres and including both traditional and self-published writers.
In the 20th century, a good literary writer could earn a middle-class living just writing, said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, citing William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and John Cheever. Now, most writers need to supplement their income with speaking engagements or teaching. Strictly book-related income which is to say royalties and advances are also down, almost 30 percent for full-time writers since 2009.
Writing for magazines and newspapers was once a solid source of additional income for professional writers, but the decline in freelance journalism and pay has meant less opportunity for authors to write for pay. Many print publications, which offered the highest rate, have been shuttered altogether.
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How To Become A Writer Start Writing
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This column is an edited excerpt from the Dear Sugars podcast, an advice program hosted by Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed. The audio contains an extended conversation and more letters submissions are welcome at . If youre reading this on desktop, click the play button below to listen. Mobile readers can find Dear Sugars on the Podcasts app or Radio Public .
My career path has been shaped by fear and expectation. I had a fortunate upbringing, sheltered from financial struggles, but when I was in college, my mother went through bankruptcy and I began to understand financial insecurity. I dropped my pursuit of journalism to become a C.P.A. becauseseeing what my mom went through scared me. I convinced myself that I wanted to be an accountant. Isnt it funny how we trick ourselves into seeing the silver lining? Im not tricking myself anymore. Im just 25, and yet I feel as though parts of myself have been obliterated: my creativity, my genuineness, my passion.
A few months ago, I had a dream that I wrote a book. The dream was so powerful that it woke me from my sleep in tears. When I have a bad day at work or feel hopeless about figuring out whats next, I think about that dream. How do I get closer to it? Do I quit my mediocre-paying job with benefits to work as a barista and figure it out, or do I stay in it, though I feel depleted? Do I find a way to care less about work?
Youre Too Aggressive With Following Up
Its O.K. to follow up on unanswered pitches, but wait a week, not 24 hours, said Kristin Iversen, executive editor of Nylon. When a freelancers pitches are turned down, they should not follow up with more pitches a day or two later please dont pitch me more than once a month, unless its something very timely.
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Best Seller Lists Are Evolving
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about the New York Times Bestseller list is that it is an evolving list.
It always has been and, as historical and more recent trends seem to suggest, probably always will be. To be fair, it is not only the Times.
Only as recent as 1995 did the Los Angeles Times begin to count paperbacks again on its bestseller list.
Further back in time, in 1961, the Chicago Tribune more infamously denied certain high-selling books that it considered to be sewer written by dirty fingered authors for dirty-minded readers from appearing on its Bestseller list.
Various genres and classic works of literature have historically not appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list. The recent explosion of E-books , self-published books, and audiobooks have also contributed to a more evolving list.
You Pitched The Wrong Editor Or Section
Its sloppy and it shows you didnt do the basic research required to get your story published. Be absolutely sure that your idea fits within the section or outlet youre pitching, and that youre emailing the right editor.
Pitching me something that doesnt make any sense for the publication, subject-wise or tonally, shows me you havent read through the site, said Gina Vaynshteyn, editor-in-chief at First Media. If you havent done your homework, I wonder how diligent youll be about your story.
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How To Become A New York Times Bestselling Author
Securing pre-orders to hit the bestseller list involves two major components. First, you need a large audience. Second, you must entice people to purchase your book early. To access a large audience, you can either build your own following or connect with influencers who already have a lot of followers. Below are examples of common tactics that bestselling authors employ.
Build a large email list with at least 50,000 100,000 subscribers.
Even though email has been around for decades, it has proven to be superior at generating book sales over all of the social media platforms. Email is also inexpensive and easy for any author to use.
Forego your speaking fee in exchange for a big book purchase, such as 250 1,000 copies.
If you get paid $5,000 to speak in public, then ask the event director to buy $5,000 of your books instead of giving you a speaking fee. Make sure the bulk sale is run through a reporting retailer, such as a local Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million store. Then, books are shipped to the event attendees after the release date. Bulk sales need to be spread across America using different retailers. If sales are concentrated to one area or one retailer, your book can get flagged by The New York Times and banned from the bestseller lists.
