Surviving My First Year As A Published Author

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been a published author for over a year now. My first book (A Tailor-Made Bride) debuted in June 2010, and last May my third book with Bethany House, To Win Her Heart, hit the shelves. What an exciting whirlwind adventure this has been!

For those of you who are not yet published, I thought I’d share a few of the myriad lessons I’ve learned during the transition from hopeful writer to published author. Believe it or not, signing a publishing contract is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is just the beginning of another journey, one that will take you through unfamiliar territory with a whole new set of obstacles and pitfalls to navigate.

Learning to work with an editor

Most of you have probably worked with a critique group or received feedback from contest judges on your manuscript. Some of you may have even invested in hiring a freelance editor to go over your book. All of this is wonderful for helping you perfect your craft, and I highly recommend it. I still work with my critique group on every book I write. However, making the switch from critique group to publishing house editor is like switching from working with a high school baseball coach to a major league manager. The expectations placed upon you increase and the time to make improvements decreases. Thankfully, the editor wants you to succeed just as much as you want to succeed, so it can be a marvelously rewarding partnership.

In learning to work with an editor, attitude makes all the difference. Here are some tips for making this process a blessing instead of a trial:

  • Trust your baby to the care of another. You are no longer simply a passionate writer, creating the story that best pleases you. You are now a professional writer who must please a publisher and readers. Don’t forfeit the passion, but temper it with professionalism. I often hear unpublished writers say things like, “If an editor ever suggested I change X about my manuscript, I’d find a different publisher.” I strongly caution against this attitude. Publishing is a team effort. Be a team player and remember that the publishing world is a small one. Don’t make things harder on yourself by gaining a reputation as a diva.
  • Editors are allies, not enemies. It might not feel true when you get that 12 page, single-spaced substantive edit letter, but keep your defenses in check. Remember that your editor is there to help you create the best manuscript possible.
  • Approach conversations with humility. Editors know the market better than you do. They know what their readers like. Submit to their mentoring and heed their advice, but don’t be afraid to respectfully speak your mind if you have a strong aversion to one of their suggestions.

Dealing with deadlines.

Everyone writes differently. Some pour out their stories unchecked then go back and add layers, weaving in editing as they work through multiple drafts. Some outline extensively before ever writing a word. Some spend weeks delving into research. I’m one of those odd ducks who uses both sides of my brain at the same time, editing as I go. This makes my pace slow as I constantly edit as I create, but I essentially write only one draft.

The key to dealing with deadlines is to know your writing pace and plan accordingly. Set realistic intermediary goals. (For example, instead of a daily word count, I choose to set weekly goals. I try to write one polished chapter a week.) Then be sure to budget a cushion into your schedule to allow for unforeseen circumstances. Illness, family vacations, work duties—many things can pull you away from your writing. Don’t add to your deadline stress by cutting things too close. I try to pad my deadline by 2-4 weeks to give myself some flexibility. Plus it’s cool to get brownie points by turning in a manuscript early.

Handling Reviews

Good reviews can send your spirit soaring, and bad reviews can send you plummeting into a pool of doubt and insecurity. You must learn to find balance. Some wise authors I know choose not to read reviews at all. I have to admit that I can’t seem to resist the lure. I check my reviews on Amazon every day and eagerly await news from my publisher about trade reviews. Publisher’s Weekly tends to give me great write-ups, yet the ones from Romantic Times are usually a bit lackluster. The inconsistency can be frustrating, but I constantly remind myself that reviews are subjective. That fact became very evident when my publisher decided to offer my debut novel as a free e-book download in May. I was pleasantly surprised by all the new 4 and 5 star reviews, but then there were the 1 star reviews that came with them. Ick.

  • Not everyone will love your book, so gird your loins in advance.
  • Enjoy the pleasure of positive reviews, but don’t let them puff you up with pride. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. ~Proverbs 11:2
  • Learn what you can from a harsh review. Look for ways to improve your craft for future projects. However, don’t dwell on the sour words. They will destroy your confidence and steal your passion. Glean what you can, then walk away.

This publishing journey can be a long and arduous one, but it is rich with rewards as well.

For those of you who are still seeking publication—what makes you the most nervous about making the transition to published author?

And for you published authors—what other advice would you share with upcoming writers regarding what to expect after the contract is signed?

83 Replies to “Surviving My First Year As A Published Author”

  1. Karen, thank you for such an INCREDIBLY helpful post. As I dig into the meat if writing my first book, I plan on keeping your advice close at hand as I face each stage. Blessings!

