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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Things I Wish I Had Known

Now that I've had a few years behind me, I wish someone had explained some of the mysteries of publishing rather than learning them the hard way. It might have saved me some time. It definitely would've saved my hair from turning gray prematurely.

Here's my top ten list of things I wish I had known sooner.

1.  Your first draft is always crap. Chances are good so is your second and third.

2.  Never swallow whole any glowing critiques. Unless you are one of those rare prodigies, people are most likely being kind rather than truthful.

3.  Try to find a totally unbiased reader to critique your manuscript BEFORE you query. I could have saved myself a lot of time and embarrassment had I known this universal truth.

4.  Always let a third party who's not read your manuscript review your query so that it makes sense to a total stranger. 

5.  READ. I did not read enough in the beginning. And more importantly, I did not read widely enough among other genres. I am making up for it every chance I get.

6.  Blog earlier. Blogging isn't for everyone, but had I known I had a talent for it, I would've done it sooner. If Facebook or Twitter is your poison of choice, it's never too soon to start using them, even if you don't have a book out yet.

7.  Share information. Everyone has something to offer. Everyone. It could be your personal experience, your expertise, or your connections. Don't be shy.

8.  It's not a competition. We all succeed at different rates.

9.  Don't write what you think people want to read. Write what they've never dreamed of.

10. The day you stop enjoying what you're doing is the day you need to do something else. Writing isn't everything. Life is.

Are there any universal truths you wish someone had told you before you started writing? 

Today is the last day of the Follower Contest. I'll announce the winner on my regular blogging day, Friday.

Even if you didn't enter the contest, I hope you added yourself to the follower list anyway and will stop in from time to time. I'd love to talk with you!


Angela Felsted said...

This post shows wisdom, experience, maturity. I enjoyed reading it.

Cate Masters said...

You covered it nicely. My main rule is: go with your gut. It's likely why I can't come up with a neatly packaged "tag" to explain what I write, but I am whatever writer I need to be to serve the story.

Kim said...

Before you sub anything to anyone (even a beta reader) ask yourself: Is this the best I can do this?

And write what you love, not what is popular now (unless they happen to be the same thing) - what's hot now may not be in a year or so.

That's all I can think of! Great post! :)

Sue Roebuck said...

Absolutely, Maria. Great post. Also would-be authors have to realize that they have "marketing" to do afterwards and to get ready for it as quickly as possible. They also have to "brand" themselves. Goodness knows what my brand is - I still haven't decided....

Misha said...

That is so true!

I can't really add anything. I'm still busy learning.


Maria Zannini said...

Angela: --and a lot of hard knocks. LOL.


Cate: Ref: I am whatever writer I need to be to serve the story.

I love this. And so true. For branding purposes, the experts say we have to micro-focus what we write, but yanno, sometimes what we write is bigger than a tag.

Joanne said...

Great list. Writing is definitely a winding journey. I've learned with each manuscript, each query letter, even rejections can serve to improve our work. The whole process is an education in itself, and the only way to learn it is to live it.

Maria Zannini said...

Kim: Ref: Is this the best I can do this?

That's excellent advice. I find most people (including me) get tired and just want to put it out there. Bad idea. Do it right the first time and you'll have less disappointment.


Sue: Ref: marketing
Today's author has to market. There is no getting around that. I've met people who have given up writing because they refuse to market. Sad.


Misha: None of us ever stop learning. As it should be. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Joanne: Ref: The whole process is an education in itself, and the only way to learn it is to live it.

You said a mouthful. Much as it would be nice for someone to tell me these things, the best teacher is experiencing them first hand. Thanks, Joanne.

Sherri said...

Just soaking it all in :)

Kaye Manro said...

Very good ideas here for all of us to follow.

I agree with the marketing. It can be as important as getting a contract. If we don't market, how will readers know we are here?

Thanks for sharing, Maria.

Rula Sinara said...

Brilliant points, Maria. So wise and true, and I especially love #9.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

oooh this is very true.
I also really like Kim's advice. I don't think enough people follow that one.

Maria Zannini said...

Sherri: It helps to know where the pitfalls are.

