Pull up a beach chair and grab a Coconut Pineapple Smoothie. Let's chat.
This week the Seekers gathered on the beach of Unpubbed Island (those are Ruthy's feet), to discuss our publishing journey. One of our topics was what we wish we'd known before we left the island. We'd like to share our wisdom, or lack there of, with you.
Our comments are anonymous so we can share our unfiltered thoughts. But feel free to ask questions.
I wish I had known that a writing career is like an egg that must incubate. For most of us, the time before publication seems long and fruitless, yet consider the tiny chick within the protective eggshell. If cracked too soon, the chick will not survive. God’s timing is perfect so use the incubation phase to become a stronger writer and don’t get discouraged.
Once you do sell, remember a newly-hatch chick isn’t fully developed just as a newly-contracted writer isn’t expected to “do” it all--at least not immediately. Pick and choose what works for you. The chick grows to maturity with time. Your career will as well.
I wish I had known not to keep re-writing the same stories over and over. If I had it to do over again, I would keep pressing ahead on new manuscripts so I had plenty to offer my editor once I made the first sale.
I wish I would have known how an editor looks at a contracted book when suggesting revisions for final approval. The revisions I received helped me tear my manuscript apart and put it back together so it now reads like a book on the shelf, not a contest entry. For the next twenty books and beyond, I’ll keep that first revision letter by my computer while I write, reminding me of the sequencing and rhythm needed to make a connection with the reader and draw emotion.
I didn't realize how much I would miss the strolls along the beach at sunset. The sound of the surf; the tang of salty sea in the air. When I miss them too much, I'll just write them into a book.
I wish I'd known how much personal PR would be expected! Not that it would have deterred me, but I didn't have a realistic sense for the many ways publishers expect authors to help promote their own books. I wish I had learned more about how to plan a successful book signing--all the "extras" that help draw potential readers to your signing table. I wish I knew more about how to talk to bookstore managers and librarians, how to grow a mailing list, how to get the media interested in featuring my book.
I wish I'd understood more about the ins and outs of working with in-house publicists. Even though I took a couple of online classes about book promotion and even read books on the subject, I still didn't feel prepared--probably because I'm such an introvert and just don't want to deal with this side of book publishing. But in today's publishing world, an author doesn't really have a choice. My advice? Connect with an experienced author or two in your area, volunteer to help at their book signings and other events, and pick their brains about what types of promotion have been effective for them and what have not.
I wish I'd known how much time it takes away from writing another book to get the previous book to its release date. (Although . . . even if I'd known this, it wouldn't matter because there's nothing I can do about it if I want to sell books. It is what it is. ) I also had NO idea how wonderful reader letters would be--really hadn't thought about or anticipated people taking time from their busy schedules to email or hand-write letters to share what a book meant to them. When a story touches someone's heart the way you'd prayed it would, you know God was in it. Amazing and humbling.
I wish I had known to establish more of a database a year before my book was released. My agent says you only have one shot at a debut novel, so you have to give it your all—via a loaded Web site, blogs, newsletters, etc., none of which I had until about three months prior to my launch. I attended an ACFW seminar where the teacher said you need to work on this at least 1-1/2 to 2 years prior to a book launch, which, of course, I didn’t!
And I wish I’d known what an emotional roller-coaster it was going to be AFTER I got published. Like a lot of unpublished writers, I thought all the anxiety and self-doubt would dissipate after I signed on the dotted line. I mean that would validate me, wouldn’t it? Give me confidence as a writer? But I discovered (AGAIN!) that true confidence is not in accolades from your editor or a really good review, but instead in where your heart is with God. HE is our confidence when our sales rankings on Amazon.com are high or low, which is why I CLING to the following Scripture from 2 Corinthians ll:3, praying it almost every day: Do not let my mind “be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”
I wish I'd known to COMPLETELY clear my calendar the month prior to and of my book's release. Marketing takes an enormous amount of time. I wish I'd known how much book sales really matter. I wasn't prepared for how much pressure there would be to that end. I wish I'd known that rejection is as common post-publication as it is pre-publication. I wish I'd known that I'm not the only one out there who battles thoughts of inadequacy and doubt about my ability to write. I wish I'd known how very much work goes into making a book shelf-ready. I have way more respect for published authors, editors, art, marketing and everyone who is striving to make the book as good as it can possibly be. I wish I'd known how hard getting successive contracts would be.
