Hi writerly people!
Well, I have some exciting news to share in my third guest post: I just published a novel! We Are Not Like Them came out on October 5th and it’s been a wild ride, including a thrilling (and nerve wracking!) appearance on national television as the Good Morning America book club pick!
After so many years of being on the “other side” of things as a book editor, it’s been fun, surreal and daunting to walk in an author’s shoes. People often ask me what surprised me most about turning from editor to author and my answer is: just how hard it is to write a book!
All these books I published, all these years, who knew?! A belated apology to all my beloved writers for dropping a cheerful 12-page editorial letter on you so blithely or advising you (in vain) not to check your Amazon ranking.
Now I know, now I know.
But actually, my career as an editor did prepare me for this journey. In a sense, I almost knew too much, sort of like the doctor turned patient. But I tried to use that knowledge for good. And lest you think this post is just a self-serving book plug…no!
I want to share with you five tips and tools I applied from being an editor to my journey as a writer. These strategies can help you, too, at whatever stage of the writing journey you yourself are on.
(To your agent and editor, and well, everyone else, too.)
Okay, it seems simple and we learned this in kindergarten, but it’s worth a reminder. People want to help you and set you up for success if they feel warmth toward you.
Yes, publishing is a business, which I stress over and over, and your agent and editor’s job is to sell the book. But they are also selling you and investing in you.
It’s harder to be motivated to work hard on someone’s behalf, on evenings and on weekends, if that person is sending you snarky emails or making demands or having inappropriate emotional outbursts.
On the (luckily rare) occasions I’ve experienced this as an editor, it’s really soured me on the entire book and made me disinclined to go the extra mile. And the extra mile is what can really make a difference in a publication.
Also, this “be nice” adage applies all along the way of your journey. Be nice to your beta readers and generous about reading their work, be supportive of other writers online and at events, be friendly with people you meet at writer’s conferences or readings.
The publishing world is very small and you never know when you’ll cross paths with folks again down the road. Not to mention, putting good positive writerly karma in the world can come back to you!
Be a partner
As you’re writing and publishing a book, it helps to consider yourself part of a team.
This team spirit is also important throughout the process, starting even with, say, your writing group and remembering you’re all facing the same opportunities and struggles, so be inclined toward mutual support. It also extends to a partnership with an agent, editor, publicist etc. These aren’t people that are here just to serve you or work for you– you’re in this together!
All of these folks want to set you up for success, so help them help you. Be open to feedback, be mindful about putting together the right “tools” for your book. Not just a great product itself, but a selling pitch, and strong comp titles and by proactively thinking about how to build your audience of readers well before your book hits shelves (by, for example, writing stories or articles, being on social media, speaking etc.).
In other words, don’t just turn over your novel and count on your agent or editor to do all the work, but be open to bringing creative ideas and energy to the table.
Manage your expectations
I know, I know, as you type every word of your book, you’re imagining Oprah holding it up and announcing that it’s the best book she’s ever read. (Just me?)
Every writer wants success and it’s up to you to define what that looks like. And sure, aim high! But if your only measure of success is eventually appearing on the New York Times bestseller list, statistically speaking, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
In order to keep going on a process that can feel grueling at times (again, just me?) and is littered with rejection, it’s vital to celebrate smaller milestones all the way through: having a great writing day and wrangling 100 words you don’t hate on the page! Finishing a draft! Nailing the final revision! Getting an agent! Getting a book deal!
Remember, some people would long to be able to say they did any one of those things! Be grateful to get a readership, period, even if it’s your cousin… and then any of the hundreds or thousands of people beyond that is icing on the cake. Because at the end of the day accolades, awards, and sales are nice (we’re only human), but it’s also easy to get lost in the game of comparison, and to feel like you’re always chasing the next thing.
Enjoy what you’ve achieved and remember you’re on your own journey with its own timing.
You’re a writer, because you write…so write!!
Maybe you’re stuck on a project, or maybe you’ve queried agents and you’re waiting to hear back, maybe you’ve had a book recently go on sale and you’re anxious about sales and wondering, what next?? (Ahem).
Well, it can help to dive into another project. Keep the writing muscles active and engaged and the creative juices flowing, even if it’s working on something that will never turn into a book. Maybe you try your hand at poetry or some writing prompts to hone certain areas of craft?
The point is to avoid getting fixated on the project that’s done or stalled and turn your attention elsewhere. Or–and I highly recommend this–take a break!
It’s important to put your book down, lest you get fixated. Some writers just go, go, go and feel guilty about pausing their work, but it’s so important.
Stop and take time to read other people’s work, or just let your mind have a break and then return with fresh eyes and perspective. It’s valuable to the writing process, I promise, and is good for your sanity, too!
Avoid dwelling on reviews and rankings
*She writes as she checks her Amazon ranking!*
I already mentioned it’s a bad idea. It’s pointless! And yet…
I do thrill at reading positive reviews of my novel–I’m only human! I’m also one of those editors who believes folks should read their reviews: the good, the bad and the ugly. So many writers make a rule to avoid them, but feedback matters provided it’s thoughtful and presented in good faith.
Hearing critiques of your work (even if it’s painful) from strangers or your agent, or editor is a valuable and essential part of the process. The trick is not to get hung up on what Laverne says on her Facebook post, or the one line of criticism that hits you because it’s just wrong.
The trick is to take in reactions, both positive and negative, digest them and move on without letting either pole affect your psyche too much. Use the feedback as a tool to improve your writing, not as something that has the power to either affirm or destroy your sense of worth as a writer.
This whole writing thing is supposed to be fun!
Yes, there’s so much rejection. There’s so much hitting your head on your keyboard. There’s so much feeling adequate.
Being a writer can be tortuous and yet we’re called to do it anyway. So we have to remind ourselves to enjoy the process and to be really conscious and intentional about that.
That’s where the celebrating along the way comes in. I certainly did that. And throughout the highs and lows, it’s been really helpful to remind myself to embrace all of the delightful parts of the journey and be grateful for them: that I am able to find time and energy and creative spirit to write, that I get to meet so many wonderful people in the writing/publishing communities, that I had an excuse to buy new clothes and a new lipstick to do a Zoom book event, that I got to feel a sense of accomplishment seeing my name on a draft and then a book.
Whether one person read it or not, I did that! And you will too. So keep on the journey wherever you are at this moment, and remind yourself of the above all along the way!
Now excuse me, why I go check my Amazon ranking! Kidding!!