Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 2, 2012

5 Stellar Bits of Wisdom from a New York Times Besteller

by Jenny Hansen

Today, I’m delighted to bring you some tips from New York Times Bestselling Author, Susan Mallery. If you haven’t read her Fool’s Gold series, you are missing out!

Click here to download one of her books really quick so you have something wonderful to dive into when you’re done being inspired by her sage advice.

It’s OK, we’ll wait… *whistling*

Groovy. Do you have a nice cup of something you love? Then settle in to dream a little.

I warn you, Susan makes the world of publishing seem very accessible. When she’s done with you, I’ll bet you go leaping toward your current project. I know I did.

All of us met Susan at OCC/RWA’s 30th Birthday Bash last October. Those birthday meetings are always special, but this last year we turned the Big 3-0 and the day was magic.

We had Mary-Theresa Hussey, senior editor at Harlequin and long-time chapter friend, in the morning. Susan, a long-time honorary member of OCC, spoke in the afternoon. She shared the “4 Lessons She Learned From OCC” with us; now I’m going to share them with you. (My comments are in blue.)

1. Never Give Up

The only way to give up your dream of being a published author is to stop writing. The reality is that only one manuscript in a thousand is picked up by the publishing houses and less than 50% of those authors will sell another book.

So what? Getting published isn’t magic. It’s about showing up and doing the work.

No matter what you do, don’t give up. Getting published results directly from your willingness to sit down, do the work, and reach out to help other writing friends along the way.

OCC’s motto is “One hand reaching forward, one hand reaching back, in a continuous chain.” I thought of this during Susan’s talk, especially as I glanced around the room at some of the women who have been her friends for almost 20 years.

2. Visualize Your Goals

You aren’t going to achieve your goal if you don’t know what it is.

Susan recommends that you buy a whiteboard and create what she calls a “vision board.” This is where she does things like taking an existing check and Photoshopping it until it reads the amount of her dream advance. She puts this board in her office where she sees these visual pictures of her goals every day.

Susan stressed that you must be focused on what you want. Set a goal and plot a course and stick to it. It’s very easy to say yes to things that have nothing to do with your goal. You need to resist.

3. Never Stop Learning

She had so many gems here, I’m going to sum them up in a bulleted list. Plus, I’ve divided her advice into two sections because, according to Susan, when it comes to the craft and business of writing, you can never learn too much.

Writing Craft

  • Susan recommended that you master as much craft as you can so you don’t disappoint your readers.
  • Figure out what you’re good at and what you’re bad at. Focus on your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.
  • If you bring your passion and enthusiasm to a project, it will show up on the page.

The Business of Writing

  • You MUST know what’s going on in the publishing world so you can make good decisions. She highly recommends subscribing to Publisher’s Lunch so you know what deals are being made.
  • Her successful self-published author friends spend an hour and a half for every hour of writing time, handling the business of self-publishing. Consider this before you dive into self-publishing with no preparation.
  • Susan doesn’t believe publishing is going anywhere, though the business will have to continue to adapt.
  • Her personal stance is that you must first meet your page count. Then you write the next book. After THAT you do social media. (She does admit that she is in the position to hire an assistant to help her manage some of the social media tasks.)

Take it from someone who loves Twitter enough to throw parties there, social media is a wiggly, rambunctious puppy that must be disciplined or he’ll get completely out of control. Here's a great post from August McLaughlin on the subject: The Truth About the Social Media Time Suck.

4. Be A Good Friend

When Susan first started writing, she didn’t have people she could call to talk to about the worries and woes associated with living the writing life. At OCC, she found a published author network that included her in their fold, and she found writing friends.

Susan describes writing friends as:

  • People who will hold your hand through all stages of a book.
  • Friends who will share their chocolate and  their wine with you.
  • Writers who cheer you on and celebrate your success.

She warns that “not every friendship will survive you being published so ‘make a LOT of friends.’”

