Thursday, December 29, 2011

Yes, Do This, No, Don't Do That

I've been getting a lot of requests for writing advice lately. I have several posts on it, but I thought I'd gather my thoughts in a new post here, in a Yes, Do This and No, Don't Do This format. This is meant to inform, not to embarrass. Please be assured that I have made every mistake possible, and that I am not thinking of any one person when I list things you shouldn't do. (No one out there should think I am talking about them, because I'm not. No embarrassment allowed. This means you.)

Yes: Follow your favorite authors on Facebook and twitter and their blogs. Feel free to respond to the things they post. Enjoy interacting if said author is responsive.

No: Please don't use authors responding to your messages as a jumping board for asking for personal favors. We have a lot of followers. We have a lot of responsibilities. I will never read something for someone I don't know, and I'm sure 99% of published authors are the same way. It's not personal, and it's not because I don't want to help. It's because a) I don't ever want to be liable should someone unpublished decide to claim I stole ideas/content/etc, and b) I simply don't have time. Once you begin saying yes, where do you draw the line and say no? It's easier for me to have a firm no policy to begin with. I try to find other ways to give back to the writing community, and I know most authors do as well.

If you are unpublished, do not try to make published authors your critique partners. I know it seems like all of my friends are published, but when I started not a single one of my crit partners had a book deal. We went through it together, and we are all better for it. To emphasize: I was not friends or crit partners with a single published author when I got my book deal. No one recommended me to my agent. I was slush all the way. Do connections hurt? Absolutely not. But please pursue them out of a desire to connect with someone rather than use them as a connection. No one likes to be used, it's very easy to tell when that's what's happening, and it rarely turns out well.

Also, please do not ever take a non-response from an author as an insult or a rejection. Every author manages their time differently, and everyone has different levels of responsiveness. It is never personal.

Kiersten Rookie Mistake: I totally asked an author with a book deal to read my query for my first book. And she said yes, and she was amazing, and I will always be grateful. So...guess I am a bad example here. Sometimes you might luck out. But it's definitely the exception, and you're better off not counting on connecting with an established author to help you navigate the murky waters of querying. (The query she helped me with wasn't even for the book that got me my agent.)

Yes: If you have an author or agent you admire, see if they keep a blog. Search their blog for advice about writing and publishing--most blogs have a search box that lets you plug in specific terms. If you are overwhelmed with how much information is out there (there is a LOT), start with Nathan Bransford's site. On his side bar under "Publishing Essentials" are links to the things you need to know to get started. He's clear, he's concise, and he's infinitely more helpful than I'll ever be.

No: Don't ask authors or agents for personal advice on how to get published. It's pretty much the same for everyone, and you can find that information very easily without taking up someone's personal time to tell you everything. Most authors and agents will simply direct you to a blog post or FAQ page you can find just as quickly on your own.

Fact of the matter is, they won't tell you anything new even if they do respond to your requests for personalized information. Don't use all of your time and creative energy trying to figure out the secret to getting published. The secret isn't a secret. The secret is: Write a good book. Edit it. Query. While you are querying, WRITE ANOTHER BOOK. You can't skip any of those steps. You may have to repeat those steps a couple (or more than a couple) times. But in the end there is no secret font, no secret formatting tricks, no secret handshakes that will get you a book deal. It doesn't matter who you know. It doesn't matter. The writing is always, always, always what it comes down to in the end.

Kiersten Rookie Mistake: I spent hours and hours (and hours and hours and hours) scouring writing websites and agent blogs trying to find an answer. The question I wanted answered was: How can I get published RIGHT NOW? And the answer (which I didn't find anywhere because I didn't know how to see it) was: YOU CAN'T RIGHT NOW, KIERSTEN. KEEP WRITING. I wish I could have those hours back to spend on actual writing instead of obsessing about publishing.

Yes: Make publishing a goal if it is important to you.

No: Don't let being published determine your worth as a writer. Always, always, always keep the love of writing first and foremost. If you let the pursuit of publication kill your love of writing, not even a book deal with salvage it. We write because we love to, because we need to. We pursue publication with this firmly in mind, knowing that even if it never happens our writing still has value.