Kaye: Publishing sure has changed in the past five years. Marketing is more important than ever before.

Maria Zannini said...

Rula: #9 is my favorite too. :)

Sarah: Absolutely! Too many people go at this with half measures. This is one of those times when you have to give it your all.

Renee Miller said...

These are all excellent tips, Maria. I think you've covered everything I wish someone had mentioned to me before I had to learn the hard way. To me, the most important or most needed advice for new writer is not to accept glowing reviews as truth, especially when the manuscript is in its first, second or fifth draft.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I like all your truths. I know most of them now and wish I'd known them before I queried my first project. *shivers*

I guess one more of mine would be, before you query, do research about the industry. Then do more research. Then more. If I had, I never would have queried prematurely.

Maria Zannini said...

Renee: I think it's criminal to lead a new author on. Why would you tell someone it's great (to spare their feelings) when you know some agent or editor is going to chuck it into the delete bucket?

I know it hurts. But I'd rather someone give me some pointers than empty praise. I can't cash rah-rahs.

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: I am always surprised when people don't do their homework. Even agents and editors you think you know modify their guidelines.

We're only hurting ourselves when we don't do the research.

Cathy in AK said...

Great advice, especially #9 and Kim's addition to it. Writing "to market" doesn't work for me. I have to love (or at least be in deep like) with the story and characters or there is too much of a disconnect that bleeds through on the page. I've tried to squeeze out a "marketable" story and it didn't work; I lost interest early on.

Universal truth: Children don't mind eating cereal for dinner two nights in a row if Mom promises pizza for night #3 : )

Maria Zannini said...

Cathy: You feed your kids cereal for dinner? LOL.

Do they get Christmas candy for dessert?

I guess I shouldn't talk. I once gave my husband a bag of Skittles for dinner.

Jenny Schwartz said...

Social media (blogging, tweeting, FBing) doesn't come naturally to me. Writer-as-hermit is my default setting. But things I wish I'd known (and which I still have to remind myself) -- join in conversations! Whether on Twitter, FB or commenting at a blog, people are happy for you to join in. Yup, even if you're a stranger.

Great post, Maria. I definitely wish I'd known these things earlier.

Angelina Rain said...

Thank you, Maria. Because of your blog I know more about publishing then I dreamed possible. You’re like an author role-model, teaching newer writers what you’ve learned. I always look forward to reading your blog and learning new things from it.

PS: I forgot about the follower contest! *Off to apply*

Cathy in AK said...

RE: cereal for dinner

When I'm too pooped to pop and Hubby isn't home, we sometimes have "Scrounge Night". Cereal is the favored fare. It doesn't usually happen two nights in a row, but now and again... : )

Christmas candy for dessert? Of course not! That's breakfast ; )

Marianne Arkins said...

Great advice, all... best thing I ever did was join a crit group. The things I learned were invaluable.

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: Ref: Writer-as-hermit is my default setting.

That's my natural setting too. :o) I have to make myself blog and comment. I'm always afraid no one will respond or worse--dismiss me as unimportant.


Angelina: Oh, gosh. Don't say that. I don't know nuttin. :) I share what I learn along the way, but that doesn't mean it's right or wrong. It just happens to be my experience. But I'm glad it's been useful to you.

Maria Zannini said...

Cathy: Ha! We have Scrounge Night too! We'll make a smorgasbord of tinned smoked fish, crackers and caviar (if we have it). It makes us feel tres trashy. LOL.


Marianne: I was going to say you need the right kind of CPs, but even the bad ones have been useful. They remind me how to be a better critique partner.

Michelle H. said...

A wonderful post. The only thing I would add is this:

Write what you know, research what you don't know.

Maria Zannini said...

Michelle: So true. Sometimes people think what they know is 'boring' when in fact it's fascinating to those of us on the outside.

Liz Fichera said...

Great post, Maria. I found myself nodding my head on all of them. I would add

#11: There is a whole online writer community out there. Who knew? Don't hesitate to jump in with your arms wide open.

Meghan Schuessler said...

good advice :)

Maria Zannini said...

Liz: The online community is the best. Nowhere else will you find so many people ready to help.

Meghan: From the school of hard knocks. :)