by Ashley Lister
1 A story is all about the reader experience.
We’re often told that we should write the story that we want to tell, and I agree with this. But we should also be writing the story that our readers want to read. We should be conscious of the reader experience throughout the process and ensure the reader is taken on a journey where we regulate the pace, the description, the action and the exposition. If the finished product doesn’t work as a satisfying reader experience, then it just doesn’t work.
2 Genre snobs are lowlife scum
Anyone who dismisses a genre of fiction as being inferior is a person whose opinion is not to be heeded. Whether a story is a Booker Prize winner, or the latest indie package of dinosaur erotica: if it’s meeting the needs of its intended audience, it is a valuable contribution to the canon of literature. And anyone who says otherwise clearly lacks the impartial judgement to be trusted.
3 A typo doesn’t make a person stupid
We all know the difference between ‘their, there and they’re’. We all know the difference between ‘to’, ‘too’ and ‘two’. But mistakes occasionally happen. When we’re sending text messages or updating social media statuses, a combination of fat thumbs, small keypads and the urgency to share a message can result in human errors, or autocorrected mistakes. This doesn’t make the writer stupid: it makes them human. Recognising that a person’s intellect is not defined by the occasional errors they put on the page allows us to accept the failings in others, just as they can except our occasional failings.
4 Authors don’t have to be skilled at every aspect of writing, from typesetting to performing poetry live on stage.
Contemporary media has made it look as though a writer should be able to produce publishable copy with the first draft, do book readings, promote, market and generally stay on top of merchandising opportunities and negotiate film rights and screenplay amendments.
We’re all writers with different strengths and different weaknesses. I’ve spoken with authors I revere who turn to jelly at the thought of reading work to an audience. I’ve worked with authors who think marketing begins and ends with an update about a book’s release on Twitter or FaceBook.
Personally, I’m confident in a lot of these roles but I’m now learning to admit that there are some areas where I need professional help, and some areas where I just need to outsource the work to a more competent individual with specialist skills.
5 Don’t hit publish on anything less than your best.
Every story you write is going to stay out there a lot longer than you. The good ones will be pointed at for years to come by people who will support you and praise your work. And the thin stories with shallow characters and a lack of narrative credibility will continue to bite you in the arse for a long time. Before you set the gears of publishing in motion, before you press that final button: take some time to have a final read through the completed work, make sure the story is doing everything you wanted and try to decide if you will still be proud of this piece in a year’s time.