Ask business clients to buy books in bulk for their employees.
Schedule appearances with other influencers to access their large audiences.
Create a launch team of rabid fans who spread word of mouth.
The Wall Street Journal Best Seller List
This list is not as prestigious as the New York Times list, but for business books at least, carries almost as much social capital. And most of the weirdness and elitism from the NYT list doesnt apply to the WSJ list.
How they describe their methodology, from their site:
Nielsen BookScan gathers point-of-sale book data from more than 16,000 locations across the U.S., representing about 85% of the nations book sales. Print-book data providers include all major booksellers and Web retailers, and food stores. E-book data providers include all major e-book retailers . Free e-books and those sold for less than 99 cents are excluded. The fiction and nonfiction lists in all formats include both adult and juvenile titles the business list includes only adult titles. The combined lists track sales by title across all print and e-book formats audiobooks are excluded.
This is about as fair and reasonable as you can getvery much the opposite of the New York Times list.
Tips & Tricks:
- It usually takes about 3,000-5,000 sales to hit the WSJ bestseller list.
- You can absolutely get books that arent from traditional publishers on this list. We did it with James Altuchers Choose Yourself, Josh Turners Connect, and many others.
- Theres not much trick here. Just get the sales and you can get on this list. The important thing is making sure all of the sales come from different people and are during the opening week. Bulk sales are not counted.
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What It Means And How To Get It
Making the list means everything to the marketing of a book and its author. It leads to bonuses, movie deals, speaking engagements, and sometimes controversy.
According to Dr. Miller, also allows for much more room for manipulation. An author will send out an email blast to everyone he or she knows that says, ‘My book is being released on X-day. It is extremely important that you buy it, so that it will go way up in the rankings, so if youre going to buy it at all do it on that particular date. And that skews the numbers temporarily.
Publishers even, reportedly, buy their way onto the list through bulk purchases sometimes through a third party. An author may actually write a successful book but never even touch the NYT’s list because they don’t have a powerful enough publisher to buy their way on or create a loud enough buzz. The hypothetical author may also just have a book on their hands that sells slowly but steadily. Or, this author might have just missed some other random checkbox from the magical formula that only a few know.
With so much at stake, authors continue their fight for inclusion on the list because it is the single best way for readers to hear about their book. Validation, money, and popularity are hard things to come by in the literary world, and to get them, you have to be #1.
The New York Times Bestsellers
at the time of this article’s publication
COMBINED PRINT & E-BOOK FICTION
GREY, by E. L. James. A sequel told from Christian’s point of view.
Decide Which Bestseller List You Want To Get On
This will ultimately define which path you follow to get published.
Our list above details a couple bestseller lists you can aim to get on, or you can shoot for all of them if youre really ambitious.
Here at Self-Publishing School, we teach our students how to excel in in order to gain authority, increase your books rankings on the #1 platform for book sales in the world, and ultimately, sell more of their books.
Its up to you to determine if you want to get on one, two, or even all of the bestseller lists available.
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CloseOutline of two peoples’ heads
Writing Rules Advice From The Times On Writing Well
The Times has recently published a few features that we consider gifts to English teachers everywhere, including a summer How To section of the Sunday Book Review, and a new series, called Draft, on the art of writing, which features essays by grammarians, historians, linguists, journalists, novelists and others.
Below, we collect some rules weve derived from these features and from other pieces on the Times site, along with links and related activities we hope writers at any stage will find fun or useful or both.
Before you go, please note Rule 10, in which we ask for your writing advice.
Rule 1: Listen to the Voice Inside Your Head
In a post for Draft, Verilyn Klinkenborg notes that he is often asked what his writing process is. My answer is simple: I think patiently, trying out sentences in my head, he writes.
He advises student writers to do the same, in contrast to school-writing, in which students are asked repeatedly to write papers that are inherently insincere exercises in rearranging things theyve read or been told.
Mr. Klinkenborg advises, Before you learn to write well, to trust yourself as a writer, you will have to learn to be patient in the presence of your own thoughts.
Rule 2: Learn From the Masters
Rule 3: Read Like Writers
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