“7 Things I’ve Learned So Far” (this installment written by Eric Scott Fischl, author of Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show) is a recurring column where writers at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their literary agent—by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.
Eric Scott Fischl writes novels of speculative historical fiction and the supernatural. He lives in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains. His debut novel, Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show (Angry Robot, February 2017), is the story of Dr. Alexander Potter, a disgraced Civil War surgeon—now snake-oil salesman—who travels the Pacific Northwest in 1978 with a disheartened company of strongmen, fortune-tellers, and musical whores. Under their mysterious and murderous leader, they entertain the masses while hawking the Chock-a-saw Sagwa Tonic, a vital elixir touted to cure all ills both physical and spiritual. For a few unfortunate customers, however, the Sagwa offers something much, much worse.
1. Relax. You’ve spent months or years writing a book, editing it to within an inch of its life, until finally: It’s ready. Well, pull up a chair and relax because everything in publishing takes a really, really long time to happen. It’s the nature of the business. Logically, you know this, but still … you check your email a few times a day, just in case your agent/editor/publicist has gotten back to you on something. Knock it off. Go work on something else. You’re going to wait weeks, and months, and that’s just the way it is, so chill out, killer, because …
2. You can’t do it all yourself. Boom! Look at this masterpiece I wrote, it sprang from my head fully formed and perfect and … nope. It didn’t. You need people to beta read; you need other takes on what you’re writing. You need advice on the market. You need people to help spread the word about your book, on your behalf. You need people to introduce you to other people. Quit being such a hermit, then, and …
3. Make friends. Note I don’t say “contacts” here. You’re a writer, and writers—and people in the publishing industry are, by and large—pretty cool people. You have things in common with them and, if you get out there, personally or digitally or both, you will make friends with some of them. Don’t be a jerk: you don’t use your friends, you use “contacts”; you help your friends out, and they’ll do the same for you. They’ll give you advice and spread the word about you, all those things from item 2 above. You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but be a good person to the ones you make, and …
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4. Listen. Your new friends are readers and writers and agents and other industry professionals. Collectively, they know far more than you do, and have far more experience, even if you’ve been writing and publishing for fifty years. They’re a great resource to have, so listen to what these people have to say. Take the criticism of your writing/marketing plan/what-have-you, and keep an open mind to new ideas. But, you don’t have to take every suggestion, or even most of them, because …
5. So much is subjective. Your masterpiece isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste. Some people are going to love it; some people are going to absolutely hate it. Most people are probably going to be in the “Sure, I liked it just fine” range. Don’t take it personally; that’s just the way it’s going to be. Do the best work you possibly can, and know that it’s not going to please everyone. You’ll hear some painful things, but …
6. Don’t be afraid to make changes. No, not because you’ve heard painful things. Don’t be afraid to change things in your writing that just aren’t working. It’s a hard thing to do, but sometimes you just have to take a step back and realize that a scene or chapter or section or even a book, just isn’t working. But, whatever you do, don’t give up just because something gets hard, because …
7. It’s all hard. Writing, for most people, is the very epitome of the difference between something that’s enjoyable and something that’s satisfying. It’s hard, hard work and there’s no getting around that. There aren’t any shortcuts, and there aren’t any excuses. It’s on you to do your best work, to keep at it, even when it’s not quite right. Write and revise and revise and revise and, when you’re done, you have something that you’re proud of …
And then you can relax and move on to what’s next.
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Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:
- 14 Literary Agents Seeking Contemporary Middle-Grade Fiction NOW
- Science Fiction & Fantasy Today
- How to Edit Your Novel for a Stronger Opening
- 17 Literary Agents Seeking Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy NOW
- Seeking Quality in Beta Readers, Not Quantity
If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Cris Freese at firstname.lastname@example.org.