7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Patricia Stoltey

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Patricia Stoltey, author of THE PRAIRE GRASS MURDERS) 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.


Patricia Stoltey is the author of two
The Prairie Grass Murders and
The Desert Hedge Murders.
focuses on the writing life at her blog.

1. That first novel is probably not as good as you think it is. No matter how hard you’ve worked at your revisions and no matter how many times you’ve gone through your manuscript to self-edit before writing your query letters, your manuscript can be improved with the help of a good editor. This is one of the reasons why most published authors (including me) recommend critique groups. We need that critical eye to help us improve our craft and to toughen our hides before we’re exposed to tough editors and tougher reviewers.

2. You cannot be just a writer. You must also be a publicist, a public speaker, an administrative assistant, a salesman, a bookkeeper, and more. You will be shocked at the amount of time you spend promoting yourself and your book.

3. Networking is the most important reason to attend writers’ conferences. Volunteer to help with registration, moderate a panel, conduct a workshop in your area of expertise, or stuff goodie bags. Make friends. Also hang out with the authors, editors, and agents during cocktail hour. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. They (at least most of them) won’t bite.

4. Approach social media with caution. It’s addictive and time-consuming. It’s also an important networking and promotional tool. Once you have a website and a blog, you can experiment with other sites to see what works best for you. Facebook, Twitter, and others are called “social” media for a reason. Engage followers and friends. Ask questions. Forward interesting communications. Visit blogs and leave comments. Be professional and discreet, but be open and friendly.

5. Watch what you say and write. Every word you speak at a presentation may be captured by someone’s flip video camera or phone camera and uploaded to the Internet. Every comment you leave on someone else’s blog could show up when someone initiates a Google search on your name. Set Google Alerts for your author name, the names of your published books, and your blog name if different from your author name. You need to know when and where you’re getting exposure (or getting exposed).

6. Don’t try to follow someone else’s rules. There is no one correct way to write, to get published, or to promote your book. Educate yourself so you know all the options, and then do it your way. Your way should include a critique group (in my humble opinion).

7. Never give up. No matter how talented you are, and no matter how excellent your agent, luck still plays a roll in whether your book succeeds. Do you snag a big publisher with a big advertising budget? Do you get reviewed by one or more of the reviewers consulted by acquisition librarians and chain bookstores? Does your book strike a chord with readers, resulting in the buzz that can sell more books than a dozen celebrity blurbs and starred reviews? If none of these things happen, be prepared to move on. Write a new book. Don’t be afraid of rejection. It’s part of the learning process. Keep going. Nothing good can happen if you quit.



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20 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Patricia Stoltey

  1. Helen Ginger

    Really good advice, Patricia. Volunteering at conferences is good for pre-published authors, as well. You can learn a lot and meet very helpful people working behind the scenes. When I was the E.D. of the Writers’ League of Texas, I was surprised I didn’t have volunteers banging on my door to be drivers for the agents and editors!

    Straight From Hel

  2. Patricia Stoltey

    I’m pleased to see so many comments from old and new friends. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by so far.

    Bill, I had to look Harlan Ellison up because the name was not familiar to me. From what I found, I suspect your observation is correct. He would most likely take exception to my #5. His views and his language are part of his image, and I suspect he likes it that way.

    #5 is still good advice for new bloggers and authors. Often those new to the Web underestimate the reach of their words and photos until a blog comment rant is quoted or an embarrassing photo makes it to YouTube.

  3. Maggie Toussaint

    Hi Patricia,

    I’m with you on each of these seven points. Writing fuels the engine, but marketing is the tires on the car. You can rev your engine in your garage all you want, but if you don’t put wheels on the car, you aren’t going anywhere.

    Wishing you all the best, Maggie
    Fellow Five Star author

  4. Bill Peschel

    Hmmm, is there a contradiction here?

    5. Watch what you say and write.

    6. Don’t try to follow someone else’s rules.

    I would suspect Harlan Ellison would have something to say about #5. At length. With parts of it unprintable.

    It’s a good warning, however, if you are concerned about how you want to present yourself, especially when anything you say and write can be disseminated widely.

    Perhaps an alternative would be "Say and write what you like, but be prepared for the consequences."

  5. Dani

    I am not a big conference fan (hate hotels), but I think one of my most pleasant memories is pitching to agents and editors. Truly. They are such nice, helpful, personable people. This is truly a case of our imagined purple monsters being fantasies. These people are the coolest you’ll ever meet – it’s the best reason of all to attend a conference.

    Good post from one of our favorite Blood-Red Pencil editors. 😉


  6. Kathryn Craft

    Ssh Patricia: you’re giving our secrets away re: conferences! I volunteer at every single one I go to-they always need an extra hand. Working side by side with another writer is the very best way to get to know him/her. And the published authors, agents and editors presenting at the conference so appreciate all who contribute to a well-run event that I’ve always found they take you a bit more seriously. It’s already "show don’t tell": you haven’t just plunked down your money to try to buy approval, you are already rolling up your sleeves and working for it. Nice picture!

  7. Jacqueline Seewald

    Hi, Pat,

    I very much like your advice to writers starting out. #1 and #7 are the most meaningful to me. A writer needs to put away new work and look at it critically at a future time, putting on the editor hat. And I completely agree about never giving up, not if writing is something you really want to do.

    All the best,

    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE DROWNING POOL, Five Star/Gale
    THE INFERNO COLLECTION, Five Star hardcover, Wheeler large print

  8. Kristan

    Fantastic rules. I’m with Inside the Writers’ Studio — usually I find one or two that I’m like, "Eh," about. But this is the best set I’ve seen so far, with solid explanations too. Great job!

  9. Inside the Writers' Studio

    I can usually find a few rules in a list of rules that I am tempted to disagree with, but nothing like that happened here. All I kept thinking was, "Oh, that’s a good one." "Yep, that’s my favorite." "No, that one’s my favorite…"

    I do particularly like 6 and 7, though.


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