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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Overcoming the New Year Blues

The start of a new year has traditionally been a time of optimism for me. A clean slate. A fresh start. The year I would accomplish whatever goals I enthusiastically set for myself. But staring into 2010 last year, all I could see was another year of feeling out of control of my writing career.

Yes, I had accomplished a few things the previous year – finaled in a few contests, received a few partial requests, attended RWA in DC where I pitched in person for the first time. Hated it! I’d taken several writing classes where I’d received lots of promising feedback and several requests that I add them to my mailing list. LOL. What mailing list? I’d asked myself. And I had confidence-boosting positive responses from readers when I participated in the Textnovel Best Cellular Contest.

Yet in the end, I didn’t have what I’d worked so hard for that year. Publication seemed a far away dream, and maybe nothing more than a deluded fantasy. I began to question my goal of publication. Were my crit partners being too kind about my abilities? Would I ever be good enough?

Most of the time, I couldn’t even get an agent to look at my work, so forget about finding representation. If I couldn’t make that first hurdle, how would I make it to the finish line? In addition, all the talk of a failing economy and predictions about the death of the printed book made it difficult to have hope.

My critique group was incredibly supportive and positive, but what helped me the most was learning I wasn’t alone in my experience. One of my crit partners shared that she had gone through the same thing a year earlier – the year she went on to become a published author. Knowing I wasn’t alone was comforting, but I still had another obstacle to face—I wasn’t completely in control. I couldn’t change the economy, and I couldn’t make an agent or editor love my work.

Earlier this week, Clarissa mentioned authors who believe in setting realistic goals and then those who believe in dreaming big. I fall into both camps. I’m a firm believer in doing everything within my power to write to the best of my ability. Well, that’s not completely accurate. I believe in stretching myself to grow as a writer so that the best of my ability continues to get better. I read books on craft, attend conferences when I can, take writing classes and surround myself with other writers who are serious about building their craft.

I also think setting your sight on success has positive effects. Jerrica is a huge supporter of living your life as if you already have what it is you want or need. I remember jokingly thinking, “I visualize myself in the bathroom when I receive The Call.” And honest to Pete, I really was in the bathroom when I got The Call. Grr! Why didn’t I visualize something better, like sipping a Mai Tai on a private yacht in the Caribbean?

So think positive and imagine getting your call this year if you haven’t already. Keep that in your mind and don’t let it go. When you receive that call in the place you’re imagining, I want to hear all about it. And start living as if you already have an offer.

Here are some things you’ll need to do once you’ve sold, so why not start now?

Write. Write. Write. Don’t get hung up on editing only one manuscript. Move on. The more you write, the better your writing will become. This will also develop your habits so that you’re prepared to sit in front of that computer when you have a deadline to reach. Plus, you will have more stories ready to sell.

Keep records on your characters. I thought I would remember every detail about my characters, but as the number of characters grow, my memory gets hazy. When it’s time to create your cover, the art department will ask for a physical description of your hero and heroine to include hair and eye color, build, any distinguishing characteristics and clothing. If you have this information in one place, it makes it easier. I use Office OneNote in Microsoft Works Task Launcher that came with my laptop. MacIntosh comes with a similar program, I’ve heard.

Write a brief summary for each book. My publisher asked for a blurb as part of my launch materials. Since I already had one ready, this was any easy task. Sourcebooks also asked for a synopsis, which I had already written too. Some authors never write a synopsis, so you may not need one, but I wouldn’t count on it for a debut book. Why not learn to write one so that it isn’t such a chore when you’re under a deadline? Laurie Schnebly Campbell (our guest on October 22, 2010) offers classes on writing a synopsis. I took both classes and found them very helpful. Not only do I not dread writing a synopsis now, I kind of like it.

Network now. Build relationships with other writers through Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Fellow authors are a great source of information about the market place. Plus, it makes attending conferences fun because you get to meet them in person.

Work on your author brand. I’m not going to pretend I understand everything about branding. The concept is still nebulous to me. But I know how I want others to perceive me, so I work to project that image. If you don’t have a website, create one. You don’t have to invest money at this stage if it’s not in your budget. Blogspot and Wordpress are good options. Visit other author websites to get ideas on how to set up your site, or do as I did and enlist the help of a friend who knows what she’s doing. (You’re the best, Heather.) Blogging can be another way to build your brand, whether you guest blog on other sites, blog as part of a group or have your own blog.

This list isn’t all-inclusive, so I’d love to have you add to it. What are some other things writers can do now to prepare for entering the publishing world?


  1. Great list and I can't think of anything to add. I would like to understand author branding a bit better, however.

  2. This is an awesome list, and I wish I had something useful to add, but I don't! It's hard not to get discouraged by the uncertainty of the publishing world, so I try not to focus on it TOO much.

    I've also realized that all the good news I've received -- the stuff I've obsessed about -- has always happened when I quit thinking about it. I've had a call about finalling in a contest when I was at the grocery store. My agent called the first time when I was consulting with my BFF about an online purchase. LOL

    So I try to tell myself to focus on other stuff, like what you've listed, and then it's always a lovely surprise when the other stuff happens. :)

  3. Amy,

    Wouldn't it be great if one of our readers was a branding expert and wanted to do a guest blog? (Hint, hint, dear readers!)


    I can relate to letting go of worry and good things following. I received an offer from my publisher before I found my agent, so I was frantically trying to find an agent. I couldn't sleep or focus on anything else. Lydia Dare had to talk me down. What would we do without our friends? Finally, I was able to let it go and trust that the right one would come along. And she did. :)

  4. Samantha, it is so easy to get caught up in the 'I'm-never-going-to-get-there' blues. Thanks for the reminder that we usually get there once we've hit a wall, once we felt like we might as well give up.

    Your advice about keeping records on your characters is fantastic. I keep a lot more than just that. I keep all my drafts, all of my notes, all of my outlines. I keep everything. You never know when you'll need it again. Particularly if that character decides to make a repeat performance in another book!

  5. What a great post, Samantha! I had no idea you were in the bathroom when you got the call. "Thoughts become things!" Hah! What a great story of visualization and attraction. But no matter where you got the call, what matters is that YOU GOT THE CALL! And you're an inspiration to all of us. I'm going to bookmark this post for later reference - this is awesome advice!

  6. Great additions, Catherine. You're right. I keep records on everything, such as where my characters live, the names of their houses, names of their servants, secondary characters and characters simply mentioned in passing. My characters have a tendency to pop up again in other stories all the time.

    And you were the one to tell me about OneNote, which I love! I keep my resources in there too. :)

  7. Jerrica,

    LOL. You probably didn't know because I was a bit embarrassed to admit it. But it really is a good example of attracting the positive.

    You're an inspiration for me all the time. :)

  8. LOL. Never be embarrassed to tell Jerrica when you're in the bathroom. She delights in always telling me. ;)

    Samantha ~ You have complied a great list!! I'm trying to think of what to add... But I think you've covered all the advice I always give. :)

  9. Then you've taught me well, Lydia. :)