The Best Way to Market Your Books

by James Scott Bell

Every writer is looking for that secret marketing weapon that works every time. Or a palette of possibilities that virtually guarantees success. But reality keeps affirming the old adage: We know that 20% of marketing works; we just don’t know which 20%.
But of course we all have to market our books. This applies whether we’re self-pubbing, going traditional or doing a bit of both. The author is expected to work the social media circuit, build a platform, get the word out any which way he can. Sometimes it all feels like loading mercury with a pitchfork.
Comes now the marvelous Joanna Penn with the new go-to

book. Joanna already runs one of the most helpful websites for indie writers, The Creative Penn. Go there and hang around awhile. You’ll find material aplenty, including a podcast with a certain author of note (at least, of note to himself).

In How to Market a Book, Joanna approaches the whole enterprise by way of a skiing metaphor. Marketing a book is like hitting the slopes on a fresh pack of snow, and so:
Your path is not a straight line. You have to zigzag
“Even though you know the general direction you want to head in,” Joanna writes, “you can’t direct yourself straight down the mountain, or you will certainly have an accident. Even pros have to change direction and turn their skis across the slope. There is no direct path, so don’t expect there to be.”
While you don’t want to fall victim to “Obsessive Promotion Disorder” (OPD), you do have to be aware and watch the terrain. One of the great advantages an indie writer has is the ability to change direction quickly via price pulsing, new cover designs, paid promos, or simply adding more product.
It’s easier to turn once you’re moving
“You need some momentum in order to turn on skis, so you actually have to get moving before you try. In the same way, you actually have to start writing in order to have something to edit and improve . . .You have to start marketing somehow so you can learn what works for you and improve over time.”
One of the benefit’s of Joanna’s book is that it is a menu of options. You can pick and choose what appeals to you, get started right away and establish some Mo.
You can’t learn it all from books: you have to get on the slope 
“You can’t be a great skier by reading about it or going to seminars or watching YouTube videos. You have to actually put in the hours skiing. The same applies to writing, publishing and marketing.”
There is a time for study. It should be part of your ongoing self-improvement program, as both a writer and marketer. But at the same time you must act. As a writer, you must produce the words. As a marketer, you must toot the old horn. Even if that horn makes barely a peep at first, at least you’re learning.
You’re going to fall over and it’s going to hurt
“But you get better over time. If you’re afraid of falling over, you will never be a good skier. Because you will fall, it happens a lot and it has to happen if you’re going to push yourself to get better and go on more advanced runs. So be prepared to fall, to fail, and to just get up again. Keep writing, keep putting your words out and keep experimenting with marketing.”
The writing life is so much about overcoming setbacks and challenges and perceived failures. The only way through it is to never stop, ever. The benefit is you get stronger that way.
Some days, the weather is perfect and you can see for miles and the sun is shining and it’s amazing!  
“This is meant to be fun! Yes, it’s a career and an income, but it’s also a passion. The reason we keep going back to skiing, keep going back up the slope, is that there is exhilaration and joy in the process, not just the outcome of getting to the bottom. Some days, the weather will be perfect and we will have amazing runs on pristine, soft snow. Other days, the

icy cold will make us grit our teeth to even manage one run. But we keep going back because we love it.”

You gotta love it to get through the hard times. And if you’re a real writer, you wouldn’t have it any other way. You take your shots because you know the joy of writing “in the zone.” You know how your writer’s soul whoops when you nail a scene. Even when that whoop is out loud at Starbucks.
So what’s the best way to market your books? Your way. Select from all the modes and means out there, doing as much as you want without taking away from the most important thing of all—your actual writing. Write well, write often, and then tell people about it. Master the five fundamental laws in Self-Publishing Attack! and build your personal marketing plan with the help of Joanna Penn and How to Market a Book.
If you’re a published writer, what are your favored means of marketing? What walls have you run into? What would you advise writers to avoid?  

