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5 Lessons in 8 Years: What I've Learned


This was originally a guest post I did, which you can find HERE, but I really loved what I shared, so I wanted to put it here as well. I started my first novel nearly 8 years ago, and in all those years, I've written new books, faced rejection, and had countless ups and downs. I've learned a LOT of lessons. Today, I'm sharing 5 of them. Here is the original post:

I’ve been writing (novels, that is) for nearly eight years now, although I will definitely confess that my outlook and understanding of both the writing and publishing processes have changed drastically over time. As I’ve written new manuscripts, drafted, edited, and queried them, I have learned a lot from both study and simple trial and error! Today, I’ll be sharing 5 of those lessons, in the hopes that I can save you a few bumps in the road. The writing process is often long and always hard, but there are quite a few things I wished I’d known when I was first starting out…

1. IT TAKES A LONG TIME TO WRITE A BOOK

This might seem like the most obvious think in the world, but some writers see authors who talk about “fast-drafting” in a month, or they watch thousands of writers win NaNoWriMo every November, and it may seem like writing can be crammed into a small window of time. The thing is, you often don’t see all the work that then comes after that fast-draft. NaNo winners can attest to the fact that, they may get all 50,000 words down, but it takes A LOT of clean-up and editing to polish the story.

The idea behind drafting is just to get the structure out. It is to dump all of the story onto the page, and then whittle and refine until something beautiful emerges. This isn’t how everyone writes (*cough* ME *cough*), because some writers are perfectionists, slow drafters, or like to get something really solid and beautiful down as they go. I take this approach most of the time. I have become a faster drafter over the years, but I like to take my time and have a good foundation.

In the end, the point is… it isn’t a race. You are not defined by how long it takes you to write. One day, you might be on deadline, and then timing will matter. If you are unpublished, don’t let a date stress you out too much. Focus on really perfecting your craft.

When I was younger (an early teen), I used to think that if I didn’t sign with an agent or sell a book before I was 20, I was somehow a failure. I never told anyone this, but I did think it, in the far shadows of my mind. I held myself to this standard of age.

More recently, I’ve had betas reading my manuscript. I wanted it done by the last day of 2017. I wanted the edits finished by January 15th. I wanted it in agents’ inboxes by February. I wanted so many things, and pushed for so many deadlines, until I realized what it was I was actually doing. I was rushing a process that takes time. This won’t be my first time querying this manuscript. I’ve queried twice before. And both times, I rushed. Both times, I lost opportunities. I don’t regret that, because I am happy with where my journey (including the failures) has led me. But this time, I am determined to take the time I need to polish the manuscript the right way, and make it as presentable as possible. That meant extending my beta deadline a little bit, due to some unforeseen circumstances. That meant extending my edit deadline, and my querying goal. I’ve now been working on this manuscript for THREE YEARS. Let that sink in.

I am by no means better than anyone, and my point isn’t to awe you into thinking I have put in so much work. My point is… writing is a long process. Ask any published author, and they’ll tell you how many manuscripts they trashed or put in a drawer before they sold their debut. And if their first book did sell, they’ll tell you how much work and how many years it took to get them there.

So don’t rush, and don’t be too hard on yourself. This isn’t a race, and you’ll get there in time :)

2. PUBLISHING IS COMPLEX

Don’t panic! I share this not because I am trying to scare writers off, but because it explains a lot of things that may frustrate (especially new) writers.

When I was first starting out as a young teen writer, I had a very idealistic view of the publishing world. I naively thought I’d snag an agent at fourteen, and have my book on the shelf at sixteen.

*insert facepalm here*

Over the years, I’ve learned A LOT about the publishing world, and let me tell you a few things…

It’s slow. From the time you sign with an agent until the time your book releases, it may be years. You must grow a thick skin and learn patience, because publishing demands a lot of waiting.

It’s big (but actually small at the same time). The publishing world is made up of authors, agents, editors, publishers, and numerous other industry professionals. It can seem like a small world once you get involved in it, but at first, it can be overwhelming. Don’t let the big picture scare you. When you start to network and make friends, you’ll see that the writing community is an amazing place!

It’s a lot of work. This is the understatement of the century! I don’t want to discourage you, but I wish someone had given me a big dose of reality when I first started out. If you would have told beginner me that eight years later, I’d still be working towards signing with an agent, she’d have cried. And possibly considered giving up (Although I don’t she would have, truthfully). There is so much more than just “writing a book” that is involved. It takes polishing that book, standing by it when no one else does, and possibly putting it to the side if you realize it may not be the one. It takes knowing when that moment is, and whether you should keep persevering. It takes balancing your passion with your other goals and responsibilities. It takes facing the bitter sting of rejection, and questioning yourself to the point where you doubt that your dream will ever come true.

These are the things I have faced over the years. These are the HARD things. But I promise you, it is worth every tear and every struggle and every single rejection.

