Comic-con 2013

This post is for my fellow writers, or anyone else with an interest in the self-pub scene.

I managed to get Comic-Con tickets for this year, so I ran around and attended a number of panels on writing.  Unfortunately, a lot of them were slanted at things which are only relevant to comic book people or fanfic writers, but there were some useful nuggets of wisdom throughout.  The last panel of the con, though, was the most informative.  That panel was on how to get your writing done when you’ve got a full-time job.

Here are the most important things I took away from it:

  • Turn the internet off.  For the most part, you don’t need it for writing.  When you need to research some point on Wikipedia, write it down on a notepad next to your computer.  At the end of your writing session, look up everything on the notepad.  This way if you get sucked away into tvtropes or wikipedia or facebook in the process, you’ll at least have gotten your word count in for the night first.
  • Time management is critical, and todoist.com is apparently good at it.  I’d never heard of it myself, but intend to check into it.
  • Don’t try to write all of your ideas.  Jot down brief notes if something sounds really good, but don’t sit down and try to give a serious treatment to every idea you have – you’ll never finish anything that way unless perhaps you’re writing haiku.
  • If you have kids, your significant other is in charge of them when you write.  Period.
  • Intersperse your schedule with things which are not like writing.  If your “break time” from writing fiction is to write non-fiction, for instance, you’re just going to burn out.  Your “break time” doesn’t have to be downtime; it can be another job.  I’ve been inadvertently following this rule for a while actually.  I balance a day job, a sales job in an unrelated field, erotic writing, and non-fiction writing.  If you don’t have multiple jobs, then you need a hobby – and you should ensure that it’s different enough to give you a break.  Arrange your times so that you’re rarely doing the same sort of work back to back.  If you’re writing fiction for an hour, your next hour shouldn’t be writing non-fiction; instead, go work out afterwards or something.
  • Spare time: Stop thinking you get any.  You always have work to be doing, no matter which job you’re working at the time.
  • If your project has expenses (this is mostly for comics and such), use Kickstarter.  But be aware that anyone spending more than $10 is going to want something tangible in the mail for having done so.  And never do a Kickstarter which runs more than 30 days – people get tired of the spam and will actually mute you on your social media sites, which will cost you more fans than it gains.
  • Speaking of social media, only 20% of your posts should be marketing for your books.  This tells me I’ve been doing it wrong, because I mostly write about my books.  It seems that I really should spend 80% of my social media time finding and posting articles of interest to my readers and re-sharing other useful bits.
  • If you find that you desperately need more free time, you should examine your “day job”.  If you’re a professional freelancer being paid on a 1099 form, consider going into being a 9-5 salaried W-2 employee.  That will ensure that you have a fixed schedule you can work around, which will in some cases give you more free time to work on your projects.  Of course, if you’re a freelancer with a wide-open schedule, this doesn’t necessarily apply.
  • If you’re involved in a team project, be careful about putting your friends on the team.  A project is not your friendship, and you need to be able to kick people off of a project for failure to perform.  This is much harder when friends are on a project.  You should always be willing to mentor your friends and teach them how to do things, but you shouldn’t be willing to basically work for them for free.
  • On team projects, always have a written statement of expectations.  You should write out the expected workflow, as well as at what points remedial actions (including removal from the project) will be taken.  This should be written out for each person on the project.  Openly keep a list of fallback people to talk to in the event that one of your team disappears or becomes unreliable.  On the same token, never 100% drop anyone who communicates to you promptly that they aren’t going to be able to get something accomplished on time.  That shows a level of integrity which you’re lucky to find.
  • Keep records whenever someone meets their obligations on the project, as well as whenever they fail.  This will help you distinguish an occasional failing from a pattern of failing.  It will also help you identify people who consistently perform, but have a habit of under-estimating the time they need for their project.
  • When it comes to evaluating freelancers or people who want to collaborate with you, don’t put any real trust in someone who has no samples to show you.  Anyone who’s serious can show you samples of their writing, or samples of their art.  Business cards are another thing which serious people tend to have.
  • Don’t do work for family or non-profit, generally speaking.  They’re the most likely to suck down hours of your time, and the least likely to provide you with any actual return for it.

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