Five Pieces of Well-Meaning Writing Advice That I’m Glad I Didn’t Take
With no degree in my pocket, my youth was spent flipping burgers and taking orders. Today, I have written for twenty years, most of that time spent either trying to get published or struggling to stay published. My main goal was simple: make more money than I could by asking if you wanted fries with that burger. During my twenty-year career climb, I’ve gotten my share of advice from respected people in the publishing industry.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be where I am today—making more than I would peddling burgers—without the advice of others. Nevertheless, there’re several bits of counsel that I’m glad I ignored.
Does this mean that you should ignore them, too? Not necessarily; as my grandpa used to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a rabbit.” Or to put it another way, your journey may be completely different from mine. However, below are five pieces of well-meaning advice that wouldn’t have worked in my favor.
1. Ignore the trends and just write the book of your heart.
I’m not saying don’t write the book of your heart, but I am saying don’t completely ignore the trends. As hard as it is for some of us to accept, if we want to see our books on the bookshelf, we have to accept that this is a business. And like all businesses, we are producing a commodity—a commodity has to have commercial value.
Commercial value is often directly related to the trends. I’m not saying sell yourself out; I’m saying find a way to make the book of your heart more marketable. Find a way to fit your idea into the trendy box.
Let’s say the book of your heart is a western, but westerns aren’t the hottest French fry in the pack. The genre that’s jumping out of the fryer and onto readers’ plates is paranormal. Can you add a paranormal twist to your western? Can you write a paranormal that takes place in the ol’ west?
When I dove back into novel writing in 2000, my goal was to write a romantic comedy. But RCs were not the meal ticket. At the time, romantic suspense was on the favored menu. By combining my humorous voice with suspenseful plots, I eventually found my way to the bookshelves.
2. Don’t worry about marketing or selling yourself, that’s what you have an agent for.
Sure, it’s your agent’s job to sell and market you, but that doesn’t mean you should stop being your own advocate. You and your agent should be working as a team. Considering that less than one percent of all books written are sold, the more team players the better.
While many books are sold as a direct result of an agent’s submission, others are sold because you met an editor at a conference, because a published author read your book and recommended you to her editor, or because your book was requested in a contest. A good agent-client team works together; once you’ve made a personal contact, then your agent steps in and does her thing. The left hand should always know what the right hand is doing. Together your goal is to get your book sold, get a good contract, and create a career plan.
3. Decide what you are going to write and stick with it. Better to be a master of one trade than a jack of all.
Any form of writing will help you hone you craft. And isn’t writing what we want to master and not just a type of genre? Writing for magazines allowed me the opportunity to work at home, kept the wolves off the front porch and me away from serving up French fries, and allowed me time to work on my novels. Being paid for my work kept me believing in my talent and helped keep my dream alive while the rejections on the novels poured in. I’ve since written three nonfiction books—two or which are The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel and my June 18 release, Wild, Wicked & Wanton: 101 Ways to Love Like You’re in a Romance Novel. I chose to write these two titles to help build my name in the fiction market. Writing nonfiction also helps me write PR for my fiction work.
When my first humorous romantic suspense didn’t sell right after being shopped around, Kim Lionetti recommended I try my hand at writing a paranormal, which was the hot trend. That proposal was submitted to ten publishing houses, went to a buying committee at two, but much to our dismay, it didn’t sell. Does that mean it was a waste of my time? Heck, no. Two years later, a St. Martin’s editor who’d read and enjoyed my sassy approach to writing paranormals phoned my agent and asked if I would write a young adult series for them.
My first young adult novel, Born at Midnight, in my Shadow Falls Series, will be released in early 2011 and has already racked up some really nice foreign right sales to Germany, France, and Russia. Beats working fast food any day of the week!
4. You can never spend too much time rewriting.
I’m not saying don’t polish or rework. But DO NOT get caught in rewrititious. I know people who have been writing and rewriting the same novel for ten years.
Truth is, you learn something each time you write a new book that rewriting doesn’t teach you. To grow, and hone your skills as a writer, you need to write and finish several books. From 2000 to 2006, I had written eight completed novels and six proposals. Six of those projects have sold.
5. Learn the writing rules and follow them.
While I’m a believer in rules and believe some should not be broken, oftentimes it’s the bending of a rule, a slight deviation of what is considered the norm, that helps a writer stand out.
When I started writing romantic comedy, I was told by respected RC authors that most of my humor should stem from my secondary characters—thus allowing the main character to come across grounded in emotion. However, my best lines, and my best scenes, entailed humor. Why would I only give those to a secondary character? Instead, I looked at why the rule was stipulated and I worked diligently at making sure my main characters had emotional motivations.
I was also warned against writing dual romances in a book. However, my plots seemed to always include a secondary romance, and at times even a third one. I knew the dangers of this could dilute the main plot of the book. However, I ran with my dual romance plots and worked overtime to make sure the addition of a secondary romance didn’t overshadow the main story line. Today, I’m often praised by reviewers for the layers of story and plot brought on by my secondary romances. (I’m even blogging over at Romance Writer’s Revenge on secondary characters. Pop over and leave a comment, I’m giving a book away.)
Basically, I recommend that when you bend a rule, you know why the rule is in place and protect your work from suffering from this breach.
So there you have it, five pieces of advice that if I’d taken, I could still be toasting buns instead of toasting and celebrating new contracts. Hopefully, my own list will help you define what advice works for you, and what advice you will set aside in your personal pursuit to reach your own dreams. Good luck on reaching those dreams. Good luck on learning your best method of skinning your own rabbit.