One last piece of advice

After her keynote speech, Susan answered questions that ranged from her writing day to how she plots. Someone asked her about writer’s block and, just like Nora Roberts, she doesn’t believe in it. Both of them believe you just keep writing and push through it.

The statement below was my most favorite, in a long list of wonderful nuggets for the day. I believe she actually credited this remark to Nora Roberts while explaining her views on writer’s block:

If your toilet is stopped up and you call a plumber, you don’t want to hear that he’s not in the mood. By golly, if your plumber comes to work, he’s there to work.

While it’s true that writing is potentially more creative than plumbing, there’s a lot to be said for just showing up.

So, Tip #5 is: Show up to the page and do the work.

Susan will tell you that she’s taken a modicum of talent and a whole lot of drive (and focus) to get to where she is today. I’m here to tell you she’s loaded with a whole lot more than “a modicum” of talent. She was modest and witty and wise – a “writer’s writer” who was a pleasure to meet.

What are your “bestselling tips” for a writer inching down the path toward success? These can be from a person you met, a book you read or a speech you heard. Regardless of the source, we'd love to hear about it!


About Jenny Hansen

Jenny fills her nights with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, short stories (and chasing after her toddler Baby Girl). By day, she provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s digging this sit down and write thing.

When she’s not at her blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at jhansenwrites and here at Writers In The Storm. Every Saturday, she writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.

0 comments on “5 Stellar Bits of Wisdom from a New York Times Besteller”

  1. I loved this! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Being retired from my day job sort of maybe in my mind gave me permission not to show up to write. Thank you for telling me--maybe not in so many words--that I was full of it!

    1. Liz, if this post got you fired up to write, then my work here is done! If you just retired, you're probably catching up on sleep and errands and your house. However, fitting in a little bit of time each day to write will only add to your happiness. 🙂

  2. I so agree with these tips and suggestions. I keep telling myself BICHOK - Butt in chair hands on keyboard - which is the mantra around my local chapter. The challenge for me is talking about what I'm writing. I can see what is happening with my characters as though I'm on stage with them (being the POV character) so it's hard to ask for help in determining what happens and why. Mainly I seek help with details about aspects of the story, like what type of gem or crystal to include, or what level of international trading was occurring in Charleston in 1782. Those are the most recent questions, anyway. Great post!

    1. Betty, you sound like one of my old Book In A Week friends! BIC-HOK-TAM was our motto. 🙂

      Here at WITS, we figure you don't HAVE to talk about what you're writing, as long as you're doing it! LOL. Please feel free to ask us questions - we've got several writers and one of us might have already had to find the answer out for our own research.

      Happy writing, and thanks for taking the time to comment!

  3. Wow, this will definitely be a post I bookmark. Although I've given myself a deadline to get the next book written before promo starts with DARK, I still struggle every day to get going. Once I start writing, it's easy. Just getting to that point is tough. I think it's great to hear her say you just have to keep plugging away, and she's right - we can't give up. The authors who are most successful are continuously learning their craft and putting out a better book than the last one.

    Thanks, Jenny!

    1. Stacy, I see how how hard you work. You're achieving goals hand over fist these days and it's awesome to watch. I know what you mean though, to sit your but down, day in and day out, isn't for sissies.

      It was amazing to sit in that room and watch Susan speak and realize that she was once a "baby writer" like the rest of us. 🙂

  4. A great reminder Jen. Whenever I think I don't have time to write I think of you and Laura who are working full time and producing writing like crazy.

  5. What a lovely and helpful post. Thank you for telling it like it is, Susan. We all need to hear it. And you know, what I'm always hearing is that we have to "persist" and not give up. I believe that is one of the truest statements ever made about becoming an author.
    Thank you.

