Three things every writer should know (to maintain what’s left of their sanity)


1)      No matter who you are or how brilliantly you write, someone somewhere won’t like it.

This is important to know not only for the submission process, where you =will= get rejections and will need to persevere, but for afterward, when your work is out there on the market to fend for itself with reviewers and readers alike.  I have never had a project that every single publishing house has bid on, not even from my biggest best-sellers.  Does this mean that the editors who passed have bad taste or some kind of super secret agenda?  No.  It means that it wasn’t to their taste or their needs at the time.  Or they have something already on their list they consider too similar or they can’t get approval to beat the offer already on the table. Or … You see the point.  Rejection isn’t personal.  Likewise, with some exceptions, like those reviewers who slam books simply for not being available in Kindle form (something the authors have no control over), reviews aren’t personal.  You and your very best friend may not agree on the movie you want to see or your feelings about the film you just viewed.  You can’t expect uniformity from reviewers either.  Every reader, whether reviewing for professional, personal, pleasure or class-assignment purposes, has his or her own tastes, preferences, hot buttons, blind spots, pet peeves, great loves…etc.  You can’t please all of the people all of the time.  A thick skin is a great asset for a writer.

2)   Things take time.

Waaayyy, way more time than you think they should.  Occasionally, offers come in overnight, your editor gets notes to you exactly when s/he says s/he will, the post office delivers everything on schedule, your book comes out in a matter of months, the stars align, the clouds part and the heavenly hosts sing paeans to your prowess.  Um, yeah, I got carried away.  You get my point.  Publishing is a lot of hurry up and wait.  Mentally add days or weeks onto when you’re told to expect an agent or editor to respond.  I know I’ll often give writers dates by which I desperately hope to get back to them on their work, but then another author will ask me for a rush read, or there’ll be a dispute between a writer and her editor I have to read and resolve overnight, or I have to review and get out a contract before an author leaves for a backpacking tour through Europe….  Of course, things might come up for you as well – surgery, computer failure, a sick kid.  In the event that the unforeseen rears its ugly head, let your agent or editor know so that schedules can be adjusted.

If you’re a new author, it may be that your publication date is farther out than you anticipated.  Books being bought today are being scheduled for as far out as 2012.  For the most part, 2011 is already booked.  Plus, publishers have a lot more to do for an author new to their list than for someone they’ve been publishing for awhile.  They have to introduce your work to their sales and marketing departments, discuss how to position the work so that it stands out in the field, in many cases work on developing your “brand.”  If you’re an established author, chances are your books already hold a regular place in the publisher’s schedule, so your works will likely come out sooner rather than later.

3)   Getting published is only the first step.  Staying published and successful can be a full-time job.

Yup, writing, submitting and selling are only part of the package.  Remember that there will also be editorial notes and revision, line editing, copyediting…all things you’ll have to stop writing on your WIP to do on the manuscript you’ve already sold when it comes back from the publisher.  When you’re giving deadlines for future works, remember to plan for extra time for these extra steps.  As every author knows, you’ll be looking over that novel you’ve sold until your eyes cross and you come to hate it.  If you haven’t hit that point, you haven’t looked at it quite enough.

And that’s not all.  Oh no!  Books are not released in a vacuum.  Or, if they are, no one notices.  The publisher takes care of some things, of course, like creating the cover and back cover copy, getting advance reading copies out to reviewers, placing ads, getting the book into their catalog and getting that catalog out everywhere, etc.  But there are some things you’ll need to do as well: develop a website and a web presence, use your own local or specialized contacts to get the word out on your novel, let your alumni newsletters, local papers and anyone else you can think of know about the release of your books.  Possibly start a blog or volunteer to do guest blogs.  There are a lot of things your publisher and their publicist can do for you, but no one can be you.  No one else will quite have the same enthusiasm, understanding and insight for your work that you do.   I kept track, and in the month that my debut young adult novel, VAMPED, released, I wrote over sixty-pages of promotion … guest blogs, press releases, etc.  It definitely pays off.

Part II of this, of course, is that you shouldn’t let blogging, tweeting and the gratification of an instant audience keep you from writing your creative works.  If you’re only writing to be heard, you can stand on a soapbox and accomplish the same thing.  If you’re writing because you’re compelled by stories that can’t be contained, you need impulse control.  You need to be able to step away from the phone and the internet and focus on what’s most important…the writing.


21 comments to Three things every writer should know (to maintain what’s left of their sanity)

  • As I just said to Lauren Oliver, this published writer thing just looks more and more exciting as time goes on. 😉

    I think I will write under a pen-name and claim a mysterious illness while hiding out in an abandoned shack in the Rockies. Somehow, I will still manage to be a successful author. My mother thinks so, too.

  • Hey Atsiko, it worked for Thomas Pynchon and Bill Watterson. Why not try to join them?

    BTW, how do you hide out in an abandoned shack. If you are there, it’s not abandoned…. 😀

    Thanks for the post, Lucienne. I hadn’t realized that the publication schedule was up to 2012 already.

