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7 Things I’ve Learned So Far: G.M. Malliet

3. Don’t invent a series character you wouldn’t marry. You may have to live with this character for a very long time. Agatha Christie famously wanted to throttle Hercule Poirot and his mustaches with her bare hands before she was done with him or he with her. By the same token, avoid Agatha’s mistake in inventing an elderly protagonist unless you yourself are elderly. GIVEAWAY: G.M. is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Julia Munroe Martin won.)

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by G.M. Malliett, mystery author of multiple novels) 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: G.M. is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Julia Munroe Martin won.)

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G.M. Malliet is the author of WICKED AUTUMN, an NBC "Today" show
Summer Reads Pick (Charlaine Harris). Her first book won the Agatha
Award for Best First Mystery, and her two most recent books were chosen
by Library Journal for their best mysteries lists of 2011 (WICKED AUTUMN)
& 2012 (A FATAL WINTER). Visit her website at http://GMMalliet.com

 1. Write what you love to read. Authors just starting out often misinterpret the standard advice to “write what you know.” Perhaps you know a lot about root canals or tax law, but the trick is to write the type of book you most love to read—thriller, love story, or historical novel. That way you know what’s been done before, and what you can build upon. Your insider knowledge of tax law may come into play, perhaps in a legal thriller, but a little of that will go a long way. By the same token…

2. Don’t write a Scandinavian mystery, unless you happen to be Scandanavian. Even if you read the Steig Larsson books a dozen times, trying to write a book with a setting and culture you know little about will guarantee an unhappy ending.

(Writing a thriller? Check out our list of thriller literary agents.)

3. Don’t invent a series character you wouldn’t marry. You may have to live with this character for a very long time. Agatha Christie famously wanted to throttle Hercule Poirot and his mustaches with her bare hands before she was done with him or he with her. By the same token, avoid Agatha’s mistake in inventing an elderly protagonist unless you yourself are elderly. This leads us to…

4. Plan Ahea… As the old joke goes, particularly if you are writing a book that is part of a planned series. I called my first Max Tudor novel Wicked Autumn. The second book in the series was A Fatal Winter. So far, so good. You may have spotted that I have a seasonal trend going here. I have a strong title in mind for the spring book, but a title for the summer book eludes me. I figure I’ll cross that fjord when I get there. For the fifth book I am in trouble unless they invent a new season. Or I could switch to using Swedish titles: Swedish for autumn, I am told, is “höst.”

5. Never get too attached to your book title. Getting too attached to anything you’ve written is asking for trouble, but titles can be particularly problematic. Writers tend to cling to their titles until they have to be pried from their cold dead hands. I’ve been lucky that out of five books I’ve had published (the first three were the St. Just series for Midnight Ink) only one title was rejected. Midnight Ink’s marketing department wanted to keep the third title consistent with the first two. They were probably right about this, but it led to the sort of lengthy exchange of emails that can take years off an author’s life. I still mourn that lost title, and I plan to resurrect it one day. But unless they want to call your book Boring Novel or Stupid Book or something else you just can’t live with, let it go.

(Secrets to querying literary agents: 10 questions answered.)

6. Listen to half the advice you get from those who critique your work. The question, of course, is “Which half?” But it’s your book, and you should be able to defend it before you even think of showing it to anyone: critique group partner, agent, editor—anyone. What you share should be your strongest effort, and you should have a very good reason for every decision you’ve made in writing it. Before you’ve reached the point of confidence (this is different from stubbornness, by the way), you’ll probably be quick to go on the defensive. You may cling mulishly to what is clearly not working in the book. Avoid the chance of ignoring good advice when it is given by thinking the whole thing through ahead of time.

7. The only way around Writer’s Block is to drive straight through it. Whether you’re cleaning out your garage or writing a book, the same principle applies: Never tackle a big project all at once. Approach it as a series of little projects strung together. Maybe you don’t feel like describing a character today, so work on your setting. If that plot twist isn’t working, work on something else you know you want to have in your book. Imagine the house where you protagonist lives, or where he goes for coffee every day, and describe it in one short but finely honed paragraph. That’s it. You’re done for the day. Tomorrow, tackle the next part of the story that happens to engage your attention. When you’ve stitched all these pieces together, what you’ll have is a finished novel.

GIVEAWAY: G.M. is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Julia Munroe Martin won.)

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