Publishing Tips and a Lesson in Humility

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Thursdays at the Water Cooler are for writing about the publishing business—an intimidating topic, and it made me take inventory of what I have to offer. Sure, I’ve written six novels. I’m published in print by a traditional, albeit small, New York press. I’ve worked with Amazon Publishing, and I’ve ventured into the indie business with a novel through Kindle Direct, Apple, and Barnes & Noble’s Pubit. I’ve marketed and advertised. I’ve developed a good network of successful published authors along with a few agents and editors. I’m business savvy, and I treat my writing as a profession. And yet…I can’t help but feel lacking on the topic of publishing.

In part, this is because I’m goal driven and I have lots of goals yet to achieve, but it’s also because I’m sincerely humbled by those around me—the extensive experience of the writers of the Cooler, the proficiency of those in my writing chapter, and the aptitude of people with whom I network online. I am one small voice in the mix, plugging along on my own publishing journey—often a lonely road with only rare glimpses of the bigger picture. So, what could I have to offer?

With humility comes wisdom.

I consider myself the average writer. As glamorous as writing sounds, it really is a somewhat lonely road. If some of what I’ve learned can keep me optimistically focused on moving forward, maybe it can help someone else, too.

1. No one knows it all, so don’t be envious of another’s success, and by the way, get comfortable with ambiguity. The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence.

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Whether landing your fifth series with one of the Big Six or newly exercising your empowerment to publish on your own, neither means you have it all figured out. Every facet of this business brings unique challenges, decisions, and discoveries. You are probably where you are in your journey for a reason. No matter where that is, you have more to learn. My tip: look for opportunities to gain knowledge wherever you can from those you admire, published or not. Just don’t get hung up on one source; look far and wide to develop a deep reservoir of knowledge to draw from.

2. Times have never been more dynamic or uncertain for publishing. I’m not talking about ebooks vs traditional publishing. I’m talking about the markets themselves—what readers will connect with and want more of, what’s hot and what’s not, new genres or formats cropping up. One extremely valuable lesson: do not try to chase a trend. It doesn’t matter how fast you write, I promise you, it will be over before you catch up. I write young adult fiction, and as hot as concepts like the Hunger Games are now, I’m already hearing dystopian is giving way to middle grade—but don’t pull out that old Harry Potter derivative; you’ve got to have something fresh and unique to offer to fit that trend. My tip: you should absolutely consider marketability as you write, but write from the heart nonetheless. It will come through in your writing, and you’ll wind up with something you can feel good about, whether or not it happens to be the latest publishing flavor of the month.

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3. One size doesn’t fit all, thank goodness. I listen to a lot of author speakers, and I have to admit, I grow weary of hearing some say things like, “I pursued New York publishing—because I’m serious about my career…” If that was their publishing journey, great—but not only does that imply there’s only one ‘right’ way to go about it, it doesn’t even make sense anymore. Variety and choice are the best parts of the publishing industry today. Fact is, you can be plenty serious about your writing career, have a far-reaching readership, and make a steady income without pursuing traditional NY houses these days. That doesn’t mean NY isn’t still a valuable and highly sought-after option. They may still even be king of the playground, and they’re no doubt busily trying to reinvent themselves to make sure they stay that way, but there are other viable options out there. My tip: remember you have choices, and stand tall no matter what avenue you decide to pursue on your personal publishing journey. There is no ‘wrong’ way to go about it. Even if you make a mistake, you can learn from it and move on.

There are a lot of experienced writers out there, and I’m just scratching the surface. What tips do you have to share about the publishing industry?

The Publishing Type

I don’t know if this is true for your business, but in medicine, there are definitely types. Recently, I was sitting at the nurse’s station with several of my co-workers when this discussion came up. It is easy to tell if a nurse is going to make it in the ER within the first few shifts of their orientation. There is a certain attitude, work ethic, and demeanor that are likely consistent among ER nurses across the country.

Several experiences have led me to believe that there may also be a publishing type and I’m curious to know what others think. I’ve been quite surprised at some authorly discussions of late and wondered how there could even be controversy… yet, there is. What follows are qualities I think a writer needs to possess in order to seek publication. Notice, I didn’t say write. Anyone, literally, can put pen to paper and write. This is taking your hope, your dream, to the next level.

  1. Must love to read. This discussion has been raging over at a marketing loop of authors I follow. Several have complained that there are actual people who think they can craft a novel but hate reading. I find this problematic on several levels. First, I think writing is born from an enjoyment of reading. Your pulse has pounded at an author’s musings and you wonder if you could pull off such a feat. You’ll need to read extensively in the genre you hope to publish in if for no other reason than to know what’s being published. Reading in other genres will help your writing grow. Next, will be reading agent/editor’s submission guidelines. Really, the reading list is extensive.
  2. Must be able to multitask. Consider the following if you’re blessed enough to get a multi-book contract. Researching your next series, writing one book, and editing one (or more) novels at one time. Add to that blogging at several sites and developing your marketing strategy for your novel when it is released. Oh, and then there is likely your family, church and full-time job to add into the mix. What else should be on this list?
  3. Be able to organize. See #2.
  4. Must be able to follow direction. Agents and editors lament often about getting material they just don’t need or didn’t request. This is a waste of their time and you don’t want to be the thorn in their heel. If they ask for a one page synopsis—that’s what they actually mean and it’s not open for your interpretation. It’s not a challenge from them to you to get them to change their mind. The ability to do this will aid a lot in your developing a well-respected, professional reputation.
  5. You know how much more you need to learn. A continual love for learning is definitely a must if pursuing publication. I know I had a minor heart attack when my agent asked me for a book proposal. What is that?!? Recently, I was having coffee with a good friend of mine who is also a writer and we were talking about the current state of our relative manuscripts. Needless to say, we both wanted to shred them at the time. I said to her, “You know, the more I write, the more I know how much more I need to learn.” Do you feel this way? Did you feel that way after your first book was published? I think I buy more books now on the writing craft than ever before.

What are your thoughts? What qualities do you see in those who have successfully navigated the publishing road? Which would you take off my list?

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?