7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Mara Purnhagen

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Mara Purnhagen, author of PAST MIDNIGHT) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. 


Mara Purnhagen cannot live without a tall caramel
latte, her iPod or a stack of books on her nightstand.
She currently lives outside Cleveland with her family,
two cats and a well-meaning ghost who likes to open
the kitchen windows. Her YA novel, Past Midnight,
was released in Sept. 2010. Tagged (March 2010),
her first young-adult novel, was featured in
Writer’s Digest. 


1. Bookmarks make great business cards (and people love them). I bought five hundred bookmarks from an online printing company. Within a month, I had given them all away. So then I ordered a thousand. Now I keep them in my purse, bring them to signings, and hand them out at bookstores and libraries. It’s a simple, easy way to promote your book. Which leads me to number two…

2. You are your own best PR representative. You need to promote your book. It doesn’t have to take a lot of money, but it does require your time and effort. Contact bloggers, libraries, and groups that might have interest in your subject. Stop by all the bookstores within twenty miles of your home and talk to people. Show enthusiasm for your work—it’s part of your job. Also part of your job? Number three on my list.

3. Get used to weird questions. People will ask you very personal things, such as how much your advance was and what kind of royalties you’re receiving. I would never ask someone how much income they earned, but certain boundaries seem to fall away when you become a published author. And then the conversation turns to number four…

4. Everyone you meet has always wanted to write a novel. But gosh, they just don’t have the time and it must be so nice to be able to sit down and pop out a book, because, you know, they have great ideas and if you can do it that means it can’t be all that hard, right? The proper response: smile politely and wish them well on their future writing endeavors. And when you’re lucky enough to meet people who are fellow writers? That’s number five…

5. You’re part of a community—support it. I have yet to meet a published author who did it all on his or her own. Instead, the writers I know joined message boards and critique groups. They learned from the experience of others. And once they got published, they thanked the people who helped them by promoting their books. Sometimes that just means adding a positive comment to another writer’s blog or updating your Facebook page to announce that a friend’s book has been released. It also means reading their books. You can do a thousand little things to support others. These are your colleagues, and when one of them succeeds at reaching readers, it helps all of us.

6. Patience is not a virtue—it’s a requirement. I remember happily telling everyone I knew that I had signed with an agent. People interpreted this to mean that my book would be available in stores the following week. Even before I had secured a book deal, friends would tell me they had gone to the library to look for my novel. No matter how many times I explained that publishing is a process that can take more than a year, they didn’t hear me. And it did take a long time for me to finally hold that first book in my hands, which is why the next thing I learned is so important …

7. Never stop writing. While waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for my first book to reach the publishing stage, I continued to write. I was able to complete a draft of a second book. It kept me sane, and when I ended up signing a two-book deal, I was already way ahead of the deadline. Remember: It’s not about writing one book—it’s about creating a lasting career. In order to do that, you have to keep writing and work hard to make each book better than the one before it. I write every day without exception, even if it’s simply a journal entry. It’s my job and I like it. Scratch that—it’s my career. And I love it.


Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
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5 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Mara Purnhagen

  1. Kristan

    SNARF, to #3 and #4. I can only imagine… But your advice on how to handle those situations is good. Thanks!

    (PS: CHUCK, I AM NOT FRIENDS WITH THE ROBOT PREVENTION CODE TODAY. I’ve tried to post this comment like 6 times!!!! Also, I barely slept last night so maybe I’m a little less patient than normal…)


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