From a person who never dreamed of writing a book to published author, I’ve learned some things along the way. There are a few hard truths I feel every writer should accept. The sooner you accept them, the sooner you’ll stop obsessing about them and the sooner you can do the work to get yourself published. Yes, there are exceptions along the way; examples of authors who have defied the odds and made publishing look easy. This isn’t for them. It’s for you. Here’s a little tough love.
Column by Dana Elmendorf, author of SOUTH OF SUNSHINE (April 1, 2016,
Albert Whitman and Company). Dana lives in southern California with her husband,
two boys and her tiny dog Sookie. When she isn’t exercising, she can be found
geeking out with Mother Nature or scouring the internet for foreign indie bands.
You can also find her dreaming up contemporary YA romances with plenty of
kissing. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
1. It won’t be your first novel.
Go ahead, list all the examples of authors who debuted with their first novel. Yep, that’s quite the list. Now put them on the scales of justice and compare them to all the authors who did not. Clunk goes the weight to one side. It’s a desire we all hope for but the truth is, the odds are not in your favor. Be at peace with your first novel sitting in the cobwebs of your computer, and know it’s just one step of many toward getting published.
2. First drafts always suck.
There’s no getting around it. It’s a part of the process we must all accept to make the improvements our manuscripts need. The first words you put on paper will not sparkle like shimmering diamonds. Geological fact, diamonds look like cloudy, dirty rocks until somebody cuts and polishes them. Don’t fight it. Let the suckage happen. It’s a healthy part of growing as a writer. But I’ll tell you a little secret, each first draft sucks a little less than its predecessor.
3. Your husband, mother, sister, best friend, coworker or the neighbor who is a high school English teacher does not qualify as a critique partner.
It doesn’t matter how “honest” they are with you. The truth of the mater is, only another writer can give you what you really need. They understand voice, character development, pacing, story arc, plot points, sub plots, inciting incidents, reversals, character growth, and about six hundred other things that go into writing a book. It doesn’t matter that your bestie reads a hundred books a year. Reading books is only a fraction of what it takes to be a writer. Passion for reading does not equal qualified critique partner. Beta reader, maybe. Critique partner, no. Do your writing a favor and find yourself several qualified critique partners. It’ll be the best decision you ever made for your career.
4. Your journey will not be the same journey as your peer’s journey.
This is where I’m supposed to tell you not to compare yourself to others. But we both know that’s pointless. You’ll do it anyway. We all do. If you’re comparing yourself it’s probably because you’re feeling like you’re not where you’d like to be in your career. Which will most likely result in finding inadequacies within yourself. Instead, when you do compare yourself, be realistic. Realize there aren’t any measurable factors to compare yourself despite how similar your life is to another writer. Because when it comes down to it, some things you just can’t assign a value, like natural talent, motivation, passion, doubt, and many more intangible factors. At the end of the day, it’s the writer who perseveres that will become published.
5. Being good isn’t good enough.
This factor was the hardest for me to accept. It implies that a positive word like “good” only equates to “competent.” There is a sea of talented writers out there. What you need to be to stand out varies. Maybe you need to be different, refreshing, clever, timeless, re-inventive, unique, or my personal favorite…sparkly. The only way to be better than good is through hard work and perseverance. Which leads me to the last point…
6. Pay your dues.
There isn’t any secret advice to getting published. There are no short cuts in this business. Nothing comes easy in this industry. You want to get published? Then put in the time, blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to get you there. Sure some authors make it look easy, but don’t be fooled. They walked that same long road just like the rest of us.
These hard truths aren’t here to disappoint you. They’re here to help you focus on what’s important, your writing. Set your sights on your goal and don’t let these small things trip you up along the way.
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- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 24, 2017: The Alabama Writers Conference (Birmingham, AL)
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- March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- April 22, 2017: Get Published in Kentucky Conference (Louisville, KY)
- April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writers Conference (New Orleans, LA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 19-21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- May 21, 2017: Get Published in San Diego (San Diego, CA)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer’s Digest Conference (New York, NY)
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Agent Spotlight: Nikki Terpilowski (Holloway Literary Agency) seeks Fiction, Nonfiction and Children’s.
- Got Rejection Dejection?
- Why Dogs Make Fun Writing Partners.
- 5 Things To Consider Before Writing A Memoir.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.
Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
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much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
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the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.