Self Publishing And Original Voices

One of the joys of mentoring and teaching at writers’ conferences is coming across that “thing” all agents and publishers say they want: a fresh voice. They saythat, but there’s always an unspoken undertone—they also want to be able to convince the marketing squad they can sell that voice.
So what to do with a voice like Cheri Williams? In the mentoring group I led at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference some years ago, Cheri’s work stood out. It was quirky, laugh-out-loud funny, stylistically innovative and a bit (sometimes more than a bit) off-center. Cheri does not go for safety.
It’s that off-center thing that became a bit of a hindrance in Cheri’s seeking a publishing contract. Personally, I think several publishers missed the boat. I understand risk aversion in major industry, but there’s also something to be said for reaching out, taking a chance and perhaps snagging the next big thing.
Be that as it may, along came the digital revolution and self-publishing. All of a sudden, the highly original voice has a place to go.
So when Cheri decided to self-publish How to Castrate Your Man in 7 Simple Steps, I thought a little interview might be in order. I started by asking why she jumped on board the indie train.

“Why did I decide to self-publish? Um… have you read my title? Seen my cover?! Okay, okay. There’s a little more to it than that, but both are actually pretty big parts of the equation. I had this piece I’d written, ‘How to Castrate Your Man in 7 Simple Steps—No Pruning Shears Required.’ A must-read if there ever was one, right? The biggest Christian magazine thought so. They bought the article on the spot—then bumped it. I’d hand-selected the editor, knew there was no way any other publisher in the western hemisphere would touch it. In case you’re unaware, castration is not typically a Biblical tenet—until now muahahaha. That’s right, in less that 1300 words I prove it: it’s practically a biblical mandate.”
I paused for a drink of water and to wipe the sweat off my brow.
“Well, ‘Castrate’ kept resurfacing in my writing career. Buoyant little essay that it is, it kept popping up in conversations everywhere. Over time I realized how much it meant to me, how much I wanted it to mean something to others. I got to digging around on my hard drive and realized I’d written several more pieces that mattered. Other unpublishables like ‘How to Turn Your Woman into the Inflate-a-Mate of your Dreams’ and ‘Get Naked With God—Bring Your Own Soap.’”
I paused again, went outside for a breath of air, then continued the interview.
“My question soon became: Why not publish them myself? An aside: James Scott Bell is the world’s greatest writing teacher. But he’s more than that—he’s a true mentor (I’m also convinced that somewhere between acting and attorneying he did a cheerleading stint, but that’s another blog post). Around the same time I noodled the afore-mentioned question, Jim released Self-Publishing Attack! The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books. Imagine my delight when I read (my paraphrasing) start small, test the waters, you have nothing to lose and much to gain. The best marketing method? A kick-booty book.”
I slipped her a fiver for the kind words, but also mentioned that I have never in my life used the term kick-booty. Cheri said she would not hold that against me. I breathed a sigh of relief, having just seen her cover.

“Am I glad I decided to self-publish? Yes, I am. Have I abandoned traditional publication? No, I haven’t. I wrote pieces that didn’t fit neatly into any genre, wouldn’t sit sweetly in any publisher’s catalog. But they’re pieces that matter to me. Pieces I’m willing to work hard for. Pieces that keep me up nights perfecting them to the best of my ability (and those of everyone I know). I realized if I didn’t publish these essays myself, I’d never know if there’s a audience for them, an audience for this part of my heart. And I want to know—because there are a whole lot more Oddly Godly Epiphanies I’d love to inflict upon the world. Er… I mean… share. Self-publication was the right path for these pieces.”
Cheri also writes killer fiction for teens. “You know, the kind filled with love, lust, and lots of dead bodies. Those, I still believe, are better suited to traditional publishing. But who knows?”
No one knows, that’s who. No one knows what’s going to work in the trad world or the indie world. But for voices like Cheri’s there is now a way to find out.
“Bottom line: Was my book good enough? Would people think it’s funny? Moving? Matter to them like it matters to me? Make any difference at all? For a completely neurotic writer such as myself, those are tough questions to answer with a big fat Yes. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized they can’t be. I couldn’t possibly know in advance if readers would take to my writing. But wait…Castrate had been critiqued by some of the best writers I knew, they said it’d brought on many a snort fest and even a few changed hearts. Once upon a time, it was bought by an uber-awesome editor! Were those things enough confirmation to take on the enormity of self-publishing? For me they were.”
For more on the oddly godly Cheri Williams, visit her website. And watch your back.
So do you agree? Isn’t self-publishing the greatest boon in history for the original voice? In fact, this is where publishers are going fishing for the “next big thing.” So why not stock the pond with your material?

