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 It's because a) I don't ever want to be liable should someone unpublished decide to claim I stole ideas/content/etc, and b) I simply don't have time.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If you are unpublished, do not try to make published authors your critique partners.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.