7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Marybeth Whalen

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Marybeth Whalen, author of THE MAILBOX) 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.



Marybeth Whalen‘s first novel, The Mailbox, came
out in June 2010. Marybeth is a member of the Proverbs 31
Ministries speaker team and has served as
general editor of For The Write Reason

and The Reason We Speak. She and her husband
co-authored Learning To Live Financially Free.
Additionally, she serves as director of
She Reads (Proverbs 31 Ministries’ fiction division).
See her website here.

1. The people I’ve spent years investing in through my community, my blog, and other avenues of life were well worth it. I didn’t do it so that someday I could cash in on our relationship, but now that I have a book coming out it is so nice to have people cheering me along and helping to spread the word.

2. I will never arrive. As I write this, I am finishing my second novel to turn into my publisher. In some ways I feel more confident than I did with my first, but in some ways I am painfully aware of how much I still have to learn. I will always be learning, going to conferences, reading books on the craft. I hope I never stop.

3. Social media really does work. It’s not a waste of time to invest in Twitter and Facebook and blogging and all those other things that “they” tell you you should do. Build your tribe and you will be thankful later. Just make sure you strike a balance between internet time and writing time.

4. It’s good to know who you are and what you write. That way, when you get asked about your style by interviewers like I have been recently, you won’t sit there dumbfounded with no answer whatsoever. Are you funny? Serious? Do you write contemporary? Historical? Fantasy? Is your audience women, YA or children? Boil it all down into some sort of descriptive statement that people can latch onto. I am, incidentally, still working on that.

5. Style, voice and command of the language are very necessary but a unique hook or angle can also go a long way to getting you published. Look around for the unique way you can package that theme or issue you want to write about so that it will grab readers. I am not foolish enough to think that my novel got picked up because of the excellent writing (See #2 above) but I did something unique in crafting a love story around a little-known real NC landmark. We can all look around for those elements in our lives—people, professions or places we know about that others perhaps do not—that add something unique to what we have to share.

6. Editors are really, really necessary. It hurt to have my novel shredded by my editor. I may have hated her momentarily. But what she created from those shreds is what makes the book good now. When people tell me they like the book or they couldn’t put it down, I send the compliments on to her. My name might be on the cover but the credit largely belongs to her.

7. You have to have family support to make it. Without the full-fledged support of my family—especially my husband—I could not have seen this challenge through. If you have a supportive spouse and children, that’s something to be thankful for. I know I am.

I will leave you with this excellent—and very true—quote from Sidney Sheldon, “A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.”


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4 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Marybeth Whalen

  1. Stuart Aken

    Thank you Marybeth. It’s always good to know that published novelists have doubts and worries. My first novel was self-published, but I’m almost ready to send off my second to an agent. Doing the homework, sharing my synopsis and query letter with my wonderfully supportive writing group, which includes published authors, Penny Grubb and Linda Acaster. I particularly liked your advice about having the answers ready for the interviews. Many years ago, I was interviewed on national radio here in UK prior to the broadcast of a radio play and I wish I had been more prepared then. Your advice is timely for me. Like you, I’ll be working on that. Thanks again.


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