What I Know So Far

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What I Know So Far
by Deirdre Savoy

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? It is an industry question so pervasive that recently while listening to a radio interview I wasn’t surprised to hear the interviewer ask this multi-published author the same thing—but it got me thinking.

In truth, there is plenty of advice out there for unpublished writers. Go to any writing web site and there’s a plethora of information for those hoping to break in. If anyone out there needs advice it’s the writer who has one or maybe two books published, writers at the beginning of their careers.

In a way, that first book is easy. All your passion is in that book, the book that made you want to write in the first place. Aside from whatever revisions will be made, the book is finished. You can bask in that special glow of knowing that someday soon your first baby will be on the bookstore shelf.

But panic can set in once the focus becomes the second or third book. First of all, the newly published author is probably dealing with writing under a deadline for the first time. There isn’t the same time to linger over every phrase and turn of plot—you’ve got to produce. Secondly, once the first book comes out, readers have expectations for that author. You want your second, third, tenth, fortieth book to surpass the ones that came before it. If you make a spectacular debut, how do you top it? Or conversely, if you didn’t do so hot the first time, how do you live it down?

So the following advice is for newly published authors—what I’ve gleaned from my own publishing experience and the advice other, wiser souls have given me.

Set goals

To move up in any career, you’ve got to have objectives, things you wish to achieve through your work. In setting goals, try to be realistic. If you set your goal at reaching the XYZ bestseller list with your second book, you will more than likely be disappointed. Besides, that’s a feat you really can’t achieve without significant publisher support or unless your best friend’s name is Oprah. Most of your goals should be things you can accomplish on your own, such as producing a certain number of pages a day or taking a class that will bolster your writing skills.

Study your craft-- in moderation

There isn’t a writer alive who can claim to have mastered the art of storytelling. We are all still learning and growing as writers. And while it is important to learn the technical aspects of writing, it is equally important to keep the passion in your writing as well. The more you learn about writing, either from reading books on your craft or reading fiction with a critical writer’s eye, the easier it can be to get bogged down in what you are supposed to be doing rather than producing a good story.

Every once in a while, take out your first book, the one that was all about your passion to write, and reread it. Recapture that magic spark that probably had nothing to do with how expertly you used point of view.

Know your own value

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn, and am still learning, is my own value as a writer. Everyone has his or her story of “what I did to get published” that first time out—the changes they made in their story or even their name to get that first project on the shelves.

As writers, we are constantly told that there are a million other writers waiting out there in the wings to take our places; so we better not make trouble. That may be true, but that doesn’t mean that writers have no clout either. Remember, a publishing house has spent time and money in bringing out your first book. If you’ve got decent numbers, it’s in their best interest to keep you happy and producing rather than breaking in a new author who may or may not live up to expectations.

When things go wrong—the editor wants you to make a change you are dead-set against, the copy editor rewrote your book, the hero on your cover looks like a member of the Manson family, whatever—deal with it in a straightforward manner, not an adversarial one. You have to assume that both you and your editor want your book to be a success, even if you have differing views on how to achieve that.

Pick your battles

Know what’s worth fighting for and what to let go. Try to focus on what affects the quality of your book and what will affect sales. You don’t want to sour your relationship with your editor by obsessing over minor details. However, if there is an issue you feel strongly enough about to make it an issue, know both how you want things to be resolved and what you’ll settle for in the event you need to compromise.

Find an agent you trust

While there may be some debate as to whether writers, particularly romance writers, need agents, in my mind there’s no question. If nothing else, an agent gives a writer a publishing professional who is supposed to be in their corner. This is why I don’t put emphasis on finding the proverbial good agent, but on someone you trust. Try to find someone you think you can go the long haul with, because, believe me, looking for an agent is too much of a pain in the butt to want to do it more than a couple of times.

Have fun

Let’s face it. Most of us are not going to make millions of dollars writing. We’ll be lucky if we can support ourselves in the style to which we’ve become accustomed. Most of us will not become so fabulously famous that we’ll need a bodyguard to protect us from the masses. If you can’t enjoy your writing career, what the heck is the point? Lately, I’d gotten so stressed myself that I’d forgotten that. I’m glad writing this article made me think of it.

See, there’s something to learn at every stage of your career.

All the best,