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7 Things I’ve Learned So Far

Published authors share their best tips and advice on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to be sell more books.

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Tova Mirvis

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1) Enjoy the good days: The euphoria of a new idea! The sense that every thing around you has a place in your novel! That conversation you overhear? You know exactly what page it will go on. The dress that woman is wearing? You know which character is going to have it on tomorrow. Revel in the fact that the sentences seem to write themselves, in the fact that you are doing the job that you are meant to do. Grab hold of this moment, collect it like a perfect specimen you can pin to a board.

GIVEAWAY: Tova is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: janice666 won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by J. Kent Messum

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1. The book business is a great business: Trust me. I spent fifteen years in a really bad business: the music business (a super sleazy viper’s nest of an industry). I’m not saying the book biz doesn’t have its problems, but I’ve largely found publishing to be a well-oiled machine. Most of those employed within it are exceedingly professional and have a tremendous love of books, working tirelessly toward the success of them. Also, the book business isn’t as time-sensitive as music or film. You can get your first book published when you’re twenty-something, or forty-something, or sixty-something… Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Sam Zuppardi

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5. Keep drawing and writing for yourself. While you’re working on projects that involve collaboration or a need to respond to and incorporate feedback, make sure you keep some creative time or space for just doing whatever the heck you like, for making things that are ‘just yours.’ Doing that can help diffuse any creative tension that may arise when you feel you’re having to negotiate with other agendas. Getting something published is a collaborative process involving compromise and negotiation: keep yourself some creative space where you can continue to be entirely selfish.

GIVEAWAY: Sam is excited to give away a free copy of His book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks. Since Sam is based in the UK, he is happy to open the contest to writers there, as well as writers in Canada/US. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal). (UPDATE: Casey James won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by A.B. Westrick

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1. Stop trying to find time to write. Instead, make time. When you’re in “trying-to-find” mode, you’re not giving priority to your writing. Identify the time of day when you’re the most creative, then claim that time. Show up at the page. Get up early if you have to. Lock a door if you have to. Turn off your phone and Internet. Whatever it takes for you to carve out your time—do it. Make writing happen.

GIVEAWAY: A.B. is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: leadrian won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Kim Fu

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7. If you meet a writer and you like their work and you like them as a person, never let them go. Maintain that friendship at all costs. Across time and geography. Support them in everything they do. Celebrate their every victory (even if it coincides with your loss) and mourn their every loss (even if you were the winner). Offer them feedback, send them relevant submission calls and job postings, buy them drinks, let them sleep on your couch. A network of good writers who are also good people — reliable collaborators, strong editors, fun and sympathetic friends — will advance your career and enrich your life more than anything else.

GIVEAWAY: Kim is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: Burrowswrite won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by E.L. Tettensor

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2. Less is more. Everyone has their own style. Some prefer lean and muscular, others prefer something a little more florid. Both approaches have their merits, and their fans. That being said, I’ve never heard a reader say, “Gee, I wish there were more adverbs in this book,” and I’ve never read a review that says, “If only the author had found more synonyms for ‘said’.” There’s a reason for that, and I wish I’d figured it out sooner. These days, when I proofread a first draft, the number one thing I find myself doing is deleting adverbs and removing dialogue tagging, especially fancy dialogue tagging (of the “snapped, growled, interjected” variety.) My debut novel, DARKWALKER, was only just released, and already I see flab, extraneous words just begging to be nipped and tucked. My subsequent works are a lot trimmer.

GIVEAWAY:E.L. is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: Aristomas won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Bradley Spinelli

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4. “Getting the word out” can mean just about anything. Everyone knows about social media, but old-school “social” still works. I paid my fee and went to the BEA’s Blogger Conference, introduced myself to book bloggers and gave them ARCs. (I also sat in on a number of conferences where everyone talked about Twitter.) The first bookstores that sold my book were stores in my neighborhood—an obvious target demographic for a book with the ‘hood’s name in it—because I walked in and asked. Get out there.

GIVEAWAY: Bradley is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: AnneTano won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Marion Winik

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This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Marion Winik, author of HIGHS IN THE LOW FIFTIES: How I Stumbled Through the Joys of Single Living) 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.

GIVEAWAY: Marion is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: Tina Lincer won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Jaime Lee Moyer

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2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, toss what doesn’t work, and start again. Professionals throw away chunks of novels and stories all the time and start again. Not every story will work, not every plot will come together or every character come to life. None of the mistakes I made were a waste of time or effort, because each one of them taught me something that made the next story better. The same is true of query letters. If the one you’ve written doesn’t get you requests, start over.

