What I wish I’d known
Compiled by Jade Craddock
All aspiring writers dream of reaching the Holy Grail of being published. But that’s only half of the story. Here, six writers share their thoughts on what they wish they’d known about the world of publishing before they made it. ♥
A.L. Michael (My So-Called (Love) Life)
No one ever told me when I started writing books that the novel is just the beginning. It’s just the product. I know that’s a dirty business word, but it’s the truth. I thought if I agonised over the prose, created powerful characters and realistic dialogue, then I’d done my job. But an author’s job is so much more than the book. In an ideal world, maybe it’s ninety percent. I think it’s more sixty/forty.
When you finish the book, that’s when the real journey begins. If you’re with a publisher, it’s a case of submitting, getting feedback, structural edits, changing things, fighting changes and submitting again. Then you twiddle your thumbs and get yourself all worked up about how you’re a crap writer and no one will ever publish you again. Well, maybe not everyone does that. Then there’s the line edits. Then there’s arranging a blog tour, finding out about the cover, sorting out a reveal, focusing on the release date.
I wish I’d known any of this even existed. I wish I’d known just how wonderfully important book bloggers are, and how much the opinion of these cyber friends and critics would become important. Bloggers can make or break a book, and every time someone says they like what you’ve created, you can feel safe in your own imagination. It’s a wonderful feeling.
I wish I’d known how much work goes into promoting and selling and getting your ‘baby’ out there, and I’d been a bit more prepared. Mostly, I wish I’d known what an amazing community it is to be a part of, both as a writer and a reader, and the amount of cheerleading and backslapping that goes on when a book is published, or a cover released.
But then again … learning was half the fun.
Maria Murnane (Wait for the Rain)
Last year I watched the Oscars with two friends. At some point an award for writing was presented, and while I don’t remember who won it, I do remember what he said, because I burst out laughing.
He said something along the lines of how writers hate themselves.
My two friends looked at me in surprise, so I explained to them that I found the comment hilarious and true. Not that I hate myself all the time or anything, but since I became a published author I’ve definitely experienced the occasional spell of self-loathing while working on a book. Crippling, almost paralyzing self-doubt taunts me in the form of questions such as Is this terrible? What if my fans hate this? Where is this story going? What am I doing? What business do I have trying to make a living as a novelist?
My friends were shocked to learn this about me. They think my life is perfect. (Ha.) Don’t get me wrong. I love being a best-selling author, and I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished. I’m also well aware that there are a lot of people out there who would cut off a limb to be in my position. However, when I was trying to get my first novel (Perfect on Paper) published, I remember thinking that once that happened, writing future books would be easy because I would feel like I had made it. Unfortunately, I was dead wrong. Perfect on Paper reached #2 overall on Amazon, and here I am, seven books later, still wracked with self-doubt. Maybe it’s that sense of insecurity that fuels the creative process and pushes me to tell good stories, but it certainly wasn’t something I expected to last this long!
Laura Greaves (The Ex-Factor)
What I wish I’d known before I became a published author is that it’s not enough to ‘just’ write great books anymore. That is, of course, still the most important part of the equation, but these days authors also need lashings of business savvy and marketing know-how, not to mention a gaggle of social media profiles with an ever-increasing number of followers and the ability to persuade bloggers and journalists to write about us and our work. I wish I’d known that publicising a book takes almost as much time and energy as writing one! Sometimes I feel like I need an MBA in order to help my little books get noticed. But the great thing is that publicising and promoting our books gives authors the opportunity to connect with readers, which is really wonderful.
Karen Aldous (The Vineyard, and Tied Up With Love as Amelia Thorne
I think I was very fortunate in that once I’d made up my mind I was going to get the novel from my head to paper, I took two very good decisions. I joined the Romantic Novelist’s Association New Writers Scheme and, joined a very good creative writing class, The Write Place, which is in Kent. These turned out to be smart decisions because they both gave me many tools; technically, professionally and socially to get where I am now.
The main point being, these got me motivated, my work finished, critiqued, the first three chapters at least edited, a synopsis written and refined and, most importantly, the work sent out to be read by an editor and thus, readers. After that, it happened so quickly! The Vineyard was accepted by a large publisher with a fabulous editor and The Chateau soon followed in a two-ebook contract. I’ve now secured a further two-ebook contract with Carina UK.
I’m still learning so what, if anything I wish I knew beforehand, I suppose would be how the publishing industry works, so questions to industry professionals such as agents, publishers and other authors.
Josephine Moon (The Chocolate Promise)
I wish I’d known and, maybe more to the point, truly accepted that every rejection over the twelve years that I’d been writing and submitting was a blessing. It’s not that any of those manuscripts were bad — they weren’t. (Okay, some were a bit ordinary, but nothing was rotten.) I am so glad they weren’t published because none of those manuscripts accurately reflected me as the type of writer I am and the type of books I want to write (i.e. my brand).
I wrote my first book, The Tea Chest, because it was the book I wanted to read. And along the way, I accidentally discovered that I wanted to write women’s fiction, with a niche in ‘foodie fiction’. As a writer, you will be branded, like it or not, as a certain type of writer, and if you start with a book that’s totally different from where you ultimately want to go, you’ll have a bit of reworking of your brand to do. It can be done, of course. And many writers have done it. But if your first book can start you as you mean to go on, it will certainly make for a smoother ride.
Carrie Elks (Fix You)
Having published 3 books (both as a self-published and trad-published author), there’s a few things I’ve learned along the way. Chief amongst them is that writing the book – or at least the first draft – is only the beginning of the process. There’s so much more to being an author than getting words down on to paper. There’s revisions, proofreading, and knocking your manuscript into shape – all long before you even seek an agent or publisher. On top of that you need to be working on your social media presence, including a website, Facebook, Twitter and the myriad of other sites that you need to have a presence on.
Of course, it’s also important to build a network of friends and supporters around you. Other writers, bloggers, beta-readers and editors – all these people can provide you support in your darkest hours (and there seem to be a lot of these as a writer). They can also be honest with you and tell you when something just isn’t working. This honesty is important, because I never have enough distance from my work to know whether it is good or if it needs further revision.
If I’d have known all this ten years ago, and if the internet had been far enough advanced to provide me with all the above, I think I would have been publishing my work a lot earlier. As it is, I’ve been writing on and off for ten years but only really took it seriously in the last 3 years, and a lot of that is due to finally finding the support and resources I needed.