    1. Hi, Michael. Wise words. I wish I had that kind of self-control. I’m too curious not to read the press, but then I have to remind myself not to get too hung up on either the positive or the negative. It’s a constant balancing act. Thanks for stopping by the Cooler today!

  2. What a kind article! Kind because you offer hope to the unpublished. Thank you for thinking of us. I hope someday I will have the opportunity to face the trials and tribulations that you mention of being a published author. And if I do, I hope I remember how much I wanted to make that transition. Because that alone will keep me humble.

    The only thing that makes me the most nervous about making the transition to published is that it won’t happen. My arms are wide open to that editor and all his/her pages of edits. Bring it on!!

  3. Karen, I enjoyed Tailor-Made Bride very much. That said–did I post a positive review on Amazon? I need to check!
    All your observations are worth mulling over, with the big question being: How will each of us handle these issues when it’s our turn? (And I so hope everyone gets their turn to wrestle with the topics of edits and reviews and deadlines!)
    For me, the idea of not reading reviews is more and more appealing. I’ve always said, as a writer you have to have the hide of an armadillo if you’re going to last in this business. I’ve seen way-too many armadillos end up as road-kill because they decided to play chicken with traffic. Taking on reviewers can feel like that. It’s not that I don’t want constructive feedback. The question comes down to: How much and how much do I let it influence me?

    1. I think considering the source would be important as well. As Karen said, some criticism is meant to be constructive,and some would be just an honest “this isn’t my cup of tea…”. It’s the ones that seem a little venomous that I would tend to regard as someone with an ax to grind who feels like they have a captive audience. I’m not published, but I think I would feel like I needed to defend myself against that kind of review, especially since others would see it.

      1. So true, Sherri. The source makes a huge difference. But I always try to glean what I can, even from the ugly ones. (Thankfully I haven’t had many of those.) But the key is not to let them drag you down. It’s hard to write stellar prose when you’re obsessing about negative reviews. Leave what’s behind and strain toward what’s ahead.

      2. Sherri,

        I agree. It would be important to read the negative criticism which helps us with our craft. Yet I have been appauled to read attacking comments aimed at a new author who received hundreds of 5-star reviews on her first book. Obviously her book was great and touched a lot of people. The few who gave her one star, didn’t even address her book; they attacked her personally. She told me she decided not to read those. I don’t blame her. It’s hard to believe there are such mean people in the world, but as one of my favorite professor/counselors said, “What is that person telling you about him or herself? Not you!” Sadly, they have to live in their own skin.

    2. Love your armadillo analogy! Being a Texan, I’ve seen those poor little guys on the side of the road all too often. Even if you have tough hide, you have to know when to stay out of the street!

  4. Karen, this was great for me as I’m awaiting those edits from the in house editor on my debut novel. So, that part really spoke to me.

    1. Congratulations, Jordyn! What an exciting time for you. I hope all goes well and that the editorial process fosters a sense of team spirit between you and your editor. Wishing you the best!

  5. Karen, thank you for sharing some of your experience with us and congratulations on your successes. I am currently editing my first novel and will soon send it for proffessional critique. It has been a steep learning curve but a wonderful adventure and I hope one day, if not with this book then the next or the one after that, I will be in a position to heed your advice.You have come a long way in what appears to be a short time, well done you!

    1. Thanks, Gayle! One thing I’ve discovered is that there is always more to learn. You are well on your way. Keep learning and growing. Your time will come.

  6. I’m keeping this post with the great hope that I will have need of it someday! 🙂 Part of me says that I would not want to read reviews…but who am I kidding! I can’t imagine working as hard as you do on something so personal and NOT wanting to know what people think! I just don’t want to be so “needy” for positive strokes that I don’t keep things in perspective and let myself get tossed back and forth from elation to despondency but the words of strangers. I think it must be hard to keep a balance. Thank you for this post. Really great.

    Oh, I love cross-stitching, too! I’m actually thinking about designing patterns. It’s a whole new creative outlet. 🙂

    1. Sorry for the typo…have to fix it. Should be “by” the words of a stranger, not “but” … And I proof read! :b

    2. Cross-stitchers unite! LOL. Thanks for your comment, Sherri. You are so right about the balance thing. It is so essential. We need the positive encouragement that positive reviews give, but we can’t dwell on them or else our head swells. And the negative ones hurt, but if we dwell on those we get dragged into depression. I try to give them all a quick glance, a moment to enjoy or ponder, then set them aside and move on. So far it’s working, but I might have to adjust as time goes by.