GIVEAWAY: Jaime is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: burrowswrite won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Elene Sallinger

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1. There is no formula for success. I’ve been writing for ten years. I’ve self-published and I’ve traditionally published. When success finally hit, it was a combination of persistence, timing, and luck. The only thing a writer can do to influence their success is write a good story. The audience will find it. Sometimes that’s overnight and sometimes that’s after several years.

2. Reviews are the best promotion. In my personal experience, the most effective promotion for a book is a review. Even a bad review is beneficial because at least people are talking about your book. As of this writing, Fifty Shades of Grey has 5,875 one-star reviews on Amazon. So what. That’s five thousand people talking about the book. Conversation is crucial to the success of a book. Any conversation is better than silence.

GIVEAWAY: Elene is excited to give away a free e-book copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: frj4833 won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Helene Wicker

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1. Write everything down. I’m in the grocery store, staring vaguely at the produce, when the heavens open up and a great writing idea lands in my brain. I know I should stop and write it down. But isn’t that a little weird, to pull out my notebook in the middle of the Safeway? I’ll look like a moody Goth kid scribbling in her diary. Besides, this is such a great idea, there’s no way will I forget it. And then, guess what? I forget it.

GIVEAWAY: Helene is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: SammySammo won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Michael Logan, Author of APOCALYPSE COW

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2. You may have to compromise to gain commercial success. As an artist working in a commercially driven industry, you could face an uncomfortable choice. Your agent and publisher will usually look at your labour of love with an eye on what is right for the market, not what is right for your vision. Publishing is an industry, and industries want to make money (although kudos and credibility in the form of prizes or critical acclaim from the intelligentsia form a lesser part of the equation). It is up to you whether you refuse to compromise your vision, and thus run the risk of your career facing a potentially fatal setback, or accede to their requests. Just make sure you can live with the consequences of your decision.

GIVEAWAY: Michael is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: spacehg won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned so Far, by Laura Krughoff

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3. Fix the end by fixing the middle. I routinely tell my students that if they’re struggling with the ending of a story, it is probably because they haven’t quite worked out the conflict. I spent a long time struggling with how to end my novel, and I rewrote the final chapter many times before it occurred to me to take my own advice. A difficult but essential scene was missing, and once I had that in place, I finally understood how to bring the novel to a satisfying conclusion. I could have rewritten that ending until the cows came home, but it was only by addressing a problem much earlier in the novel that I was able to get the ending right. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Karen Dietrich

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1. Write through the wait. When The Girl Factory was on submission to publishers last October, I felt like I was in limbo. There is a waiting game to play and I’m terribly impatient. The first few days, I spend a lot of time checking my inbox for emails from my agent and thinking about possible responses from publishers (even though my agent guided me through the process and assured me that responses don’t usually arrive quickly).

GIVEAWAY: Karen is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: burrowswrite won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Natasha Solomons

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1. Hearing voices in your head isn’t a bad thing if you’re a writer. When I start to hear voices in my head, it’s a good sign. It means that my characters are coming to life. When I start something new, I’m always waiting for that moment, when, Golem-like, my characters will take on their own lives. For me, that’s when I start to hear them talk. I finish a scene on the page, but I can still hear them chatting. I like to eavesdrop on their conversations. It’s very reassuring. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Jeanne Matthews

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1. Keep your manuscript, not your head, in the clouds. I used to be casual and nonchalant about saving my writing to a remote server – until a heartless perp broke down my front door, rampaged through my house, and stole my computer containing my manuscripts and research notes, pictures, blogs in progress, and all of my contact information. Even so, I was lucky. I had sent my most recent novel to the publisher just a few days before. I had a hard copy of an earlier draft, but the thought that I might have had to recreate all of the edits from memory made my blood run cold. As the saying goes, “Experience is a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.” I now send everything to that mysterious, digital Cloud in the sky on a daily basis. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by M.M. Vaughan

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1) Don’t send your manuscript out to every agent at once. I learned this by mistake. I made a list of twelve agents that I wanted to send my book to and prepared a submission pack for each one. I then realized that I only had three stamps so I sent three out and decided that I might as well wait and see how they responded before sending the rest. I’m glad I did. All three turned it down and all three mentioned that they didn’t like synopsis. I rewrote the synopsis (which, in fairness, was awful) and sent out the manuscript to the remaining seven agents on my list. Five said yes! Maybe they would have been interested anyway, who knows, but it makes sense to submit in batches to take advantage of any feedback you might get.

