Christie Craig on Writing Advice
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jun 15 2010
Shut Up and Kiss Me
Pub date: May 2010
Agent: Kim Lionetti
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.
Am so glad to see this, for I agree completely!
Did you ever have someone say, don't touch that it's to hot, don't dip your foot into the ocean, it's too cold, don't love with your whole heart, you'll get hurt, don't write, it's a waste of time, don't try?
I touch, get wet, love, and have had over fifty essays and memoirs published.
I have been told, fiction…don't try…BS
The burger and fry thing…like they say…have it YOUR way!
Excellent summation, Christie!
Great post, very insightful.
Excellent advice – thanks for sharing! I just loved your persistence presentation you gave at Moonlight & Magnolias last year, where you pulled out your big bag of rejection letters and encouraged everyone to keep going.
Hope to see you at nationals this year,
Thanks for the excellent advice, Christie! Being new to the business I appreciate your candor since things do get confusing much of the time. You’ve always been very helpful….
Have a great day!
Really insightful. i agree sometimes its best to determine 'why' a certain rule exists and be sure to avoid the negative effects all the while staying true to what you wanna do. Great post!
Great advice, Christie. Everything you said is spot on. Talent isn't always enough. You've shown guts and determination in a tight market and your wise business sense brought you through. Thanks for generously sharing!
What a fabulous post! Christie's reasons and advice are so intelligent — not just "don't listen to the rules because if you're really good they don't apply to you."
Another example of incredible success with #1: Kiersten White put her own spin on YA paranormal — she didn't want to write yet another love story with vampires and werewolves, but she did write a love story with vampires and werewolves IN IT (sort of) — and now she's got a hugely anticipated debut coming out this Sept!
Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Don't you just love the BookEnds blog? I'm always honored to be asked to post.
Love your comment!! And your enthusiasm. You keep on showing 'em.
Thanks Mogolla! Good luck on your writing.
Yeah, every now and then I surprise everyone and do sound insightful. LOL.
Thanks for stopping by.
The Writers Canvas,
Thanks so much. I had a blast at Moonlight & Magnolias conference. And you bet I'll be at RWA nationals. Actually, Kim Lionetti, Rose Hilliard (St. Martins Editor) and Faye Hughes (my writing partner) and I are doing a workshop on "The Truth About Rejection." It should be fun.
Make sure you come by and say hi.
Christie, I adore your work–I have to watch where I read your books, because I laugh out loud!–and loved the Everything guide. Thanks for sharing your take on writing advice with us. 🙂
Can't wait to see your YA novel!
It's so good to see a fellow Dorchester writer here. Thanks so much for stopping in. It really does mean a lot.
Creepy Query Girl,
Thanks so much. The ol' saying, "Know the rules and only break them on purpose" is really a good saying to follow.
Thanks for posting.
I love the saying that the only difference between a writer who made it and the one that didn't is that one gave up.
I've seen so many talented writers, writers who had much more talent that myself, quit because they didn't have guts.
Thanks so much for stopping in.
The think most people, and at times myself included, forget that the rules are there to help us, not hinder us. We have to use them, and only abuse 'em for a darn good reason.
Thanks so much for posting.
I forgot to say, thanks for Kiersten's link, I love books that use a slightly different spin.
Chritie, This is great advice. I'm seeking an agent for my novel now, and on many days I question every word I've written. It's helpful to have a little perspective. : )
So neat to see you here. I'm tickled you got a lot out of The Everything Guide.
We all question ourselves. There are days that I'm seriously afraid my secret will be discovered. And my secret is that I'm just faking it.
Good luck finding a great agent. You are at a great blog to read and learn about the business.
Thanks for these.
With so many avenues out there now for advice in the writing/publishing business (and wow, what a far cry from 20 years ago when you didn't know where to turn for a morsel of information!), it's equally important to remember that some "rules" may need to be broken. The key, as you so rightly say, is to give meaning and validity to their breaking.
Great post! I'm taking all of them to heart.
I'm so glad I found you and your books and your blog along this journey. Fabulous advice, and once again, perfectly timed.
Thanks for sharing!
It's so true. Today we have so many places to go and get inspired and to get information. For that reason I think it's even more important to realize that what worked for someone else, may not always work for you.
