How to Title Your Book by Literary Agent, Rachelle Gardner


How To Title Your Book

by Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Lately I’ve been coaching several of my clients through the process of coming up with a good title for their book, so I thought I’d share my tips with you.

Let’s start by acknowledging a few things. The publisher is usually responsible for the final decision on title, and in the query stage, it’s not that important. In fact, some agents have said they don’t pay any attention at all to titles. But at some point, you’re going to want to think seriously about this. Your title is part of the overall impression you’re creating about your book. It can set a tone and create an expectation. Whether you’re pitching to an agent, or your agent is pitching to publishers, I think you want to have the strongest title possible.

Think of it this way: the better your title is, the better your chance that the publisher will decide to use it, rather than changing it.

So here’s what I recommend when you need a title, for either fiction or non-fiction.

First, make sure you know the genre of your book, and identify what kind of feeling or tone you want to convey with the title. Write it down. This is important, as I’ve seen humorous books with dead-serious titles, contemporary books whose titles say “historical romance,” novels that sound like self-help books… you get the picture. Be clear on what your title needs to instantly communicate.

Time to start brainstorming:

→ Find twenty books on Amazon that are in the same genre as yours and whose titles you like. Write down their titles. Try to get a feel for what works with your genre. What do you like about the titles? What don’t you like? Then put the list away for awhile.

→ Sit with a pencil and paper (and maybe your critique group and a white-board) and free-associate, making lists of words related to your book. Put them in columns: nouns, verbs, adjectives. If it’s a novel, list words that describe or suggest the setting. Then think about each of your major characters and write down words that relate to them. Think about the action in the story and write down verbs that capture it. If your book is non-fiction, list words that capture what you want your reader to think, feel or do after reading it. And words that describe what your book is about.

→ Nothing is off limits—write down anything you can think of that conveys anything about your book. Use visual words that suggest a scene. Other words that evoke an emotion. A sensation. A location. A question. You should have at least 100 words.

→ See if any of the words would work as a single-word title. Then start experimenting with different word combinations. Adjective-noun, verb-noun. Keep a thesaurus handy and look up other words. Write down as many word combinations as you can. Try not to self-censor at this stage.

→ From these lists, come up with at least 20 possible titles. Then put them away for 24 hours. Two things will happen: your subconscious may still be working on it; and when you come back to your list, you’ll have fresh eyes.

→ Go back to your title list. Add any new ideas you’ve had. Then narrow it down to three to five possibilities. Run them by a few people. (This may or may not help, depending on if there’s a consensus or the opinions are all over the map.) Take a little more time before narrowing it down to one. If you can, wait another day or two.

→ Remember your list of titles from Amazon? Go back to it. Ask yourself if the title you’ve chosen would fit the list—without being too similar or generic.

A few more questions to ask about your title: Does the tone of the title match the tone of the book? Does it convey the right genre (including time period if applicable)? Would it attract attention? If the book were spine-out on the shelf (so the cover and sub-title were not visible) would it still attract attention? Would a reader have any idea what the book is about just from the title? (Sometimes important for non-fiction.)

Once you’ve made a decision—celebrate!

Q4U: How have you decided on titles for your books? Do you find yourself emotionally attached to the one you’ve been living with since you first thought of the book?

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent





I read this article — “22 Things Happy People Do Differently.” And I was like, yeah, you know, I like some of these. They’re a little simple, a little direct, but still, I liked the point — we have to choose to be happy instead of letting the universe ladle happiness upon us.

Further, I thought, well, writers are a traditionally unhappy lot, always moping around and crying into their manuscripts — the tears streaking the title page and soaking through the first few chapters. And so it seemed a good time to look at how writers can choose to be happy, too.

And thus, another list was born struggling and screaming from my quivering blog-womb.


Writers write. If we were little simulated characters in a video game, we’d have various meters to fill up (liquor, pee, self-esteem, tweets) and one of them would be labeled with two tags: HAPPINESS and WORD COUNT. The happy writer is a writing writer.


