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

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Bradley Spinelli, author of KILLING WILLIAMSBURG) 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: 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.)


killing williamsburg      bradley-spinelli-author-writer

Bradley Spinelli has herded cattle, worked on Wall Street, and run away with
the circus. One of his novels was a semifinalist for the Faulkner (Pirate’s Alley)
Competition. His short fiction has previously been published by Sparkle Street Press
and Le Chat Noir. His debut novel is KILLING WILLIAMSBURG (Le Chat Noir,
April 2013), which Publishers Weekly said used “sharp and stylish prose.”
Bradley is currently a finalist for Naked Girls Reading Literary Honors 2013.
He lives with his wife in Brooklyn.



1. For certain projects, there comes a time to forget about the big boys. We all have the dream of the fat advance and champagne parties, which seem scarce these days. Killing Williamsburg, about a suicide epidemic in Brooklyn, landed me an agent soon after I wrote it, and I was giddily awaiting my “discovery” when September 11th happened. After that, no one, not even me, wanted to read a disaster novel set in New York.

I put it aside, wrote other books, went on with my life. Years later, I realized the book had a new resonance. I made some effort at garnering another agent, but when I was given the opportunity to publish with an indy press, even knowing that I wouldn’t have a big team or big budget behind me, I jumped.

2. Get some help. You can’t do it alone. That mythology of a lone writer in a room banging out the perfect novel on a typewriter—it’s just a myth. I hired a couple of editors to do rough passes to help me see what I no longer could. Then my friend and mentor Mike DeCapite worked a kind of rough magic on the book, tightening the belt. This is important even before you seek publication. Later, a great designer is key, for both the book cover and the less-celebrated interior layout. An impactful cover makes people pick the book up.

(Are you writing middle grade, edgy paranormal, women’s fiction or sci-fi? Read about agents seeking your query NOW.)

3. Seriously, get some help. I needed someone to help send emails, follow up with media, and help develop press materials. I hired a publicist, the smartest move I could have made. A publicist not only brings in contacts and contributes to the task of promoting you, but serves as a buffer between you and the world, making a lot of things easier. Even if you write the press release, people will take it more seriously if they receive it from someone else.

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.

5. Get someone more famous than you. For the launch party, I wanted more than just a reading, so I had the idea to get DJ Questlove to spin a “Suicide Set,” songs about suicide or by artists who had “left the party early.” Questlove agreed, and we held the event on World Suicide Prevention Day. It was a great way to raise awareness about how widespread suicide is, and make the event about something other than just my book. People came out to support lost loved ones, yet it was also a fantastic dance party with a unique soundtrack. The event was listed in dozens of publications and was a Time Out New York Critics’ Pick—unusual for a book launch—and I was interviewed by New York magazine’s Bedford + Bowery.

(When can you refer to yourself as “a writer”? The answer is NOW, and here’s why.)

6. Be willing to learn weird stuff. After reading every recipe on the Internet, I found myself in my kitchen cooking up wheat paste for my street team to put up posters in the neighborhood announcing the Questlove launch party. No one ever told me wheat paste was part of being a novelist—but it appealed to my punk rock roots. If you don’t have a giant team of people working to promote you, everything is your responsibility.

7. Learn everything… and don’t stop. I’ve written novels, stage plays, screenplays, and short stories, not to mention a pile of press materials and reams of advertising copy. Anyone would tell you that all writing is writing, and good practice for what you eventually want to write. But even the things that aren’t writing are writing—a writer today needs far more skills that just writing, and still needs life experience to become fodder for future stories. In the past few years I’ve learned not only wheat pasting, but bottle cutting, rudimentary sailing, and a little bit of conversational Thai. I’ve worked with so many production vendors that I’m starting to learn the language, and beginning to learn InDesign, which saves on favors I have to borrow from designer friends. I continue to travel, to explore, and to learn everything I can about life. It’s why I started writing things down in the first place.

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.)



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11 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Bradley Spinelli

  1. jwm224

    I don’t know neither paper mâché nor do I learn daily lessons with travel. My lessons are sporadic. I was just after a free book that actually sounds interesting enough to read (honest smiles…).

    I like number 6; I have punk roots as well, and it makes sense.
    I hope it goes well,
    The biggest challenge is out of the way. I’d think.
    Good luck anyway,

  2. Vicky

    Thanks, Bradley, for the great pieces of advice! Your tips are certainly unique ones and well worth following. I especially like the advice about getting help and getting the word out (by doing it ourselves -walking and talking to potential sellers). I won’t forget when I’m ready to sell my book.

  3. writeandtravel

    While reading your posts, I could feel the energy from your writing. I felt like pumping my fists and jumping in to join your promotional team! But the reality is that you have given me some great ideas to launch notification of my upcoming book. You confirmed what I believe in-use the talents of others who know their fields well because we can’t do it all. Your last comment is so true. For twenty years I have traveled all over the world and one thing is for sure, I learn something every day, every hour and every minute. Through volunteering and unusual jobs, my comfort zone has been shaken so many times that the experiences have given my characters depth and my life unimaginable energy. Thanks for such wonderful advice and the best to you and your writing.

  4. karinne2346

    great article. love your willingness to take on all sorts of tasks and to learn wierd stuff! that is very inspiring and I will take it to heart.
    I look forward to reading your book.

  5. Andi W

    Thank you for all your tips. I wholeheartedly agree with number seven and I try to do that each and every day. The more experiences you have and can learn something from, the better your writing. Good luck with your novel, can’t wait to read it.

  6. vrundell

    Thanks Bradley for the great insights. It’s true that timing is important–and being flexible! No doubt your “novelist dream” didn’t encompass the making of paste to post your own billboards, for crying out loud. But, as an author, your story of going above and beyond really resonates. And also, having the patience to re-tool a novel to sell in a slightly helter-skelter, post-9/11 marketplace really speaks to your resilience and passion.
    Best of luck with the novel and your other projects. If you need a paper mâché recipe for piñatas for your next launch drop me a line….I’m a crafty gal.


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