7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Imogen Robertson

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Imogen Robertson, author of INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS) 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.

Imogen is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Stacie won.)

     


Imogen Robertson is the author of Instruments of Darkness
(Feb. 2011), a debut novel the AP called “a thrilling tale.”
The book is the first in a series of 18th century detective
novels featuring the willful Harriet Westerman and
anatomist Gabriel Crowther. Imogen lives in London
and runs a blog. She was a TV, film and radio director
before becoming a full-time writer.

 

1. Being nice works. I have always sneakingly envied those people who storm about demanding things. It’s not my way. I want to help; I want to get on with people, and I want to be polite. It turns out this doesn’t make me a wimp after all. It makes me someone people want to work with. Author tantrums just make everybody’s jobs harder.

2. Take advice. You may have a deal, but there is still work to be done on the manuscript. Now you’ve probably sweated over every word of it, so that idea can be hard to take but remember you are now getting advice and suggestions from an expert. Pre-magic-phone-call you’d have had to pay thousands of dollars for this sort of feedback. Now you are getting it for free. Be thoughtful and even if you don’t think the suggestion is helpful, don’t just throw it out. Consider it. Sometimes one of my editor’s comments will make me rethink a whole scene or a whole character. Now there’s no need to e-mail or call your editor with every thought in your head, but if you don’t want to make a change he or she suggests, remember to explain why. You are just getting to know each other, so it’s all about dialogue.

3. It’s not just the book that is on sale. It’s you. I know it wont come as a surprise to people who read this blog, but it is a tough market out there and you have to be willing to go out and sell your book. And yourself. I found this quite tough at first as I’m actually a rather private person, but I thought of all the work other people were putting in to making the book a success and put on a smile. I’ve met some very lovely people as a result too.

4. But be careful. One way to get some publicity for your work is to write for magazines, and a good way to increase your chances of publication is to write about the intimate details of your private life. I’ve been tempted, I’ve even half-promised to write an article of that sort but then I backed out. Even if you feel comfortable discussing intimate subjects publicly, how will your partner feel? Or your family? Through all the weirdness of being published you are going to really need the people you love, so I’d advise against alienating them. Now I don’t even half-promise. Write for classy blogs instead.

5. Remember what your job is. It is to write good books, talk about them and be nice to people. The marketing plan, the cover design, sales, distribution: These things are not your job. If you are lucky enough to be published by a major company then rest assured there are plenty of people to worry about all that, and they are experts. Ask questions, be interested and be grateful but don’t try and do their jobs for them. You have your own work waiting for you.

6. Being published can be oddly upsetting. That came as a surprise to me, but it makes sense really. Suddenly that book that has been gathering dust under your bed is out there. Now it’s your own personal Schrodinger’s cat moment. When the book is unread, it might be brilliant. When you are published you are going to find out just how good it is. I felt incredibly vulnerable. Also be prepared for the weird transition from ordinary person bumbling along through life to “Published Author.” People will find you more interesting at parties. Some friends may disappear from your life. You will be introduced with your full name. One phone call and although you haven’t changed a jot, life has. That takes some getting used to.

7. Learn to enjoy the ride. It is the most wonderful stroke of luck to find yourself published. You will find a whole new set of challenges in front of you, but remember to look back from time to time and see how far you have come. Then get back to work.

 

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24 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Imogen Robertson

  1. Kirkus MacGowan

    Number one really caught my eye. I also try to be as polite as possible when I can, it’s good to see someone "stick to their guns" and stay true to themselves.

  2. Kendy

    Thank you for sharing your insights. I hope to experience this all myself someday soon and will definitely keep these things in mind when I do. I’m looking forward to reading your book. Sounds like a great series. Good luck on your future books!

  3. Nikki

    Thank you for this. It makes me feel better. I’ve been published by a smaller publisher, so I still have to worry about the other stuff, but what I find interesting and true to life is the bit about the friends disappearing. Not sure why that it, but I know it’s true.

    Thanks for writing!

  4. Carol Michell

    Thank you for posting your advice. I think it is wonderful that "nice" works for you. I always think of people that get what they want and it is not the nice ones. Glad to see that it does work. I love "Take advice." I see so many writers that get upset at the advice they have been given about their writing. I can’t wait till I am in the position to get advice from experts. Advice from them is like getting free gold.

