5 Pieces of Well-Meaning Writing Advice That I’m Glad I Didn’t Take

Honestly, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the advice of others in the publishing industry. Nevertheless, there’re several bits of counsel that I’m glad I ignored. Does this mean that you should ignore them, too?  Not necessarily, as my grandpa said, “There’s more than one way to skin a rabbit.” Or to put it another way, your journey may be completely different from mine. However, below are five pieces of well-meaning advice that wouldn’t have worked in my favor.

C.C. is excited to give away a free copy of her YA novel to a random commenter. Comment within 1 week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Laura P. won.)

 

    


Guest column by C.C. Hunter, a.k.a. Christie Craig, an
award-winning writer, motivational speaker, writing
teacher, and author of The Everything Guide To Writing
a Romance Novel. Her new humorous romantic suspense
trilogy, Hotter in Texas, has its first book, Don’t Mess With
Texas, coming out Aug. 23, 2011.  Her young adult
paranormal romance, Born at Midnight (St. Martin’s Griffin;
March 2011; series) is written under her pen name C.C.
Hunter. See her website here.

 

1. Ignore the trends and just write the book of your heart.

I’m not saying don’t write the book of your heart, but I am saying don’t completely ignore the trends. As hard as it is for some of us to accept, if we want to see our books on the bookshelf, we have to realize that this is a business. And like all businesses, we are producing a commodity—a commodity has to have commercial value. Commercial value is often directly related to the trends. I’m not saying sell yourself out, I’m saying find a way to make the book of your heart more marketable.

Let’s say the book of your heart is a western, but westerns aren’t the hottest French fry in the pack. The genre that’s jumping out of the fryer and onto reader’s plates is paranormal. Can you add a paranormal twist to your western? Can you write a paranormal that takes place in the ol’ west?

2. Don’t worry about marketing or selling yourself, that’s what you have an agent for.

While many books are sold as a direct result of an agent’s submission, others are sold because you met an editor at a conference, because a published author read your book and recommended you to her editor, or because your book was requested in a contest. A good agent/client team works together, once you’ve made a personal contact, then your agent steps in and does her thing. The left hand should always know what the right hand is doing. Together your goal is to get your book sold, get a good contract, and to create a career plan.

3. Decide what you are going to write and stick with it. Best to be a master of one trade, than a jack of all.

Any form of writing will help you hone you craft. And isn’t writing what we want to master and not just a type of genre? Writing for magazines allowed me the opportunity to work at home, kept the wolves off the front porch and me away from serving up french fries, and allowed me time to work on my novels. Being paid for my work kept me believing in my talent and helped keep my dream alive while the rejections on the novels poured in.  I’ve since written three nonfiction books—two or which are: The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel, and Wild, Wicked & Wanton: 101 Ways to Love Like You’re In a Romance Novel. I chose to write these two titles to help build my name in the fiction market. Writing nonfiction, also helps me write PR for my fiction work.

When my first humorous romantic suspense didn’t sell after being shopped around, Kim Lionetti recommended I try my hand at writing a paranormal, which was the hot trend. That proposal was submitted to ten publishing houses, went to a buying committee at two, but much to our dismay, it didn’t sell. Does that mean it was a waste of my time? Heck, no. Two years later, a St. Martins editor who’d read and enjoyed my sassy approach to writing paranormals, phoned my agent and asked if I would write a young adult series for them.

My first YA novel, Born at Midnight, in my Shadow Falls Series will be released March 29, 2011 and has racked up some really nice foreign right sales to Germany, France, Brazil and Russia. Beats working in fast food any day of the week!

4. You can never spend too much time rewriting.

I’m not saying don’t polish or rework. But do not get caught in rewrititious. I know people who have been writing and rewriting the same novel for ten years. Truth is, you learn something each time you write a new book that rewriting doesn’t teach you. To grow, and hone your skills as a writer, you need to write and finish several books.  During 2000 and 2006, I had written eight completed novels and six proposals. Six of those projects have sold.

5.  Learn the writing rules and follow them.

While I’m a believer in rules and believe some should not be broken, often times it’s the bending of a rule, a slight deviation of what is considered the norm that helps a writer stand out. I was warned against writing dual romances in a book. However, my plots seemed to always include a secondary romance, and at times, even a third one. I knew the dangers of this could dilute the main plot of the book. However, I ran with my dual romance plots and worked overtime to make sure the addition of a secondary romance didn’t overshadow the main story line. Today, I’m often praised by reviewers for the layers of story and plot brought on by my secondary romances.

Basically, I recommend that when you bend a rule, you know why the rule is in place and protect your work from suffering from this breach.

