Monday, July 13, 2009

10 Things I've Learned Since Becoming Published

There's a lot you have to know to become a published author: craft, storytelling, submitting, etc., but the learning doesn't stop there. In the (almost) one year since accepting the offer, this is what I've learned:

1. Time management is one of the must-have skills of a published author. Writing to deadline, a contractual deadline, is so different from writing for a self-imposed one. And it can lead to #2:

2. Doubts crop up. At first, I thought it was just me. I mean, before I sold, I was always confident in my stories. I giggled when writing them. Then I sold on proposal and started wondering, "what if" - and not in a good way. What if the story wasn't as funny? What if my editor didn't like it? What if I couldn't do it again? Which leads to #3:

3. Support groups are a MUST! I belong to the PAN and PASIC loops and have to say, thank God for those loops. Amid a lot of the stuff that doesn't pertain to me, are the few nuggets of gold that I need: namely that I'm not the only one who suffers from #2. And it's "Big Name" authors who do, too. Talk about a relief. I have other support groups, but they're writers groups. Writers get it. They know just the right things to say and not because they're wordsmiths, but because they live the doubts, too.

4. Non-writing support groups are a must, as well. I found that writing to deadline tended to consume me, my time and my thoughts. You need to get away from it occassionally. Just like someone who leaves work, drives home and goes to a bar or baseball game with non-work friends, so too, do we need to have real life. Replenish the well, so to speak.

5. Feed the muse. Yes, I have tons of story ideas in my head and never enough time to get them on paper, but you also need to feed the muse for the story you're working on. You don't want all your stories to be a retelling of the same story, so to differentiate them, do something different for each story. Maybe see a movie that's in the same vein as the story you're working on. Maybe go to a (pick one) Ren Faire, play, concert, kids' baseball game, professional baseball game. Get out, see the world, bring back fresh ideas to the story.

6. Carve out the time to read. I find this one the hardest to do because I want to finish my WIP. I want to use all my spare time (what's that again?) to plot and promote and edit and prepare for the next book. But you need to read - something you haven't written. I have to remmber that before I was a writer, I was a reader. That's what made me fall in love with writing. So I make time to read. That week down the shore was the best "refilling the well" I've had in a while.

7. Do your research. Readers will call you on wrong - or rather, what they think is wrong - research. I experienced that during the First Chapters Romance contest where someone called me on the fact that no coral grows above North Carolina in the Atlantic on the eastern seaboard. Now, we all know by this point that I'm terrified of the ocean and you can bet I'm not going scuba diving any time soon, so I've had to rely on research to get my world-building right. (In my defense, I have gone snorkeling many times so I've been in coral reefs, etc, but there aren't many (if any) that snorkelers can enjoy this far north.) So, when I was told this "fact" I quickly rechecked my research, then very nicely showed this gentleman where I got my information. The fact that there is an actual picture kinda bolstered the validity. (

8. Don't heckle the hecklers. Thick skin is a MUST, both before selling and after. You'll get the flat-out NO rejections from editors and agents which hurts, but usually you won't get anything untoward. Then reviews hit. I've been lucky in that I haven't gotten a bad review yet, but I know not everyone loved the story the way others have. That's okay, but now that there are thousands of people reading the story (and, yay! I found out In Over Her Head is going into a second printing, so I know it's "thousands"), the potential for people to not like it is exponentially bigger. Just like with the research-questioner above, you don't want to heckle them. I saw people doing that in the First Chapters Romance contest where the author would start arguing with the reader. Um... no. Bad form. Anyone who didn't like the story in the contest, got a "thank you for reading it and hopefully you'll like another of my stories better." Gives them nothing to get contentious about and validates their feelings.

9. Be professional. This should be said for all stages of your writing career. Don't commit career suicide. Don't bad-mouth other authors, or, heaven forbid, agents and editors. It's a small community, and people talk. There really is room on the shelves for everyone. They might be cybershelves in some instances, but that just opens up the possibilities. Don't be jealous of what others have; they have their own journey. This one is yours. Make it the best you can without comparing it to others. Everyone's is unique. Be courteous, be professional, be cordial and gracious. Be pro-active. Don't shoot yourself in the foot. God knows there have been enough stories that hit the internet in the writing community of someone who emailed/texted/posted/twittered something they've come to regret, only it's gone on to become an "item" online. Remember whenever you post something, it never goes away. The internet is forever.