We come to the page with too many expectations. Each poor little story is like a trembling donkey upon which we heap tons of weight. We don’t just want a good book, we want a bestseller. If it isn’t perfect, we hate it. If it isn’t 100% right, it’s 1000% wrong. Problem: we care too damn much. It’s all or nothing with us and that’s the kind of dichotomy that shanks our happiness right in the kidneys. So: care less. Ease off the stress stick. Have more fun with what you’re doing. When your kids and dogs play in the mud, you can either freak out that they’re too dirty, or you can laugh and jump in the mud, too. So, fuck it: jump in the damn mud already.


A career spent writing things you don’t want to write is a career spent trying to birth a VCR through your pee-hole. It’s awkward. It’s painful. It won’t fit and it’ll damn sure tear you apart. Writing as a career isn’t so financially fruitful that there’s much value in coming to this thing without the purity of your love and desire on display. Writing what you want to write, on your terms, is a powerful kind of bliss. And the trick with bliss is, it’s up to you to find it.


I’m sympathetic that writers sometimes take assignments or write stories to fit parameters they did not themselves design. The same rule applies as above with a slight modification: even in writing something outside your purview you can still put yourself on the page and make it your own without hammering that square peg through that circle hole (or, for a more grotesque version, “hammering that Rubik’s Cube into that pigeon’s cloaca”). If I’m gonna write an article about trout fishing, grout lines, tulip farming, or a brand comparison of monkey diapers, by gosh and by golly I’m going to write that article the way I want and in a way that pleases me before it pleases you. If I’m not doing that then I might as well be digging ditches.


You will never be at the tippy-top of the writer pyramid because there is no fucking writer pyramid. No ladder, no mountain, no March Madness-style ranking. You will always find other writers who have more awards, more sales, more books, better covers, sexier author photos, more Twitter followers, bigger advances, more powerful beards (GODDAMN YOU ROTHFUSS), and on and on. One author with a butt full of awards can still end up jealous of another author who has more awards. Or no awards but a bigger audience. Or better hair, or a cooler agent, or the ability to hold one’s liquor. Strive to be better, yes, but don’t strive to be someone else. You are your own person with your own stories to tell. You’re stuck with you. You can’t comparison shop to be a different person, and trying to do so will only drown you in a washtub of misery.


The happy writer is an open writer: open to experiences, emotions, words, ideas, books, authors, tastes, smells, films, travel, unusual liquors, fancy cupcakes, sexual positions, exotic lubricants, animal costumes, and so on, and so forth. All happy thought-grist for our word-mill.


“I’m going to write this book. It’s going to earn me a seven-figure advance. It’s going to climb all the bestseller charts like that giant ape climbing whatever that really tall building is, and I’m going to win all the awards and then I’ll sell the film rights for another seven figures and the protagonist will be played by Baby Goose himself, THE RYAN GOSLING.” Unrealistically high goals just mean a long fall when you miss a ledge or a foothold crumbles beneath you.


And that leads me to this: Happiness lies in knowing the difference between control and influence. You control the quality of your work. The quality of your work influences factors outside your control like, say, whether you get an agent or sell a lot of books or get to make sweet sweet on-screen love to Ryan Gosling. Happiness is controlling what you can control to the best of your ability while letting the rest fall to the misty vagaries of your influence.


You should know how the publishing industry works, but you don’t need to know it biblically. Pretend that you’re in a Lovecraft novel, right? In the world of a Lovecraft novel it’s enough to know that the Great Old Ones are out there beyond time and space in an astronomical mind-destroying fuck-tangle. You have your knowledge, yay, great, now go home. Don’t study it. Don’t stare. Don’t go fucking around with the Necronomicon or ululating foul entreaties of Azathoth the Blind Idiot God because that’s how you lose your sanity. Same thing with publishing. Know it’s there. Know how it works. Then go home and write your books. Because you start picking off those cosmic, spiritual scabs and you’ll start shedding sanity faster than a Collie blows his coat.