Field Report From the E-Book Revolution #2

UPDATE: Well, that didn’t take long. Random House and Penguin have announced their merger. So what will that mean for authors? Agent Richard Curtis has one opinion. So does The Passive Voice.


David Letterman once did a Top Ten list of headlines that would cause a panic. Such as:

“Sometimes When We Touch” Made National Anthem.
Constitution Thrown Out in Favor of Old “Marmaduke” Cartoon.
Willie Nelson Discovered Washing Hair in New York City Water Supply.
That last one is very troubling. And in the publishing industry, it seems there are headlines each week that, if they don’t cause a panic, at least give traditional publishing executives the jimmy-legs at night. Headlines like the following:
Indeed, it was inevitable that the Big 6 would become the Big 5, and maybe even the Big 4, and that soon. I predicted this would happen sometimes in 2013. Well, the talks are happening right now.
“It’s a recognition that they don’t individually have the scale to be able to stand up to companies like Amazon or Apple,” Philip Downer, former chief executive of Borders UK who now runs the retail consultancy Front of Store, told the BBC.
Thus, it seemed apt to file another field report on developments in the e-book revolution. It was a year ago that I filed my first one. Happy anniversary:
1. The Business Cycle as a Funneling Sump Pump
Traditional publishers are in the midst of a horrible business cycle (not necessarily in terms of income, but in terms of sustainability and growth of income). We all know that, and the merger talks are a sign.
Another sign: In an effort to “streamline operations,” Simon & Schuster has reduced its adult publishing divisions from six to four, with accompanying layoffs.
Layoffs, hires and re-structuring are all focused on digital now. For example, Hachette announced changes in its sales force with an appropriate press release: “We are changing our current structure to enable HBG to meet the needs and challenges of our ever-shifting world, where digital has made a deep and lasting impression on the way HBG sells and the customers we sell to, the platforms we advertise on, and the manner and type of content we publish.”
On the other side of the publishing fence (an electric fence, BTW):
• In 2011, 39% of books were sold via some form of e-commerce. Only 26% in bookstore chains. (Source: Bowker)
• The number of self-published books produced annually in the U.S. has nearly tripled, growing 287% since 2006, with 235,625 print and e titles released in 2011. (Source: Bowker)
• And a company that recorded $13.8 billion (with a “b”) in sales this past quarter did not make a profit, but rather a $247 million loss. That company is Amazon. But it is also Amazon’s strategy. As Jeff Bezos puts it:
“Our approach is to work hard to charge less. Sell devices near breakeven and you can pack a lot of sophisticated hardware into a very low price point. And our approach is working – the $199 Kindle Fire HD is the #1 bestselling product across Amazon worldwide . . .The next two bestselling products worldwide are our Kindle  Paperwhite and our $69 Kindle.”
Is this just sound and fury? Or is it, as Forbes magazine puts it, a crafty strategy worthy of Steve Jobs? For it just may be that what Amazon is after now is Apple. As Bezos says, in a shot across the bow from the above release:And we haven’t even started shipping our best tablet – the $299 Kindle Fire HD 8.9.”
And this in light of Apple’s disappointing iPad sales this past quarter.
2. The New Vanity?
“Vanity of vanities; all is vanity,” wrote Solomon the Wise. Was he thinking of self-publishing Ecclesiastes? Or was he hoping to sell it to a big papyrus company? One writer has gone so far as to call traditionalpublishing the “new vanity publishing.”

