I have never met a novelist, either in person or online, who doesn’t want to get their novel/s published. They might not come right out and say it, but you can tell. And it’s a valid dream. Why the hell not?
I was like that, too. And I got there in the end.
After so many years of writing and publishing, you’d think I could just sit back now and spin out the words and my books would be selling like hotcakes. Like 98% of writers, it’s not the case.
On the other hand, I do have 75 books published! So what gives?
Publishing is a business and it works on trends. Remember Twilight? Go The F** To Sleep? The Hunger Games? They all did fabulously well in their time – they hit their moment and took off. But they’re what the business world calls unicorns. Rarer than you think.
Some of my books have won awards, or been shortlisted. That helps a lot. But none have been huge bestsellers. Am I giving up? No. I’m buckling down and forging on, and continuing to do as many of these things as I possibly can. I think if you do them, too, you’ll eventually get there.
learning and listen hard. I have always gone to conferences (when I can afford
it), seminars, classes, and studied writing. I take advantage of free webinars
offered by my writers’ associations, look for useful books and articles, go to
writers’ and literary festivals.
I listen hard to what published authors say about their writing lives, their paths to publication, their publishing experiences. I don’t speak unless there is something I really want to ask that will be useful.
II. Look after your health. Too much coffee, alcohol, sugar, drugs – they might make you feel inspired, keep you writing far into the early hours, fuel your ideas – eventually they make your brain tired and depressed. You don’t sleep well. Your body complains. How can you focus then? I mean focus 100%. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that giving my writing 100% is the only way to produce really good stuff. Yes, true.
III. Keep ideas notebooks. People say they do this, but do they truly? I have a notebook for each novel. I often get ideas for my current novel at odd times, and if I don’t write them down, they die. What’s more important is when I suddenly realize I have a plot hole, or a character glitch, or I have forgotten to set up an important clue. Then my notebook is vital.
IV. Take decent breaks. Don’t break for half an hour and take your novel with you to work on some editing, for example. Give your brain a total rest and do some gardening or go for a walk or have a power nap. When you finish a novel draft, go away for a long weekend if you can. Those breaks will mean you come back ready and fresh, and you will be surprised at what’s been going on in your brain that can’t wait to emerge.
V. Don’t try and write like everyone else. Oh boy, it took me years to learn to have confidence in my own voice. To stop self-censoring and thinking things like – that doesn’t sound literary enough. Write and write and find your own voice and then power it up with more writing.
VI. Stay off social media. You have a lot of creative energy. But it does run out each day, believe it or not. Do you want to spend the best part of it responding to idiots on SM? And the time! We say, “I’ll just spend ten minutes on Facebook” and suddenly it’s two hours later. Social media is a sinkhole. Leave it for when your creative energy is done and you can afford some silly time. (And yes, I know about marketing yourself etc, but again, is that more important than writing?)
VII. Read widely, read critically, but don’t use it as a procrastination tool. Same with research.
and submit small things. I’ve always written poetry and short stories, on and
off. I’ve now got right back into flash fiction. I submit a lot more now that I
used to, and write more of these things, because they make me feel good. It
feels great to finish and rewrite them, and then submit, and it feels wonderful
to get accepted for publication.
It also reminds me what it feels like to be rejected, and to shake it off and keep going. You need that perseverance for your novels as well. It’s good to learn it now.
hang out with writers who whine a lot. Sure, getting published is hard.
Sometimes it feels impossible. But if it was super easy, would you still want
it? Part of getting published is validation. Other people think what you have
written is darned good and they want others to read it. And they will pay you!
How amazing is that?
But the downside is pretty rough. All the same, whining gets you nowhere, and hanging out with whiners actually pushes you backwards. It’s fine to have a rant for a few minutes, with writer friends who understand, but then you have to learn to move on and get stuck into your writing again. Whining drains your energy.
is the tough one. Don’t self-publish just because you have had a hundred
rejections. You know what? A hundred rejections, almost all of the time, is
telling you something. Your book isn’t good enough yet. Yes, there are a lot of
writers who self-publish and do OK, but the really successful ones? They’re
Use those rejections as a spur – pay for a professional critique, if you can. If you use beta readers, you HAVE to find ones that are experienced and can tell you what’s wrong. What is the point of beta readers who can’t tell you which bits suck? And how to fix them?
So there they are – my ten bits of advice, gleaned from many years of writing, reading, listening, thinking and being tough on myself. I don’t write every day, but I write most days, even if it’s only a few hundred words. I guess that is No. 11 – write. That’s what writers do, isn’t it?