7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Pat Esden

Publish date:

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Pat Esden, author of BEYOND YOUR TOUCH) 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.

Pat Esden, author of A HOLD ON ME (Feb 2016) and BEYOND YOUR TOUCH (August 2016) both from Kensington, is an antique-dealing florist by trade. She’s also a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and the League of Vermont Writers. Her short stories have appeared in a number of publications, including Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, the Mythopoeic Society’s Mythic Circle literary magazine, and George H. Scither’s anthology Cat Tales. You can find her online on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Pat Esden author writer

1. Time, patience, and career paths.

It can take a long time to sign with an agent and get a traditional publishing deal. Self-publishing is faster. But both come with time management benefits and issues. In traditional publishing, the author has essentially no control over the time schedule. But with a team of professionals working on a book’s production, the author is left free to focus on creative endeavors. Self-publishing gives the author control over the speed with which a book will be released. However, time spent overseeing a book’s production will leave the author with less time to write. In either case, don’t rush. Don’t be stubborn. Both paths or a combination are equally legitimate. Make your choices based on what works best for you personally, your career goals, and your book. Be patient and honest with yourself.

(Why writers should put their e-mail online for all to see.)

2. Comparison books are important.

It is very important to include one or two comparison books when pitching. Comparisons give agents and editors an idea of what to expect when they open your manuscript and it helps them see where the book fits into the current market. However, finding comparison books after a novel is completed can be difficult. Instead of waiting until afterwards, try reading a variety of books that have some similarities to yours before you start writing—for example, they could be in the same genre or have the same theme but have a different setting or tone than you intend to use. But don’t just read authors you’re familiar with. Pick up books by popular authors that you have never read, especially those published in the last ten years. Often comparisons are hard to find because you have unintentionally limited the scope of what you’re reading.

3. Synopses and blurbs.

Writing synopses and blurbs before you begin writing a book may be the best choice for some writers. This doesn’t mean they won’t need tweaking once the novel is completed; writing is an organic process afterall. But doing them ahead can help you stay on track while you write. Plus, it can help you not get distracted by subplots and secondary characters when it’s time to create the final synopsis and blurb.

Image placeholder title

Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton's guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.

4. Don’t forget to celebrate along the way.

Celebrate small achievements—such as finishing your pre-writing synopsis. It’s easy to forget that these milestones are important. Put stickers on a calendar to keep track of the days you reach your writing goals, finish drafts, and send out your first query. These steps are huge. Without them the larger achievements wouldn’t stand a chance of happening.

5. Prepare ahead of time.

Hurry up and wait. This pretty much describes all stages of the journey to becoming a published novelist. The trick is to prepare for the ‘hurry up’ stage during the long waits. Work on blog posts, your website, other novels, or anything you may need in the future while you’re waiting to hear back on queries or mired in the long silence after submitting a requested manuscript. Don’t let downtime be a void filled with stagnation and fretting. Do things that will make your life easier when the rush hits.

6. Refill and refresh.

Use downtime to get out of your own head. Go to conferences, support other writers by attending local book signings and talks. Take classes to expand your writing skills and bolster weak areas. This is a great way to reenergize and remember that everyone—no matter what stage of the writing journey they are at—encounters difficulties and joy. You’ll return to your writing inspired and most likely with new writing friends as well.

(Without this, you'll never succeed as a writer.)

7. Write what you love.

Last but not least, be brave. Dig deep and write the story you’ve always wanted to create. This applies not only to stories that are emotionally difficult to write, but also to stories that feel too fluffy or not important enough to be worth writing. Funny picture books, sweet romance, stories that address important issues, stories that titillate . . . all genres and categories of books have a place in this world. Be true to your dreams, write with honesty and all your heart.


Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more 
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying, 
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you'll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 554

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a future poem.


New Agent Alert: Tasneem Motala of The Rights Factory

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Tasneem Motala of The Rights Factory) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.


Timothy Miller: The Alluring Puzzle of Fact and Fiction

Screenwriter and novelist Timothy Miller explains how he came to write historical fiction and how research can help him drive his plot.


Dr. Munish Batra and Keith R.A. DeCandido: Entertainment and Outrage

Authors Dr. Munish Batra and Keith R.A. DeCandido explain how they came to co-write their novel and why it's important to them that the readers experience outrage while reading.


Incite vs. Insight (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use incite vs. insight with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.


Jane K. Cleland: On Writing the Successful Long-Running Series

Award-winning mystery author Jane K. Cleland describes what it's like to write a long-running book series and offers expert advice for the genre writer.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: #StartWrite, Virtual Conference, and New Courses

This week, we’re excited to announce free resources to start your writing year off well, our Novel Writing Virtual Conference, and more!


20 Most Popular Writing Posts of 2020

We share a lot of writing-related posts throughout the year on the Writer's Digest website. In this post, we've collected the 20 most popular writing posts of 2020.