C.C. is excited to give away a free copy of her YA novel to a random commenter. Comment within 1 week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Laura P. won.)

 

Writing romance? Check out the

excellent resource, On Writing Romance


by Leigh Michaels.


 

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34 thoughts on “5 Pieces of Well-Meaning Writing Advice That I’m Glad I Didn’t Take

  1. Hima

    hi Chuck,
    i wanted to start my first novel based on the series of events in my life, and solutions or steps which i may not take in my real life. My problem is my biggest critic is my husband who helps in all my decisions or works of life. be it painting or small creations or career. But the story which i’m going to write he may not approve the reason, he can make out what my life is going thru and what i desire for. i dont want him to know the content of the novel as it could be more like a dairy.

    I Need a critic for my story who is a complete stranger or unaware of me or my life.

    How to approach one?
    H

  2. ava homa

    Very brave of you to swim against the stream. And, particularly agree with the “don’t get caught in the rewriting” tip. That’s where I am stuck at the moment.

  3. PW Creighton

    Great advice. Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in the rewriteitous on my fiction project but I continually write everything else in the mean-time. It is great to network but not everyone has the same path and some really do come out of the blue. We dwell in a very subjective field and as in any art we need to make sure we know what we’re doing and then have someone connect with it. Great post though.

  4. Karen Sullivan

    I enjoyed this column. The advice applies no matter what genre you favor. "Rewrititious" made me smile, as I’m taking my novel, for the second time, back "into da shop to look under da hood for a rebuild." This means converting it to a memoir, where it rightly belongs, out from behind the safety of novelness. So my question is: what advice is out there on 1) recognizing when you’re done, and 2) any regrets (or red flags) that well-known writers may have on rewrites they wish they’d made.

    I’m currently getting humor articles published fairly often in a few specialty magazines, but love the challenges of writing a much longer piece. Thanks for the encouragement. Talking about writing is endlessly fascinating.

  5. Sharon Sun

    Great advice here, Christie. It’s true–we’ve really got to put aside some of our idealizations of getting published–it’s a lot of hard work, and it’s ultimately up to us writers to get our work out there and to keep it out there. So many people dream of writing, but we also can’t lose sight of the real-life aspects of the job if we’re going to make it out there. But it’s also great to know that we don’t have to stick to the rules so closely, and that we can always play around and try different things out as we advance and grow.

  6. Laura Pauling

    I love hearing about published authors breaking the rules! And I loved the first rule you’re glad you didn’t follow. I do think it’s somewhat important to combine our heart with what is selling! Born At Midnight looks cool.

  7. Maribeth

    I have learned that you can listen to all advice but you don’t need to follow all advice. I agree that any writing will help hone your craft. I have one or two genres that I would like to write forever but that doesn’t mean I don’t write anything else. Sometimes I feel like writing a poem, a song and short stories. I usually will try and submit those to writing contests. I love any form of writing.I always did,always will.

    Great post.

    Maribeth

  8. Janet Fox

    What a terrific post – and I couldn’t agree more on every single point! I have personal experience with approaching an editor and making a connection, and then turning the process over to my agent. Yes!

  9. Alicia

    Can I just say, You’re Awesome! Everything you said here totally rings true for me. Especially the Not Following The Rules part. For me writing is creating, and how can there be rules on your creation. Because of this interview, I hold a higher regard for you and can’t wait to you read your books. Thanks so much for sharing.

    aliciacald(at)gmail(dot)com

  10. Jane Myers Perrine

    I wouldn’t be published if I’d stayed with ONE genre. I started in Regency, moved to paranormal, short contemp, long, contemp–and learned something at each place. I have published 2 Regency, 1 short contemp, 3 contemporary inspirationals, 1 historical inspiratioanal and am contracted for 3 ST. Plus a possible non-fiction sale.

  11. Wendy

    Thanks for the advice. This is just the kick in the butt I need to get over the extensive (endless?) rewriting hurdle. We lived in TX for 3 years. Hope there’s a lot of barbecue in your books, I sure do miss it (but still have the romance at home!).

  12. Colleen Thompson

    I’ve already read (and LOVED) Born at Midnight, so please let someone else have a shot at the book. Just wanted to say your tips all made great sense to me. I’m firmly convinced that if I’d actually *known* the rules I’d been breaking, I wouldn’t have sold as quickly as I did. Then again, if I’d known or paid attention to certain rules (on manuscript length, reading extensively within my genre, and marketability) I could’ve sold a lot more quickly.) The application of common sense makes all the difference, but the real selling points are passion and perseverance.

