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POINT OF VIEW: I Wish I’d Known

Joel Arellano

Last week, I asked The Universe for ideas for my future columns, and The Universe, personified in one Joel Arellano on Facebook, replied:

“A list of 10 Things you wish you had known before publishing your works.”

I’ve been doing this writing thing semi professionally since 2014, so I should be able to come up with ten things to tell my newbie writing self, right? Here it goes:

  1. Rejections Happen. Don’t Let Them Stop You. If you give up being a writer because of rejections, you’ve lost the game. You may be an awful writer, or you might be the best writer who ever lived. Either way, you’re going to be rejected sooner or later (and probably a lot). It most likely won’t have anything to do with the quality of your work, and even if it does, you can work on your skills and get better. More likely. your story just didn’t connect with that particular editor at that particular time. I got rejected by ten big publishers about 26 years back, and I let it derail my writing career for almost two decades. Don’t be a quitter.
  2. 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. In this case, 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 are angling to snag an agent or big publisher with it), you’ve probably fallen into this trap. Let it go and move on. You can fix any issues in later drafts.
  3. 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 seemed fresh and daring when you started now seems hokey, trite, and overdone, and you can’t ever see yourself actually 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 damned story. And leave it to your future self to determine if it really sucks as much as you think it does right now. You might be surprised.
  4. Start Out In The Market You Want To Be In: When I first started writing seriously in 2013, my first submission was to some anthologies in the gay romance market. Gay romance wasn’t my first love – that would be sci-fi/fantasy. But publishers I knew about in the queer romance market had openings for stories that I knew how to write, and so I took a chance. While I don’t regret my decision to do so – I’ve made some amazing friends and published a bunch of great stories – I’ve spent the last two years moving from the romance market to the sci-fi fantasy market. I have to wonder if I would’ve been better served to start it out in sci-fi fantasy, and where I might be in my career at this point if I had. Figure out where you want to be and focus all your efforts there.
  5. 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. In the long run, you’ll be happier writing the thing that makes you happy, even if it doesn’t make you tons and tons of money. And when you write what you like, your enthusiasm shines through the work, making it that much more likely that you will find success with it.
  6. Make Friends – Lots and Lots of Friends: Networking is the lifeblood of this market. And while having lots of friends it 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 etc. and they will most likely return the favor. Build bridges, not walls.
  7. Don’t Be Afraid To Sell Yourself: You are 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 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.
  8. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Tech: This one’s especially important if you are self publishing. The ability to self pub has become so much easier in the last few years, but it’s still daunting. When I published The River City Chronicles 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 the “lots and lots” of friends I made you make in step 6? Well I’m betting at least one of them knows how to do each and every one of the techy things you will need to learn, and is willing to help. So dive in, and call in those lifelines when you need them. You’ll figure it all out – I have faith.
  9. 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 contact, 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 you can, learn to be the best writer you can, and see where it takes you. Effort is often destiny.
  10. 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 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 close friends who you can vent to privately to blow off steam. And if someone persists in being an ass, 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 we want to see more of – a little kindness.

So that’s my list. 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. 🙂

To my writer friends, what would you tell your younger, newbie writer self?

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