7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by M.M. Vaughan

1) Don’t send your manuscript out to every agent at once. I learned this by mistake. I made a list of twelve agents that I wanted to send my book to and prepared a submission pack for each one. I then realized that I only had three stamps so I sent three out and decided that I might as well wait and see how they responded before sending the rest. I’m glad I did. All three turned it down and all three mentioned that they didn’t like synopsis. I rewrote the synopsis (which, in fairness, was awful) and sent out the manuscript to the remaining seven agents on my list. Five said yes! Maybe they would have been interested anyway, who knows, but it makes sense to submit in batches to take advantage of any feedback you might get. GIVEAWAY: M.M. is excited to give away 2 free copies of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Jeri Baird won.)
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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 M.M. Vaughan, author of THE ABILITY) 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: M.M. is excited to give away 2 free copies of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Jeri Baird won.)

THEABILITYcover
mmvaughan

M.M.Vaughan (Monica Meira Vaughan) is the author of THE ABILITY
(Simon & Schuster, April 2013), a middle-grade novel described by Publishers
Weekly as "a fast-paced, superhero-tinged spy novel" and picked by TIME
for Kids as one of its '12 Books For Summer'. Her second book, MINDSCAPE,
will be on sale March 2014. Monica likes to start writing after midnight and it
has been, until recently, her secret hobby. On the weekends, she dedicates
her time to building cardboard cities for her three-year-old daughter and
catching up on sleep. She lives in London. Learn more on her website or
get in touch with her on Twitter.

1) Don’t send your manuscript out to every agent at once. I learned this by mistake. I made a list of twelve agents that I wanted to send my book to and prepared a submission pack for each one. I then realized that I only had three stamps so I sent three out and decided that I might as well wait and see how they responded before sending the rest. I’m glad I did. All three turned it down and all three mentioned that they didn’t like synopsis. I rewrote the synopsis (which, in fairness, was awful) and sent out the manuscript to the remaining seven agents on my list. Five said yes! Maybe they would have been interested anyway, who knows, but it makes sense to submit in batches to take advantage of any feedback you might get.

2) No news means ... absolutely nothing. As the least patient person I know, I have had somewhat of a difficult time dealing with how slowly everything in publishing happens. To help me sleep, I have now devised a formula which (just about) keeps me on the right side of sane: Time for something to happen = Maximum length of time you expect that thing to happen, add one month and multiply by two. And I’m not even kidding.

(Hate writing synopses? Here are nuts & bolts pointers for you.)

3) Use your time well. Formula or no formula, waiting for news from agents or publishers is painful. Some do’s and don’ts (which I may, or may not, have compiled from personal experience): DON’T call them, stalk them, refresh your email obsessively or pore over agents’ twitter feeds for some veiled reference to your manuscript. DO use the time to build up an online presence or, even better, start a new book. If you get the deal, you’ll need to write a second one and, if you don’t – well, you’re not going to give up, of course. Oh, and change your ringtone for the caller you want to hear from, so you only injure yourself running to answer your phone when it really matters.

4) Secrets for your readers. Another lucky accident. When writing The Ability, I gave the last name ‘Genever’ to the baddies because it’s an anagram of revenge (a central theme), and the first names Dulcia (from the Latin for ‘sweet’), Ernest (synonym of ‘heartfelt’) and Mortimer (Latin, ‘death’). So their names mean Sweet Revenge, Heartfelt Revenge and Revenge of Death. I also, for no good reason, decided that the string of numbers my protagonist Chris ‘visualizes’ during an unusual test would be 1291292025, which I’m sure you’ve already worked out spells ABILITY if A=1, B=2 etc. I was just entertaining myself really, and explained neither in the story itself.

However, when it came to promoting my book, these two ‘secrets’ turned out to be a great way to give readers at events something extra that they couldn’t have learned without hearing it from me personally. It also ensured a good ‘oooh’ moment at the end of my talks, which is always nice. Not knowing how useful this would turn out to be, I didn’t include any secrets in Mindscape, my second book, and now regret it. I’ve learned my lesson; book three is full of them!

5) Once you get a book deal, you will struggle to find time to write. I have to admit that, though I have learned this, I haven’t yet found a solution that works for me. Before my book deal, I had no idea how much an author has to do; edit, blog, tweet, facebook, answer emails, network, reply to readers who take the time to get in contact and so on. The list is endless. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of writing the next book, which, now you have a deal, also comes with a deadline. (Fun fact that haunts me with every day that passes without blogging: some book distributors have a little graphic that shows how active you are on blogs, twitter and goodreads).

If I’d known all of this before I got my deal, I would have spent some of that painful waiting time building up an online presence (see point 2) so I didn’t end up doing it all from scratch when other work started coming in. I know that not everybody agrees about the necessity of all this extra ‘stuff’ but, personally, I think my best chance of continuing on this surreal and incredible journey will be with the support of others.

I have been surprised (in a really, really good way) at the generosity and kindness of people both online and off and, even if I do often lose count of the irons in the fire, I do believe it’s worth finding the time to maintain those relationships and let people know how grateful you are. Also, it’s worth remembering that nobody can promote your book with more passion than you can – use that to your advantage.

(What a James Cameron movie can teach writers about how to start a story strong.)

6) You never stop worrying. I worried I’d never get my book finished. Then I finished it and immediately started to worry about whether I’d get an agent. I got an agent and then had sleepless nights over whether I’d get a publishing deal. Got the deal, worried about whether I’d be able to deliver the edit they wanted. I could go on. I don’t think there’s much to be done about this but hopefully it will be some comfort to know you’re not alone and that there’s at least one other sleep-deprived, mildly neurotic writer out there (me) sharing your pain. At some point though, you just have to find a way to turn the anxiety dial down a notch before you self-combust. Which leads neatly onto my final point…

7) Celebrate. So I finished writing my book, got an agent, secured a publishing deal and received my advance. Wow! Literally all my dreams have come true but I’ve always been too busy focusing on the next thing I have to do to stop and celebrate. One day, a friend pointed this out to me and amends were made. Now, when a project is finished or I receive good news, I make sure I take one night off to savor the moment.

At whatever stage of the writing journey you’re on, enjoy your achievements. It could be a party, dinner at a restaurant, a glass of champagne or, perhaps, a night playing online poker while watching back-to-back Mad Men episodes followed by an epic lie-in. Whatever floats your boat. This is now my one rule of writing and, in my opinion: Best. Rule. Ever. As the great philosopher Ferris Bueller once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

GIVEAWAY: M.M. is excited to give away 2 free copies of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Jeri Baird won.)

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