Thanks for stopping by.
This is the most wonderful guest post ever. Seriously wonderful. There is so much crap on the web and then I come across Christie's post today it makes me want to cry — it is that excellent.
I would comment in one or two places, but really there's nothing to add to this incredible post.
Thank you, BookEnds. Thank you, Christie.
Thanks for stopping in. Oh, where are my pages by the way? LOL.
Seriously, we always have to find our own paths. And what trips up one person is a stepping stone for another.
Thank you so much. I think one key to success is listening to everyone and being able to sift through the advice and take only what works for you.
Girl, I'm glad I found you, too. I'm having a blast over at your blog today.
Thanks for stopping by.
Now you have me tearing up. Thank you. Good luck making your dreams come true!
Christie, you rule. Wonderful, sound advice in here.
I'm dropping in to say hi and to let you know I've got this posted at Win a Book for you. Thanks for the e-mail!
Wonderful post! So many words to internalize and take to heart. I would love to be published some day and plan on continuing to try. However, ultimately, I write because it is MY thing to do. My one thing that belongs to me. It's a pleasure to read such heart felt advice.
I just bought your book, SHUT UP AND KISS ME, Christie. Nothing could keep me from buying it, actually. But that dog in your amazon.com avatar cinched the deal. What a sweetie!
I'm sure I''ll be buying others soon. 🙂
Wonderful advice, Christie… or non-advice. You're right that everyone's path is different. I'm just so happy you've reached so many of your goals!
Will be posting a link to this terrific blog!
The best bit of writing advice I ever got was this: Rule #1–there ARE no rules. However, your advice is all right on the mark. Have SHUT UP AND KISS ME sitting here on my desk and can't wait for a few free "me" minutes when I can sit down and read it! Your stories always leave me smiling.
"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." –I like this advice. I may take it.
Thanks for posting it. I'm glad you find the advice helpful. And thanks for leaving a comment.
Thanks so much. Yup, I'm an animal lover.
Hope you get a good laugh from my crazy stories.
I absolutely cannot fathom restricting myself to one genre or medium – or doing much else simply because someone said so. O_o You can't forget it's *your* art just because it's a business.
I think those that write because they can't stop, are the ones who will eventually make it. So you just keep on keeping on.
Thanks so much for stopping by.
Thanks so much for stopping by. As you know, you are one of my go-to persons when I need advice.
Thank you so much!!! You are always so wise. Oh, my grandbaby loves all your wolves and dogs.
I hope you enjoy the Shut Up and enjoy the humor.
I hope that advice works for you. I know it did for me. Good luck making your dreams come true.
Great words to remember. If you try to make it all business, you'll lose the passion for the craft.
Thanks so much for stopping by.
Christie: You are wise, and you are gold, and I knew that when I met you at RT a while back (when you'd sold your first book to Dorch). I'm so pleased with how things have gone for you; your books are wonderful fun! Great advice here (I kept thinking: yeah, what she said!). I will send over aspiring authors. 🙂
You are the golden girl! Thanks so much. Your words put a big smile on my face.
Great blog post, as usual. It can't be said enough about how important it is to believe in yourself and do everything in your power to Make It Happen.
Oh, and for those interested in CC's new paranormal YA series, I'm reading Book #2 right now and it ROCKS.
Good, honest advice as always. Since I've enjoyed every single book of yours that I've read, I'm real glad you didn't listen to others or get discouraged.
It's always great to see family names.
It's good advice, but I think one has to be careful, especially when writing for trends. They can change pretty quickly, and your book might be old news by the time it is polished and ready for submission. But if it's a long-running trend (like paranormal anything), then trying to embrace it is just smart!
Fully agree on re-writing, though. I've found that work that's been too polished just seems lifeless. Same thing with work that follows the rules with no room for deviation, actually. It's good to look at the rules as guidelines, but sometimes you have to take a risk or do what feels right.
Christine, you are amazing answering everyone and I love your advice.
I have placed your book in my cart to buy the next time I order something from Amazon.
A lot of it is really a balancing act, isn't it? I especially struggle with knowing when book is polished enough to let go. Have I gotten too many critiques? Not enough? Great advice in an easy, no nonsense format.
