In a writing career that now spans nine published novels, including the latest Love's Rescue, and 15 years of preparation, I've received a lot of advice. Some so-so, some good, and some absolutely essential. I wish I'd come up with these pearls of wisdom on my own, oh, 15 years earlier, but in hindsight I realize that God's timing was absolutely perfect.
Here are my top five, in reverse order:
5. Read. Read. Read.
I'm a slow reader. I read every word and stop to savor particularly amazing word pictures, laugh at humorous passages, and have a good cry when a story hits just right. So when published authors suggested I needed to read widely in my genre, my first thought was that I should have started this whole process twenty years earlier since it was going to take that long to catch up.
Fast forward to the moment of desperation. For many pre-published writers it's that all-or-nothing moment when we lay it all on the line, prepared to walk away if it doesn't work out. Every great venture has a key moment. Will I press on to the top of the mountain? Will we keep looking for the lost gold even though everyone doubts us? It's true for writers too. The mountaintop or treasure chest seems beyond reach. That's when we need to dig in and just maybe try some of that advice. I began to read intentionally.
What do I mean by intentionally? I paid attention to the author's voice, the overall tone of the book, and that impossible-to-put-a-finger-on quality that makes a book special. If those came somewhat close to what I was writing, I noted the author's publisher, editor (if specified) and agent (if listed) into a notebook (I'm old-school. You could use a spreadsheet.). Then I looked for other books in my genre put out by that publisher until I had a sense for that house's style.
If that sounds like a lot of work, don't forget that it pays rich dividends. Aside from learning the house's style, you also see how the author handles different writing situations. Two for the price of one!
4. Join a writers association.
This was the first advice I received, and some of the best. Whether American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America or other groups, these associations offer an incredible wealth of information. The conference workshops and online classes through these organizations taught me so much that I tell people it was like getting a second Master's degree. Writers are incredibly generous with their knowledge and time. I am so very grateful to those who shared what they learned on the journey.
3. Cultivate writer friends
Nothing can top the support of friends who share your writing journey. They stand by you, encourage you when you're down, cheer your successes, and give you honest feedback. That last one might sting sometimes, but you need honesty in order to hone your craft. Family and friends won't do. If I ask my hubby for an opinion, I can see the wheels turning in his head as he tries to decide how he can get out of answering. No one knows the ups and downs more than another writer. They are pure gold. My small cadre of three pulled me through rough times and good. They urged me to persevere when it would have been easier to roll up the carpet and crawl into my cave. Though we all reached our goals at different times, we walked that journey together. That's the kind of friends you need. You can find them through local writer's groups, the associations mentioned above, or even by divine appointment. However it happens, bless those friends with your very best.
2. Learn the market.
Ugh. I avoided this one for years and years. That meant I happily sent out my submissions shotgun-style, hoping one pellet would hit a target. Needless to say, none did. Only after taking an amazing online class through RWA did I learn how to study the market. In those days, traditional publishing was the only route, and that is the path I still follow. Thus I can only speak to traditional publishing, but I hope some of this might help those taking the indie route.
First, I had to take the knowledge I'd gained from #5 about the publishers in my genre and then find out who was most likely to publish a writer who had zero publishing credits to her name. That meant investing in Publisher's Marketplace for a couple months. I checked all the debut authors and noted which publisher, editor and agent (if any) each had. Fairly quickly I got a feel for which publishers would publish a new author, and which agents sold to which editors.
Taking that list, it was time to check the publisher's guidelines. Was an agent required? If so, what were my other options besides the dreaded slushpile? Did the editor ever judge the final round of a contest? If so, those were the contests I needed to enter. (By the way, that is the way I sold.) Could I pitch the project to that editor at a conference? Does the publisher have online pitch sessions or contests that might lead to a contract?
Armed with clear targets, my manuscript could be tailored to fit the publishing house's style and requirements. I know, I know. That sounds like it would crush the artistic life out of the story, but I found just the opposite to be true. The story ended up both clearer and more publishable.
1. Submit your work to the Lord
Every single day. If you're like me and fear and doubt linger beside your computer, you need God on your side. He gave you the story. Give it back to Him. Let Him guide your thoughts and your fingers. Amazing things will happen! Best of all, fear and doubt will retreat to the closet where they belong.
Are you a writer? What's the best advice you've received along the way? A reader? Have you ever wanted to write a book? What holds you back? Let's chat.
I will be giving away a copy of my current release, Love's Rescue. (Winner announced in the Weekend Edition).
ABOUT LOVE'S RESCUE:
When her mother dies, Elizabeth Benjamin heads home to Key West, determined to transform herself into the perfect Southern belle her parents always wished her to be. But nothing goes according to plan. Her brother resents her, the servants do not obey her, and Rourke O'Malley, the dashing man she vowed to forget, refuses to relinquish his hold on her heart. Worst of all, it becomes painfully obvious that her father is not the man he appears to be.
As family secrets come to light, Elizabeth is faced with a difficult choice: to perform her duty and abandon her dreams, or to leave her life of privilege behind to chase the man her father sees as little better than a pirate.
Christine Johnson is the author of several books for Steeple Hill and Love Inspired and has been twice named a finalist for Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart® award. When not writing, she loves to hike and explore God's majestic creation. She and her husband, a Great Lakes ship pilot, split their time between northern Michigan and the Florida Keys. Learn more at http://www.christineelizabethjohnson.com.