7 Things I've Learned So Far, by J. Kent Messum

1. The book business is a great business: Trust me. I spent fifteen years in a really bad business: the music business (a super sleazy viper’s nest of an industry). I’m not saying the book biz doesn’t have its problems, but I’ve largely found publishing to be a well-oiled machine. Most of those employed within it are exceedingly professional and have a tremendous love of books, working tirelessly toward the success of them. Also, the book business isn’t as time-sensitive as music or film. You can get your first book published when you’re twenty-something, or forty-something, or sixty-something...
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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 J. Kent Messum, author of BAIT) 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.

(How many literary agents should a writer send their work to?)

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J. Kent Messum is an author, musician, and always bets on the underdog.
He lives in Toronto with his wife, dog and trio of cats. He is the author of BAIT
(Plume, Aug. 2013). You can check out the heart-stopping book trailer for BAIT here.
Find J. Kent on Facebook and buy his book on Amazon. Also, find him on Twitter.

1. The book business is a great business: Trust me. I spent fifteen years in a really bad business: the music business (a super sleazy viper’s nest of an industry). I’m not saying the book biz doesn’t have its problems, but I’ve largely found publishing to be a well-oiled machine. Most of those employed within it are exceedingly professional and have a tremendous love of books, working tirelessly toward the success of them. Also, the book business isn’t as time-sensitive as music or film. You can get your first book published when you’re twenty-something, or forty-something, or sixty-something...

2. People think writing is easy: Practically every second person I run into these days is planning on writing a book. On the surface it seems like an easy thing to do. Already familiar with the language, all we technically need is a computer with a word program and our own imagination. I find people’s desire to write endearing, but the assumed simplicity of penning a good book couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes a lot of time, skill, patience, and dedication. If you want to become an author, be prepared to work harder than you ever have before.

3. Stealing art doesn’t support art: Downloading torrents, file-sharing, peer-to-peer networking, call it what you want, it��s still stealing. I’ve known far too many artists who were forced to give up or scale back their careers because too much of their work was being ripped off instead of being purchased. And it’s not just the creators that are abused. At the end of the day, there are a lot of people involved in bringing quality art to market. Theft hurts them all. If something is worth stealing, then it is worth buying. One person thinking it’s okay to steal doesn’t make a difference, but millions thinking that way certainly does.

(Pitch agents at a writers' conference.)

4. The truth hurts, so get used to it: Before Bait got published I’d written two other books that went nowhere. Why? It was because they weren’t very good. They had potential, sure, but overall they weren’t remotely ready to be published. I didn’t believe it at the time. Looking back now, I can see that all those who rejected me were correct in doing so. Nobody wants to hear their baby is ugly. You’ve worked hard on your book, slaved over pages for months, maybe years. I know you think it’s perfect, but the reality might be quite the opposite. As a writer you have to constantly strive to produce better and better material.

5. Good writing is largely unrecognized: I believe that traditional publishing is an incredibly tough, but important, goal to strive for with one’s work, forcing writers to rise to the top of their game. However, there are a lot of people that actually don’t understand or appreciate what good writing is. And while there are plenty of great writers out there, there are many others who set the bar mighty low. The latter aren’t the kind you should aspire to. Some people advise that you read as much as you can. My advice is to only read the good stuff. The bad stuff doesn’t help you become a better writer. In fact, it can be detrimental. An author has done their job when the reading of their work seems effortless.

6. Haters gonna hate: Once your work is out there being read, be prepared to hear the good, the bad, and some ugly. The fact is you can’t please everyone. Some people will love your books, while others will hate them. Become bulletproof. Let nothing shoot you down. While there is much value to constructive, even harsh, criticism, there is a big difference between professional feedback and varying public opinion. So, before you start letting anyone’s negative comments or reviews antagonize you, remember who they are and what their motivations might be for wanting to take you down a notch.

(Hear from authors who are marketing themselves and selling books online.)

7. Do whatever works: There is no correct method. I happen to be both a binge writer and a night owl. I can go days without writing a word, and then I’m at my computer every night, typing until sunrise, unable to stop. You might find green tea helpful, or maybe scotch. Loud music could be your muse. Dead silence might be needed. Motivations can be different as well. There’s the old adage “Don’t write for money”. I know plenty of people that write, at least in part, for the money. Others write to satisfy their ego, or to gain notoriety, glory and fame. In the end it doesn’t matter what your motivations are. It only matters that you are motivated to keep writing. Don’t think you have to adhere to a system or ideal that doesn’t work for you. If you dig better during the graveyard shift, then sleep all day and work all night.

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