According to this HuffPo post, many writers “are willing to forego the benefits of self-publishing for the unshakable belief in the “prestige” of signing on with a ‘real publisher.’” He concludes:
Think about how much you are willing to sacrifice for a “real publisher.” Is the “prestige” of a traditional publisher’s imprint mostly illusory in the context of the new world of publishing? Ask what traditional publishing will do for you in the long run if you don’t get effective distribution and publicity. Which platform is more likely to bring you sizable sales? Which will help you build a large following for marketing future publications? These are critical questions that deserve serious attention, especially if you are planning a career in writing.
Is the imprimatur of traditional publishing the new “vanity” plate? Perhaps that’s not the right designation. Vanity publishing was about paying your way in with a crummy book. Traditional publishing requires a great book (and/or platform, and/or celebrity co-writer who does not really do any of the real writing but is on TV.)
But more and more authors are asking what specific benefits are there for a new writer within the walls of traditional publishing. Especially in light of low advances (or, in the case of digital only, no advance at all), the semi-fixed royalties in the publishers’ favor, the shrinking of shelf space, and the lack of a significant marketing push unless you have a “name.”
If deals are to be made favorable to both sides, they will have to be creative, forward thinking, shared-risk and flexible. This is my message to the Big 6 or 5 or 4, or whoever is left standing when we file our next field report.  

As Jane Friedman (not the former CEO of HarperCollins Jane Friedman, but the publishing world observer Jane Friedman) recently wrote:

In a nutshell, I suggest that—given the changes happening in the industry—traditional publishers will need to be more author-focused in their operations by offering tools, community, and education to help authors be more successful, to everyone’s greater benefit. If publishers fail to do so, then authors, who have an increasing number of publishing options available to them, will depart for greener pastures.
3. Remember Sony Reader?
With all the talk about Kindle, Nook and Kobo, it’s easy to forget the first kid on the block, the Sony Reader. Yes, it’s still out there and people still have them. But if Kindle is Godzilla, and Nook is The Hulk, and Kobo is Mothra, what would Sony Readers be? Jean-Claude Van Damme?
Because at least they are alive and kicking. From a press release this week:
Today Sony Reader Store has announced the launch of its inaugural virtual Book Club, the ‘Sony Readers Book Club.’ Each month, Sony Reader Store will select a book of the month. During each month, Reader Store will host a virtual Book Club meeting, an online chat with the author, on the Sony Reader Store Facebook and Twitter pages, giving participants the opportunity to interact with the author and each other and ask questions related to the book. The Sony Readers Book Club will also offer special discounts and book club extras for download, available to U.S. customers at Reader Store.
Upcoming chats will feature Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Connelly. Not a bad start. I wish them well.
4. Happiness as the New Currency
In Field Report #1 I wrote this: Authors who are succeeding at being completely independent are those who are able to bring entrepreneurial analytics to the task. If you’re going to publish successfully as an indie, you have to think like a business.
Which is why, not long after, I published Self-Publishing Attack! The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books. I’ve used the formula successfully for going on two years now, and am holding workshops to help others do the same.
Because I want writers to be happy in their work.
I have a friend who is a New York Timesbestselling author. He has found advances decreasing and the publishing lag time of 18 months – 2 years intolerable. So he has self-published his new book, in both e form and POD (Print On Demand). He has set up his own book signings with independent bookstores. And he’s happy about it.
I have another friend who is a successful screenwriter. But he now finds the whole vibe of the business “soul sucking” and longs to get out and just write fiction. He has self-published a thriller, and I’m helping think things through.
You see, sometimes being happy as a writer is worth trading in other things that just don’t matter so much anymore.
Happiness just may be the new currency in the writing game. Make your choices accordingly.