Creative folks put themselves out there further than many by the nature of the work: you create a thing whose value is reflected only when it is held and beheld by the community that receives it. But that also means you’re a kind of antenna receiving both good vibes and venomous ones, too. Fuck the haters. Piss on any negativity that comes flinging your way. Letting haters have real estate in your head is like letting a strange dog shit in your kitchen.


I don’t even think that number means anything. I suspect one day Amazon will reveal that the entire Amazon ranking calculation is the invention of an insane spam-bot staring into a snowglobe. And now authors are ranked separately from books? Oh boy. Pinning your self worth to an Amazon rank is no better than measuring your value by the pH balance of your front lawn. For that matter, stop obsessing about blog hits, Twitter followers, Facebook likes, Myspace wongles, OkCupid tickles, or any other pokes, peeks, clicks, views, twists, tweaks, or other agglomerated purple nurples. Those numbers will never add up to your happiness.


You ever get the opportunity to play with an artistic medium in which you have no experience? Photography? Fingerpaints? Erotic botany? When you do that, there exists this level of freedom where you’re like, “I have no stake in this, I’m just going to spackle some paint on my fingers and — I don’t know, fuck it, I’m going to draw a turkey on a jet-ski.” And then you’re there dicking around and fingerpainting like a boss and suddenly you realize: this is fun. And it sucks, but yet, there’s something real in there. Something of value. (“I WILL BE A CHAMPION FINGERPAINTER.”) It’s a cool moment where by creating art with no limits or no pressure and with jizz-buckets of fun you still managed to do something interesting. Something different. Carry that into your writing. Leap into the beyond. Fingerpaint like a boss. Remove the pressure of quality and give yourself permission to suck. Remember: with writing, you can always fix it in post. Why do you think Word Jesus invented the Editing Process? PRAISE WORD JESUS.


Happiness is active, not passive; it’s a decision, not an award someone gives you. Happiness takes adjustment. When something is broken, you adjust that thing with a wrench, a screwdriver, maybe a flamethrower. Writers, as it turns out, bring a lot of shit to the table. Other people have baggage. Writers have cargo. (By the goddamn tonnage.) This burden will stand in the way of your happiness as a writer because, worst of all, it will stop you from writing. Whatever it is that blocks you, it’s up to you to unblock. Deal with it on the page. Deal with it in therapy. Deal with it with medically-approved happy pills, whatever. Hard as it may be, it remains your choice to atomize the obstacles in your mind and on your path.


We can usually tell when something is off. We know when our process is wrong. When we’re writing the wrong thing. When a behavior we’re committed to isn’t yielding the results we expected. You can only try to pick a lock with your dick so many times before you realize it just isn’t gonna work. (Or, for the lady version, “You can only try to open a stuck pickle jar with your vagina so many times…”) We often repeat mistakes out of some combination of stubbornness and laziness, but all that does is sink our boots deeper into the mire of dissatisfaction. Change your game. Mix it up. Approach your problems from a new direction.


Move your body. Don’t fill it with a ton of crap. Your brain is the thing responsible for your writing but that brain is just a passenger in a car that needs to be working in tippy-top shape. Fill it with the right fuel. Take it out driving. Keep it maintained. Your body isn’t some unmufflered explodable rust-fucked jalopy. Give your brain the best ride you can give it.


When the time comes to send my son to college in 16 years, it will cost about as much as it does now to send him to Alpha Centauri. So, I’m no enemy of cash. I like money. I need it. To eat. To live. To whiskey. (Is “whiskey” a verb? It should be. CALL OXFORD, CAMBRIDGE and tell MERRIAM to stop playing grab-ass with WEBSTER, stat!) I’m not saying you shouldn’t write with money in mind — but writing with only money in mind is a tram ride into Disappointment City, population: you. You gotta find a reason to write that isn’t just a pouch of imaginary chits and ducats. You gotta write because you want to write, because the story is about to pop out of you like a chestburster. You must love the writing more than you love the money from writing.