  13. Christie Craig

    Kristin,

    You are so right. Reading trends is very tricky. I don’t recommend that anyone use what’s on the bookshelf as a trend meter. Those books were bought two years ago. Best to look at Publisher’s Weekly or Publisher’s Lunch and see what is selling at the moment. Even then it’s not a sure bet, but it will give you a better idea. If you have an agent or agent contact, you also may ask them what type of books are selling and what type of books were selling six months ago that are not so easy to sell now.

    CC

  14. Donna Marie Rogers

    Excellent advice, Christie, as always!

    Like you, I love secondary romances. My editor had me remove one from There’s Only Been You (it’s a free read now on my web site *grin*), but I was able to keep Uncle Luke’s story in Meant To Be, and I was very happy about that. 🙂

    I’ve loved all your books and can’t wait to read Don’t Mess With Texas!!

  15. Kristin Laughtin

    All great points! It’s important to remember there are exceptions to every rule.

    Of course, regarding trends, it is important to remember how quickly the market can change, so one should learn to differentiate between a trend and a fad. Trends are a little more general, like the inclusion of paranormal elements; that’s been popular for years and has a lot of room for interpretation, so it’ll probably stick around for a few years. Fads like zombie unicorns? Very specific, and probably wouldn’t have the same longevity.

    And I totally agree about rewriting. It can be overdone and makes the book seem stale, and it keeps you from moving forward and learning to write better first drafts.

  16. Christie Craig

    Juliana,

    Generally speaking, most romance novels focus on one romance and then have different subplots. But those subplots are seldom developed romances. But I’ve always been the type of writer who loved writing lots of characters and I love romance so someone was always falling in love with someone else.

    In my second book published with Dorchester, Weddings Can be Murder, I had the main romance and a secondary romance. Even my agent told me that the duel romance might be a hard sell. But it worked because going in I was very careful that the secondary romance never overshadowed the main story. Plus like all subplots, I made sure it was part of the main character’s story. The rule of thumb is that if you can remove a subplot and not have it effect your main plot, then you’d better remove it. So I just made sure that my secondary romance supported the main story. In my forth book, Gotcha, I had three romances. And I had three in my sixth romance, Shut Up and Kiss me. Due to troubles with Dorchester the rights to these books were returned to me and you can buy print copies from my christie craig website and the e-books should be up at all the e-book sites in the next few weeks.

  17. Judythe Morgan

    I love the story of your climb to success and how you’ve always been so willing to share good advice. #4 You can never spend too much time rewriting sounds like it’s just for me. Sometimes I fear my perfectionist self causes rewrititious. But I am always amazed when I go back to my earlier works and see how much I’ve improved. You’re so correct–writing and re-writing does work!

  18. Verna

    Balance is everything. Trying to strike the right spot between what the experts say and what our passion as a writer is is a fine line to walk. I feel being creative, taking the risk to put myself out in the public eye, and as someone said above, keep at learning and writing.Success will come.

  19. Christie Craig

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks so much for dropping by. And thanks to Chuck for giving me this opportunity to guest blog. I’m having a blast working on my third book, Taken at Dusk, in the Shadow Falls series.

    Byrdmouse asked: How do you know you’re listening to the right advice?

    I think it’s about being open to all advice and following what feels right for you. However, don’t be afraid to try something new. Sometimes we’re just stuck in a rut. If you try something and it doesn’t feel right, regroup and alter your plan. The most important thing is to keep writing, keep producing, and keep learning.

  20. Erin

    Great advice here, Christie. I always love seeing what you have to say. And it’s wonderful to get advice from someone who’s been out there and knows what it’s like.

  21. Julia

    I completely agree with #3. I took a year off between novels to get my masters in science journalism, and whoa, my writing got 10x more disciplined and precise.

    Also, whoever told you not to do secondary romance is crazy train! Side characters romances are almost always my favorite. Plus they keep minor characters from being nothing but main character tin foil.

  22. Kay Thomas

    Terrific advice, Christie. I particularly appreciate #1. In these changing times, being able to tweak our ideas to fit the trends of the marketplace is crucial. Congratulations on your new releases.

  23. Janet

    Really helpful…I love real world advice from writers who followed their own path to success. My favorite parts: "Find a way to make the book of your heart more marketable," and, "Writing for magazines allowed me the opportunity to work at home, kept the wolves off the front porch and me away from serving up french fries, and allowed me time to work on my novels."

  24. Kristan

    Excellent advice. As usual, the truth lies in the middle, doesn’t it? "Don’t do this" vs. "do this." Well, how about a compromise? Thanks for the reminder that we don’t have to be at either extreme, and in fact probably shouldn’t be. 🙂

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