GIVEAWAY: M.M. is excited to give away 2 free copies of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Jeri Baird won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Tricia Goyer

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3. Relationships with other writers are the most valuable resource in a writer’s toolbox. I attended my first writers conference in 1994. I was 22-years-old and pregnant with my third baby. I was the most unlikely person there to become a published author, and while the knowledge I learned about writing has benefited me over the years, the people I’ve met changed everything. I met a multi-published author who became a good friend. She also introduced me (and recommended me) to my agent, who I’ve worked with since 1997. I met other new authors who I connect with for support and critique. They are still my friends, and all of us have found publishing success. So many times at conferences writers stalk the agents and authors. Just as important are those sitting at the lunch table with you. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Ben Stroud

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1. Writing Routines Are Only So Valuable. I used to be a stickler for routine. My desk needed to be just so. I needed the room (and preferably the apartment) to myself. I needed non-vocal music (classical or soundtracks). Then I moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Germany. I couldn’t get a good radio station—this surprised me. The only option for a desk in my furnished apartment was a slatted folding table not much larger than one square foot that I had to stick in the corner of the living room. Gone were all the little things I depended on. But I worked that year, every day, and learned that all that other stuff was unnecessary. I needed only the desk.

GIVEAWAY: Ben is excited to give away a free copy of his collection to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: SammySammo won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Emmie Mears

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2. Go tackle a new quest. There’s nothing like a new obsession to keep you from obsessing over submission. Sure, some books get snapped up by editors faster than you can say “six figures,” but for most of us, it takes longer. A lot longer. To dull the ache and fear of the inbox, start something new. Put everything you’ve got into it. The other, stinkier part of this is that your darling book-on-sub just might not sell. You need to have a horse to get back on if that manifests as reality. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Liz Tolsma

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3. Publication will happen when you least expect it. You’ve sent in your amazing manuscript, one that will have editors clamoring to publish it, pushing the advance into the stratosphere. For the next two weeks, you sit by the phone (or carry it with you wherever you go) willing it to ring. With each little beep and buzz, you fish it out of your purse or run from the bathroom with your pants around your ankles so you don’t miss “the call”. Yeah, right. I was offered my contract while my husband and I were on a freeway off ramp, trying to keep the mattress we were moving from sliding off the truck. He was miffed I chatted on the phone instead of helping. He got over it. Hard as it is, it may take a while for you to hear – if you ever do. Send it in and move onto the next project. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Charlie Lovett

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1. Rejection is required. I used to see rejection slips as the bane of my existence. Every rejection felt like a backwards step in my writing career. But every writer has been rejected at one time or another—usually before ever being accepted. Once I began to look at each rejection as a necessary step on the road to acceptance and publication, rejection slips stopped being bad news and started being good news. Every rejection brings you a little closer to your goal.

GIVEAWAY: Charlie is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: August Priest won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Kay Kendall

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2. Keep a writer’s notebook. Brilliant thoughts are fleeting. You need to pin them down before they get away. Because I write about the sixties, I often find character traits and plot points when reading obituaries in the New York Times, for example, and if I don’t capture those flashes of insight, they will leave me. I annotate my clippings and put them in my bulging notebook. Some ideas are for the second book I’m writing now, while others will fit in the third or fourth of my Austin Starr series. I’ll be delighted to find the clippings a few years from now when I start writing the relevant stories. My mind is like my bulging notebook, and sometimes things fall out because of crowding. It’s far easier to keep the physical clippings together.

GIVEAWAY: Kay is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: annemarielacy won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Kate Maddison

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2. Don’t start writing until you love the premise. Whenever I find myself playing the avoiding game with my writing, I ask myself why. The answer always seems to be that there’s something about where this story is headed that I don’t like. Sometimes this happens with the very first page. When I rework the premise – either going deeper with the characters, or changing some element of the plotline that isn’t working – I find I can’t wait to get back to the scene.

GIVEAWAY: Kate is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: Katie won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Celeste Holloway

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5. Don’t put a time limit on your dreams. Like an idiot, I thought I’d write my book, do a few edits, and get published. In my mind, this would all go down in a year. Four years later, I signed my contract. I could’ve saved myself a lot of heartache with a more realistic goal. You should do what I didn’t do.

GIVEAWAY: Celeste is excited to give away 2 free copies of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; 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: kstjshin won.) Read more

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