Shame sure seems like a powerful motivator, doesn’t it? I once thought it served me well. “Ah, if I don’t write X,000 words a day I’ll be ashamed of myself and that shame will be a burr in my hiney-hole to get me working!” And it does motivate, to a point. But you have to realize that shame is only half a ladder. It only gets us part of the way and it does so for the wrong reasons. We should try to be better writers because it makes us feel good to do so not because it makes us feel bad to do otherwise. Become addicted to the positive feelings, not the negative ones. Give shame its due — which is to say, flick it away like an errant booger.


There exists what I consider to be a positive feedback loop, which is to say, giving positivity into the world returns it like a boomerang and uhh, hello, BOOMERANGS ARE FUCKING RAD-GRAVY (“rad-gravy” is superior to “awesomesauce,” by the way). Treat your audience well and they will treat you well in kind. And it will magnify and multiply.


We seem like a big community, a formless and faceless blob — but the writing community is actually a lot smaller than you think. Be a part of it. Nurture relationships. Help other writers find opportunity and they will help you in turn. Hell, just make friends with other writers. (I mean, not all of them — some of us are quite scary with our pantsless whiskey rages and our bone-woven beards.) Like with one’s audience, feeding into it feeds back upon you — that’s true of positivity and true of negativity as well. More to the point, imagine there’s a communal fountain: you can either poop in it or fill it with vodka and Kool-Aid. CHOOSE WISELY.


Failure is illuminating. It reveals every broken board beneath our feet, every crack in the wall, every pothole in the road. Do not shun failure. High-five it. Hug it. Engage in lusty pawing with it. Failure means you’re doing. Everybody fails before they succeed. Failure is how we learn. Failure is part of the grand tradition of figuring out how to be awesome.


We tell excuses to other people as if they’re reasons, but we know the truth: it’s just some nonsense we say to absolve ourselves of the sin of Not Doing The Shit We Were Supposed To Do. Every excuse uttered is another squirrel nibble out of our happiness. Soon your excuses amount to a whole swarm of squirrels. They’ll make short bitey work of your self-worth.


The happy writer knows that not every day is spent as happy writer. Every day isn’t, “Open Word processor, giggle as a rain of puppies and panda babies fall upon you, proceed to breathe brilliance onto screen, go take a nap.” Some days are hard. As intellectually grueling as back-breaking labor. Some days feel like you’re pulling out a wolf’s teeth by going through his asshole. What you need to realize is that even a bad day of writing contributes to a sense of long-term satisfaction which is far more valuable than the short sharp cookie-pop of temporary happiness (though that’s good too, and needn’t be avoided).


An author doesn’t find her voice. An author’s voice is what’s on the page when she writes without trying or pretension. You are your voice. Trying to find it is often an act of digging a deep hole to discover what was standing next to you all along.


Sometimes we get an idea in our heads to do a thing (go to the moon, climb Everest, learn bondage knots, cross-breed a panther and a pony into an adorable predator known as the PANTHY), but it turns out we try it and don’t actually like the process it takes to get there. Love of the end-game isn’t enough to keep you happy. It might be enough to get the job done, but happy-making, it isn’t. You have to love some part of the process. The writing. The editing. The rewriting. If the only thing the act of writing earns you is a mouthful of ash and a pair of rage-throttled fists, fuck it. Writing ain’t worth doing if it fails to tickle your inner monkey.


