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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Colette Martin

This is a new recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers at any stage of their career can talk about seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from writer Colette Martin. Following a career as a marketing executive, Colette Martin is embarking on a second act as a nonfiction writer.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Colette Martin) 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.

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Following a career as a marketing executive,
Colette Martin is embarking on a second act
as a nonfiction writer. She writes about food
allergy solutions, corporate culture, working
women’s issues, blogging and social media. She
is the author of the When Fridays Were Fridays blog,
where she shares her views on life in Corporate America.

During my tenure in Corporate America, I was responsible for developing and marketing products and services. On the surface this may sound very different than the career I am now pursuing as a writer, but I am still developing and marketing a "product," and I am finding that many lessons I learned in Corporate America do indeed carry over into the writing and publishing world. Seven key things I learned are:

1. It’s not personal, it’s business. We hear a lot about employees in Corporate America who are unsatisfied with their performance ratings, or who didn’t get a raise or promotion. In the writing business, we hear a lot about rejection—writers who can’t get the book deal, and fear of agents and publishers. At a recent pitch slam I could feel the tension as the writers lined up to talk to the agents. But guess what? The agents were pleasant, easy to talk to, and just plain nice. They don’t want to reject your work any more than a manager wants to tell an employee they need to do a better job. There was no yelling and throwing of books. The truth is (are you ready to hear this?) not everyone can rise to the top. Just like bosses in Corporate America who need to hire the best talent for the job, agents and publishers look for the best product they can find so they can optimize their success.

2. It helps if you follow the rules. Let’s face it. Nobody wants to work with difficult people. There is always the exception of the employee who is so brilliant that management looks the other way, and if you are the next James Patterson then more power to you. For everyone else, just play nice. If an agent asks for a particular process or format, give it to them.

3. There is always something new to learn. The world changes fast. Technology changes. And yet it’s too easy to get stuck in the same old rut. The quickest way to rejuvenate your thinking and your work is to attend a conference, take a class, or just step out of your comfort zone and explore something new.

4. Keep your competition close. Uh-oh! Someone used your idea—they beat you to it! Or did they? As a product marketing manager, keeping a pulse on what the competition was doing was critical. But being first isn’t usually what counts, being better is. Watch what others are doing—closely—and do it better.

5. If someone else is succeeding at it, there is a market. Just because there are a handful of books already published on your topic doesn’t mean the market is saturated. If those books are selling well, that’s a sign that there is a market for what you have to offer. Use that as leverage to demonstrate you have an audience.

6. Everyone sees things differently depending on where they sit. There’s a term we use in the marketing world called the "value chain," which describes who the stakeholders are, what they get out of the deal, and how they make money. Let’s take the publishing process, for example. The writer, the agent, the publisher, the distributor, the bookseller—each see the process very differently based on what they get out of it. Get inside their heads. Understanding how each of these players views the world is a huge advantage for the person producing the product (in this case that’s you—the writer). And here’s a hint—they each care most about how they are measured and rewarded.

7. There is no one right path to success. I admit it. I’m an information junkie. So as I set out on this new path, I went in search of the how-to’s. It seems that every successful writer has written a book, or a blog, or an article on how to do exactly what he or she did. There is so much (often conflicting) advice thrown at us that it can be hard to get off the roller coaster. But I learned in business that while we can have role models and mentors, by the time it’s your turn to take that path the path will have changed. Everyone’s journey will be different, and we each have to go with our gut and do what feels right for us!

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