This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Craig Lancaster, author of 600 HOURS OF EDWARD) 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.
(See a list of fiction literary agents.)
Craig Lancaster is the author of the novel 600 HOURS OF EDWARD (2012,
Lake Union), a novel about 600 tumultuous hours in the life of a 39-year-old
man with Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Lancaster
lives in Billings, Montana, with his wife and two dachshunds. His other novels
include THE SUMMER SON and EDWARD ADRIFT. His work has received a
Montana Honor Book designation, a High Plains Book Award and an
Independent Publisher Book Awards gold medal. His new novel,
THE FALLOW SEASON OF HUGO HUNTER, is set for a late-
September 2014 release by Lake Union Publishing. Find him
1. It starts with a good book: Self-evident, right? Perhaps. But there are a lot of bad books out there, and a considerable number of them will sell better than your good book. Nonetheless, writing a good book is how you keep the faith with readers and with yourself, and that requires the proverbial village: critique partners, beta readers, people you trust to tell you the truth about your manuscript, and your own willingness to keep revising until it’s right.
The market can be unforgiving with a good book, but you’ll never have to apologize for it. Further, if you want to build a career, writing good books—not just sensations—is how you do it. In my experience, writing a good book means finding a deep well of empathy inside myself and letting it flow onto the page.
2. There are many ways through the door: My first novel, 600 HOURS OF EDWARD, was self-published before self-publishing was cool. It got picked up by a small regional publisher, won some nice awards, built a small following, got picked up by Lake Union Publishing and sold more copies than I ever allowed myself to imagine. It’s still going, still finding new readers, still connecting, every single day. What a fabulous ambassador it has been.
3. Patience is a virtue: You’ve finished with your book, but your editor has nine manuscripts he’s reading before he’ll get to yours. Negotiations on a book contract can take weeks. Your book has been acquired but is still months away from actually coming out. I’m not a patient guy by nature, but the writing life has taught me to deal with the slow-turning wheels of publishing. It’s why I fill my life with other projects and other interests. I design a quarterly magazine. I lead writing workshops. I have a long-running backgammon battle with my father. I have manuscripts in various levels of production—one actively being written, one being edited, one being marketed, at all times.
4. It comes around again: Before she started repping me, my agent, Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary, turned down 600 Hours of Edward with a bit of regret: She loved the story but wasn’t sure she could sell it. She wished me luck, and I trudged off, wondering if I’d ever find an agent. Three books later, I was trying to get representation for the second Edward book, Edward Adrift, and an author friend hooked us up. I reminded her of our previous interaction, and she said, “I always wondered what happened with that book!” Now we’re on the same team. That’s pretty cool.
5. Don’t quit the day job…yet: After one book, I thought it impossible to see a day when writing would pay my bills. After two books, the same thing. But then came books No. 3 and No. 4. A couple of foreign translations added to the revenue stream. A strong foothold in the United Kingdom and Germany expanded my readership. And, finally, in August 2013, I was able to give notice at the newspaper where I worked as a copy editor. Every month since then, I’ve stayed on track with my financial plan.
6. The publishing world has changed, but…: It’s easy to get caught up in the tales of woe or the conventional wisdom. Publishers don’t nurture talent the way they used to. Advances are smaller. Midlisters are increasingly marginalized. And maybe that’s all true. But the technological changes afoot in publishing also represent great opportunities. There are fewer links in the chain between authors and readers than ever before. There are more ways to make your work available. Amid all the transformation, though, one really cool thing has remained stable: Nothing moves a book like word of mouth. Blockbusters may be conceived at the marketing table, but individual readers decide what they like and what they recommend to their friends. Remember what I said about writing a good book? This is where it pays off.
7. Generosity never fails: I remain ever thankful for a lot of people who helped me early in my career when they had nothing to gain from doing so. Whether it was reading my manuscript or letting me talk to a writing class or giving me advice about the business, these people were generous with their knowledge and their resources. I resolved to do the same when aspiring authors sought me out. No, you can’t help everybody, and yes, you need to protect your own time for your own projects. But being kind and being generous are always good choices. (On the flip side, you’ll no doubt run into some people in this business who delight in hurtful behavior. Be generous in your sympathy toward them, too. It must be a miserable way to go through life.)
How to Blog a Book by Nina Amir discusses
how to slowly release a novel online to generate
interest in your writing and work.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- A new agent wants unique literary voices, women’s fiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir & comedy.
- 10 Dos and Dont’s For the Aspiring Novelist.
- The Value of Tough Love and Honest Feedback.
- Agents Share Their Query Letter Pet Peeves.
- Agent Maria Vincente seeks clients NOW.
- Open Your Eyes and Ears: Writing Inspiration is all Around You.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.
Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more. Order the book from WD at a discount.