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7 Things I’ve Learned So Far

Published authors share their best tips and advice on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to be sell more books.

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Liz Tolsma

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3. Publication will happen when you least expect it. You’ve sent in your amazing manuscript, one that will have editors clamoring to publish it, pushing the advance into the stratosphere. For the next two weeks, you sit by the phone (or carry it with you wherever you go) willing it to ring. With each little beep and buzz, you fish it out of your purse or run from the bathroom with your pants around your ankles so you don’t miss “the call”. Yeah, right. I was offered my contract while my husband and I were on a freeway off ramp, trying to keep the mattress we were moving from sliding off the truck. He was miffed I chatted on the phone instead of helping. He got over it. Hard as it is, it may take a while for you to hear – if you ever do. Send it in and move onto the next project. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Charlie Lovett

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1. Rejection is required. I used to see rejection slips as the bane of my existence. Every rejection felt like a backwards step in my writing career. But every writer has been rejected at one time or another—usually before ever being accepted. Once I began to look at each rejection as a necessary step on the road to acceptance and publication, rejection slips stopped being bad news and started being good news. Every rejection brings you a little closer to your goal.

GIVEAWAY: Charlie is excited to give away a free copy of his 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: August Priest won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Kay Kendall

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2. Keep a writer’s notebook. Brilliant thoughts are fleeting. You need to pin them down before they get away. Because I write about the sixties, I often find character traits and plot points when reading obituaries in the New York Times, for example, and if I don’t capture those flashes of insight, they will leave me. I annotate my clippings and put them in my bulging notebook. Some ideas are for the second book I’m writing now, while others will fit in the third or fourth of my Austin Starr series. I’ll be delighted to find the clippings a few years from now when I start writing the relevant stories. My mind is like my bulging notebook, and sometimes things fall out because of crowding. It’s far easier to keep the physical clippings together.

GIVEAWAY: Kay 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: annemarielacy won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Kate Maddison

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2. Don’t start writing until you love the premise. Whenever I find myself playing the avoiding game with my writing, I ask myself why. The answer always seems to be that there’s something about where this story is headed that I don’t like. Sometimes this happens with the very first page. When I rework the premise – either going deeper with the characters, or changing some element of the plotline that isn’t working – I find I can’t wait to get back to the scene.

GIVEAWAY: Kate 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: Katie won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Celeste Holloway

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5. Don’t put a time limit on your dreams. Like an idiot, I thought I’d write my book, do a few edits, and get published. In my mind, this would all go down in a year. Four years later, I signed my contract. I could’ve saved myself a lot of heartache with a more realistic goal. You should do what I didn’t do.

GIVEAWAY: Celeste is excited to give away 2 free copies 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: kstjshin won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far: Diana Wagman

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2. Never quit for the day without being excited about what you’re going to write next. Forget finishing the chapter or getting to a good stopping place. It is absolutely imperative to stop in the middle. I get up only when I have the next sentence or event in my mind. That way, I’m anxious to get back to it. I’ll be thinking about it as I do other things (see #1 above) and the story and my characters will be calling to me. When I don’t do that, the next time I sit down I will face a blank page and I can spend the entire day wandering and wondering and never move forward. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Jon Steele

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1. Know the last sentence before you write the first one. Everything I know about the writing craft, I learned from my twenty-four year career as a television news cameraman. I’d get dropped into some far flung corner of planet earth with a deadline looming over my head, and I’d look for two things straight away; a closing shot then an opening shot. Two shots that would frame and define the story I wanted to capture in the camera lens. Once I had those two shots, all I needed to do was fill in the middle bit. Of course filling in the “middle bit” in a manner that was true to the storytelling and worthy of the open and close was often a hard, and sometimes dangerous, slog.

GIVEAWAY: Jon is excited to give away a free copy of his 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: Moscoboy won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Pamela Sherwood

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1. Know when to let go. We’ve all heard about the hazards of sending your manuscript out too soon, before it’s properly polished, edited, etc. It’s also possible to let your fears paralyze you into not sending it out at all. When you start fiddling with your work just to fiddle with it, dithering over the placement of punctuation marks or what not, it’s time to move on to the next stage, find that agent or publisher you want to query, and hit that “SEND” button!

