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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by John A. Connell

Forgive yourself for a day of bad writing. If you don’t, it could stifle your creativity.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by John A. Connell, author of RUINS OF WAR) 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.

GIVEAWAY: John is excited to give away a free, signed copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (UPDATE: igor93 won). 


Column by John A. Connell, author of debut novel RUINS OF WAR
(May 2015, Berkley/Penguin). Connell has worked as a cameraman
on films such as Jurassic Park and Thelma & Louise and on TV shows
including The Practice and NYPD Blue. The second book in the Mason
Collins series, SPOILS OF WAR, will be released in February 2015. He
now lives with his wife in Paris, France, where he is at work on his third
Mason Collins novel. Visit him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads

1. To forgive myself. Bet you didn’t see that coming … It took me a while to embrace this: Forgive yourself for a day of bad writing. If you don’t, it could stifle your creativity. Some days you’ll shine, but more often than not, what ends up in the page is far from what you imagined in your head.

Hemingway said (I’m paraphrasing here for delicate ears), “The first draft of anything is crap.” Turn off that inner-critic and keep writing, and remember that most every bestselling author will gladly warn you: Your writing, your manuscript will only shine after ruthless edits and countless rewrites. So don’t fret the first words that spill out onto the page. There are golden nuggets in there; you just have to mine for them.

2. Connections are important. I had the false precept that I couldn’t call myself a writer until I was published, that I would make connections and go to book festivals once that was accomplished. Don’t do this. Go to book festivals and author events. Meet other writers. Introduce yourself to booksellers, reviewers, bloggers, and librarians. These connections can be invaluable to you and your career. And what better way to reinforce your dreams than to meet others who share your passion!

3. The importance of speaking well in public. Nothing created more gut-wrenching tension for me than speaking in public. Whether it’s speaking at your first book launch party, a book signing event, or a live radio interview, it’s about making a good presentation for you and your book. After some fumbling the first few times out there, I took a crash course in public speaking, especially for live radio interviews, and it helped me immensely. Get some public speaking advice or take a class, and practice your presentations, before your book comes out.

4. The number one strategy for promotion. Keep writing good books. You might be surprised at how many bestselling authors published five, six, or more books before their career took off. This is not meant to discourage, but to encourage you. Each successive book creates more momentum, gains more fans, and the word of mouth spreads exponentially. Yes, promote the heck out of your current book, but don’t spend all your time and energy on promoting. Write an even better book than the last one.

5. Authors help other authors. This one surprised and delighted me. Established authors will almost always offer a helping hand to new and aspiring authors, despite the brutal competition. I come from the film business, where some would help, but just as many (or more) hoped you would fail. But in the book world, I’ve received some incredible support from new writers and bestsellers. Plus, there are a number of organizations and societies that offer support for new and aspiring writers.

Then return the favor. Cheer other authors on. Join, volunteer, contribute to those organization. Tweet or post or blog about other authors. Not only does this create good karma, the mutual promotion reaches far more readers. And you just might forge some deep and long-lasting friendships.

6. The book business is truly subjective. You hear that from agents when considering your manuscript. Well, once you have an agent, the same goes for your agent querying acquiring editors. An acquiring editor has to not only think you’re a talented writer and have a good, marketable story, they have to personally love it. Love it enough to expend all the energy it takes to woo the executives, the marketing and sales teams, and see your book has every chance of a successful launch. And the subjectivity doesn’t stop there: reviewers and readers have their turn, and there will be those who love it, and those who don’t. Take a deep breath when a rejection or a bad review comes your way, and recite the mantra, “it’s all subjective.”

7. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There’s a phrase in traditional publishing houses:“One month and done,” meaning that you have about one month for your debut before your publicist, booksellers, and readers turn their attention to the next tsunami of books coming out.

That isn’t as true anymore. Print books can live for a long time on virtual shelves, and e-books last forever. But it’s up to you, dear writer, to maintain that book’s life. Promote and market. Do giveaways. Contribute to blogs and write articles. Enter your book for awards. If you want to build a writing career, think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. The first month or two after launch is only the beginning.

GIVEAWAY: John is excited to give away a free, signed copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (UPDATE: igor93 won). 


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