I Believe I Am Really a Writer

I am not a number! I am a free man! 
– The Prisoner

Back when I was learning this stuff, this writing craft and business, I devoured books on writing and the contents of two magazines, The Writer and Writer’s Digest. I always plucked something useful out of all of them, every single one, and once I read something that was put in as magazine filler, written by the English novelist Malcolm Bradbury. I liked it so much I cut it out and pinned it to my bulletin board. It’s from his memoir, Unseen Letters: Irreverent Notes From a Literary Life:
I believe I am really a writer. I write everything.  I write novels and short stories and plays and playlets, interspersed with novellas and two-hander sketches. I write histories and biographies and introductions to the difficulties of modern science and cook books and books about the Loch Ness monster and travel books, mostly about East Grinstead….I write children’s books and school textbooks and works of abstruse philosophy…and scholarly articles on the Etruscans and works of sociology and anthropology. I write articles for the women’s page and send in stories about the most unforgettable characters I have ever met to Reader’s Digest….I write romantic novels under a female pseudonym and detective stories.…I write traffic signs and “this side up” instructions for cardboard boxes. I believe I am really a writer.
I thought of this quote the other day when I read a now infamous article wherein one Ewan Morrison laments the new paradigm of self-publishing, which he calls a “classic race to the bottom.”  To quote the article:
Many will cheer, Morrison admits, including the more than one million new authors who have outflanked traditional gatekeepers by “publishing” their work in Amazon’s online Kindle store. “All these people I’m sure are very happy to hear they’re demolishing the publishing business by creating a multiplicity of cheap choices for the reader,” Morrison says. “I beg to differ.”
I was more impressed with another writer quoted in the piece, Jake MacDonald. “My ecological model is the raccoon – a diversified survivor,” MacDonald said. “I’m always writing, but the survival plan continues to evolve. I’m surviving as well as I ever did, but in completely different ways.”
Hear, hear! MacDonald is a guy who gets it. It’s the Raccoon Way or the highway, my friends. Adapt or die.
Not long ago I was talking to a traditionally published author who saw what I was doing—stories, novellas, novelettes, non-fiction, backlist (all in addition to my trad books)and wondered if I might be spreading myself too thin. 
It’s precisely the opposite. I’m spreading myself thick. I’m making honest lettuce every month by writing what I want, finding readerships for each item (which makes for cross-over to my other works), adding to my platform and making business judgments accordingly. What is wrong with this picture? Nothing, ifyou are a writer who thinks it’s okay to make money off your writing.
So I, too, believe I am really a writer. I write full length thrillers and crime novellas. I write short stories about a boxer named Irish Jimmy Gallagher, and novelettes about a martial arts nun named Sister J. I write “how to” articles and books on the writing craft, and a treatise on law for California lawyers. I write historical romances and, in my spare time, zombie legal thrillers. I write blog posts and writing tweets, emails to my fans and journals to myself. I make up more stories than I’ll be able to write in my lifetime, and choose the ones that excite me most and write those.
Traditional publishing needs to embrace this model. It needs to understand that a self-publishing writer who follows “The 5 Laws” is building a solid platform because it’s based on readership. Publishers inside the Forbidden City should now see themselves less as potentates granting approbation, and more as “creative partners” with enterprising writers (see my Declaration of Indie-Pendence).
And any writer entering such a partnership must be willing to do what’s best to support the traditionally published books––by not competing with them and not being a ratfink to the publisher. This is all worked out in what is called negotiation. Which, I hasten to add, is supposed to be two-sided and win-win.
The bottom line is there is no bottom line. There is no one way to go about any of this. And even though that’s causing indigestion in Manhattan board rooms, the Alka-Seltzer of the new reality is just a plop plop, fizz fizz away. Drink of it!
I am a writer, so I write. And continue to read books on writing and review my binders of articles on the craft, because this is what I do. I’m never going to rest or just “mail it in.” I’m going to write as long as I can, as well as I can, until they find me with my cold, dead fingers poised over the keyboard, hopefully after I’ve just typed THE END.
I am a writer.
I believe it.
What do you believe?

