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7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Patricia Stoltey

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 Patricia Stoltey. Patricia Stoltey is the author of two mysteries, The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Patricia Stoltey, author of THE PRAIRE GRASS MURDERS) 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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Patricia Stoltey is the author of two
The Prairie Grass Murders and
The Desert Hedge Murders.She
focuses on the writing life at her blog.

1. That first novel is probably not as good as you think it is. No matter how hard you’ve worked at your revisions and no matter how many times you’ve gone through your manuscript to self-edit before writing your query letters, your manuscript can be improved with the help of a good editor. This is one of the reasons why most published authors (including me) recommend critique groups. We need that critical eye to help us improve our craft and to toughen our hides before we’re exposed to tough editors and tougher reviewers.

2. You cannot be just a writer. You must also be a publicist, a public speaker, an administrative assistant, a salesman, a bookkeeper, and more. You will be shocked at the amount of time you spend promoting yourself and your book.

3. Networking is the most important reason to attend writers’ conferences. Volunteer to help with registration, moderate a panel, conduct a workshop in your area of expertise, or stuff goodie bags. Make friends. Also hang out with the authors, editors, and agents during cocktail hour. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. They (at least most of them) won’t bite.

4. Approach social media with caution. It’s addictive and time-consuming. It’s also an important networking and promotional tool. Once you have a website and a blog, you can experiment with other sites to see what works best for you. Facebook, Twitter, and others are called “social” media for a reason. Engage followers and friends. Ask questions. Forward interesting communications. Visit blogs and leave comments. Be professional and discreet, but be open and friendly.

5. Watch what you say and write. Every word you speak at a presentation may be captured by someone’s flip video camera or phone camera and uploaded to the Internet. Every comment you leave on someone else’s blog could show up when someone initiates a Google search on your name. Set Google Alerts for your author name, the names of your published books, and your blog name if different from your author name. You need to know when and where you’re getting exposure (or getting exposed).

6. Don’t try to follow someone else’s rules. There is no one correct way to write, to get published, or to promote your book. Educate yourself so you know all the options, and then do it your way. Your way should include a critique group (in my humble opinion).

7. Never give up. No matter how talented you are, and no matter how excellent your agent, luck still plays a roll in whether your book succeeds. Do you snag a big publisher with a big advertising budget? Do you get reviewed by one or more of the reviewers consulted by acquisition librarians and chain bookstores? Does your book strike a chord with readers, resulting in the buzz that can sell more books than a dozen celebrity blurbs and starred reviews? If none of these things happen, be prepared to move on. Write a new book. Don’t be afraid of rejection. It’s part of the learning process. Keep going. Nothing good can happen if you quit.


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