Every time you fail to finish your work, a little girl loses another kitten. A unicorn loses his horn and becomes a regular stupid old horse. A sweet old lady chokes on her dentures. But worst of all, every time you fail to finish your work it wears another small hole in your soul. You can feel it there — that ragged tear in your cloth, wind whistling through the gap. Because you know what it means. You’re giving up. Giving in. Handing over the keys. Letting the terrorists that are your Doubt and Fear and Uncertainty win. You know what all the books published and movies made and comics inked have in common? Someone finished what they started. And finishing will give you a bliss-boost. All your happiness circuits will fire like a 21-synapse-salute. Even if it’s not the best thing you’ve written. Even if it’s the worst.

Because the best thing you never finished is always less than the worst thing you did.


Want another hot tasty dose of dubious writing advice aimed at your facemeats?


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Advice to aspiring authors from “Wool” series author Hugh Howey

Here is some great advice from the Wool series author Hugh Howey, READ THIS SERIES RIGHT NOW!! Thanks Hugh!

Trey Eddantes

 wool image

My Advice to Aspiring Authors

Posted on March 14, 2013 by Hugh C. Howey

Yes, that’s an ambitious title for a blog post. It might even been seen as egotistical (it feels egotistical to me). But I recently did an anniversary AMA on Reddit, and this question came up over and over again: “What advice would you give an author just starting out?” It was too big of a question to answer during the AMA (over 700 comments!), so I promised a blog post.

I’ll start by knocking the ego right out of the lungs of this thing and say that what works for one author may not work for another. I’ll also say that this is a massive topic and could easily lead to me writing a book. Not that I will. For both of these reasons, this blog post is going to ramble and often contradict itself. Such is my nature and the nature of the topic.

First off: If you want to become a writer in order to be rich and famous like me, that’s a bad idea. It isn’t why I started writing, and it isn’t why you should start writing. You should write because you love it. But I imagine you’ll want an audience (what artist doesn’t?) And so my advice is geared toward helping authors get to the end of their manuscript, polish it to perfection, and then gain the widest readership possible. This is the best you can hope for. I think it’s possible for every writer who gives it their all.

To begin with, you need to write. This seems axiomatic because it is. The only way to amass a pile of words into a book is to shovel some every single day. No days off. You have to form this habit; without it you are screwed. I’m going to assume everyone who keeps reading already has this down. If you don’t — you won’t make it. My best advice on how to form this habit is twofold: Get comfortable staring at a blank screen and not writing. This is a skill. If you can not write and avoid filling that time with distractions, you’ll get to the point where you start writing. Open your manuscript and just be with it.

Secondly, learn to write rough. Stop caring about spelling and sentence fragments and plot holes and grammar. Get the story down. Listen to the dialog and try to keep up with your fingers. Get to the end of your manuscript and THEN worry about the quality. If you can master the art of powering through to the end of your story, you are on your way.

When I finished my first novel, I was on a complete high. This is when you think your book is the shit and you wonder why Oprah hasn’t called. You’re gonna be rich!

This feeling lasted a few days. That’s when I started writing my next work. My father at the time wondered why I wasn’t spending all of my time promoting that first book. I told him I had my entire life to promote my works. I only had now to write. I stuck to that principle for years, writing and publishing several novels or short stories a year. I wrote a variety of genres and with a slew of styles and voices. 1st person, 3rd person, fiction, horror, sci-fi, novelettes, short stories. I also read a wide variety of works, but hardly ever in my genres. I read literary fiction and history, non-fiction and science. I try to read the newspaper every day.

My father now agrees with this approach and sees the value of having a dozen titles available. This is going to sound strange, but you are MUCH better off with your 10th work exploding than your 1st work. You’ll never have quiet time to crank out quality material ever again. And when your backlist matches the growth of your first breakout, you’ll do very well for yourself. Be patient. It’s been said by many others, but I’ll repeat it here: self-publishing is a marathon.

Now would be a good time to explain the advantages of self-publishing over traditional publishing. When writers ask for advice, they are often asking how they should proceed with their completed manuscript. I’m going to explain why every author should begin their writing career self-publishing, even if their dream is to be with a large publisher. There’s a lot to say. Bear with me.

