Back in April, I wrote a post on good and bad writer advice, what to listen to, what to ignore in the daily toils of a writer’s life. Since then, I’ve been thinking about this more—specifically, the toils of post-publication, instead of the road to publication and they’re different. Vastly. Both in our understanding of the industry and our experiences, from that first book sale to the next.
What I’ve learned could, well, fill a book so I wondered if other authors felt the same way. It turns out they did, and they were happy to share. Below, I asked each of them this question:
Looking back, what’s one thing you wish you had known about the industry before you were published?
“I wish I had known more about the publishing process and marketing. Most of all, I wish I had understood that no publisher would ever care as much as I do about a book’s success, and that the book is still my responsibility after the rights are sold.”
—Kerry Schafer, author of THE NOTHING series
“I wish I had known that it would get harder, not easier! I wish I had spent less time moping over rejections and appreciated those quiet invisible moments of writing without any expectation or deadline. I wish someone had said: ‘Slow down. Enjoy this time. You will never have it again!’”
—Hazel Gaynor, NYT bestselling author of A MEMORY OF VIOLETS
“I wish I had understood that publishing is largely a business driven by convention, rather than data. I keep searching for logical reasons behind decisions, for the data accounting for the outcomes, and rarely find it. There are so many unknowns about what determines success and failure that it drives me a little crazy. Okay, a lot crazy.”
—Sonja Yoerg, author of MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE
“Publication always felt like the end of some long journey and my writing life would be complete, if only I could get just get there. Pre-pubbed authors talk about it like it’s the Emerald City. It’s more like Munchkinland. It’s so much more work to be published than not, which was unexpected.”
—Kate Moretti, NYT bestselling author of BINDS THAT TIE
“Fame and fortune will not happen overnight….if ever! But success is how you choose to define it, and appreciating the little things along the way will make you a much happier person. Even if you never make the New York Times Bestseller list, simply having a core group of devoted fans is tremendously rewarding!”
—Andrea Lochen, author of THE REPEAT YEAR
“I wish I would have known to be a stickler in terms of really understanding the publishing house’s marketing plan for my debut novel and what really needs to be done BEFORE a book is published in order to make a splash. In this market, you have to do much of the leg work yourself PRE-publication — as in social networking the hell out of it, and being on top of everything. “Out-of-the-gate” is so important and planning strategically is key for take-off and generating excitement.”
—Lisa Barr, author of FUGITIVE COLORS
“One of the things I’ve found most difficult — and I think more female writers than male writers find this challenging — is insisting I be paid fairly for my work. How many of us have been told, especially of late, ‘The industry has changed. It’s the author’s job to (fill in the blank) draw a crowd/promote your own work/build a platform/drum up buzz via social media….’ Every one of these things can translate directly as ‘work more for free.’
“Authors are often expected to be marketers, travelers, public speakers, publicists, schedulers, etc. And, without question, the harder one is willing to work at each of these tasks the more the other industry professionals laud you. And yet. AND YET. There comes a time and a place — and I think that time and place is different for each of us, and a moveable target at that — when we give away so much of our time and energy ‘for free’ in the hopes that it will translate into future sales that we deplete ourselves.
“There is … there must be … a gracious way to say without any apologies or trepidation, ‘Thank you for inviting me to XYZ (be it speak/read/teach/etc). I would love to be a part of your event and appreciate your championing of my work. My fee for such things is $. If that is doable for you, please let me know what dates would work best and we can further the discussion.’ But holy shit: I’ve never had more trouble getting such a sentence past my lips. I feel like I will be perceived as greedy, vain, too-big-for-my-britches, high-on-myself, snooty, blah blah blah. For what? For asking to be compensated fairly for my time and energy, like every other employee in the world?”
—Ellen Urbani, author of LANDFALL
“I wish I’d known how to let go of things that are beyond my control. As a matter of fact, I’d still like to know that. Anyone have the secret?”
—Greer Macallister, USA Today bestselling author of THE MAGICIAN’S LIE
“You need a tribe! I floundered a bit in the beginning – asking for blurbs, finding the right bloggers, and zeroing in on the best grassroots marketing, re-inventing more than one wheel, I am sure! And I was often tempted to give in to self-doubt. But then I found my tribes … namely the Women’s Fiction Writers Association AND of course, the TALL POPPIES and there is no more floundering.”
—Amy Impellizzeri, author of LEMONGRASS HOPE
“I wish I had known that one day I WOULD publish. Three young kids, a freelance writing job, a sick mother, a sick mother in law, and little sleep because night time was the only time I had to write. I wish I had known, after yet another rejection, and wanting to kick my computer all the way to Montana, that one day it would work, and all the hours and tears would be worth it.”
—Cathy Lamb, author of WHAT I REMEMBER MOST
“If I had known that years of hard work and dedication wouldn’t automatically move my career forward, I would have taken chances with my writing years earlier.”
—Marin Thomas, author of THE PROMISE OF FORGIVENESS
“I wish I had known that being published means that when you are walking your dog in the woods, wearing your husband’s flannel shirt, sweatpants with grease spots, sporting a bed-head because it’s THE WOODS for God’s sake, you will inevitably meet a stranger who will say, ‘Are you that author?’ And you will learn to leave the house in much better condition from that moment on!”
—Molly D. Campbell, author of KEEP THE ENDS LOOSE
As for me, I wish I’d known my measure of success would constantly shift. That success is like a fog; cool and damp on your skin—you can feel it! Yet you can’t contain it, you can’t hold it, and it doesn’t keep you warm at night.
Having a book published or two, or seven, isn’t really the only goal. Recognition and awards and big lists, industry respect, reader admiration—these are just as much a part of the standard of success, at least for me, and they change with each and every book. This makes for a lot of pressure I place on myself, and it works against me. So I’ve learned to celebrate every victory, to work hard to be present and content with each work I create. That’s what this is really about at its essence, this winding road of fiction-writing—creating something meaningful.
This is what I wish I’d known: The success is in the creating, the doing, the believing.
Those of you who are published, what have you learned that you wish you’d known when you began writing? Those yet-to-be published, what would you still like to know? How has your journey changed over time?
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Heather Webb writes historical novels for Penguin and HarperCollins,which have been translated to three languages and have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan magazine, France magazine, and Reuters News Book Talk. BECOMING JOSEPHINE follows the life and times of Josephine Bonaparte set to the backdrop of the French Revolution, and RODIN’S LOVER released Jan 27th, chronicles the passionate and tragic story of Camille Claudel, sculptor, collaborator, and lover to the famed Auguste Rodin. A FALL OF POPPIES releases in 2016.
Heather is also a freelance editor and contributor to award-winning writing sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.