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

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Karen Dietrich, author of the memoir, THE GIRL FACTORY) 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: 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.)



karen-dietrich-author-writer           the-girl-factory-memoir-cover

Karen Dietrich grew up in the 1980s in Connellsville, a small town 57 miles
from Pittsburgh. She earned her MFA in poetry from New England College.
She currently lives in Greensburg, PA and works as an adjunct writing
instructor. THE GIRL FACTORY (skirt! October 2013), a memoir, is her
first book. Visit her at KarenDietrich.net or connect with her on Twitter.




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).

My solution to this restlessness was to keep writing. I dove into writing a new manuscript and allowed myself little time to dwell on whether or not an editor was currently considering my memoir. I still dwelled on this idea a bit, but it was useful for me to distract myself with work as much as possible. Moving forward is key.

2. Starts and stops and restarts are a part of the process. I used to believe writing a book was a very linear process. You went from point A to point B in one straight line with no pauses or detours. I now know that for me, writing a book can include false starts, exits and re-entrances and all sorts of other unexpected things. What matters most is that you keep going – keep writing and working. Even when it feels like you’ll never reach the finish line. For me, the trick is this: don’t imagine the finish line, because you probably don’t have a good handle on where this imaginary line exists. Trust that you can write the book you’re meant to write. Even if your journey doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would.

(Learn how to start your novel strong.)

3. Don’t be shy. My agent and editor and publisher want me to be actively involved in the process. They want to hear from me. I had to learn not to be shy about asking questions, seeking clarification, and voicing my opinions. Early on, I expressed concerns to my agent that I didn’t want to be a high maintenance author. In response, she laughed gently, and actually encouraged me to be a little more needy. It took some time to realize that I wasn’t alone and I had this group of wonderful people working alongside me. It’s been quite a lovely collaborative experience.

4. Find your readership. When The Girl Factory was first accepted for publication, I immediately started daydreaming about it gaining universal readership. Surely everyone would hear about my book, read my book, tell friends about my book. While that kind of optimism is important for writers, it’s also wise to be realistic early on. Ask yourself, who is going to be my core audience? Where can I find and connect with the readers who will be the most enthusiastic about my work? It’s likely that my book is not for everyone. Not every reader is interested in a coming-of-age memoir set in the 1980s, and that’s okay. So instead of fretting about whether or not the whole world will read your book (spoiler alert: they will not), focus on finding your readership – the people who will read and love and care deeply for your book.


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5. Don’t take things personally. At some point during the pre-publication phase of The Girl Factory, I tearfully turned to my husband and asked, “Why did I have to write a memoir? Why didn’t I write a novel instead?” I thought that somehow, if I’d written fiction, I would avoid all judgment on my personal character. With memoir, some readers have a difficult time separating the writing from the way they feel about the life choices the author has made. It’s important to accept the possibility of readers judging your life. Just don’t take it personally (easier said than done, to be sure).

6. Celebrity book deals are not your competition. While it’s not exactly fun to read about the latest celebrity memoir that’s just garnered the author a multi-million dollar advance, I had to remind myself that I am not a celebrity with a built-in audience waiting to buy my book. I am a writer in the beginning stages of my career. The multi-million dollar celebrity deals are not taking anything away from me.

(Writing a synopsis for your novel? Here are 5 tips.)

7. Celebrate the process. My husband and I popped open some champagne the evening I signed with my agent. We went out to dinner with our son (on a school night!) when the manuscript was accepted for publication. I’ll remember these small gestures of celebration always. Writing is work. Rewarding yourself for your work is a good deed. You deserve it.

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.)


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

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6 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Karen Dietrich

  1. vrundell

    Memoir is a brave and frightening medium, so congrats on putting yours out there! Anne Lamott says every book is (somewhat) autobiographical, but memoir is the grandpappy of all that, for sure. Best of luck on the launch and your next work.

  2. Katie

    Congrats on finding a home for THE GIRL FACTORY. I think it takes guts to publish anything you create, but a memoir must take so much more. Thank you for your thoughts!


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