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The 20 Must-Read Articles of 2015 for Aspiring Writers

Every month or so, I have the chance to stand in front or a group of people and talk about how to get published. How does a writer go from a manuscript to a published work that readers can buy?

One of the points I regularly make—one of the facts I think is critically important and often overlooked—is that a writer has to take the responsibility to understand the publishing industry. You need at least a general idea of how the sausages are made. After all, you wouldn’t decide to open a restaurant or a widget factory without doing your homework about the regulations, the competition, and the best practices affecting your industry. So why would you think that you can just mail off a manuscript and not understand what happens next?

So, in the spirit of educating, and giving in to the inevitable lure of a year-end “best of” list, here are the 20 must-read articles of 2015 for aspiring authors:

The Big News in the Business

1.  The Plot Twist: Ebook Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead This is the good news and familiar message from the traditional houses, and there’s data to back it up. Print isn’t dead, and neither are traditional publishing or brick-and-mortar bookstores.

2.  5 Observations on the Author Business Model  The flip side comes from publishing reporter Jane Friedman, who attends a conference of multi-published authors and explored the trends she sees emerging there, especially with regard to the ways that the role of the author is changing, innovating, and growing in a digital age.

3.  Deals Drove Growth at Penguin Random House  In 2014, the largest publisher in the United States published FIFTEEN THOUSAND titles. I think it’s safe to say that traditional publishing is alive and well.

4.  SFWA Welcomes Small Press and Self-Published Authors  After many years, the professional network of sci fi and fantasy novelists (ironically, two genres where self-publishing has done very well) finally developed a plan to welcome all professional writers into their fold. “Professional writers get paid a decent amount for what they write. For the past five years it’s been apparent that there are ways to earn that decent amount that were not being covered by our previous qualification standards.” I think it’s safe to say that self publishing continues to gain legitimacy and market share.

5.  Fast-Growing Independent Publishers Publishers Weekly profiles three small, independent presses with three very different business models that help them grow in a new economy.   So nope, small presses aren’t dead yet, either.

While You’re Writing

6.  How to Self Edit Your Work Some straight, clear talk from editor Sarah Beckham, with practical questions and gentle advice to help writers step back and take a clear-eyed look at their own work.

7.  I Smell Your Rookie Mistakes, New Writer  Warning: This is neither gentle, nor is it polite. It’s brutal and it’s honest, and it says a lot of things that your developmental editor will try to tell you much more nicely, or that the agent who’s reading your manuscript won’t bother telling you in your rejection letter. (Wendig followed that blog up with the equally insightful tough-love On the Subject of Your Discouragement.)

8.  What’s the Best Step for My Novel-Writing Career?  Agent Chip MacGregor says the same two things that I tell my classes: Get Thee to a Writing Conference, and also Read Good Books. He’ll tell you why.

9.  6 Tips to Hook a Reader on Page 1 From agent Carly Watters, because agents read a lot of first pages, and can tell you in a split second what’s not working.

10.  How to Be a Prolific Writer Prolific writer James Scott Bell (author of 50 books) shows you how to turn a dream into a career. Hint: it’s about discipline, hard work, and commitment, not inspiration and talent. What happens if you commit to his Nifty 350 for one whole month?

Are you keeping up with your reading? (Photo credit: Graham Keen)

Are you keeping up with your reading? (Photo credit: Graham Keen)

The Kick in the Butt: Are You Ready for Publishing?

11.  The Myth of the Lazy Writer Bestseller, indie author spokesperson, and generally fantastic storyteller Hugh Howey cuts out all the promises of rainbows and piles of gold, and reminds us that successful authors work their butts off, no matter which publishing path they pursue.

12.  What a World Class Chef Can Teach Us About Editing and Publishing  Jane Ryder is the Director of Client Services at The Editorial Department, which means she spends all day, every day talking to aspiring writers who have a manuscript and need help figuring out the next step. Jane’s seen all the mistakes, and a number of the fairy tale success stories. She tells you what separates them.

13.  What Should Authors Expect to Earn? How much should you expect to make from your first book? From your career? Publisher Brooke Warner lays out the hard facts and tough love.

14.  28 (Better) Things About Publishing That No One Tells You Scott Berkun has published bestsellers, crowdfunded memoirs, and blogs regularly. Here is the voice of the author experience in the 21st century, and he’ll tell you what he’s learned. (Nonfiction writers particularly, take note.)

If You’re Self Publishing

15.  The Great Amazon Hysteria Part 31  The big kerfluffle for self-publishing authors seemed to happen this summer (thankfully while I was on sabbatical), when the Internet got panicky over Amazon’s decision to try to level their payment program for the Kindle Unlimited (which was paying the same flat fee to every author/publisher regardless of the length of the book, and will now pay author/publishers based on actual pages read). David Gaughran writes a fantastic piece that summarizes the controversy but also reminds indie authors not to believe everything they read. (A lesson that could be widely applied in this day and age.)

If You’re Agent and Publisher Hunting

16.  5 Real Reasons Agents Are So Darn Picky Agent Carly Watters offers a peek behind the curtain of what it means to be an agent, and why she’s not jumping at the chance to represent your book. It’s not that she doesn’t like you and is trying to ruin your life. It’s that you’re not ready to make money for her yet.

17.  The Number 1 Reason I Pass Even if the Writing is Good  I know, this is the hardest part. “Love the writing, but it’s not for me.” What does that mean??? More often than not, it’s your pacing. (Kristin followed up with the Number 2 reason, which is also worth reading.)

On Marketing:

18.  4 Book Promotion Strategies That Don’t Work Anymore  I hear a lot of writers say “I want to do this, because it worked for Author X.” But Author X published five years ago, and in the digital age, that’s a whole different generation. Here are some things that don’t work anymore, and some practical, tested suggestions for things that do.

19. Can You Promote a Book Without Making Yourself Miserable?  Okay, Ed Cyzewski won me over with his title, because it sounds so much like my own. If you’re stalled with your book release or unhappy with the idea that promotion is part of your job, start here for the encouragement to find the path that works FOR YOU, not for the last guy.

20.  The Disappearing Amazon Reviews  Throughout the fall, writers have lamented that their gold stars and reader reviews are disappearing from Amazon. Publishing blogger Anne R. Allen digs into what’s happening, and helps you understand what’s allowed—and what isn’t—in soliciting more of them.

Success Stories

(because for all of that tough love, it was also a really good year for a lot of authors)

21.  The slow burn success

22.  The national award winner 

23.  The literary debut with the million-dollar advance

24.  The self-published book that goes big, gets a movie deal 

25.  Oh, you were looking for the OTHER self-published book that went big, got a movie deal 


Here’s to more good stories in 2016!


1 Comment
  1. What a great list. I missed some of these. And thanks for including my post on disappearing reviews. I’m honored.

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