William J. Cook, Advice for New Writers #writetip

This is the second in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/

Today’s guest post is by Indie author William Cook. William writes mysteries, set in my part of the world, the Pacific Northwest. I’ve enjoyed his work in the anthologies we have both been featured in and look forward to hearing what he has to say!


Let me begin by saying I still consider myself a new writer, even though I have several books under my belt. Although I’ve “written” all my life, I only got serious about producing books when I retired in 2011. I hope I’ve continued to improve my craft since then, but only my readers can judge that. What follows are only my opinions, and I’m sure if you polled all our NIWA members, you’d find a hundred more.

Number One: Please don’t quit your day job. Truth be told, most of us are only meagerly supplementing our incomes, not debuting on the world stage of #1 Bestsellers. Although some of us have been quite successful, there are very few, if any, Andy Weirs among us. The fortune and fame that showered The Martian are akin to winning the lottery or being struck by lightning—it happens, but the odds against it can be astronomical.

So why do we write? We write because we have to—it has to come out of us. We write for the sheer joy of seeing our creations on paper and on a digital screen. If we make a few bucks, that’s frosting on the cake. Knowing we have family and friends who read our work and like it is reward enough. No, we never stop trying to be successful—taking courses in marketing, scheduling book signings at local bookstores and conferences, begging reviews from readers and local media outlets, doing whatever we can to improve our craft—but we also accept that we are very likely not the next John Grisham or Dean Koontz.

Number Two: Should you try to get an agent or should you publish independently? This is a complicated question. I have never had an agent, so I can only repeat what I have heard from others who have.

Potentially, getting an agent can give your book wider exposure. Your agent gets you a publishing company, and you have the support of that company behind you, hopefully helping you with advertising, book tours, media outlets, etc. On the down side, you may lose a lot of control over your book—content as well as cover. I spoke with one author who told me her company insisted she change one of her characters or they wouldn’t publish her novel. Another said her company just sat on her book and did no promotion at all. Of course, there are other situations where the agent is perfect for the job, establishes a trusting relationship with the writer, and both go on to be very successful together over the course of several books.

Bottom line: decide at the outset whether you want to try to get a literary agent BEFORE you go ahead and publish independently. Once you’ve published independently, it’s much harder to get an agent for that same book, or for a book that comes later in a series. It’s the proverbial Catch-22: your prospective agent will ask, “If your book is successful published independently, why do you want me? If it’s not successful, why should I take the risk?”

Anyway, an excellent resource is https://querytracker.net/ Two essential books are How Can I Find a Literary Agent and Step by Step Pitches and Proposals, both by Chip MacGregor with Holly Lorincz. Also, a better way to land an agent than sending out proposals cold, is to buy face-to-face time with an agent at a literary conference. The biggest one in Oregon, the Willamette Writers Conference, will be in Portland in August (depending, of course, on the pestilence situation at the time).

So far, I have opted to publish independently. Although there are many independent platforms out there, such as IngramSpark, Draft2Digital, Bookbaby, Smashwords, and Kobo, I’m a bit of a dinosaur and have done all mine through Kindle Direct Publishing. That means I can only sell my books on Amazon, and that most bookstores don’t want my paperbacks because Amazon has no return policy for them. Some stores will do it on consignment, and I am fortunate to have a local store that is very kind to independent writers.

What I like about being an indie author is the freedom it gives me. I control everything—content, cover, timing of release, the works. The only deadlines I have to meet are my own. Self-publishing has introduced me to a thriving community of authors who have been extraordinarily helpful. In short, it’s fun!

Number Three: Should you look to see what’s trending and write to that? My answer? Please don’t pimp your writing. Write your own story, not the one you think other people may want to read because it’s currently fashionable. If you don’t write from your heart, you probably won’t survive the dark periods when you’re afraid the Muse has abandoned you and you’re only a hack who shouldn’t have started writing in the first place. (Yes, those days will come.)

Number Four: Should you write every day on a regular schedule? Writing is not “one-size-fits-all.” If you can write every day, that’s wonderful. I know there are many writers of great discipline (and success!) who write four to six hours every day, like clock-work. Hats off and more power to them. But I have a rich life away from my computer, and I can’t. For some people, writing is like fishing. The old adage, “Any time you can get away is a good time to fish,” can be applied to writing as well. Any time you can squeeze in an hour or two is a good time to write.

But you may ask, “What if I get stuck? What if the dreaded Writer’s Block hits me like COVID-19?” Then make a covenant with yourself: you will write one sentence every day—good, bad, or indifferent, however long it takes. If more comes out of you, fine, but your commitment is for one sentence only.

Number Five: Join writing groups. Like good parenting, good writing takes a village. At the very least, join a critique group. This should be small enough (maximum 5 people?) to afford each writer plenty of time to strut their stuff and get the honest feedback he or she deserves. Some groups email their pages in advance, while others bring printed copies for everyone to the group. By all means, read your work out loud. That’s the quickest way to spot the awkward sentence, the overly stiff dialogue, the plot hole you’ve missed. Other groups are available as well. In Oregon, Willamette Writers has local branches throughout the State. In Salem, Writers Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (WYTT) meets weekly. NIWA is a Facebook group that has been enormously helpful to me.

Number Six: Beware the perils of self-editing! I will write more about this in a future blog, but for now, always be aware that your brain operates like the autocorrect function on your phone. It will fill in the missing word, remove the repeated word, fix the misspelling. Make sure other eyes get to look at your work before you publish it.

Number Seven: The necessity of marketing. Ah, the dreaded M-word. I have found that marketing is an entirely different skill-set from writing. And I’m not very good at it—yet. When your book gets published on Amazon, it will be the proverbial needle in a haystack, lost among the millions of volumes already there. Good advertising makes it stand out. Unless you can afford to pay someone to do it for you, you’re going to have to learn how to advertise on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram. But you can take it a little at a time. Get that book written first!

So there’s my two cents. I hope I haven’t been too negative. The truth is, holding that book in your hands, whether it’s your first or your fifth, is a thrill like no other. Go for it!

Thank you for those excellent words of wisdom, William!

If you want to read other posts in this series by this author, go to https://authorwilliamcook.com/blog/   “Reading to Impact Your Writing (And Can Watching Movies be a Business Expense?)”

Watch for the next post in the series by this author:

https://lecatts.wordpress.com/   “My Approach to the Writing Process”

About William J. Cook:

William Cook moved to the Pacific Northwest from the East Coast in 1989, and worked for a total of 37 years as a mental health therapist until his retirement in 2011. He splits his time between writing, babysitting for his 15 grandchildren, and sneaking off to mid-week matinees (when theaters are open!). The Kindle edition of his latest book, Dungeness and Dragons: A Driftwood Mystery, is available now for pre-order and will be published on April 24. Find all his books at:


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