    Thank you. Thank you.

  5. Beth Charles

    Like everyone else has said, this is great practical advice that is great to be reminded of. I can really identify with number one! As a "nice" person I sometimes secretly envy people who seem to be be able to get what they want by being forceful and demanding. But there is a difference between aggression and assertiveness, and in the end assertive people are the ones you want to continue working with. Writing can seem solitary but the publishing industry is so collaborative–people have to be willing to work with you. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Ashley

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope to be a published author one day, but I think I’d freak out a bit if it happened. Dreaming of how things are going to be and what they end up being is always different. The dreaming is easy, living is hard, even if you’re living your dream. Though I think things are only hard until you get used to them.

  7. Jamie P.

    You gave some excellent advice that should be so common sense, but is often overlooked. I appreciated the emphasis that you put on being an upstanding person. Being kind and keeping your nose clean can go a long way in the world, and I am glad to see a professional in the field that I aspire to enter has had such positive results. Like you, however, I tend to be a private person, so the encouragement to put myself out there and "sell myself" a little more was well received. Best of luck to you with your new book! It sounds promising, and I look forward to reading it.

  8. Larry C.

    I love this advice! Great way of looking at things, Imogen. There’s clearly much to worry over when your book is getting published, but if we can learn from your example the stress seems manageable. Know your job and work hard at it, realize that others around you are allies so let them do their job, and look back at the road you’ve traveled with appreciation. Good stuff.

  9. Luciano Alvim

    Yesterday I was talking to my therapist about this #6 (even though I hadn’t read this). I have an immense fear of finishing my writings, always rambling from a story to another, without ever wrapping up and letting go.
    We agreed I was afraid of criticism in such a way that I couldn’t ever finish any book, even if a few chapters remained; nor could I finish a short story collection and kept changing everything in order to never end my work and never show to anyone.
    It’s insightful and soothing to know that such fears aren’t mine alone — and recognizing that in others do give me a sense of normality =)
    Cheers from Brazil!

  10. Valerie Norris

    Love the "Being nice works" advice. I used to think most people weren’t nice, but seem to be surrounded now with so many who are. Much better way to live!

    "Some friends may disappear from your life." It’s true. I don’t automatically blame the person–we all have baggage, most of it not our fault. When someone backs away, it usually has more to do with them than with you. Hard to accept, but true.

    Thanks for the post!

  11. Imogen Robertson

    No worries! I’m really glad if you’ve found the above useful. When I was working on Instruments I found loads of helpful advice about how to write and getting a contract, but what happened afterwards was a real voyage into the unknown.
    I hope you all get massive deals. I’m sure if you are reading blogs like GLA it shows you are thinking in the right direction.
    Good luck to us all, and if you have any questions feel free to ask.

  12. Kristin Barrett

    Thank you for your insights. I am revising my first novel and I think that the hardest thing for me will be getting out and meeting new people/marketing the book. It is nice to know I am in good company while I work on that aspect of book selling. Can’t wait to read the book, I saw it in the book store earlier this week and thought it looked good.

  13. Kristan

    As someone who blogs regularly, I can definitely identify with #4. It’s tough to learn where the boundaries are, because we signed up for this life and its potential consequences, but our friends and family did not.

    I also found #6 interesting. I must confess, I daydream a lot, and it is rarely of the negative repercussions. But now that you mention it, I can imagine how some changes would feel uncomfortable. I suppose success in any field might bring that.

    Well, congrats on your book, and thank you for sharing!

  14. Mindy Withrow

    I especially appreciate Imogen’s first bit of advice. It’s certainly not necessary to be a nice person in order to write great books, but it sure makes a difference to readers. Some of my favorite writers are people who impressed me as genuine and who make themselves available to readers via blogs, twitter, etc. It’s just more fun to interact with them. Looking forward to reading this debut!

  15. Landra Graf

    Great post. Thanks for sharing your tips Imogen.
    It’s refreshing to hear a few tips for after you seal the deal. A little reminder for those of us who haven’t made it that far. It’s so easy to forget about the after when you’re just trying to get an agent.

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