Kiersten Rookie Mistake: I know it seems easy for me to say these things from the position I'm in now, but I have four books--completed books--that will never be published. And one of those is from after I got my first book deal. I have at least a dozen other started-but-stalled-out stories. Being published does not magically solve everything. Sometimes books and stories just don't work. I'm still glad I wrote all of them. Did realizing I'd failed at a book suck hardcore at the time? YES OH MY GOSH YES. Did I let myself get sad and frustrated? Absolutely. Deservedly so. Did I let it keep me from writing other books and telling myself that my writing was worthwhile? Nope. I kept going. I still keep going.

Ultimate Kiersten Rookie Mistakes: Thinking that being published was something I was entitled to simply because I finished writing a book. (I...started researching publishing the day I wrote the first page of my first novel. Yup. The gun? It was jumped.) Thinking that I was good enough with a first draft. Thinking that I wouldn't have to work and edit and learn and truly dedicate myself to writing as a craft if I really wanted to make a career out of it. Thinking that a rejection (at any level) meant it would never happen. Thinking that if it didn't happen with THIS BOOK it would never happen. Thinking that other people being successful before me (or being more successful than me) somehow stole my potential to also succeed.

Ultimate Kiersten Redemption: Not giving up and being willing to learn. Also I make really good cookies, which has nothing to do with writing but certainly helps with almost everything else in life.

I hope this was helpful. I hope it was encouraging. I love writing, and I love writers, and I think creating stories and worlds and characters is one of the most challenging and rewarding things we can do as creative people. I wish you the absolute best of luck in your writing, wherever you are in the process. Also I wish you a cookie. A really good one.

37 comments:

Emily said...

Thanks. Your honesty about the process is such a good reminder that these things that time, patience and persistance (you have NO idea how long I tried to think of a "P" word for time..because I like alliteration a lot).

Happy 2012. Looking forward to Endlessly...when do we get a fun countdown widget to obsess over? :)

Ebony McKenna. said...

G'day Kiersten,
I was nodding away at all the above. I especially remembered the impatience of wanting to be published right away.

May your 2012 rock like a bleeping rocking thing.

lkeith17 said...

I really enjoyed this article. I love to write but I gave it up for about a year-well, every day writing of a novel at least-due to my frustration and feeling my writing was rather lackluster. I rediscovered my love of just writing though with my writing journal and ignoring my ambition to be published NOW! Now I am working on ideas, but everyday I just write anything that pops into my head in addition to my story ideas. :)

Tina Moss said...

*Nodding* Couldn't agree more. Love this post. Happy 2012!

Liz said...

Thanks for the advice. I especially appreciate the piece about how one should keep writing because one loves writing. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that.

Kristin Rae said...

fabulous post :)

Amber said...

Thank you for the fantastic post! I'm now going to tie my boyfriend to the chair and make HIM read it!

Amie said...

You are the best to share your knowledge and experience with others! Your blog is my absolute favorite.

Pamala Knight said...

Thanks for the fantastic post Kiersten. Also, can I have a cookie?

Saille said...

Thanks for the post! Also, I love your clean blog design. I can't tell you how many bloggers have typed the words "I like nice, clean blog designs" when they have three or more sidebars. That drives me crazy.

storyqueen said...

If I were to ever write a post about all of this stuff, I hope it would be half as good as this one...actually, I just hope it would be this exact one.

Well done, you!

Shelley

Anonymous said...

This was extremely helpful and encouraging. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

That was very helpful, thank you! I do, though, think it's hard to find good crit partners, especially for an agented writer. I want someone who will "up my game," and it's hard to do that unless my crit partner is at my level or above.

I've struggled with this for years, and my agent keeps telling me to find a good beta, and I keep telling her it's hard! I think your post kind of confirmed why.

In any case, thanks as always for sharing your thoughts. :)

Kiersten White said...

Anon, DEFINITELY hard to find good crit partners. I really lucked into mine and my writing improved so much. Good luck in the search!

Becci said...

Every time you blog, I want to send you a thank you note, for real. Post finishing Nano, I have been ALL funky and there were a few things in this that I really needed to hear.

So thank you. For this, and all of the other ones before it. You're awesome :)

Jessica Lemmon said...

SO true! And oft learned the hard way. A great PSA, Kiersten! :)

Katie Dodge said...