You are right. I think completely chasing a trend is worse than ignoring them. It really is about trying to find a way to make your voice and your story stand out in a more marketable way. Like I did by adding suspense to my stories. My first draft of Divorced, Desperate and Delicious had very little suspense in it and because of the trend of suspense, I went in an beefed up the suspense, added almost twenty thousand words to it, even added the villian's POV. I think it was what helped it sell. And one should always be aware that what you see on the bookshelves was sold two and sometimes three years ago. So chasing trends is not only not recommended it can be difficult. I'm sure you know this, but for those who don't. . . A good way to stay on top of what is selling "right now" is Publisher Marketplace. I think it's like $20 a month. There's also the free, less-detailed version of Publisher's Lunch. If you have an agent, she is also a great source of what's selling. They may not know what the next trend will be, but they should know what's selling right now.
Thanks again, Kristen. Your point is very wise.
Thanks! I hope it gives you several hours of chuckles.
Yup. It's a balancing act. Polishing, but not polishing the voice out of it. Listening to other's advice, but still following your own gut. Writing your story your own way, but making sure it fits into genre. Writing the story of your heart and finding a way to make it fit the trend.
I don't think anyone will tell you it's easy, but I've always thought it was worth it. And that was even when the money wasn't rolling in near as much as I'd liked. If you love writing, you just keep doing it, because quitting isn't an option.
Thanks for stopping in.
Great advide! I think to really be successful in most things you have to learn to think outside the box. Life just isn't black and white. But at the same time, you can't be too weird or no one is going to get it!
Nice advice:) Thanks.
Great advice, girl. I actually wrote a short article on thinking outside the box. We have to be creative in both writing and marketing.
Thanks for stopping by.
Thanks for dropping by.
Have a good evening.
I really like your advise about modifying your work and the trend to blend, as opposed to worrying about just one or another. It's so hard to be both unique enough to be different from the other books in your genre, while a part of the current trends to be marketable.
Thanks, Christie! Great advice…
I am currently serving up burgers and fries for a living while I write and dream on the side. Thanks for your advice! Nice to know it's possible to go from fast food to successful author!
Loved this post, Christie! Thanks for being a trail-blazer and showing us the way to blaze our own trails.
Your point about making sure your writing doesn't suffer from the usual pitfalls of breaking the rules (you put it much more eloquently) really opened my eyes. I'll be listening for the reasons behind the rules from now on.
This business is hard. Ahh, but I wouldn't want to do anything else. And while I think a lot of get frustrated, it's that passion we have about telling a story that keep working.
Good luck with your career.
Good luck making all your dreams come true.
Hi Christie! I know the subject of this post is ignoring writing advice, but I have one piece I received from Bobbi Smith when my first book came out that has become my mantra:
I'm so glad you talked about how to shoehorn the book of your heart into a marketable commodity. As writers, we have to be realistic about what it is we're doing. And we need to be flexible about meeting the demands of the market.
Excellent advice, girlfriend!
Let me tell you, waitressing is a great place to study people. I think my ten years of working either behind the counter or taking orders at tables helped me with my characterization. Oh, and the dialogue you hear is awesome. For some reason when you wait tables, people never think you hear them when they're talking about discovering their husband with his mistress. LOL.
I'm crossing my finger that you make that big sale. Thanks so much for stopping in.
Thank you so much. Here's hoping we run across each other on the trails!
So good to see your smiling face here. "Stay Published!" I love it. Thank you so much for sharing.
On the other hand, the hours I've spent washing dishes at Subway have been very good hours for mentally fleshing out characters and scenes.
So glad you dance to the beat of your own drum, Christie. You're an inspiration for all aspiring writers.
i agree about not rewriting too much. i have done both – rewriting a lot and rewriting not too much, and i have to say that rewriting a lot really doesn't help with things.
it is far better to embrace your own style and words than to resist them. moreover, once a writer finishes, they should try to move on to the next thing.
Amen on every single count! Great post.
Thanks for this post! It really made me feel better to my core. I'm glad I had started by learning something different for #5: "Learn the writing rules, and THEN you can possibly bend them".
I was especially happy to hear your opposite take on sticking to the same thing, and that you've written some (pretty interesting sounding) non-fiction as well. I was wondering how my desire to write travel articles would mesh with my novel-writing, but I'm hoping it will go well together!