Do’s and Don’ts on the road to publication – Lindsay Harrel

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By Lindsay Harrel

When I look back over my life in general, there are certain things I’d do over again — and some I wouldn’t. The same can be said for my writing career.♥

I’ve been writing novels since 2011 after working in the writing and editing industry for a number of years and receiving my B.A. in Journalism and M.A. in English. Once I decided to pursue publication, I dove in with both feet, writing every spare moment I could (while working full time) and learning as much as I could about craft and connecting with other writers, as well as agents and editors.

In 2013, I landed my dream agent. In 2016, an offer came through from a small publisher for my first book. And in 2017, I signed a two-book contract with my dream publisher, Thomas Nelson, a subsidiary of HarperCollins.

People ask me for advice on how to get where I am — and the thing is, everyone’s journey looks different. But I’ve tried here to analyze a few things I’d definitely recommend others do, as well as some things that didn’t really help me reach my goal any faster.


Get involved with other writers: While I was writing, I started reading agent blogs and other writers’ blogs in my industry. I left a lot of comments on blogs — which were bigger then than they are now — and this allowed me to start befriending other authors on Facebook and other social media pages. I basically immersed myself in this online world of people. Writing can feel like such a solitary thing; after all, you’re the only one who can do the work! But it helps so much to have people in your corner cheering you on and helping you to become better. Getting involved online is actually how I met my critique partner and several other craft partners who I am still very close to despite the fact they live elsewhere.

Interact with agents online: There are definite drawbacks to technology today, but accessibility to publishing professionals isn’t one of them. One of my biggest tips to those looking for an agent is to see if that agent (or the agency he or she is with) has a blog. If so, read it faithfully. Leave comments. He or she will come to know your name over time.

Join writing organizations and go to writing retreats: While I definitely recommend attending larger national conferences (which are great for networking and pitching to agents/editors), one of the best things I ever did for my writing career was join My Book Therapy, which has been phenomenal in helping me understand the art of novel writing. I also attended personal writing retreats, which helped me learn more than reading a craft book ever could. Join this or a similar organization that helps you focus specifically on craft — because you can’t sell books or gain readers if you don’t have the essentials in place first.

Enter writing contests: Contests are a great way to get feedback from those farther along than you. Plus, if you final or win, that opens doors. Agents and editors see those and can become interested in reading your work — in fact, my agent approached me after I finaled in a national writing competition.

Be willing to kill your darlings: You’ve probably heard this phrase before, but it’s so true. There is definitely a time to be attached to your words and your work — for example, when a publisher wants you to compromise your beliefs or the integrity of the work. However, most of the time, I’d advise you to remain humble, at least consider suggestions for change — especially when they come from an agent or editor —and remember that we all have room for improvement. You don’t want to become known as someone who is difficult to work with. If you have a strong reason for keeping something the way it is, then articulate that. Just don’t become so attached to your work that you remain in a stagnant place and never improve.


Worry so much: About a year ago, I found a journal I’d written when I first started my writing journey. In one entry in particular, I went back and forth on whether to submit my first novel to an editor who had requested it. I agonized over that decision, fearing that if it wasn’t ready (which it wasn’t!!), I’d ruin any future chances I had in the industry — but also worrying that if I didn’t take that chance, I’d always regret it. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that one single action can’t destroy someone’s chances at publication forever (of course, I’m not talking about something that burns bridges or is egregious, rude, or ill-mannered). The worry did me absolutely no good. The doubt didn’t help me blossom into a better writer. It only weighed me down and choked the life and energy out of me.

Take long breaks from writing: While it’s important to take some mini-breaks, I don’t think I was as productive as I could have been over the years. I get it in my brain that I have to write an entire scene in order to have “time to write” every day. I should have developed better writing habits and tried to write a little every day or given myself a weekly goal instead of daily goals. Granted there will be seasons of life when this just isn’t possible. For example, I took 12 weeks off from writing when my baby was born last April, just like I would have taken maternity leave if I worked full time outside the home.

Compare myself: I got so discouraged by so many things and it all came back to comparing myself to other writers and friends who were farther along the writing journey than I was. Remember, one person’s success does not mean your failure. You are the only one who can write YOUR story. Don’t waste your time and energy wishing you wrote like someone else.

Lindsay Harrel is a lifelong book nerd who lives in Arizona, USA, with her young family and two golden retrievers in serious need of training. She’s held a variety of writing and editing jobs over the years, and now juggles stay-at-home mommyhood with writing novels. Lindsay’s first book, One More Song to Sing, released in 2016 and was an American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award finalist. Her second book, The Heart Between Us, releases March 13 from HarperCollins.

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