7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Alan Orloff

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Alan Orloff, author of DIAMONDS OF THE DEAD) 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.



Alan Orloff‘s debut mystery, Diamonds for the Dead,
was published in April 2010 by Midnight Ink.
He also has a new mystery series coming
in 2011. Visit his website here or see
his blog here.

1. Things move slowly in the publishing world. Be prepared to wait. A lot. For your critique group to get through your manuscript. For your queries to be answered (if you’re lucky). For your partials and fulls to be read. For editors to weigh your submissions. For your book to wend its way through the production process as it heads toward the bookstore shelf. Best advice: Have some other projects to work on while you wait!

2. Getting help really helps. Critique groups can help you with your writing. An agent can help polish your submission and will know where to send it. An editor can help massage your manuscript into its optimal form. Ignore these “helpers” at your own peril. Getting published really is a village effort (so make sure you have plenty of food on hand).

3. You need a thick skin. Rejections are the norm—don’t let them “spin you out.” Otherwise, you’ll never get any writing done. Persistence and perseverance are key.

4. Your book doesn’t “belong” to only you anymore. While you were writing your manuscript, it was your baby. You could feed it what you wanted, dress it how you wanted, play with it whenever you wanted. Now, you have to share and listen to other people’s “baby-raising” advice. Once you sign a contract, your book gets slotted into a release date and tossed onto the production conveyor belt. Flap copy, cover design, titles, internal and external sales pitches, copyediting, publicity, sales. It all gets done on schedule, without emotion and (mostly) without you. Get used to it.

5. Online promotion takes a lot more time than you think. Website, blog, Google Reader, Facebook, Twitter, listservs, Yahoo groups, nings, and a kajillion other social sites lure you in and won’t let go. These connections are valuable, but you need to exercise discipline or you’ll look up and four hours will have elapsed with nothing to show for your “writing” time except a few Mafia War hits.

6. Other writers are extremely generous. I’ve found other writers (published, unpublished, bloggers, Twitterers, etc.) to be very helpful with their advice, comments, and time. The sense of community among writers is unbelievably amazing!

7. Take time to enjoy every bumpy, thrilling, uncertain, joyous, nail-biting, wonderful, anxious minute. No sense getting stressed about stuff you can’t control (and that encompasses a lot!). Getting your first book published is a very exciting time—be sure to stop and smell the ARCs!


Don’t let your submission be rejected for
improper formatting. The third edition of 
Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript
has more than 100 examples of queries,
synopses, proposals, book text, and more.
Buy it online here at a discount.

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8 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Alan Orloff

  1. Court Sherwin

    I especially loved #7.

    It reminded me of an interview I watched of Dennis Lehane (author of Shutter Island, Mystic River, etc). He said he always kept a card by his writing desk that said "Nobody Cares". It can be seen as a positive thing in that nobody cares if you get published, and nobody cares if you don’t. The main issue is to enjoy it. Don’t turn it into something that you hate.

  2. Alan Orloff

    Margot – Patience is nice, but usually I don’t have the time to be patient.
    Kristan – Thanks! Writers really are generous–it’s a good way to procrastinate.
    Joyce – Thanks!
    Marissa – Thanks! Yes, you have to be careful on the Internet; time has a way of getting away from you.
    Sheila – Thanks! I agree, it’s helpful hearing how other writers do things.
    Elizabeth – Thanks for the book tip–I’ll have to check that out.

  3. Elizabeth MacKinney

    Thanks for your post, Alan. Number six was my favorite (love my writing group!) but number four is so true. Writing and publishing are all about business and the bottom line. Once a publisher takes you on, you’re a small part of a big team, and you don’t have control anymore. It’s not bad, but I think it’s just not what most first time writers realize.

    The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold Underdown is great for explaining the entire publication process, even for those who aren’t children’s authors.

  4. Adventures in Children's Publish

    This was very helpful, coming from a published author. Your point about social networking is something we face daily. Kit’s amazing how much time can get lost in these forums. I love your point about other writers being generous. This is entirely true! Thanks Alan!


  5. Kristan

    Great points, and #6 is especially relevant to me lately. I met with and spoke with Emma Carlson Berne, who was extremely generous with her time and advice to me. She’s also got a really interesting story of how she got into writing fiction professionally… (Through nonfiction and then ghostwriting and book packagers.)

  6. Margot Kinberg

    Alan – Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned. I especially agree with you about the support one can get from fellow writers, and with the need to be patient. I’ve found that patience is one of the most important qualities there is when it comes to writing…


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