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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Kim Wright

This is a 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 Kim Wright. Kim Wright’s novel Love in Mid Air (March 2010) received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Kim has been writing about travel, food, and wine for more than 25 years and is a two-time recipient of the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Writing.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Kim Wright, author of LOVE IN MID AIR) 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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Kim Wright's novel Love in Mid Air (March 2010)
received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
Kim has been writing about travel, food, and wine
for more than 25 years and is a two-time recipient
of the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Writing.
See her website here.

1. Your agent needs to be a good editor. I think most aspiring novelists know that agents are the gatekeepers—if they’re not impressed with your work as is, they’re unlikely to take you on as a client. But what I didn’t know two years ago is that many agents—like my own—come from an editorial background and are very qualified to help you get your manuscript in even better shape before sending it out to editors. My agent is now my first reader.

2. Your editor needs to know how to sell. If you’re with a big publisher, they release dozens of books each season, all in competition with each other for resources and attention within the house. If your editor is a strong advocate for your book, he or she can sell its merits to the people in publicity and sales, and make sure your book get the budget and manpower it deserves.

3. Don’t show your work to everyone. Most of the professional writers I know are very selective about getting feedback in the early stages. I’d say a circle of 2-5 trusted readers is perfect. Beyond that, you’ll either get confused by contradictory advice or your book will sound like it’s been edited by committee.

4. The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. I think Walt Disney said that and if he didn’t, he should’ve. It seems like a long career in writing hinges on your ability to keep coming up with new possibilities. Editors and agents want to know you’re not just a one-trick pony and you need to know that your whole life isn’t riding on a single project.

5. Once you’ve sold the book, you’ve sold the book. It took me a while to figure out what selling a book is like selling a house—i.e., you don’t own it any more. You can’t drive by six months later and stop and ask them “Why the heck did you paint the front door orange?” It’s their house now. Publishers might listen to your opinion about titles, covers, etc. but the final decisions rest with them.

6. Accept that publicity and marketing are part of your job. This is tough because you’ve probably just been alone and terribly focused on one thing for years. But after you sell the book you morph from the writer—who stumbles around in her bathrobe until noon, muttering—into the author, who is expected to be articulate, outgoing, perfectly dressed and media ready. It feels so weird and scary you might be tempted to crawl under the bed and leave everything to your publicist, but the truth is, if you want your book to be successful, this is part of the process.

7. Savor the sweet moments.
Publishing is a wild ride and you’re always going to feel you should be doing more and doing better. Try to pause in the middle of hourly checks on your Amazon ranking and attempts to put a curse on Kathryn Stockett and enjoy the little triumphs. A review from someone in Minnesota who understands exactly what you were going for … a kind note from a fellow writer ... a good day’s work on book two.

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