In a few months, my new novel Going Over the Falls will be published. The story idea came to me on my honeymoon, and the first draft was terrible (the honeymoon was amazing). Over the next fifteen years, I attempted to rewrite, back-burner, forget, revise, and in between, market this terrible story. Here are five lessons that I’ve learned:
#1. Don’t try to publish your first novel. It’ll suck. Okay, maybe if you’ve just graduated from an amazing MFA program and all your instructors have assured you that indeed you are a genius, go ahead. If you’ve just quit your job as a teacher, or a waitress, or a brain surgeon, put that first novel in a file or a drawer and forget it. Or try to.
#2. Don’t try to sell an unedited novel to agents and editors. Investing a few hundred dollars on an experienced editor can save thousands of dollars in the long run as well as prevent thousands of hours in wasted effort. It also will improve your chances of getting published.
#3. Don’t try to write a book while living with children between the ages of two to four years old, especially if they are your own. It’s too hard, and your creativity is not at its best (blame sleep deprivation and dealing with tantrums—your own and your toddler’s). Keep from going insane by writing a blog, or journaling, or find other creative outlets, but don’t try to write the next bestseller until after your kids are in kindergarten.
#4. Don’t join a critique group of unpublished writers, unless you are only looking for a social outlet. Good critique partners are hard to find, but can stall a writer’s career. Many inexperienced writers don’t know how to give constructive feedback, and can hamper the growth of the work by being overly negative to the point of damaging. Find a partner or a group of writers in your genre who have publishing credentials. Writing conferences, writing courses, and social media are all good places to start.
#5. Don’t give up. Opportunities will pop up all the time if you pay attention. Maybe you meet a published author who offers to read and critique your book. Maybe you attend a conference and learn a tool that fixes the book’s weak ending. Maybe, after struggling with a story problem for weeks, you put it all aside and go for an epic run and a solution pops out of thin air. Maybe, even though you’ve tried like hell to forget it, one day you take the beaten, tattered manuscript out of the drawer and decide it’s time to get it right, and you do, and it is. Finally.