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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Robert Lewis

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 Robert Lewis. Robert Lewis writes crime fiction and runs the NeedleCity blog.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Robert Lewis) 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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Robert Lewis writes crime fiction
and runs the
NeedleCity blog.

Right now, I have the good fortune to be represented by the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and my book, Unseen Damage, is being shopped to editors this very moment. I wanted to write a column from my unique situation - from the vantage point of a writer who has an agent and is now trying to 1) build a platform and 2) sell the book. Here are seven things I now know that I hope can help you:

1. Getting an agent is only the beginning. When we start out writing and dreaming of finding an agent and getting published, we, of course, focus on getting the agent. This is natural. It makes sense. In reality, however, it’s only the end of the first phase. The next phase, getting published, is where even more work awaits.

2. Every writer/agent relationship is different. This is probably one of the hardest things an aspiring writer has to learn. It was certainly hard for me. I’ve spoken with many writers who jump at the first agent who offers representation. This may not be the best move. The writer/agent relationship is first and foremost a business relationship, and in business people succeed best when they are well-suited to work together. Ask a lot of questions when you’re on the phone with this prospective agent. See if you can work together. Do you “click”? Always remember: If one agent wants to sign you, there will be others.

3. Landing a rep does not necessarily lead to publication of your book. Sad but true. Just “mind the gap” and keep working on the next project while your agent sends out your manuscript. Let your agent do his or her job while you keep churning out the golden prose.

4. It’s going to take time. No way around this. It took 4-5 months from the time I signed with my agent to the time she began to send my novel out to publishers. I’ve heard of it taking eight to twelve months or even longer before an agent felt a manuscript was ready to go out into the world. And once it goes out, it will take even more time. Again, just keep your head down, and always remember to breathe.

5. Building your author platform will be one of the most vital parts of the process. Once my book began to go out, my agent felt it was a good time to begin building my platform. Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Myspace, website, etc. This takes a lot of time and energy. Your platform is one of the major ways that people will hear about you and your book. I imagined myself at my desk, writing furiously, sending out my manuscripts to my editor for publication while my publicist did all the advertising. Ha! I was so naïve! These days it’s up to the author to sell his or her self, and their work.

6. It isn’t really done until the book is in print. One of the first things you’ll probably do after you sign with your agent is go back and rewrite your book. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. The revising I did on my novel took three months. Fairly deep revision it was, too, as I had to take a character that had been killed and bring them back to life. It was an incredible learning experience.

7. Just relax. Writing to land an agent can take years. It took me about four years of intense writing and two manuscripts to finally sign with a reputable agency. I took off about two weeks after I signed the agency agreement to read some novels my agent suggested I read before I tackled the rewrite. After all the work to get to where I am today, I’m beginning to realize just how important it is to not write. To regroup, reassess, and recharge. Writing will hopefully be your career for many, many years. You need to arrive at the gates with enough strength to walk through.

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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

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