Your manuscript won’t change. This is the biggest logical fallacy I see in the self vs. trad debate. The idea seems to be that if you self-publish, somehow your work drops in quality. It’s the same work. The words won’t change because of perceived association with what else is out there. Querying an agent won’t make your manuscript better. Self-publishing won’t make it worse. It’s either a story that appeals to readers or it isn’t.

Know your gatekeepers. Appealing to readers is the endgame. They want story over prose, so concentrate on that (aim for both, but concentrate on story). Agents and slush-pile readers are often the opposite, which is why they bemoan the absence of literary fiction hits and cringe at the sale of Twilight, Dan Brown, and 50 Shades. You are writing for the reader, who is your ultimate gatekeeper. Get your work in front of them, even if it’s one at a time, one reader a month or year.

Publish ForeverWorking at a bookstore was a dream job but also a sad job. I saw how books sat spine-out on a shelf for six months, were returned, went out of print. That’s a narrow window in which to be discovered. If you self-publish, you will have the rest of your life (and your heirs’ lives) to make it. Your print-on-demand books will always be available. Your e-books will always be available. You can keep writing and promote later. You are building your backlist. Think about this for a moment: The self-pubbing revolution is in its infancy. The people writing and publishing today have had no time to be discovered. It’s a marathon.

Own your work. The chances of a book blowing up are slim whichever way you go. I would say the chances are minimally the same, and the odds may not be tilting in favor of self-published works. If you blow up, do you want to own your rights or have someone else own them? Do you want to be making 12.5% or 70%? Remember, the chances are that you’ll never have a mega-hit. Traditional publishing will not increase those odds. With the 6-month window, I’d say the odds are 1/100th what your work might do in 50 years self-published.

You are the Publicist. The reason you won’t blow up just because you got a traditional contract is that nobody will promote you. The first thing your publisher will explain is the need to form an author platform (I’d be shocked if anyone still gets publishing deals without already having a robust one). Houses have too many authors to promote all of them. They choose a select handful based on the excitement around a debut manuscript (rare) or the perennial bestsellers (more likely, but still rare). If you want to earn a living as a writer, which I’m assuming the people asking for my advice are, you are going to have to be more than a writer. You will be an entrepreneur and a publicist. Or you won’t make it.

Know the industry. I know things about publishing that my publishers don’t. Not everything. And I don’t know more than them (I learn from them every day). But by being a self-published author, I come into traditional publishing armed with experience that they don’t have. I understand algorithms and Amazon categories. I understand the importance of metadata. While at Digital Book World in January, I listened to publishing execs and marketing specialists speak excitedly about what we’ve been posting on Kindle Boards for over a year. I know what media mentions drive sales and which ones are merely for show, partly because I have realtime data that publishers don’t have. Partly because I don’t have biases from a media age that has long passed by. You want to be a writer for the art of it? Forget the industry. You want to earn a living? Study it.

I’m not the story. I’ve been hammering this point over and over, and people are finally starting to listen. The outliers are not the self-publishing story. It’s the midlisters. I’m begging Amazon to release a different set of stats than the ones currently bandied about. They advertise how many bestsellers and blockbusters they have. I’m dying to know how many people are making $100 a month, $300 a month, $500 a month. I wager there are thousands and thousands of writers making $1,000 a month. That’s the real story, not me. Stay tuned.

Be a pro. The writers who take this seriously are the ones making money. They do all the things above, but they do something more. They approach this like a little more than a hobby. It’s a second job, one that you can love and work hard at the same time. Pros read up on grammar. They read books with an eye to what works and what doesn’t. They commune online at places like KindleBoard’s Writers’ Cafe. They set goals for how much they’ll publish in a year. Five years from now, these pros will have 10-20 works available. They only need to sell 250 – 500 books a month to earn a supplemental income. Ten books a day across twenty titles. That’s the longterm goal.