  • Thank you for writing this. It’s always nice to read these little reminders. They help me contain the writhing mass of crazy inside. 😉

  • Nice post. I think the hardest thing to remind oneself is that it does take time whether we’re just starting out or we are finally getting our book published. Time. Bah… 😀

    I have moments of clarity when this makes total sense. A serene ease comes over me and I get to work with no problem. Then I have other days when I feel it will never happen. Thankfully, I can remind myself quickly that this is not true, however, when I started writing it was very interesting. I’m happy I’ve learned over time patience.

  • As usual, great information, Lucienne. It’s nice having you on board to keep us grounded in more of the business related items.

    -Dave Fortier

  • Savvy

    I thought this article was going to HELP me maintain what was left of my sanity? I feel more alone, desperate, and frightened than ever. *sigh* Ah, well. Surely my novel will be an overnight success, and the publisher will push for immediate publication, and they’ll cut the check on time and everything.

    And monkeys might fly outta my butt.

  • Number 2 is the BANE of my existence, and I’m just starting to realize the magnitude of Number 3! Thanks for sharing and putting it so well!

    Best of luck with your writing. 🙂

  • Lucienne, even after 20 books, I still get caught up in the last paragraph, Prt II — Letting my schedule get cluttered up with the internet. One would think I’d have it all down pat by now. No.

    I am actually working *right now* to get my Internet time down to one hour a day, except for Wednesdays when I’ll be here at MW. It’s hard to say *no* to requests for interviews and blogs from other people, but I am paring down so I can write more, spend more time with family, and plan for the day when I hit the bestseller lists. (I’m thinking positive, which my bestseller pals tell me is paramount!)

    Also — Thank you for this blog. It really spells out the process and the business part of getting published. The fact that the way it works is nothing personal is important for all of us to remember. I’ve been on both sides of the publication process, from the almost magical *instant furor in the publishing world and auction for the book* to the *wait 18 months fo the one house who wanted the book to make an offer.* It’s a wonderful journey!

    You are a wonderful agent and a great writer. I think the fact that you are on both sides of the process (writer and agent) gives you a unique understanding of, and vision of, the business. Thanks again for this great post. We are all cognizant of the time you take away from other pursuits to share with us here at MW.

  • Great post, Lucienne!Great reminders.

  • @Het… Well, the owner abandoned it, and it’s probably on land that I don’t own. It’s “abandoned” in the sense that it was abandoned by someone sometime.

    Anyway, great post Lucienne. Keep ’em coming.

  • Echoing what Faith said. We so appreciate your willingness to post for us. You have so much on your plate, and we know that. But we also know how much you have to offer. So thank you.

    This is a wonderful post. Points one and two seem like they were intended for me in particular (though I know — hope? — they weren’t). Even after so many years, I still take the rejections more personally than I should, and I still grow impatient with the pace of the business, though I’m getting a little better about that one. I simply estimate how long it would take normal people to do what it is we’re asking of editors and publishing execs, and then I add 8 months to my expectations….

  • Thanks Lucienne. This really resonates, particularly your emphasis on how long everything takes and on the work involved in staying successful. I’ve said before that the hardest thing for me to get used to after I sold my first book was the idea that getting published didn’t mean it was plain sailing from then on. And so back to work…

  • I need to keep #1 in mind. It’s easy to take rejection personally! You’re right though- I don’t like everything I read so I shouldn’t expect everyone to like reading what I wrote. Thanks for a great post!

  • Thanks, everyone, for reading and commenting. (And Faith and David, you’re so sweet!) After reading Sarah A. Hoyt’s post yesterday on The Mad Genius Blog, I feel like I should add a #4: no matter how successful you are, there’s a good chance you won’t sell everything you write. It may be that your proposal isn’t what’s selling at the time or too experimental/not experimental enough or…. But if it doesn’t sell today, it may sell tomorrow or ten years from now. Or it may be that you mine it for material sometime down the line. Rarely is anything truly wasted, it all goes into the brain’s great recycling bin.

  • Link for Sarah’s blog (referenced above), where she tells it like it is about her journey through publication:

  • Patience is more than just a virtue in this business, it’s an imperative. Your post helps me keep that in mind and gain some perspective on the business as a whole. To reiterate my fellow MW co-horts — thanks so much for adding your expertise to our blog. We appreciate it greatly.

  • Terribly, terribly true. Been in the biz for 20 years. Still an unpub. Such is life.

  • Great post – Number 3 is perhaps the best of the bunch. In a previous blog post I showed that the average earnings for a UK published writer was just £4K!

  • I have issues with number two. Patience is wearing me down mostly. Right now I have a short story on submission that has been at it for four months on a waiting list and I am not sure whether it is rejected or not… Kinda bothers me now. I can imagine what it will be with a novel.

    Good list.

  • […] Lucienne Diver talks about three things every writer should know. Number one is my favorite: “No matter who you are or how brilliantly you write, someone […]