Five things every aspiring writer should know, but probably don’t – Leanna Lehman

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By Leanna Lehman

For the last several years, I have vowed to learn something new each year. The year I decided to trade my skis in for a snowboard resulted in a comedic season of catching an edge (aka falling on your butt at an accelerated rate of speed). I also perfected the Scorpion. Sounds pretty cool, right? That is, if you consider a forward falling face-dive that ends with your board swinging forward and knocking you in the back of the head, cool. No doubt we can all relate to the wide arc of the learning curve, and probably have the injuries to prove it.♥

When I finally decided to start writing Vote for Remi, I had no idea what I didn’t know. All I knew was that the passion for my story was burning a hole inside me and I had to get it out. Not unlike my misadventures in snowboarding, I charged on full-speed ahead. Likewise, I earned a few bumps and bruises, mostly to my pride and my preconceived ideas of the writer’s lifestyle. In the interest of good karma, it’s only right that I share a few of my harder won insights.

1. Be wary of the pitch sessions at writers’ conferences.

It took me three conferences and a very earnest discussion with my publisher before I learned that most agents at conferences will not tell you outright that they don’t like your work. They are getting paid to be there and it’s simply not good business to alienate customers by crushing their dreams in such a public setting. Nor do they like having to explain to event organizers the ensuing wailing, weeping and gnashing of teeth. I became suspicious after meeting an ambitious group of writers who attend conferences solely to pitch their work. Coincidentally, each of us received enthusiastic invitations to send all or a portion of our books to the same agents, even though we represented a wide array of genres. Simply, an agent representing cozy romance will not represent your sci-fi/fantasy novel, even if they request the entire manuscript.

2. Go to writers’ conferences and pitch anyway.

There is a wealth of information that you won’t get anywhere else, you can make lasting connections with other writers and people in the industry, and there is no better place to practise your pitch. Despite the reality that some agents may not be completely sincere in their expressed interest, you still have a much better chance of getting valuable feedback, finding the agent that will represent you, and doors may open to you that might otherwise stay closed. Just bring your enthusiasm, your passion for your craft, and a grain of salt.

3. Understand the work involved.

While we would all like to have a glamorous writer’s life like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, the reality is there will be innumerable times when: a) you have worked your day job for 50 hours, b) your family isn’t giving you a moment’s peace, c) there doesn’t seem to be a creative circuit active in your brain, d) you are out of wine, Scotch, and/or coffee or e) all of the above. If you are working with deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise, you have to be willing and able to dig in and find your flow, and keep going. Some days it will be the hardest thing you do. Ever.

4. Count the costs.

If you decide to self, hybrid, or partner-publish, prepare for a moderate to substantial financial outlay. You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than landing a six-figure book deal, but it could happen. If not, and you chose an alternative publishing option, never skimp on copy-editing. Additionally, people do judge books by their covers, so pay for a professional cover design and layout. If you want your book to get maximum exposure, invest in a book publicist. If this isn’t an option, utilize every available resource to guide you on marketing yourself and your book. Finally, connect with other authors who have successfully marketed their own books. They are a wonderful community, and usually happy to help aspiring writers.

5. Prepare your family and friends.

Few new writers (and their partners, friends, and family) are prepared for the isolation needed to write a book, much less the take-out and left-overs, the skipped girls’/guys’ nights out, and the mental exhaustion that comes from writing. Try to schedule your writing time and stick to it. This allows you the freedom to enjoy your time away from your work without thinking, I should be writing instead of … Get support upfront and make sure to spend as much quality time with those you love as possible. It’s counterproductive to feel guilty about your writing. Respect their needs and they will respect your dedication to your book and to yourself.

Leanna Lehman’s debut novel Vote for Remi is out now and she is currently working on her next project. She has a background in finance and education and lives in Nevada.

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