Network and be nice. I can’t stress this enough. Just being around other writers will inspire you to be a better writer. Join a writing group (in person is better. online if you must). Go to writing conferences. Go to writing camps. Take classes at your local university or community college. Join a forum or two. Participate in NaNoWriMo. And be nice to your fellow writer. This isn’t easy. The last thing we need to do is make it hard on each other.

You are a start-up. I just participated in SXSW Interactive in Austin, a place where everyone is looking to start up the next great business. The next great business is you. I laugh when people bemoan the idea of spending $2,000 to self-publish a book. Personally, I didn’t spend a penny until I was already earning enough to quit my day job. But I don’t recommend this for everyone. Invest in your book with editing and great cover art. There are two ways to think about these expenses, and both methods make the costs seem trivial. In one, you are engaging in a hobby far cheaper than just about any other. Your neighbor will buy a camera, parachute, gaming PC, scuba gear that costs more than your book. Will their hobby ever make them a penny? Yours will.

The other way to look at it is from a business perspective. Name me another business you can start up with a total cost of two grand that will guarantee at least some earnings (your mom’s gonna buy a copy, right?) You are creating a product that never rots, never rusts, never expires. It is distributed worldwide by the largest retailer in the mulitverse. You control the price. Shipping is free and immediate. You can market it forever. Your margin is 70%. You’ll never need to write it again or spend another penny on it. For Pete’s sake, can it get any better?

The stigma is gone. Self-publishing is the beginning. For many, it will be the end. The moment the stigma disappeared among traditional publishers (i.e. they began signing already-published books to major deals) it meant the top-down approach to publishing flipped upside down. Think about it. Self-publishing used to mean the death of a book. Now, traditional publishing is the more likely death of a book. This is possibly the most important thing I’ll ever explain. Follow along.

The vast majority of books traditionally published never earn out their advance. They go out of print. They are now dead. This never happens to a self-published work. It can only go up, either in sales or by being picked up in a deal that you choose. The top-down approach is one where you leave options open. Self-publishing leaves all options open (it didn’t used to). Traditional publishing leaves almost no options open (this hasn’t changed). The day self-published bestsellers were mined for traditional deals, everything changed. Don’t trust people with old information who tell you otherwise. Those with the most experience in this business often have the worst advice. That’s not always true, of course, but the two do not correlate. Beware those who think they do.

More obvious advantages. Self-publishing pays 70% royalties for the rest of your life. Traditional publishing pays 12.5% for six months (how long you’ll be shelved or weakly promoted). Self-publishing pays monthly. Traditional publishing pays twice a year and after quite a bit of initial delay. If you own your material, you can give it away, a huge advantage in building readership. Traditional publishers won’t do this for fear of competing with their other products (other authors). It’s also why they won’t promote you beyond that six month window. You are now their competition. You don’t want that.

Again, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t team up with a publisher if you choose. But do it from a postion of power. Give your work a chance (years and decades) to be discovered. Enjoy a trickle of earnings in the meantime (how many hobbies are free to engage in and buy you a coffee now and then?) Publishers aren’t the enemy; their contracts are. I don’t want publishers to go away. I don’t see them as the enemy. They do some wonderful things, and I love the people I’ve met in the industry. Love them. But their contracts suck because there has never been a reason for them not to suck. That reason has sprouted in the past two years. That’s how young all of this is, how new. We are winning small victories over non-compete clauses. Scalzi recently beat back a Random House imprint and made some change. Bella Andre got a print-only deal from Harlequin. Colleen Hoover got the same deal as me from S&S. Real change is happening, which will alter this debate once again. That’s a great thing.

To sum up: The key to making it as a writer is to write a lot, write great stories, publish them yourself, spend more time writing, study the industry, act like a pro, network, be nice, invest in yourself and your craft, and be patient. If you can do all of these things, you’ll earn some money. Maybe enough to pay a bill every month. Maybe enough to get out of debt. Maybe enough to quit your job. Thousands of writers are doing this, and we are welcoming all comers with open arms.