  7. This is GREAT stuff Karen! I’m on the very beginning of this journey you just traveled and continue to travel. My first book hits shelves in May, 2012. I’m already learning what it’s like to work with an editor and don’t think I’ll be able to resist reviews either!

  8. I like your attitude about editing. I first went through editing with an e-book (Wild Rose Press) and was surprised to discover that I was very capable of stepping back and being professional, even when it meant amputating bits of my baby. These days my published work is for magazines, though I hope to be doing novel edits with an editor again! With critique partners and editors alike, I’ve found that almost every comment or suggestion has merit. I may not adopt it lock stock and barrel, but if I’m willing to open my mind, I always learn something that helps me improve my work.

    1. Great attitude, Kathleen. That open mind is key. It’s always hard to hear the critiques the first time, but after they sink in, I start getting excited about how I can change and tweak to make the story stronger. I’ve never regretted heeding my editor’s suggestions.

  9. Thanks for the insight into what to expect as a published author.

    My biggest concern about being published is the realization that there will be more demands placed on me and that I will have less time to write. A secondary concern is the possibility of vicious personal attacks on me.

    1. That time issue can be a tough one, Peter. At one point last year, I was marketing one book, doing edits on another, and trying to write a third. Crazy! With prayer and a little organization, though, it all worked out.

      Those personal attacks, if they come, can hurt. One author once told me that usually when a review gets viscious, it is because something in your book struck a nerve in them that most likely stems from something painful in their own life. This has really helped me to have more compassion for these folks. They might be a wounded animal lashing out at anything tht gets too close. Our books might have just been within arm’s reach.

  10. Karen, a terrific article for unpublished and published authors. Thank you for sharing your wisdom for this newly published author. I love my team–my agent, my editor, my critique partners. We all have one goal–making my book be the best it can. I haven’t faced reviews yet, but I’ve been psyching myself up to take those negative ones in stride. My alligator skin has gotten thicker through the years.

  11. Karen, this is a terrific post and I’m going to share it with all my readers. Thanks for sharing your journey so far. I’m so blessed to be a part of it!

    And CONGRATS on “A Tailor Made Bride” making the CBA bestseller list this month – a full year after its release! What an incredible accomplishment! I’m thrilled more and more readers are finding your books.
    Readers can see your book at #17 here:

    Click to access Fiction_Inspirational.pdf

    1. Thanks, Rachelle. I was so shocked about that bestseller thing. My publisher thinks it is because of all the special sales and discount promotions we did for Tailor-Made in May to coincide with To Win Her Heart’s release. However it happened, I feel incredibly blessed. Yay!!

  12. I’m wrapping up writing the final chapter of my first novel. I’d be lying if I said I’m not a nervous wreck about how to go from here, but this article was very helpful. I’m more worried about not really knowing where to go from here, how to get an editor etc..than what will happen after i get to that point. Thanks so much for the insight!

    1. Congratulations on getting to the end of your novel, Angie! That’s a huge accomplishment. I wish you all the best in finding a publishing home. Hopefully you’ll have experiences of your own to share on these topics soon!

  13. Karen, thanks for a very helpful post. As one living in Limbo Land between signing my contract and release of my debut novel, I value your insights greatly.

    Congratulations on making the best seller list. I’m a huge fan of your work!

    1. Thanks, Keli. You are such a ray of sunshine. I missed not getting to see you at RWA this year. I hope to make it next year. I’ll be looking for you next month at ACFW for sure. Can’t wait!

  14. Well done! I would add that you should expect to work harder AFTER you’ve written your book. If you land a publisher and you’re not a huge name already, you probably won’t get much help after the book goes out. It’s up to you to market yourself and while it’s a lot of work, there are definitely rewards.

    1. You’re so right, Toni. I didn’t even touch on the marketing aspect. That would be an entire seires of posts all on its own. The work never really ends, it just seems to multiply and spread out in multiple directions. Makes for a fun ride, though, doesn’t it?

  15. Enjoyed your post, but the one thing you didn’t mention was the amount of promotion and publicity etc you ahve to do once your novel is released. My publisher does very little, apart from its own website, so I am on my own regarding promotion of my book, which can take an inordinate amount of time! Since no-one really knows what kind of promotion works and what doesn’t, one has tro try everything. Then, of course, there’s the big danger of OVER-promotion which has the revese effect.

