When I wrote about when to play the career game yesterday, I did not yet know that Robert Heinlein, an American science fiction author, had set forth 5 rules for writing. These rules are about the writing game and making a living from your writing.
I could not find the original source (as yet), but Dean Wesley Smith, a prolific author, speaks about these rules in his book “Five Simple Business Rules for Writing.” Although I reproduce the rules here, read Dean’s book. He embellishes these rules with his experience as a selling fiction author. I use some of his ideas here.
Heilein’s Business Rules for Writing
- You must write.
- You must finish what you start.
- You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
- You must put it on the market.
- You must keep it on the market until sold.
These rules are not meant to be broken. These rules are meant to be followed. The order of the rules are important too. You must have a product to market and to sell.
The rules provide a way of thinking that new authors need to adopt to create their products. This is what Dean did in his early days. He wrote one short story every week and mailed it out to magazines and journals. He kept writing and sending his stories out. Nowadays, we find bloggers doing the same with writing and publishing weekly, biweekly or even daily.
So why should you follow the rules? The simple answer is you are guaranteed success. And most people do not even get to the last step. Persistence in marketing your writing is the guarantee of your success in becoming a selling author.
Rule #1: You must write
This first rule, “you must write”, is all about production on a regular basis. Although the rule does not say how often you should write, it does say you must engage in the act of writing.
Dean Wesley Smith goes a bit further and elaborates on the rule, that researching is not writing, nor is outlining or promoting your books.
Getting your writing done is necessary for rule number 2.
Rule #2: You must finish what you start
While writing is necessary to getting your story or book done, it is often not sufficient.
So many writers have to deal with personal fears and demons to get the writing done.
This second rule essentially says deal with your demons, get out of your own way and get your story done.
Not just a first draft done. A completed manuscript which has been researched (if any) and written with all blanks filled in. A first draft typically have writers notes on what to fill in. Your completed manuscript should have no plot holes.
A completed manuscript is your product. It can be shown to the world. It can be read by another human being. It can be criticized, not that you always care for criticism.
As Dean says, rephrase this second rule as not finishing is failure. A completed manuscript is more than what most people have. A completed manuscript in itself is success.
Rule #3: You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order
Rewriting here is about the story. It is about getting your story right the first time around.
The rule does not say refrain from editing. By all means, please edit your work. Fix style, grammar and spelling errors. Make your work as error free as possible.
But do not change your actual storyline unless an editor asks you to.
This rule also says, get someone else to edit your work. Get a developmental editor to see if your storyline works. While Dean does not believe in developmental editors, new writers could benefit from feedback from editors who are experienced storytellers.
If your story works then move on to editing. If it doesn’t then rewrite according to your editor’s guidelines.
But if you have to rewrite several times then you violate rule #2 of finishing your manuscript. In my estimate, at most two rewrites should get your story right.
Indie book authors may use a developmental editor. But, short story authors who send their stories to magazines should only respond to the comments of the magazine’s editor. The editor in this case will help shape the story to suit the audience of the magazine.
Other than these edits, leave your story alone. Let your creative side speak and write and shape your story accordingly.
Rule #4: You must put it on the market
The market is your readers. If you have a blog then your readers are on your mailing list. If you indie publish novels, then your readers will either find you on Amazon or through your email list for your website. Magazines already have a built-in audience.
Your market of readers may have different needs. Some may want single short stories and others may prefer buying bundles. Some may prefer stand-alone novels while others relish serial novels.
This brings us to another aspect of the market. You got to learn what your market wants. What do readers of, say, romance novels want? They want tension and conflict, and a happy ever after or a happy for now ending.
When you know what your market wants, you can write a novel or short story knowing that there will be reader for it.
Rule #5: You must keep it on the market until sold
Once you have put your short story or book out into the market – magazines or indie published – keep them there.
If your short story is rejected, send it to another magazine. Keep sending it out.
If your book does not sell on Amazon, consider doing book blog tours and taking out some Amazon ads.
Do not remove your indie book from the market. Too many authors have experienced back catalogue sales when they launch and market new books.
Persistence is the name of the game.
The way forward
If you are serious about fulfilling your dreams of writing, becoming a professional writer and making money from your writing, then follow Heinlein’s rules for the writing game. It is a formula, but a widely tested one and success is sure to follow.