(This is a published rough draft of my advice. I’m writing this on very little sleep, without giving it a second glance, and while on an exhausting book tour. I’ll revisit it and update it over time. Please comment with suggestions or advice.)

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Matt Haig: 30 things that every writer should know

Here is a great article I wanted to share some great writer advice from Matt Haig.

A.B.R.(always be reading)

E.L. Taylor III

Matt Haig: 30 things that every writer should know

Ten years after his first book deal, novelist Matt Haig reflects on 30 things that being published has taught him.


Matt Haig: ‘People like your books more if other people like them’ Photo: Canongate


By Matt Haig

11:43AM GMT 20 Mar 2013




– Choose battles wisely.

– Choose agents even more wisely.

– Literary fiction is a genre that pretends it is not a genre.

– Editors are essential.

– If an editor is talking about culling their list in the first meeting, this is a bad sign.

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– You have to be good. And keep getting better. For every writer taken on, another is dropped. A paradox: you have to rise to stay level.

– There are two types of friends. Actual friends, and the other kind.

– When I was little I didn’t believe anyone really said “hurrah” but there are plenty of people who do.

– Ninety per cent of people in the publishing industry are twenty-six years old.

– If you sell the film rights to your book it doesn’t mean there will be a film. I have sold the rights to five books, and had zero films made. Take the money and be thankful.

– Having my name on a book never makes me more confident.

– Most things that go on with a writer’s career the writer doesn’t know about.

– Foreign rights = free money.

– There is no modernist stream-of-consciousness novel harder to get through than a ‘Publisher-Author Agreement’.

– People like your book more if other people like it.

– Authors shouldn’t go to book fairs any more than chickens should go to Nando’s.

– Being published doesn’t make you happy. It just swaps your old neuroses for new ones. (I should have gone to Oxbridge! Why wasn’t I invited to Hay? Am I not Granta enough? I wish I was Jonathan Franzen!)

– It is easy to be consumed by “if onlys”. If only I wore glasses/flannel blazers/ran my own literary salon/lived in Paris/had died in 1922/had written a book about jazz/had finished my Boer War novel/was called Tobias then I’d be taken more seriously!

– You’d be more likely to work out your sales by staring at tea leaves than an Amazon ranking.

– It is not about the advance. My debut got £5000 and sold a respectable 60,000 copies in the UK. My third got an advance ten times that and had zero promotion. It struggled to shift 2,000 copies. Sometimes, for longevity, it is better to sneak in under the radar and prove your worth.

– Humans get excited about new things. With a debut, you are the new thing. With every other book you write the new thing must come from elsewhere.

– Success depends on great words, and passionate people. The words are up to you. The people you have to pray for, and stand by them once you find them.

– Beauty breeds beauty, truth triggers truth. The cure for writer’s block is therefore to read.

– The writer is now as much a commodity as a book.

– The gatekeepers still have the power, but there are a lot more gates than there used to be.

– There are as many versions of a book as there are readers.

– People always want the book you have just written. But if you give it to them you will lose their respect. (People are weird.)

– Everyone is worried about the future of the book. But that is because people hate uncertainty. On the other hand, if you hate uncertainty you shouldn’t be a writer in the first place.

– The joy of writing never changes, however many books you have published. It is not always a joy. It is only a joy for a fraction of the time, but it is worth it, just for that fraction. And much of that joy comes from being that misfit kid grown up, leading readers and yourself to the wildest parts of your imagination.

– None of the associated pain can ever outweigh that sweet unbeatable pleasure of being read.



A version of this article first appeared on, where Matt Haig is online writer in residence.

Haig writes books for children and adults. They have been translated into 29 languages.

Matt Haig’s new book, The Humans, is published by Canongate on May 9. It can be pre-ordered from Telegraph Bookshop for £12.99 (plus £1.35 p&p).