    1. Paula – You are so right. I just mentioned the same thing to Toni (above). I didn’t talk at all about marketing because that was too vast to even try to add here without writing a marathon post. 🙂 Here at the Water Cooler we try to tackle marketing issues from multiple perspectives on Mondays, so keep coming back to pick up tips in that area. I’ll be posting on that subject in October. It can be such a guessing game to try to figure out how to best use your time and money when you can’t really identitfy what works and what doesn’t. What’s worse, what works for one author may not work for another. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason. Keep pressing on. As my husband likes to say: Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while. 🙂

  16. Thank you very much for this article. I’m still new to the “after contract”. I would say that the biggest thing I’ve learned so far is to remember that everyone on your team are humans…with emotions. They may not be as invested in your book as you, but they’re equally excited to bring their own charm to your launch.

  17. I am so happy I came upon your blog! I have just completed my novel and now about to embark on the journey of query letters – so many questions as I am sure you’ll remember before finding a publisher to accept your work – do I Self-publish on Amazon? Do I find a Literary Agent first? How do I find the right Publisher for the genre of my book?
    Your post today was most helpful and I long for the day I am accepted as an author – it’s only been 28 years since I started out!
    Congratulations Karen on your books – I will look out for one in bookshops here in Cape Town.
    Looking forward to visiting the “Cooler” again! Regards, Karen Longden

    1. Hi, Karen. So glad you found us! There are so many descisions to face, aren’t there? It does get a little easier once you find a publishing home, but then there are a whole different set of decisions to make. *Sigh*

      I wish you the best as you search for a publisher. Have you ever gone to a national writer’s conference? I highly recommend it. it is the single best way (if you don’t have an agent) to get your book idea in front of editors. I actually found my publisher before I found my agent because of the ACFW conference. Find a conference that fits your genre and market and give it a go. The networking and workshop classes alone are worth the time and money, and if you can manage to pique an editor or agent’s curiosity during an appointment or hallway conversation, it’s priceless!

      1. I was thrilled to receive your response to my comment – and so personalized too! Thanks for the great advice – although in Cape Town we don’t get too many book fairs etc, I shall certainly make some enquiries. All the best to you for every success!

  18. I recently discovered the awesomeness of writing longhand. My first drafts are clean and well-thought-out. The setting is there, the subtext is there. It’s like magic!

    Unfortunately, it’s slow. I’m lucky to get more than 500 words when I write by hand. Now, I write for MG and YA, so my manuscript may only be 50k words, but still. That’s 20 weeks for a first draft!

    My concern is that I can either write the fast way and do a million revisions, or I can do it the right way and have publishers tapping their toes.

    1. Longhand, Emily? Wow! It must help you think things out before putting them down, but I think I would go mad if I didn’t have my word processor. I’m impressed.

      Oh, and my experience tells me that the publishers would rather have a slow, high-quality manuscript than one that suffered from being thrown together too fast. Of course, being on deadline throws a whole new tweak on it, but quality trumps quanitity, especially for a new author building a reputation and brand.

  19. Great post. Also great to see I’m not the only writer who edits as he writes, constantly revising what I wrote yesterday and the day before, before I jump in to write something new today. You’re right, it’s a slower process, but when I’m done, while it’s still a first draft and not ready for prime time, it’s much further along and much cleaner than if I just wrote an entire draft without stopping then went back to revise/edit/rewrite. I find I put in many more layers when I write this way, and I never (as far as I know) have written a character with blue eyes in chapter one and brown eyes in chapter 17. ha.

  20. Hi Karen,
    I’m in awe of you and others who can create and edit as you go. How do you make that work? And congrats for being on the CBA bestseller list. My first book came out in May and my second comes out next May. Here’s a tip for those of you who will soon be published, be careful with experimentation of creating. I found myself in a real mess this past year with book number 2 which my editor now loves. Thank you, God. But I wrote book 2 not only by the seat of my pants but by creating scenes in no particular order. I didn’t think it would be as difficult to sort out as it was and I’ve learned a lesson the hard way. I still haven’t figured out the best way for me to create my novels. I’m now starting book 3 and I’ve signed up to take: There’s Nothing Wrong with You! Seat-of-the-Pants Writing with Confidence Presented by: Karen Ball and Ginny Yttrup at this years ACFW Conference. 🙂
    So if you are awaiting publication you may want to experiment early. Thanks for this post, Karen. As you know, we never quit learning about this process. Blessings, Jill

    1. Oh my. What an editorial adventure you must have had, Jill. I’m in awe of the creative powers in a mind that can skip around when writing and still come out with a cohesive novel. Amazing. I am far too left-brained for that. I think that’s why I edit as I write. Editing is more of a natural strength for me while creating is a nurtured skill. I have to work really hard at the creative part, but the editing feels like a picnic. Blending the two keeps me sane and satisfies that closet perfectionist that is liable to throw an embarrasing tantrum at the worst time if I don’t keep her happy. 🙂

  21. Good points all, Karen! Having just had my novel come out in June (Sirenz, Flux), my co-author & I find that new authors need to know marketing. You have to start publicity BEFORE your novel comes out, build a presence. Website, trailer, swag, networking, blogs… It’s mind boggling, so don’t wait until the book is in your hands! There is lots of info from authors, blogs, websites about this, along with paid PR people. Do your homework debut authors! And much success to all.

