Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Be Prepared

I was thinking about advice last night after a chat with the Twitter #writersroad folks. I've been at this for a while now, and though I don't count myself an expert, I've certainly got a bit of experience in the world of writing. So if I were to give advice to someone just starting out, just getting their feet wet, what would I say to them?

Be prepared.

Novels do not give birth to themselves, magically springing forth onto the earth. Sure some people have lucky rabbits feet surgically attached to their forehead, writing full novels in 25 days and walking into contracts with Big Six publishers after their first drafts, but it is very, very rare. It takes a lot of guts to work through the mechanics of writing a novel. And a lot of perseverance. Pushing a novel through to success is not an easy task, whatever route you take--self published or traditionally published. Be prepared for a long road ahead.

1. Be prepared to work. Writing a novel is work. Long hours at a keyboard. Emails. Phone calls. Networking. Reading. Research. Editing. Editing. Editing. Numb hands and sore butt cheeks. Sweat, tears and more editing. Writing is a 'profession' for a reason. You have to work at it to be successful.

2. Be prepared to learn. When I started writing--really writing--about eight years ago, I thought I knew everything. Sure, I'm smart. I'll just pop a few words down on paper, send 'em off, and voila! I'm an author! Wow, was I an idiot. My education began then and it is ongoing. Every day of this journey I learn something new. How to format a manuscript for submission. How to get my self-published book into Chapters bookstores. How to build a platform (still working on that!). The dos and don'ts of writing--don't start with a dream, a prologue, a mirror, a purple frog...oh my goodness there are a lot of don'ts (my self-pubbed novel starts with a prologue! Oh horrors!)! The dos and don'ts of querying (made tons of mistakes there, too...). How to make an em dash on Blogger (how the heck do you do that anyway??). The learning does not end. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. Each step is another door to learning. Embrace it.

3. Be prepared to spend money. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a superskilled and generous friends, a rich spouse, or an inheritance big enough to pay the bills and then some, don't give up your day job. No matter how skilled you are sooner or later you will need to cough up money to pay someone for their professional services, especially if you are planning to self-publish. Good books take money to produce. If you skimp, it will show. HOWEVER, there are also a whole lot of people out there willing to take your money for sub-standard work or fraudulent reasons. Before you give anyone your money, do your research.

4. Be prepared to step WAY out of your comfort zone. The first time external eyes looked at my first manuscript I was an emotional wreck. My first radio interview was insanity (can you believe I used to aspire to be a TV journalist?). And surprisingly, what I view as my best writing so far was also the hardest to write, because it was an expression of some of my deepest fears and required me to take risks. Stepping out of your comfort zone opens your writing to new possibilities. Take a deep breath and go for it!

5. Be prepared for curveballs. This one became very evident to me last month. After self publishing TREASURE, and months of flogging my new manuscript SKIN to anyone who would listen, I was disheartened and on the verge of going the self pub route with that too (and not because it wasn't good enough...but because I hadn't found the right agent yet). As you now know, I took one last chance at the encouragement of my CP friend Tina, and was thrilled to be offered an agenting agreement with Jennifer Mishler at Literary Counsel! Whodda thunkit? Thanks to my 'why not?' attitude, I made what could potentially be my most valuable publishing connection yet (Yay, Jenn!)! Writing is like that. Sometimes the unplanned is the magic.

6. Be prepared for criticism. The most well-known writers are also the most highly criticized. There are people out there who make a living criticizing writers. If you publish anything, in any way, people will comment and not all comments will be good. Those comments will hurt, but keep going. Highly polished manuscripts go through draft after draft of revisions. My self pubbed novel went through at least six drafts, and probably could have gone through more. Be ready to hear bad things about your writing.

7. Be prepared to SHINE! Conversely, the BEST part about writing is having someone read your stuff and tell you they like it! I am a praise junkie. I eat it up. Every single bit of praise fuels me to write more, do better, learn more and work harder. It's even better (and somewhat shocking) when a complete stranger comes up to me and says "I read your book in an afternoon! I loved it! Please write another!" I grin ear to ear and want to shout out to the world--"DIDJA HEAR THAT? She liked it! She really liked it!" What a wonderful feeling!

Most important of all...If writing is your dream, do not give up. Believe in your writing. Be realistic, and ready for the unexpected, but keep writing. Believe in yourself.

And that, my lovely writing friends, is what it is all about.


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