7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Dana Bate

1. The book chooses the writer. Write the book you are meant to write – not the book you think you should write or the one you think your friends expect you to write, but the one buried inside you, begging to come out. Don’t worry that your best friend or parents don’t read racy thrillers or chick lit or whatever it is that comes out when you start pouring words onto the page. Once you embrace the concept that the book chooses the writer, and not the other way around, the writing comes a lot more easily.
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This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Dana Bate, author of THE GIRLS' GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS) 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.

(Should you start your novel with a prologue?)

dana-bate-author-writer
the-girls-guide-to-love-and-supper-clubs

Dana Bate is the author of THE GIRLS' GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS
(published in the UK as THE SECRET SUPPER CLUB), which Publishers Weekly
gave a starred review, calling it "an engaging debut ... smart and compelling."
You can connect with Dana on Facebook and Twitter

1. The book chooses the writer. Write the book you are meant to write – not the book you think you should write or the one you think your friends expect you to write, but the one buried inside you, begging to come out. Don’t worry that your best friend or parents don’t read racy thrillers or chick lit or whatever it is that comes out when you start pouring words onto the page. Once you embrace the concept that the book chooses the writer, and not the other way around, the writing comes a lot more easily.

2. Social media is a time suck – and a savior. When it comes to writing a book, Twitter and Facebook (and email, for that matter) serve as huge distractions. After all, what requires more effort? Skimming through your Facebook feed or tackling a difficult scene that requires major revisions? But if you spend all of your time on the Internet, you’re not writing, and if you’re not writing…well, it’s pretty hard to finish a book. Sometimes, you need to unplug.

On the flip side, writing is a lonely and isolating endeavor. Both Facebook and Twitter are wonderful outlets for both meeting and interacting with other writers. I think of social media as my virtual water cooler. Once I’ve done my writing for the day, or when I’m taking a coffee or lunch break, I stop by, interact with a few other writers (who are in the same boat as I am), and then get back to work. Social media can be a distraction, but if you’re disciplined, it’s also a great resource.

(Look over a growing list of agents who represent novels.)

3. Do not underestimate the power of a gym membership. I am not an athlete. I don’t run, and I have some of the worst hand-eye coordination of all time. But ever since I started writing full time, I work out almost every day. After sitting in front of the computer for hours at a time, I need a release – something that requires me to put one foot in front of the other and use my muscles. For someone working from home, especially in a climate that isn’t conducive to year-round walks in the park, belonging to a gym is a great excuse to get out of the house.

4. You will revise more times than you ever thought possible. Back in college, my idea of “revising” a paper involved switching a few pronouns here and there and correcting typos. Revising a book? Yeah, it’s not like that. You’ll cut entire sections, rewrite others, and move events forward or backward in your chronology of events. And then you’ll reread your draft and do it again. And again. And again.

5. There will be hiccups. Whether it takes you weeks or years to land an agent and a book deal, there will be bumps in the road. The early part of my road to publication was fairly bump-free. It took me maybe three months to land an agent and then another month to get a publishing deal. I considered myself lucky. But then three months after getting my publishing deal, my agent was laid off. Another agent at the agency swooped in and took over, but then three months after that, my editor left for a promotion at a different publishing house. Another editor took over the project, and everything worked out in the end, but it demonstrated that publishing is a roller coaster, and you never know when events will take a sharp turn, one way or the other.

(Read examples of query letters in our "Successful Queries" series.)

6. At a certain point, you’re not in control anymore. Once your publisher accepts your finished manuscript, the book is out of your hands. Sure, you can suggest the sort of cover you might like, and you can lobby against that title change your publisher has in mind, but in the end, the buck stops with the publisher. What you have to appreciate is that you and your publisher have the same goal: to sell books. The marketing and publicity departments have access to information that you, as an author, do not, so as difficult as it may be, you have to let go. And once the book is in bookstores? Then everything is really out of your control. So it’s better to get used to this idea sooner rather than later.

7. Not everyone is going to like your book. Fact: some people out there won’t like your book. This is a reality that is easy to accept on an intellectual level but much harder to accept on an emotional one. But look up any book on Amazon or Goodreads –The Great Gatsby, War and Peace, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter – and you will find one- and two-star reviews. Does this mean these are bad books? Of course not. It means some people, for one reason or another, didn’t connect with the story or the characters. Some people won’t connect with your story or characters either. And that’s fine. As long as you like your book and have told the story you wanted to tell, you needn’t worry and should be proud of the work you’ve done!

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