“I” is for Integrity: Sue Grafton and the Self-Publishing Blowback

One of those instant, internet explosions broke out this past week after the great Sue Grafton gave an interviewer some opinions on self-publishing. She said that self-publishing was a “lazy” way out. The interviewer pressed her on that, in light of indie successes like John Locke. Grafton responded:
Obviously, I’m not talking about the rare few writers who manage to break out. The indie success stories aren’t the rule. They’re the exception. The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not an quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall. Don’t get me started. already did.
Then the indie blowback began. A good example comes from Hugh Howey, author of the hugely successful Wool:
Sue Grafton thinks I’m lazy. Yeah. Hard to swallow when I look at how many hours I pour into my writing career each week (and weekend).
. . . .
Why in the world is this interviewer asking a buggy whip expert about picking out a new car? What does Sue Grafton know about publishing in today’s market and with today’s tools? Judging by this response, she knows absolutely nothing. Less than nothing, in fact. What she thinks she knows is harmful to aspiring writers.
Ms. Grafton saw the coverage, and asked the blog that originally ran her interview for a chance to respond:
The responses to that quote ranged from irate to savage to the downright nasty  Indie writers felt I was discounting their efforts and that I was tarring too many with the same brush. I wasn’t my intention to tar anyone, if the truth be known. Several writers took the time to educate me on the state of e-publishing and the nature of self-publishing as it now stands. I am uninitiated when it comes to this new format. I had no idea how wide-spread it was, nor did I see it as developing as a response to the current state of traditional publishing, which is sales driven and therefore limited in its scope. I understand that e-publishing has stepped into the gap, allowing a greater number of authors to enter the marketplace. This, I applaud.  I don’t mean to sound defensive here…though of course I do.
. . . .
My remark about self-publishing was meant as a caution, which I think some of you finally understood when we exchanged notes on the subject.
Ms. Grafton went on to say she takes “responsibility for my gaffe and I hope you will understand the spirit in which it was meant.” She added, “I am still learning and I hope to keep on learning for as long as I write.”
Good on her for this gracious response. Sue Grafton has always been on the writers’ side, and her initial comments grew out of this advocacy. Indeed, she stated at the very beginning that she wasn’t talking about the “exceptions” who break out.
Which makes her remarks largely valid. Many (not all!) who self-publish do so too soon. For many (not all!) it IS the “lazy” way, as compared to the hard work of learning the craft, getting better, being honest with yourself about your weaknesses and doing everything you can to correct them.
In that respect her view is not harmful. Indeed, it may be the very thing that saves a writer from embarrassing himself, or striking out expecting indie gold only to find canyons of wet dirt . . . and a reason to sit around Starbucks for the rest of his life grousing over his damned bad luck.
No matter how you publish, you have to earn success, and it ain’t easy. When it comes to encouraging self-published writers, I’m not going to offer pie-in-the-writing-sky. I’m going to offer clear and hard-headed advice that has proved itself over time. Advice that gives you a reasonable chance to make a buck, and maybe a living, by writing.
But a big part of that is not to short change yourself by publishing the first thing you finish. Amazon is not the place to throw up your NaNoWriMo project on December 1 every year.
And that is what Sue Grafton was getting at. She is old school, yes. But it was a school with some classic courses, and there is wisdom there to be heeded.
H/T to The Passive Voice for coverage of this controversy. 

7 Things Writers Need to Do Right Now

James Scott Bell

Heraclitus, that old pre-Socratic philosopher who shuffled along the streets of Athens in 450 B.C. thinking deep thoughts, called reality a river, and famously noted, “You can’t step in the same river twice.”

He would not, therefore, have been surprised in the slightest by the changes in the publishing industry. For the only thing certain about the future of books is that none of it is certain. The flow of innovation continues apace and the river is filled with rocks, waterfalls and more than a few overturned kayaks.

But look at all the writers with life vests on. And some even shooting the rapids with a whoop and holler. If you want to survive and even thrive in the rush and spray of publishing today, you need to do the following:

1. Elevate your game

Here’s the deal for the rest of your life: you’re going to have to keep getting better as a writer. You have more competition. There’s a growing number of writers out there who know what they’re doing, and are hungry, and are after the same readers you are.
True, there’s an even larger number of writers who don’t have the stuff yet, and won’t put in the hard work to get it. They’ll eventually get frustrated and drop off the map. But, like a Hydra’s head, they’ll be replaced by nine more writers who areworking at this thing.

