According to the date on my first ever manuscript, as of next week, I will have been writing for 14 years. It’s not as impressive as it might sound. I was in the third grade at the time, and that “manuscript” is a four page picture book about a girl winning a footrace against her parents. Nevertheless, you’d be hard pressed to do a thing for 14 years and not acquire at least a few nuggets of wisdom, many of which would have been just as useful to know that first year as they are now. I certainly could have used some trade secrets when I undertook my first major project, writing my newly released novel Cerberus, in year seven. To save any young writers out there some frustration—potentially years of it—I thought that to celebrate my writerversity, I’d give you the top seven things I wish I’d known about writing seven years ago.
#1 Perfection can wait.
Even now, the words look blasphemous on this page, but I assure you they’re true. It’s very easy to get caught in the trap of editing the same chapters over and over trying to get them just right and to feel very industrious while you do it. Nevertheless, it is a trap.
Taking a step back from your writing is vital to revising it properly. After a certain amount of time spent with a single piece of writing, you no longer see what’s on the page but what you expect to be on the page. Things start running together. You rephrase so much that you don’t realize you’ve written the same sentence three separate times.
That’s not even the real issue, though. The biggest problem with perpetual editing is this: how can you ever finish your novel if all you ever do is edit the first three chapters?
I know it’s hard, but you’ll be much better served to just get the words out and then edit once the book is finished. That way, you’ll be sufficiently distanced from the first part of the novel, which will make your editing more effective. Fresh eyes are observant eyes.
#2 Finishing the book is the easy part.
I was shocked and appalled to discover the truth of this. After all, creating believable characters, crafting realistic dialogue, organizing a compelling plot, and seeing the entire thing to its 75,000+ word completion is by no stretch of the imagination easy. It takes time and effort, and it’s easy to expect all that effort to be instantly rewarded. After all, you’ve now got an awesome manuscript, a winning personality, and a willingness to set out on your book tour as soon as you’re asked. Why shouldn’t you succeed?
The answer is simple: in order for your book to succeed, the right people have to know it exists. This goes for both indie authors and those pursuing traditional publishing. The fact of the matter is that there are literally millions of books that look just like yours: they are typed in black ink on white paper in a standard font. It doesn’t matter that the words are different or that yours is the best manuscript out there if the book doesn’t stand out from the sea of other manuscripts for sale on Amazon or in an agent’s inbox.
And making your book stand out takes work. It takes getting out of whatever shell you might be in, relentlessly pubbing your work, posting it to forums, paying money for promotional materials, cyberstalking industry professionals, or stalking them in real life if you’ve got that type of proximity and are unbothered by the potential for restraining orders. It takes resilience against all the rejections and rebuffs. It takes work and a level of mental and emotional fortitude writing never required.
That said, there’s no feeling quite like finally getting that acceptance or making that sale, especially when you’ve worked for it. As my favorite platitude goes, “No one said it would be easy. They only said it would be worth it.”
#3 Plan ahead—one thing at a time will leave you way behind.
To make things easier on yourself after your book is finished, it would behoove you to start researching and marketing beforehand. Create a web presence and post excerpts, book trailers, and other goodies. Do what you can to generate hype and get your name out there so it will ring a bell when your completed manuscript winds up in front of an agent or reader.
#4 Good Writing + Good Story ≠ Publishing Deal
It’s a sad, disappointing truth, but you have to remember that while books are art, publishing is business. It’s not enough to write a good story; it has to be a marketable one. It has to be something some suit in New York thinks can sale copies, spawn movies, and just in general be the next big thing. I’m not saying that can’t be you, just that a lot of people might not think it is, and any rejection letters you receive are probably because of marketability and not your writing ability. Remember, rejection letters are a part of life. Everyone gets them. Everyone. J.K. Rowling can tell you so, as could John Steinbeck if he wasn’t dead. And obviously, Rowling and Steinbeck weren’t rejected because their books were no good. Your story just may not be exactly what the person to whom you submitted it is looking for. And with so many stories coming across their desks, they can afford to choose only exactly what they are looking for. You just have to develop a thick skin, learn what you can from each rejection (which unfortunately probably won’t be much because it’s likely going to be a form rejection), and move on. There are more than 7 billion people in this world. Statistically speaking, at least one of them has to like your story.
#5 It matters who you know, but contacts are closer than you think.
There is a theory positing that everyone and everything in the world are related by, at most, six links (six degrees of separation). I don’t know how accurate that number is, but the idea behind it is valid. The world is full of coincidences. Harrison Ford was doing carpentry work in a studio when George Lucas called him over to read lines for the character Han Solo. Charlize Theron threw a fit in a bank (something about being unable to cash a check) and the man in line behind her, a talent agent, liked what he saw and gave her his card. J.K. Rowling was only published because the daughter of the Bloomsbury CEO happened to read one of the chapters and liked it.
Think of just how many strangers you meet in a day. What are the odds, do you think, that one of them works for some branch of the media or intimately knows someone who does? Talk to strangers (normal looking ones, not creepers) about your book, make sure you know what your friends’ parents do. Don’t miss an opportunity to make a pitch. After all, you never know who you’ll rub shoulders with on the metro. Silence may be golden, but loquacity can make green.
#6 Don’t ignore social media.
I resisted social media with all the fervor of a rebel fighting a tyrant in a fantasy novel. I don’t like them. I don’t understand them (can someone PLEASE explain the purpose of Goodreads to me).
That said, I have a Facebook, a Twitter, a Pinterest, a Google+, a YouTube account, and even a GR account because it doesn’t matter what I want or like. Facebook alone reportedly has 1.5 billion active users, and I have no doubts that several thousand of them would be interested in your book. You must go where your readers and potential readers are, and social media allow you to do this. They are fantastic, free tools you can use to engage and garner readers.
And really, who doesn’t like free?
#7 There is no point in listening to naysayers.
That’s it, plain and simple. If you think you can succeed, if you are willing to put in the money, time, and effort (and it will call for a lot of all three), if you can force yourself to bounce back and learn from the rejections, there’s no reason you won’t be able to get your book in the hands of those who would want to read it. Anyone who says otherwise is of course entitled to their opinions. That opinion, however, is wrong.
About P. K. Gallagher
P.K. Gallagher is the author of the City of Solace book series. Though she spent several years working in journalism, she has always wanted to be an author. A lover of books in every stage of their production, she also moonlights as an editor and writing consultant, dividing her time between work, writing, and enjoying her family and two dogs in the lovely city of Atlanta, GA.
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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