Years ago I had an arbitrary goal to be traditionally published by my 30th birthday. I succeeded, with only weeks to spare. The book was on mountain biking and it launched one of the many twists and turns my life has taken. That particular detour took me into sports journalism for a couple of years. It also helped me land my first agent.
I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot from that episode, including how publishing works and to listen to my next agent because I didn’t then (she’s since passed away and I never got to thank her for her patience with me). Those couple of years made me understand the value of mentors and to seek them out, to approach new experiences with a mind open to possibilities. One lesson, in particular, left the strongest impression. At the time I wrote that non-fiction book, I had also completed my first full-length thriller. My actual intent at the time I ended up signing the deal for the bike book had been to follow in the foot steps of my hero, Dean Koontz. If I could go back and talk to my pre-published self, I would tell myself to be more specific about my goals.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for the experiences and where it all led. But I will say, since then, I tend to choose words around my intentions more carefully. I’ve also learned – and continue to learn – I need to lighten up on myself with the whole arbitrary-goal thing 🙂
How about you, Miss Demeanors? What would you tell your pre-pub’d self if you could?
Cate: Find the genre you want to tell your story in before figuring out the story you want to tell. Then, learn the rules of that genre by reading a ton of books in it–those that were formative to the genre’s creation as well as the last three years of bestsellers in the genre. After all that, write your story. Every genre–even literary fiction, which I think is often a genre in and of itself–has rules. If you don’t know them and violate them, it’s difficult to get published. Once you do, go ahead and break them. But, folks want to feel when you flout convention it stems from consideration and reflection, not ignorance.
Susan: That’s great advice, Cate. I’m still learning that. I would also tell myself that scenes are the heart of a novel. When you get into a great scene, it writes itself. Someone once told me that good novels have 5 great scenes and great novels have 20 great scenes. (I might have made that up, but I think it’s true.)
Tracee: I agree with Cate and Susan and would add: get into good habits of writing discipline early. As with any endeavor this will carry you through the act of creating and editing when all else fails.
Paula: What I tell my clients: That if you are in this for the long haul, it’s just as important to be a good author as it is to be a good writer.
Alexia: I’d tell myself that getting a book deal is just the beginning of the work. You have to become an editor, a marketing/PR specialist, and a social media expert. Forget all the romanticized fictional accounts of the “author’s life” portrayed in the media. There’s no lollygagging around with a drink in one hand and adoring masses fawning at your feet. This is a job. Treat it as such.
Michele: I would tell myself to balance listening to the advice of others with listening to what is in your heart about writing and to not be afraid to take chances.
How about you, dear readers? What would you tell your younger writer self?