GIVEAWAY: Pamela 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: KathyTrueman won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by F.T. Bradley

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1. Know Your Process. Before I even got my agent or my books found a publisher, I had a writing schedule, and set deadlines for each stage of the process. At the time, it felt a little ridiculous, but I’m glad I did this now. I know exactly how fast I can write a first draft, or how long it takes me to do a deep edit. So when my editor asks me to complete a task by a certain time, I know what it’ll take to get me there.

GIVEAWAY: F.T. 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: Linda Hatton won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Jane Myers Perrine

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5. Don’t stick to that same old familiar novel you’ve been working on for years. Writing a novel is like dating. When I was dating, every time I broke up with a guy, I’d think, “Oh, no. I have to start all over.” We’re afraid if we break up—either a relationship or leaving a book behind to start another–nothing better will come along. For that reason, we cling to what isn’t working. Yes, you love the characters you created. They are so clever and the chemistry or suspense is so strong—but they aren’t real. You’ll find your true love but you must keep learning. That won’t happen in a book you’ve written and rewritten. At some time, you have to move on and find a new love. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Sharon Short

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3. Your opening is probably not your opening. My least favorite part of creative writing is drafting that opening scene. It always feels so forced, so awkward. I have to get pretty far into the story before I know how it really should begin, and to realize (for the millionth time) that ‘dumping backstory’ is not an opening that will hook readers. As I wrote what I thought was the beginning of chapter 18 for MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA, I realized I’d just written the opening paragraphs. Fortunately, I didn’t have to toss out everything I’d written for chapters 1-17. But I did have to write that much before I discovered the real hook of my novel.

GIVEAWAY: Sharon 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: greenurlifenow won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Michele Jakubowski

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7. Write everything down. I came up with the initial idea for the Sidney & Sydney series as I was falling asleep one night. I knew myself well enough to know that I had to get up immediately and write down my thoughts. I had been burned several times before when I thought I’d remember my ideas later. I never do. Now I have scraps of paper all over my house with thoughts on the book I’m currently working on or for future projects. Now if only I could work on my handwriting so I could read all of those great ideas later.

GIVEAWAY: Michele 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: sfullmer won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Kate Southwood

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5. If you let life get in the way, it will. I finished my MFA knowing that I would be moving to Oslo with my Norwegian husband right after graduation. I had allowed myself to stop writing while I was preparing for the move, rationalizing that I was busy selling or shipping all my worldly possessions. I said this to my advisor one afternoon when he called and I was knee-deep in boxes and packing tape. “I’m packing,” I said. “Why aren’t you writing?” he asked me, and I laughed and yelled, “I’m moving to Norway!” There was silence from his end for a moment, and then he simply said, “Write, Kate.” Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Susan Stockdale

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1. Write down every book idea you have as soon as you have it. Otherwise, you’ll forget what might have resulted in your (first) Caldecott, Newbery, or National Book Award. Keep a pencil and paper nearby – in your purse, your briefcase, your car. Transfer your ideas to a “book idea” folder in your computer or journal. Then when you’re searching for your next book topic, you’ll have many choices at hand.

GIVEAWAY: Susan 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: missnelso04 won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by You Byun

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3. Please yourself as a reader. I have the highest standard and expectation as a reader, like you do. When I walk into a bookstore, I want to be surprised to find a new picture book that will astonish me. I want to fall in love. I want to feel jealous because I didn’t come up with it first. I want to be surprised by a book because of its artwork or its touching story or the playfulness of the book. When I loved a book I have to own it. There is something magical in those special books which make me buy them…

GIVEAWAY: Y.B. 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: Sylliu won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Jeanne Ryan

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1. Learning to write synopses well is a golden skill. You’re probably aware that if you can master these little guys, you’ll have a leg up on selling manuscripts on proposal, competing in writing contests and applying for grants. But did you know they can also play a big role in selling subsidiary rights? Foreign publishers often send manuscripts to translators for a reading report before they’ll decide on a purchase. Translations cost money, which means it’s more economical for interested publishers to work off of a synopsis first. Need more motivation? Movie agents don’t have time to read every book that crosses their desk. So a well-written synopsis can be the bait they need to lure them into placing your book at the top of their TBR pile. Next time someone claims that synopsis-writing is Satan’s pet torture device, keep in mind they’re really golden keys to some divine opportunities. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Chandler Klang Smith

