There’s a lot of advice out there for writers. I spend a considerable amount of time during my workweek reading articles and blog posts on everything from marketing strategies to writing craft. Much of it is helpful. Some doesn’t resonate at all. But I do believe it’s dispensed with a generosity of spirit and a desire to be helpful that is characteristic of the writing community. So with that in mind, I’ve created my own list of (hopefully) helpful tips for writers new to the job. Here goes…
- A completed manuscript is a draft. It isn’t even close to the finished product!
Typing the last word on the last page of my first novel was one of most satisfying things I’d ever done. Writing a book had been on my bucket list of personal and professional accomplishments for years, and when it was finally finished, I was giddy. But, wow, I look at that manuscript now and cringe! Clunky writing, character issues, and loads of info dumping littered my pages.
The thing is, that’s okay. That’s a first draft! But thinking the first draft is ready for the world to embrace, well, that’s a rookie mistake. Don’t get me wrong; completing a first draft is an accomplishment of epic proportions! Celebrate! Rejoice! And then proceed to edit!
- Beta readers are critical.
Beta readers see things in our manuscript that we don’t because we know our story so intimately. With my first book, for example, some of my beta readers had a problem with the male protagonist. They didn’t like him at all! I had to figure out what they were seeing in him that I wasn’t. In my mind, he was in his early twenties. But once the plot got moving, he needed to make decisions and have a certain authority in his own world that required him to be older and have more experience. The character I had written was still too arrogant and immature to be the hero I needed him to be, and I think this is what my readers recognized. So I did a major edit of his scenes, attempting to keep the essence of his character, but giving him more depth and maturity.
- Rejections, and lots of them, are part of the deal.
The first time someone said “no thank you” to my manuscript was the worst! But the thing about rejections, once you recover from the sting, is that they can sometimes be helpful. If your manuscript isn’t polished enough, you may need to work with an editor. If the story isn’t pulling people in quickly, you may need to spice up your opening chapters. Usually there is a common thread, and if you are open to hearing it, you can make adjustments and move forward. My first round of rejections, which included one R&R (rewrite and resubmit), suggested that I had a good story, but the manuscript needed more work. I hired an editor, and after months of rewriting, I had a much-improved draft.
- Everything takes longer than you think in the publishing world.
If you take the traditional publishing route, some of the timeline is out of your control. Acquiring an agent, sending a project out on submission, negotiating a contract, and proceeding to production all take time (think years). If you are independently publishing, it is on you, the writer, to manage the timeline. But either way, a quality product takes time! It took me three and a half years to bring my first book to print, and that’s considered quick. But I’ve learned you can’t rush the process. I wanted a finished product I could be proud of, and it required a lot of time and effort to make that happen.
- Independent publishing means starting and running your own small business. It’s a viable option – for the right reasons.
I think there are compelling reasons to self-publish. But if you choose this path, it’s an investment. You are essentially starting a small business and you have to treat it as such to be successful. First and foremost your product has to be good, and you have to be willing to put in the time, energy, and funds to make it so. You also have to build an audience, and then promote and market yourself, or be willing to hire others to help you do it. You have to take ownership of it all. For some writer’s, this is exciting. For others, it’s terrifying.
- Good editing and good cover art are a must.
The first thing a reader sees is the book cover. An eye-catching cover can mean the difference between a potential reader flipping to the back cover blurb, or waking away without a second glance. Likewise, a really good editor offers just the right cues to improve the story. My editor found those places where my characters or plot weren’t working and prompted me to fix them without imposing a solution. I can’t stress enough how important these things are when bringing a book to life.
- Don’t read the negative reviews!
People like different things. Not everyone is going to like my story. Logically, I understand this, but it still hurts to have my book baby slammed in writing! Early on I received very solid advice: Don’t read the negative reviews. Once the book is out in the world, the time for helpful critiquing is over.
- Writers are wonderfully supportive of other writers.
I love the network of writers that surrounds me. I’ve met lifelong friends at conferences and received valuable advice and guidance from the writing group I belong to. Writers want other writers to be successful, and this sentiment is pervasive and authentic.
- Go with your gut. There will be decisions to make, and once you’ve done your research, it may come down to trusting your instincts.
There are a lot of resources and good advice for writers out there. Not all of it applies to every person or every project. Whether the advice is about your daily word count or the best path to publishing, there is no one right way. I do my research, ask people I trust who are industry professionals – or who at least have more experience than I do, and then I weigh their information against my own instincts and go with my gut!
- There aren’t enough hours in the day.
Two years ago I left a job I loved to do something I loved more – write. Turns out, even though writing is now my full-time work, there still aren’t enough hours in the day! I struggle to balance writing creatively (making up the new stuff), with promoting my existing book, networking, blogging, editing, etc. And there is still a household to maintain!
When I was working full-time outside my home, I made time to write and I protected that time fiercely. Now, other things weave their way into my day and cut into that valuable time. It requires real discipline to stay productive. Writing has to remain a priority.