It’s a business. In the end, publishing is an industry. Agents sign clients who they believe in, but they also sign books they believe will sell. Publishers publish books they believe will sell. If there was no money in the industry, writers could never be authors, and authors could never write. Sometimes, when your manuscript is rejection, it is because the market is too saturated, or there isn’t an interest in that type of story right now. There also comes a certain dynamic to the realization that publishing is business. And that leads into #3…

3. PUBLISHING IS A CAREER

Duh, Caitlin.

No, hear me out. Let’s re-visit little idealistic fourteen-year-old Caitlin for a moment. I used to believe that there was NO WAY my first book wouldn’t snag an agent and sell. How hard could it be, right? This goes back to my complete lack of understanding of the industry. Because I did not understand the inner workings of publishing, I was not ready to be published. Now, do you need to understand every in and out, evert legal term and principle? No. That’s what you have various professionals for. However, you do need to have some knowledge of the process. What are royalties? What is a typical advance? If you get “the call”, what should you ask? What does an agent actually do? What happens after you sign with an agent? What percentage does each industry professional working for/with you receive? These are all questions that I had no clue about. Again, don’t panic if you don’t know all the answers. No one expects you to be an expert. However, do your research and brush up on some terms and publishing know-hows. It will help keep the stress levels down in the long run, and will prepare you mentally for the process ahead.

The second point to this is that you as the writer need to treat it like a career.

I started my first novel when I was twelve. I finished at fourteen. I was in no way ready to be a published author then. I am so very grateful that, despite all of their encouragement, agents did not sign me. I am by no means shooting down teen authors. I support them 100%! However, I was not ready for the responsibility and commitment that comes with publishing a book. You suddenly have deadlines, income, possible signings, agent calls, a professional image, etc. As a fourteen-year-old, I honestly think I would have crumbled. I want my career to start off in a place where I am ready for the responsibility of a career, even if it isn’t my full-time career at first (or ever).

So, I’d encourage you all to evaluate where you are and what you want. Prepare yourself for the fact that writing is a career, not just a fun side-job. It takes grit and perseverance and hard work. You all have it in you, though! You can do it!

4. AN AGENT REJECTION IS NOT PERSONAL

Why do agents reject manuscripts/authors?

Well, for one, there are thousands of writers trying to find agents and publish their books. Agent inboxes are flooded with queries constantly, and if they accepted every one of them, or even half of them, they’d have hundreds of clients. It helps to put yourself in a client’s shoes and imagine if your agent was dividing their time between hundreds of other writers. Agents want to give each client the attention, love, and support they need. That means they must be selective. Don’t you want an agent who is passionate about your book? Hold out for that one!

There are many, many reasons agents reject manuscripts: The genre isn’t something they are comfortable with / accustomed to / skilled in marketing and representing. The voice doesn’t connect with them. The writing tense and POV isn’t something they favor (for example, some people just do not like 3rd person). They have a full client list and really selective about the projects they take on (a common one).

It isn’t always about you personally, so understand that it does not define you as a writer, OR YOUR BOOK. Take criticism and advice, evaluate it, and then keep going!

5. JOIN THE COMMUNITY & DON'T BE AFRAID TO SHARE YOUR WORK (SELECTIVELY)

The writing community is incredible! It can be hard, sometimes, to see others succeeding, but always keep in mind that they have had hard knocks in the past too. Each journey has its own ups and downs. Being a part of a support network is vital as a writer, because, as I mentioned earlier, the journey is HARD. Having people in your corner who you can reach out to, celebrate with, and even cry with is so important.

I wish, wish, wish I would have found this community sooner than I did. I’ve only really been intentionally connecting with writers for about the past year. Before that, I wrote in a bubble.

Don’t write in a bubble!

Find CPs, fellow writers, and friends who can support you, and be the support for others. This leads into the second point… don’t be afraid to share your work.

I, up until very recently, kept my writing in a locked box and never let another soul see it. I was afraid someone would steal it, rip it to shreds, or do more harm than good. This is why I used the word “selectively” above, because you do want to be careful when you are choosing people to handle your work. Finding CPs and betas is a topic for another day, but just know that they are amazing people to have in your corner, and yes, it is scary. It is scary to let someone see something so dear and precious as your manuscript. But it is so, so worth it!

You can’t go it alone. Find the people who will walk through thick and thin with you. It will make your journey so beautiful, and your struggles much lighter to bear.

In the end, I want to leave you with this…

Writing is a beautiful, complex, and (yes) hard journey. But I wouldn’t trade this for anything. Even after eight years. You may wonder, “Why haven’t you given up? Eight years is a long time!” Yes, it is. Longer than it seems, honestly. I’ve had my fair share of discouragement and hard times. I’ve cried more tears than I care to count.

But this passion is worth it.

Even through the hard truths that I’ve talk about, it’s worth it.

Persevere, learn, grow, and keep writing, friends!

What lessons have you learned in your writing journey so far?

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