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Point of View: I Wish I’d Known…

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In less than three weeks, I’ll be releasing my book about indie writing, sharing everything I’ve learned over the last seven years. You can preorder Suck a Little Happy Juice here. I’ll be sharing some of my most popular columns that are now in the book to whet your appetite…

Every writer has a list of things they wish they’d known when they started. Writing is a craft, like any other, and each mistake teaches us something new. Here are a few things I would tell my younger self if I could, knowledge that would have made my writing journey a little easier.

Rejections Happen. Don’t Let Them Stop You: If you give up being a writer just because you received a few rejections, you’ve already lost the game. You may be awful at writing, or you might be the best writer who ever lived. Either way, you will be rejected, sooner or later (and probably a lot). It may not have anything to do with the quality of your writing, and even if it does, you can work on your skills and become a better writer. Most likely, your story just didn’t connect with that editor at that particular time. I got rejected by ten big publishers when I was twenty-seven, and I let it derail my writing career for almost two decades. Don’t do what I did. Believe in yourself and forge ahead.

It Doesn’t Need to Be Perfect the First Time: Another newbie writer error is trying to make sure the story is perfect in its first draft. The perfect really is the enemy of the good. If you spend more than a week tweaking one page of your book (unless it’s the first one and you’re angling to snag an agent or big publisher with it), you’ve probably fallen into this trap. Let it go and keep writing. You can fix any issues in later drafts.

The Muddy Middle is Real:  Many writers get bogged down in the story somewhere around the middle (for me it’s usually two-thirds of the way through—what I call the “muddy middle”). What once seemed fresh and daring now seems hokey, trite, and overdone, and you can’t ever see yourself selling the cursed thing. But take heart—maybe it sucks, maybe it doesn’t. But it’s all fixable. Stick to your goal, move on, and finish the story. Leave it to your future self to determine if it’s really bad as you think. You might be surprised once you have a chance to get a little distance and perspective.

Start Out In The Market You Want To Be In: When I began writing seriously in 2013, my first submission was to some anthologies in the Romance market. Romance wasn’t my first love—that would be sci-fi/fantasy. But publishers I knew about in that market had openings for stories that I knew how to write, and so I took a chance. While I don’t regret my decision—I’ve made some amazing friends and published a bunch of great stories through those channels—I ended up spending years moving from the Romance market to the sci-fi/fantasy market. Figure out where you want to be, and focus all your efforts there.

Learn The Rules: There are a lot of rules to writing—and a lot of strong publisher and editor preferences, backed up by the various style guides. Since I’ve come back to writing, I’ve learned that double spaces between sentences are out, that I should never use semicolons and rarely use adverbs. Writers no longer underline italics, and in many genres rarely use “he said” or “she said,” though this is still in vogue in literary fiction. So learn the rules first. But here’s the thing, once you know them, you can break them. You just need to know why you’re doing it, and for what effect.

Write What’s In Your Heart: There’s always some new, hot trend in the market. Werewolves, Mars, vampires, RPG, zombies, etc. But very few people are able to chase the market successfully—by the time you get there with your story, it has already moved on to something new. In the long run, you’ll be happier writing the thing that makes you happy, even if it doesn’t make you tons of money. And when you write what you like, your enthusiasm shines through your work, making it that much more likely that you will find success with it.

Make Friends—Lots and Lots of Friends: Networking is the lifeblood of this market. And while having lots of friends doesn’t guarantee your success, it does give you connections and options. Identify editors, successful authors, and others in your specific niche and get to know them. Offer to help them with their own needs, sharing their work, beta reading for them, etc. and they will most likely return the favor. Build bridges, not walls.

Don’t Read Your Goodreads or Amazon Reviews: Or if you do, bring along a friend and a bottle of whiskey to buffer the pain. We writers are notoriously thin-skinned. We wear our art on our sleeves, and one nasty review can obliterate ten five-star ones. Be very careful checking your reader reviews, especially at first. The writers who quit their craft after reading a single horrible review are legion. Don’t be one of them.

Don’t Be Afraid To Sell Yourself: You’re an author. It’s probably because you feel a deep-seated need to write—you have stories in your soul that need to be told. Be proud of it. How many people say they want to be writers and actually follow through with it? How many people actually put out a first book, or a second, or a third? You are a rare breed. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself and what you do. There’s a whole audience out there waiting to find you.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Tech: This one’s especially important if you are indie publishing. The ability to indie pub has become so much easier in the last few years, but it’s still daunting. When I published my first indie author book a couple years back, I bit my nails down to the quick, worried sick I was doing it wrong. But here’s the good news. Remember all the friends I made you make above? Well, I’m betting at least one of them knows how to do each and every one of the technological things you’ll need to learn, and is willing to help. So dive in, and call those lifelines when you need them. You’ll figure it all out—I have faith in you.

Don’t Expect to Become an Overnight Bestseller: Does it happen? Sure! Sometimes an unknown author strikes gold on their first try with exactly the right idea, decent writing, and the right contacts, all at the same time. But most of us slog along for years before we have anything approaching an overnight success. So it’s nose-to-the-grindstone time. Write as much as possible, learn to be the best writer you can, and see where it takes you. Effort is often destiny.

Always Doubt Yourself: Okay, so I know this sounds weird. But I mean it in a good way. Be humble and remember that you can always improve your craft. I had the fortune to not hit it big with my first novel. It’s easy when you find great success to start believing in your own mythology and writing ability. But a healthy streak of self-doubt keeps you striving to be better.

Support Your Fellow Writers: If you have a blog, offer it up for announcements of your writer friends’ works, especially those who have audiences that overlap with yours. Cheer your fellow authors on when they have triumphs and console them when they fall. Build the community you want to be a part of—in the long run, it will pay you back.

Be Kind: Over your career as a writer, you’re going to meet a bunch of wonderful people. You’ll also meet a motley assortment of fools, assholes, jerks, and folks who are just happening to have a crappy day when they cross your path. Be nice. It costs you nothing, and over time will become a part of your brand and will be reflected in the way people treat you back. And when you do run across someone who makes you feel small, don’t return the favor. Be kind to them. Have a couple of close friends you can vent to privately to blow off steam. And if someone persists in being a jerk, don’t be afraid to block them from your social media. After all, “be kind” doesn’t mean “be a pushover.” It’s just means putting out into the world what you want to see more of—a little light.

Celebrate the Wins: You’ll have enough heartache and disappointment in your life as an author. So when you sell a book, or have one come out, or get a great review, stop and savor the moment. Get yourself a chocolate bar or glass of champagne. Go out to dinner with your honey. Take a long bubble bath and don’t skimp on the bubbles. Do whatever makes you happy—you deserve it.

There are others I could share—particulars about how to manage backlist, where to distribute your books, etc. But starting with the basics will help you with your long-term plan, whatever challenges you end up facing.

Define your own success.

Author friends: what do you wish you had known when you were first starting out as a writer?

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