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This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Chandler Klang Smith, author of GOLDENLAND PAST DARK) 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: Chandler 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: CheffoJeffo won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by A.J. Colucci

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1. High Concept is easier to sell. Within three years of writing fiction, I had a couple of books, a few partials and had a lot of story ideas in my head, but agents kept telling me that The Colony was my best shot at getting published. They said the premise was high concept: When a supercolony of one trillion ants attack Manhattan, two divorced entomologists are brought together to stop the invasion before the president nukes the city. A high concept novel can be summed up in one sentence that instantly gets the listener excited and paints a visual image of what the book is about. It should have broad appeal and a killer title, like Jurassic Park, The Godfather, or Jaws. It’s easier to sell because it’s pitch-driven, not sold on execution. Considering how hard it is to publish a first novel, that’s definitely something to keep in mind.

GIVEAWAY: AJ 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: missnelso04 won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Elisa Lorello

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This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Elisa Lorello, author of ADULATION) 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: Elisa 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: TakakoW won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Douglas Brunt

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1. Don’t write more than 3 hours at a time. I write three hours in the morning, 9am – 12pm. Other people are best late at night. I try to go to the same place when I write, but that doesn’t matter much. I’ve done lots of writing on planes and in cars, hotels. The important thing is to write when your brain is at its best. Work edits or do outside reading with the rest of the day. Don’t worry about a daily word quota. Stephen King has said he likes to get 2000 words each day. That’s a mistake for most people. Good for discipline but bad for a well written novel. Three hours of creating is taxing on any brain and you should stop there. Some days you may stop without any words at all. It’s much easier to write new stuff the next day than to go through painful deletions of a day’s worth of crap you already wrote. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Jordan Jacobs

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7) There’s absolutely nothing the matter with kids today (at least nothing that wasn’t wrong with kids yesterday or the day before). The foxtrot did not destroy the greatest generation, MAD Magazine did not dissolve the moral fiber of our parents, and the PS3 will not rob our children of their souls. Every school I’ve visited on my book tour–public, private, rich, and poor–has shown me that kids are still the critical, curious, contemplative creatures they’ve always been. And they also still love to read. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Elizabeth Richards

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4. Buy lots of swag. You’re going to need it! Bloggers, readers, bookstores, other authors, book groups, librarians and schools will all want some, so you better make sure you’ve got plenty to go around. If you want to keep costs low (and I do!), I highly recommend you just order bookmarks, as they’re cheap to produce, they look awesome, and they don’t cost an arm and a leg to mail (and trust me, it all adds up, especially if you’re posting internationally).

GIVEAWAY: Elizabeth 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: Rebecca Harwell won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Dana Bate

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1. The book chooses the writer. Write the book you are meant to write – not the book you think you should write or the one you think your friends expect you to write, but the one buried inside you, begging to come out. Don’t worry that your best friend or parents don’t read racy thrillers or chick lit or whatever it is that comes out when you start pouring words onto the page. Once you embrace the concept that the book chooses the writer, and not the other way around, the writing comes a lot more easily. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Chris Howard

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1. Write the book you want to read but can’t seem to find. Of course, by doing this, you run the risk of writing a book that no one but you wants to read! But what the hell, right?!? There’s no guarantee that anyone else will want to read your story anyway! And seeing as you’ll be re-reading it and revising it for months, maybe years, you probably ought to like it to begin with, if only for your mental health! I also like to think that this technique will help make your novel as unique and strange, and hopefully as interesting, as you are.

GIVEAWAY: Chris is excited to give away a free copy of his 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: ABLyttle won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far: G.M. Malliet

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3. Don’t invent a series character you wouldn’t marry. You may have to live with this character for a very long time. Agatha Christie famously wanted to throttle Hercule Poirot and his mustaches with her bare hands before she was done with him or he with her. By the same token, avoid Agatha’s mistake in inventing an elderly protagonist unless you yourself are elderly.

GIVEAWAY: G.M. 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: Julia Munroe Martin won.) Read more

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