    1. Congrats on your novel, Char. That’s wonderful! And you are so right about the marketing aspect. It’s huge. So huge I didn’t even try to tackle it here. But it is definitely something every newly contracted author should actively be seeking information on. Thanks for commenting!

  22. Karen, add my thanks to all the rest. This is encouraging and so helpful. And a relief! I’ve already experienced the long, single-spaced revision letter (thanks to Rachelle) so am better prepared now for the in-house revision process. Now to prepare myself for reviews….. I WILL not be crushed or prideful. I will NOT look. I will send friends to peek maybe. 🙂

  23. I finished my first novel a week and a half ago and I’m getting ready to start edits. The thought of cutting and chopping is strangely exhilarating because I know the finished product will be a better book.

    This is some of the best advice I’ve seen on making the transition from unpubbed to pubbed.

    1. Rachel – Congratulations on finishing that manuscript! That is a huge accomplishment. And you have a wonderful outlook on editing, so I know you’re going to make that book the best it can be. I’m so glad you found my post helpful. I hope you have reason to put these tips into practice soon. 🙂

  24. Thank you for the post and the pointers. Always a pleasure to meet, all-be-it virtually, someone from my husband’s home town. In the process of marketing of first novel and have taken your words to heart. I hope to be able to ignore reviews and reviewers as much as possible when the time comes – yes, I’m optimistic. 😉

    1. Hi, Michelle. Thanks for stopping by today. How fun to make another Abilene connection. Congratulations on having your first book out. I wish you all the best!

  25. This is wonderful advice. Edits and reviews can cause the most tenderness/anxiety. Congratulations on making the best-seller list! Woot!

  26. Wonderful post, Karen, full of much useful info for those yet to be in the novel editing process with an editor. I’m an editing writer, too. Thanks for sharing your experiences during the first year after publication of A Tailor- Made Bride. Congratulations on your latest novel and making the best seller list, too.

  27. Great post Karen. It reflects my own first year as a published author. I was told point-blank by the publisher to never read the reviews. It took me a while to see the wisdom in what they said, but I learned it the hard way. What made it worse was having my e-mail address published in the back of the book; people would send me their own thoughts (some nice, many not) to me, and without someone else acting as a filter, well, you can see how that went.

    1. That does make it tough, Devin. Thanks for sharing. I have an easy way for readers to get in touch with me, too, on my website, but most of the people who contact me directly have only positive things to say. It’s those reviews on Amazon where there is a feeling of annonimity where the negative reviews come into play.

      I just had a negative post on one of my books come in yesterday. I read it. Felt bummed for a minute, then said to myself, “Oh well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion.” and immediately went on to something else. For me, I’m building up a resistance to the lackluster comments and they don’t seem to have power over me anymore. Every once in a while a truly shocking comment will get under my skin, but even those I’m learning to shake off. I do find value in reading the negative reviews, though. It helps me shape future books. If several people complain about the pacing, for example, I will plot the next book with more action. All within normal perameters that fit my voice and style of course. We can learn from the negative as well as the positive.

  28. Karen,
    Look how many people you encouraged! All of us who are close to a book, or just signe a book deal. Thanks for helping us see the other side. I can’t imagine not being open to constructive criticism from an editor? Obviously they know what works and what doesn’t. What they offer is a gift.

  29. Thank you for your post, Karen; it is most insightful. I am an unpublished writer, and though being published is what I want the most, I am also keenly aware that it will inexorably change the pace of my life, starting with having to write on deadlines. And of course, I am a little fearful of negative reviews. Your post reminded me that I have to start growing a thicker skin. Now.

    1. Laurence, you’re already ahead of the game by preparing yourself mentally. That is half the battle. I hope you get to experience the publishing trenches soon. Minus the negative reviews, of course. 🙂

  30. Great post — Oh so true. And I for one loved your book, “A Tailor Made Bride”. I look forward to reading your new release.

    Grace and peace to you.

  31. Fabulous post Karen – very timely for me as my first book comes out in January 2012. This is my first time to your blog – but definately won’t be the last. Thanks for the great advice. 🙂

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