Top Ten Things I Wish I’d Known…
After thirteen books in print with a fourteenth and fifteenth slated for publication, I’ve garnered a little wisdom along with all the heartbreaks, hard knocks, high fives and golden moments that only a published author can experience. Here, then, are the top ten things I wish I’d known when first starting out.
- If you’re good enough to get one agent/editor/publisher, you’re good enough to get another agent/editor/publisher. Don’t be so grateful to be represented or to be published that you grovel, sell your soul, or take minimum wage for your work. Trust the professional who sees something in your work that makes it worth their while, but don’t hang on to a sorry relationship out of fear that this is the only person who will ever believe in you. It isn’t true in love, and it isn’t true in publishing.
- Worry about your writing and your career will take care of itself. This was the advice given to me by my very first editor, and for the most part, it is true. I look after my career, because it means more to me than it does my agent, my editor, or my publisher, but once I turn a manuscript in, it becomes someone else’s job.
- The job of an author is to acquire readers, one at a time. There’s the profession of being a writer, and then there’s the profession of being an author. The writer’s job is to write. The author’s job is to grow a readership. Be nice to your fans. Don’t annoy them with too much self promotion.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. The fate of nations does not hang on your deathless prose. You’re a storyteller. Tell the story that is up for you to tell today and then move on. Do not rewrite it until you have ground off all its edges or smoothed out all its wrinkles or turned it into mush. By the same token, even if you’re an Author with a capital A, you’re still just a storyteller, not a brain surgeon, unless you’re that, too.
- Take your writing seriously. While you should never consider yourself all fancypants because you’ve had a book published, you should always consider that the contents of your work may be widely read. While you should be fearless with your truth, be certain that it is your truth before you try to convince others of it.
- Relax. There is real value in “creative procrastination.” I believe that we can outpace our creativity with page-count goals. If the words aren’t coming, don’t take a hammer to your head. Make sure you haven’t told a lie in your fiction (asked a character to do something that is against his or her nature in order to serve the plot, because this will cause all the characters to go on strike). If your work is solid, the pages will eventually come—provided, of course, that you are sitting at the keyboard. The book won’t write itself, you know.
- Be a professional. Be someone for up and coming writers to look up to. Be the person your agent adores. Be the writer your editor admires and loves to have coffee and/or a chat with.
- Be grateful. You have achieved what countless thousands others strive to achieve.
- Be generous. Give back. Teach, donate your time, expertise, and money to help the next generation of writers achieve their dreams as well.
- Know that there’s plenty to go around. Just because so-and-so got published first, or better, or more frequently, or whatever, this has nothing to do with you, your writing or your career. Don’t compare yourself and don’t be jealous. See number 2.