Loved this post. Great advice! :)

Sarah said...

A really good and very helpful post! Thank you.

Tricia said...

Thanks for sharing, these pearls made it well worth diving into Twitter this morning! I'm on my way, writing every day and I happen to make amazing red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting from scratch. Like a cookie, a cupcake can make it all better. :)

Serenity said...

Such an awesome post! I especially love the bits about not wasting time on researching how to get published that you could be spending on actually writing. And I love the part about pursuing actual connections with people not just people you can use as connections. Such great advice for so MANY parts of life - not just the writer part.

Rachel Caine said...

Beautiful, beautiful post. Thank you. Linkage will follow! :)

Also in related news: you're awesome.

Carol Holaday said...

Thanks Kiersten. I agree with what you've shared here.

I especially agree with having a crit group to walk through the process with and the value of every piece of writing, finished or not, published or not.

I've been writing all kinds of stuff for over 20 years and have one published book, so far. There have been a lot of words between the time I started writing and time I was published, and every one of them has value.

There are so many words out there. I want them all, bwahahahaha!

Ally Carter said...

Yes. Yes. A million times yes.

Well said, Kiersten. I agree completely.

-Ally

Amy Moran said...

I know all this already and still keep making the same mistakes. (There's got to be a website out there that has the secret key to publishing an instant bestseller!)

It's good that making tasty cookies can be my redemption.

Thanks!

Read. Write. Ramble. said...

*takes notes* Thanks so much for sharing your advice:)

Lauren said...

Great post, Kiersten! Thank you for this priceless advice. And happy New Year to you and your family!

White List said...

You have an amazing blog! I love how you have such a different perspective on things!!! Look forward to seeing more. Happy New Year in advance!

the-white-list.blogspot.com

Reshmi Surendran Pillai said...

That's a very useful post. Thank you. Helps a ton.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Awesome post! A lot of writers don't know where exactly to start.

Rachel Pudelek said...

I love the last mistake you posted! That was totally me. I started writing a book in 2009, and while I had a published author friend who told me how difficult and long the getting published process is, I KNEW I was different. I figured I'd have agents clamoring for my finished manuscript and when my first query for it had a response three hrs after being sent from an agent requesting a full, I thought I was proved correct. Now here I am, editing my second novel, still sending queries for my first and truly understanding exactly what you and my author friend said: it takes time and perseverance. Period.

kathrynleighaz said...

Thanks for writing such an encouraging post.


:)

rosalyn said...

This is really encouraging--thank you! I've recently been making piece with the idea that my current WIP may just be a learning project, and I think I'm okay with that. It's always nice to know I'm in good company.

readerfreak22 said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH! You have no idea how much this helped. I have been writing a book and, wanting to get it published, so this was incredibly helpful. One question though, how old do you have to be to get published? Thank you so much, again, I can't wait to see if my book can, or, if it will be published.
Thank You,
Readerfreak22

Kiersten White said...

Readerfreak--No age limit.

Tameka said...

Thank you so much for writing this...you have no idea exactly how much I needed to read it. Much appreciated and Happy New Year!

Dean K Miller said...

Every once in a while someone breaks a rule and makes it through. Knowingly, I'd try not to. Secretly, if I did and it worked out, I'd be gracious and try not to do that again...but still really happy.

I love your style here, and the advice is great. I'll be back.

And as a follow-up to the unintended "Arnold" closing line, my word verification was; "punyise". Love the karma/irony in the world.

Baja Rock Pat said...

Thanks for this great post. I too, am guilty of many of those things.

I have a question though, but it's from the other side of the fence--what if *you're* the published author and you have people asking *you* for publishing advice? I truly do want to help as much as I can because I can so relate to where they're coming from but sometimes it gets overwhelming.

In my case, it's further complicated by the fact that my book involves a famous rock star--Sammy Hagar. Sammy has fully endorsed my book and has been very kind to me. The problem is that a lot of people I don't even know are now asking me to ask Sammy for favors. I'm never quite sure what to say to those people, because when I explain that I am not in a position to ask him for favors, it makes me either look like I'm not telling the truth or that I'm being snotty and just don't want to help them--both of which are completely untrue!

Thanks!