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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Suzanne Johnson

1. Outline, outline, outline. I wrote ROYAL STREET front to back, beginning to end, with a lot of meandering in between. Said meandering bits got hacked through multiple revisions. Meandering wastes time. I learned quickly that if I’m going to hold down a full-time day job and expect to write multiple novels in a year, I have to be a plotter, not a pantser. GIVEAWAY: Suzanne 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: annabelle2024 won.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Suzanne Johnson, author of ROYAL STREET) 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: Suzanne 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: annabelle2024 won.)

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Suzanne Johnson is the author of a new urban fantasy series
set in post-Katrina New Orleans. The first book, ROYAL STREET
(Tor), was released in April 2012. Books two and three are scheduled
for release in fall 2012 and spring 2013. A longtime New Orleans
resident now living in Auburn, Alabama, Suzanne can be found
online at suzanne-johnson.com.

1. Outline, outline, outline. I wrote ROYAL STREET front to back, beginning to end, with a lot of meandering in between. Said meandering bits got hacked through multiple revisions. Meandering wastes time. I learned quickly that if I’m going to hold down a full-time day job and expect to write multiple novels in a year, I have to be a plotter, not a pantser.

2. I don’t know as much as I thought I did. I’d spent many long years in journalism and thought I knew how to tell a story… until I began writing a novel. The difference between a 4,000-word feature article and a 94,000-word novel is as epic as it sounds. With all the writing workshops available online these days, there’s no excuse for not continually studying the craft and continuing to learn.

(Definitions of unusual literary terms & jargon you need to know.)

3. The “Track Change” function of MS Word is my friend. Sometime during my first book’s production cycle, I got all nostalgic and thought it might have been romantic to have done book revisions and copyedits back in the olden days of paper manuscripts. Until a production glitch on the second book provided me with three-hundred-plus pages bound with a rubber band, on which I was expected to manually make copyedits using colored pencils. Obviously, I had been delusional and had read Little Women too many times. There was nothing romantic about it. It sucked.

4. Go ahead and read the reviews, but don’t take them too seriously. Before the first book launched, everyone told me: Don’t read the reviews. Really? How can you not? But the days of obsessive checking Goodreads to see what the latest complete stranger is saying have passed. I still look but now I see those reviews as if they were a bus hurtling toward me—I’ll watch them pass, but roll out of the way so they won’t mow me down and flatten me into authorial roadkill. I’m neither as awesome or abysmal as those folks think.

5. Expect pushback from other authors, especially online. This was a hard and somewhat shocking lesson for me. I can’t count how many times over the past couple of years I’ve read about the demise of traditional publishing, about how there’s no longer a need for agents, about how I’m a “sellout” for going the traditional agent-publisher route, and about how “New York” (the catch-all term for the major print publishers) no longer signs and nurtures debut authors.

There’s a huge pushback in the online author community against not only traditional publishers but other authors who pursue a traditional career. All I know is I’m a newbie author who has gotten great support from my publisher from patient and thorough editing through production to marketing. It might be harder to break in these days, but it ain’t dead, folks.

(The term "platform" defined -- learn how to sell more books.)

6. Space out deadlines. I’ve set book deadlines too close together, not allowing “wiggle room” to account for the sudden emergencies that seem to accompany the publishing process. Sure, the publisher might have had that manuscript on ice for nine months, but somehow, at the least convenient time, you’ll get back proofs or copyedits with a one-week turnaround. After dropping everything to handle this editorial emergency, you’ll find yourself with a half-finished other manuscript a week from deadline. This is not a good thing. It is not conducive to sanity. When you’re working on deadlines with your editor and/or agent, pick a reasonable date and add a few weeks for the unexpected.

7. Know thyself. Do you want to get published or be published? Because I’m learning it takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of discipline to get published and stay published. Most of the authors I meet have day jobs. Families. Kids and pets and houses that need cleaning and errands that need to be run. I can list a dozen names of really, really talented writers who have unfinished manuscripts languishing on their hard drives because I suspect that, at heart, they want to be published without making the sacrifices necessary to get published. It’s not easy. My house is a wreck. I spend more time with my laptop than my family. I’ve begun thinking of my day job as a time-suck. If you can’t make writing your priority, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you could, but don’t want to give up the Friday night movie or the Saturday house-cleaning, you just might not want it enough right now.

GIVEAWAY: Suzanne 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: annabelle2024 won.)

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