Be one of the workers. Write to a quota and set aside at least one hour per week to study the craft. Doing those two things consistently will get you further downstream than anything else. Every now and then go to a writer’s conference, or sign up for a specialized workshop like, ahem, this one. Subscribe to Writer’s Digest and at least scan every article. I always pick up a few things with each issue.

2. Understand publishing contracts

The traditional publishing world is still there. It’s big and it’s venerable. Sure it’s tight, but there are still deals being made. If you decide to go that route, learn what key contract terms mean. Especially understand non-compete clauses, option clauses, termination and reversion of rights. A good place to start is in the “Contracts” archive of The Passive Voice.
Have the attitude that many things are negotiable, but also understand your “leverage” depends on your track record (if any), the size of the publishing house and how much you desire to be traditionally published.
Strategize with your agent and determine: a) what you would LOVE to have in the contract; b) what would be NICE to have; and c) what you absolutely MUST have. Make sure your c) list is short and reasonable. Ask yourself if you are prepared to walk away from a deal if you don’t get your c) terms. If you’re not, make them b) terms.
Writers and publishers need to understand it’s more possible than ever to forge a win-win deal if the parties are flexible and creative.
3. Take more risks
Editors and agents all say they are looking for a “fresh voice.” What they mean is a fresh voice they can actually sell. Everyone wants to land in that sweet spot where originality and commerce meet to make that ka-ching sound.
You will grow as a writer, and get closer to that sweet spot, if you take more risks with your writing. Push yourself past comfortable limits. Deepen your style and character work. Especially if you’re doing genre books where we’ve seen just about everything many times over.
As I said when I made my own “risky” move (which has ultimately been worth it to me), don’t be afraid to “fail aggressively.”
4. Begin a self-publishing stream
There is absolutely no reason anymore for a writer not to have a stream of income from self-publishing. When approached the right way this will not only result in steady revenue, but also build that ever-loving “platform” everyone talks about. You will be making readers. Traditional publishers are starting to get that. There is no longer a stigma to self-publishing.
But, and I emphasize this, only if you approach it systematically and in a businesslike fashion.
Fortunately, the business fundamentals are not difficult to understand. I call these fundamentals The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for creating steady income as a self-publisher.
5. Set goals
Not everyone is a goal setter. Which is a little hard for me to understand, because I’ve been setting goals most of my life. Writers want to achieve. They want to publish, sell, make readers. To give yourself the best shot, you need to set goals that you can actually control, and work toward them every day.
Did you know that if you set down written goals and regularly work toward them, you immediately jump into the top 3% of achievers in any field? So why aren’t you?
There’s a Kindle article that fully and completely sets out the fundamentals of goal setting. It’s called How to Achieve Your Goals and Dreams. I had a goal to write it, so I did.
6. Work smarter
In addition to goals, there is the matter of using your time wisely. Do this: Look at the calendar of your upcoming week (I do this on Sunday). Fill in the places where you have obligations (job, soccer practice, appointments). Now look at the empty slots and start filling them with writing and studying time.
Anthony Trollope wrote almost 50 novels while working full time as a civil servant (of course, this was in the era before Twitter and Angry Birds. But I digress). He did it by finding the time to complete his quota of words. Day by week by month by year.
7. Stay cool
You can get yourself all tied up in knots about this crazy business. You can look at sales numbers and Amazon rankings and bad reviews and friends’ successes and your own perceived disappointments (though I maintain nothing is wasted in a writer’s life if he refuses to be defeated). There are going to be striking developments requiring fresh decisions, and those same decisions may look different to you a month later. 
But stay frosty. The way a writer does that, the best way, is to write, to have pages to work on every day. To be developing other projects even as you are working on your WIP. Here’s a favorite quote from Dennis Palumbo: “Every hour you spend writing is an hour not spent fretting about your writing.” (Writing from the Inside Out)
So don’t fret, type. Shoot the rapids. Live large.
I’ll see you downriver.

Anything else you would add to the list?