Get a bunch of writers in a room, guaranteed you'll leave with some helpful writing tips. This weekend, we had a hotel filled with authors, and I left with lots of great insights into the world of writing:
"Everyone has to have skin in the game." --Marcus Sakey
I think this is something a lot of writer's forget. They let their minor characters meander through the book, not serving any purpose. A good rule: if the character has a name, s/he should have something at stake. This doesn't mean cut your cast of characters in half. Instead, give those characters something to gain and, more importantly, something to lose.
"I don't do much research, I just make shit up." --Harlan Coben
Besides causing a lot of laughter from the audience, I know this quote struck home with a lot of writers. We spend so much time doing research - police procedures, setting details, etc. - that we sometimes forget we're writing fiction. Research can give writing authenticity, but it can often serve as a form of procrastination. Don't waste all your time doing research, just make it up. Once the story is on the page, you can authenticate it later.
"Write what your passionate about. Write the book you want to read." --R.J. Ellroy
This is a good alteration to the old adage, "write what you know." For most people, what they know isn't too exciting. Or maybe it is, maybe you're a homicide cop in south central LA. But if you're not passionate about the life, if you have no interest in reading LA crime fiction, then don't write it. Most people take 10 months to write a book, that's too much time spent on something you're not passionate about.
The last quote I picked up was spoken by so many authors, I couldn't give attribution:
"You sell books one reader at a time."
I honestly believe this. While there are many who read reviews or hear an author on the radio before racing to buy their book, most of us rely on word of mouth. If you impress one reader, they'll recommend the book to other readers, creating a snowball effect. Many authors are so concerned with numbers, signing attendance, and media coverage, they forget who's doing the buying. Even after all the technological advances, I still believe word of mouth is the best way to sell a book.