  6. Thanks, Jenny. I just got back a critique today. It was for a second draft of something I really want to do well. It was honest, blunt and so damn good. It's wonderful to know someone who can teach you and support you at the same time. I so love Nora Robert's work ethic, I think she is an inspiration to us all. I can see that Susan shares that ethic. Not about writing, but a good example still: the ballet mistress of our cultural program was clapping to get the girl's attention. One girl was standing in the corner and not at the barre and told the teacher that she had her "red devil" and couldn't practice. The teacher told her with a bright smile to get her buns to the barre and get to work. "Nothing cures the red devil better than hard work." Loved this post 🙂

  7. Fabulous suggestions. The numbers on getting published are always daunting, but knowing that I'm determined to learn my craft, stay informed and active, and do the hard work of writing, editing, and more makes me feel I have an edge. Thanks for sharing what you learned!

    1. They ARE daunting! So I don't think about them. I just try to show up and do the work so I don't hyperventilate. 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Julie!!

  8. my favorite is # 1 - don't give up! especially when it would seem like the easy thing to do. sigh. I also like tricking my brain and say things like "only 100 words, just get down only 100 new words today." and then before you know it, I'm cranking out 1,000. But you have to get that internal editor to shut up sometimes. Great job girlfriend! See you in the WANATribe.

    1. Love your tricky brain idea, Rachel! I go through that too, where I want to quit and just drag a page out myself anyway. It usually ends up being 4 pages. 🙂

      I'll see you in the WANATribe if I can just get a few moments under my belt. 🙂

  9. Love Susan Mallery and great post, Jenny!

    Yes, write creatively in a new story every single day. James Scott Bell's Art of War for Writers helped me hugely in identifying and achieving goals. I'm rocking 5,000 + words per day at the moment and that won't happen unless I park my ass in the chair and turn off the internet, switch on the music (which at the moment is guitar riffs by David Gilmour & Co - my hero is a contemporary painter and when he's in full flow he listens to heavy rock and paints until he collapses). I'm just about to dive into a love scene which has taken me two days to choreograph and plan and mull over and really get into both characters deep ipov.

    And I don't believe in writers block either, but that's only happened in the last eighteen months - I'm a champion procrastinator at times. Instead of walking away now I chip, chip, chip at the wall until it falls. If I hit a wall it's always because I've not worked on the character's emotional angst enough or it's not on the page. So I go back and always, always find where I went wrong.

    Right, enough of all this. Lovely though you are - I have an orgasm to write!

    1. Christine, I've never read James Scott Bell's "Art of War for Writers" but it sounds like one I need to add to my list. I'm completely impressed with your word count! And there is no way that just happens for anybody - congrats...20 pages a day is no small feat.

      p.s. An orgasm to write...LOL.

  10. Hi Jenny

    I hope you don't mind my saying so but I stumbled across your blog purely by accident and I'm really glad I did! I work as a proofreader but when I have a few days spare (which can be all too annoyingly frequent) I have a stab at writing a novel, well, more of a novella plus if there is such a thing. Anyway, the point is I have been suffering from the so-called writer's block and have more than once decided to postpone the whole project. Your comments have really proved inspirational to me and I'm up and running again, it's been helpful to hear you talking of establishing a vision, a focus on my writing objectives, I'd say that has been the most important thing for me.

    I've bookmarked your blog and will DEFINITELY be returning!


  11. Great post! I read a piece by a successful Australian author once that really struck me. He said that no matter how well-known he became in the publishing world he still had to go through the same rigmarole every time he finished a book. He still had to send his story out and weather rejection after rejection. He was saying that that side of it never becomes easy, even when you've got your name bigger than the title of the book on the front cover! In a nutshell, submitting your work always stings. However, he said that sometimes after a book was rejected a dozen times, by publishers advising him to go back to the drawing board, one publisher would pick it up, publish it and it would go on to being a bestseller. So the other part of his advice, apart from persistence, was never to give up your belief in your work. He said success was just a matter of keeping at it. By the way, he started up his own publishing company in the end!!
    Yvette Carol

    1. Yvette, it is fascinating how many bestsellers were originally passed over or rejected. I always believe that if the author has studied craft and really put out their best, that their belief in that book is one of it's best assets.

      Lovely comment, and I never get tired of hearing that the submission process stings for everybody. That is my least favorite part of this crazy writing life. 🙂

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