I wish I'd known how much reader letters would mean and how seriously some readers take our words and how deeply they come to care about our characters. I wish I'd known to what extent God would and could use my words to reach in through the lines and apply balm of laughter to a human heart or evoke a bout of long-overdue tears. I wish I'd known the weight of the responsibility I feel toward my publisher, my editors and most of all, to each reader who spends time and money to buy and read the books I've been privileged to write.
I wish I'd know that Marketing and Sales directors drive an editor's decision much of the time. It's not that my story was bad, or my writing sucked--it was that my storyline wasn't sellable according to Marketing and Sales considerations. I have learned to take rejections much less personally.
I also wish I'd fully realized how much of all this is just timing (and God's timing). My being impatient didn't do anything except cause me stress and make me seem like a whiner. I needed to get to a better place emotionally in order to be able to handle things like editorial edits, marketing demands, bad reviews, etc. Only God knew when I'd be okay to handle all that stuff without going loco.
What I wish I knew...
You know honestly, that's one of the blessings of being among the last. I kept studying what the other gals did, what worked for them, what didn't, what they noticed or complained about, what caused problems with their time, money, stress, etc. and made it a point to learn from that. I kept rationalizing that if I was going to be the caboose, I was at least going to be an intelligent one. And that helped because when the time came I didn't feel like I was wasting money or spinning my wheels or running on a treadmill in slow motion. I felt energized and prepared.
I never felt adrift. Between the editorial staff and my agent, most things were smoothed for me step-by-step and that made my 'crossover' much easier in the long run. And I had Seeker sisters to help me with the ins and outs, the timing stuff, the necessary paperwork, terms, time-lines. That was huge.
I found marketing to be a big, unexpected surprise. How much time I put in to blogging, answering emails, interviews, book signings. All extremely time consuming. It's a good thing I don't have a life or things could get out of control.
I wish I'd known the importance of planning ahead for promotion. Setting up blog tours, reviews, radio and newspaper coverage and book signings needs to be done well in advance of the book's release. For example, our Christian radio station needed an ARC before I had my author copies in order to get my book in the lineup. I thought two or three months ahead was enough time. Wrong. I also learned to get bookmarks designed and printed, our business cards to readers, as soon as I have the JPEG of my cover. The further ahead you can set things up the better.
I wish I had known that I would still have to empty the litter box and clean the toilets. I woke up the morning after I sold and I looked exactly the same. I won't lie, this was a major disappointment.
I wish I knew that the agents are worth every dollar we pay them and more. Since they act as a buffer we don't make the mistake of sounding off to our editor when we're frustrated by our book or by them. We don't want to sound whiny or neurotic to an editor!
I wish I knew I'd have to fight deadline panic, but in the end I'd manage to settle down and finish on time.
I wish I knew how much time and energy editing a soon-to-be pubbed book can take--and how it can eat away a big chunk of the time allocated for the next book.
I wish I knew I'd have to juggle promotion and editing a book while working on deadline for the next book.
I wish I knew how long it would take me to write a complete book with a deadline looming. Before selling you have all the time you need to write and rewrite, but on a deadline you don't.
I wish I had more time between books and factored in a week for vacation.
I wish I'd kept better records for tax purposes.
I wish I knew that from the moment I sold, the publisher would treat me as a professional with a writing career, not a writing hobby.
So what do you think?
We're sending a corked bottle of sand, shells and inspiration from Unpubbed Island to one of our visitors. Winner will be announced in the Weekend Edition.