10. The power of the written word. And I don't mean the ones I'm writing - the feedback I've gotten from readers has been humbling and touching. That what I've imagined and put on paper has touched someone enough that they've contacted me and told me I made them laugh or cry, that I've helped them through a tough time, or made them realize something about themselves... that feedback has been the best part of this journey. These are my stories, in my head, things that make me smile/laugh/catch my breath. I put them out there and hope others see those same things in them, but I'll love them no matter what. When others have those same feelings and take the time and effort to tell me... that is priceless.

What have you learned in your writing journeys?


  1. I received a Facebook fan mail the other day where the writer loved to fall into my werewolf world and get away from the real one. When I was a kid, that's what I used to do. Immersed myself in stories. And as an adult, I do, too. Throw myself into worlds unknown--my own, and others. Writing is like art, created to share an expression. Some love it, some don't. But I think of all the writing and art I've fallen in love with and am so grateful there are writers and artists who create it, whether others love it or not. :)

  2. All of your ten things are important, Judi, especially the growing a thick skin part, which helps you with some of the others, like not responding negatively when someone doesn't like your work.

    I've learned that just when I'm down, something will usually happen to lift me up again, and quite often it's a nice letter from a fan.

  3. Judi,

    Really wonderful post. I agree with all your points (even if I don't always do them - sigh). I would add this one: learn to be your own advocate. Agents are great (and I adore mine)but you are your best advocate. Sometimes you come across info your agent might not have seen, or sometimes you have an angle on your manuscripts your agent might not have thought of -- don't be afraid to be an advocate to your agent.

    This might be an obvious point, but it's something I had to learn.

  4. I agree with all that's been said, but one other thing I'd like to add is reader participation. I've gotten tons of ideas from readers who haven't been a bit shy about telling me the kind of story they want. This input is invaluable because the reader is the ultimate judge of what we've written.

  5. I love reading y'all's blogs. It makes me feel as if I'm kind of, sort of in the same boat. Only I'm haven't quite gotten there, yet.

    With my Scottish historical, I've done tons of research. And I've had some of my research questioned by an authority, a person I greatly respect. And I, too, go back and recheck my information each time a comment is made.

    I have a wonderful support group, both in and out of writing. I found it hard to read, especially when I was taking college classes, but I made a goal of one book a week. So far, I've only been able to read about two books a month.

    The one thing I've learned that I was so utterly shocked at, especially since I've so many authors to be supportive, is that there are a few sharks out there. And I'm not talking about editors and agents.

    Judi, I hope to see you in D.C.


  6. Great post, Judi~

    I've learned that no matter how many books you write, it doesn't get easier. There are so many things to juggle and that's before you take into account your family.

    The other thing I learned is that no matter what your schedule or plan is, something is going to throw a monkey wrench into it and you'll have to come up with a new one. Flexibility is the key.

  7. good morning everyone! I just finished packing (well, hanging the clothes up to go in the suitcase and matching the shoes to the outfits!) for National and am waiting for groceries to be delivered. I know, indulgent, but I just don't have the time with getting everything ready for my week away.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences - it's definitely a learning experience!

  8. Great post, Judi. One of things I've learned is that I can multi-task better than I ever thought possible. Learning to juggle several hats at once was tough, but once I got them all in the air, things went well. When I'm tired of juggling, I rest, and then juggle the hats again.

    Best--Adele Dubois

  9. Judi some great advice here. Definitely print worthy as a reminder.

    As an unpubbed, my one golden truth is: I've learned that I can't do everything all at once. There has to be priorities and sometimes life intrudes on writing and vice versa. That, and chaos messes with my mental composure.

  10. My writing journey has been so long with twists and turns and one thing I always say is roll with the punches. Be willing to try something new. I've done it over the years and it's worked well for me.


  11. I'm not there yet, Judi, but I'll keep your suggestions in mind if the time ever comes. :-) Congrats, and thanks for sharing the wisdom of your experiences with us!

  12. Great list for us unpublished dreamers too. Thanks.

  13. Thick skin and for sure the need for support. To know when a story isn't working and when to move on. Not to let doubts stop your forward movement.

    I agree with your points Judi. Graciousness is something I grew up knowing was good manners and bad mouthing...every time you point a finger at someone there are 3 pointing back at you. I remember First chapters and arguments or trashing another's work. Beauty Queen smashes, lol!

    Research. Whether it's for an article you're writing for a publication or in a story, yah gotta have it right. As several have said, when you're called on it, go back and double check, if you're right, cool, be gracious in your answer, if you're wrong, be gracious in your answer, lol!

    Enjoyed reading the comments here today. :-)