A few lessons learned on the road to getting published...
Now that the first two novels in my Rosalie Hart mystery series have been published, Murder at Barclay Meadow and Death at the Day Lily Café, I realize I have learned a few lessons from all those scraped knees and left hooks to my self-esteem it took to get there.
Don’t let rejection distract you from the goal line.
It takes sheer stubbornness and a little bit of knuckleheadness to keep the faith that you will one day be published. It took years before Murder at Barclay Meadow was ready for prime time. I attended conference, writer workshops, joined a critique group, and read everything I could get my hands on regarding how to get published. But I hadn’t learned the first lesson.
Write a really good book.
You can pitch and cajole all you want, but sometimes you just have to accept that you need to give the book another go. At every pitch event, workshop, you name it, everyone had an opinion on what I should change, what was wrong, how I needed a hook. At first my hackles would flare up. It’s good enough, I thought. And then I started to take in what they were saying.
Once I found my agent, we spent six months editing and tweaking and polishing what I thought was a finished product before he shopped it to publishers. And when we found a home at Minotaur, I worked with my editor for another six months to get the book in tip top shape. And that included cutting 11,000 words. Which leads to the next.
Listen to your critics.
Unless they hate you for some other personal vendetta, there are pearls of wisdom in the most unlikely places. People often say, what was that like for you to have to edit so much? Didn’t you get defensive? And the answer is, no. I can honestly say their advice was spot on and every pass made it better. I’ve learned a lot about myself through this process. About my character and tenacity. But the biggest lesson is . . .
Listening is a practiced skill. But the rewards are immense. Listening requires being in the moment, opening up to learning, breathing, and staying quiet. I recently read an article that said the best negotiating tool is silence. Stillness brings good things. And allowing myself to open up to suggestions has made me smarter and a much better writer.
That was the first book.
While Murder at Barclay Meadow was at the presses, it was time to write the second in the series, Death at the Day Lily Café. After three months of hard work I was able to deliver what I thought was a pretty good first draft.
“The mystery doesn’t work,” my editor said. “Everything else is great. Oh, and I need the rewrite in two months.” Two months? And I have to rewrite the entire mystery???
At a book event in Arlington, VA, I shard the spotlight with Ellen Crosby, a lovely woman who is the author of the very successful Virginia wine country cozy mystery series. When the topic of writing the second book came up, she looked at me with a kind smile. She had already written seven in her series. “The first book can take you as long as you want. The second is like getting shot out of a cannon.”
Survive the Cannon Launch.
To quote ET, “It’s reality, Greg.” As much as I got to massage and rewrite the first book at my leisure, that ship had sailed. I had a deadline and I was frozen in fear of failure.
Listening to NPR one day in my car, I was lucky to hear John Grisham discuss his writing process. After turning up the volume, I listened closely. Apparently, Mr. Grisham rises early and goes to his desk immediately. He writes for six hours each day. With his habits and diligence, he can knock out a novel every six months. He spends the next six months promoting. And on January 1, he is back at his desk.
At that same event in Arlington, Ellen Crosby answered a similar question about writing habits. She gets up before her family each morning and has a word count minimum. Once she hits that number, she goes about her day.
Wow, I thought. Cannon launching. I could never do that. When it is time for me to write, I’m like a dog who needs to circle several times before settling in. I need my house to be clean, my bills to be paid, all surfaces clear to avoid distraction. Once I’m in the zone I’m good to go. But sometimes that doesn’t kick in until 7:00 PM. Which leads to the next lesson.
And go with it. Don’t fight the process and don’t feel guilty for not being John Grisham. One of the perks of being a writer is I get to go to work in my slippers. If I write until 1:00 AM, then I have put in a full day’s work.
And yes, all ye hermits, don’t forget the book promotion. Once you’re lucky enough to get published, you have to replace the slippers with pumps and a broad perky smile. Don’t get me wrong, I like meeting people, it’s the self-promotion that makes me uncomfortable. I could sell you a used car, but how do you sell yourself?
When I asked my friends to attend yet another event, I started to quote a line from Gladiator. “The time for honoring yourself will soon be at an end.” I hoped that would put them at ease. Or maybe the purpose was to put me at ease.
Surprisingly, no one grew tedious with my marketing efforts. They were excited for me and beyond supportive. I guess when you work this hard and have something worth sharing, it’s okay to ask people to give it a look. Humility is lovely. But it doesn’t mean you can’t sell books.
So, when I asked my editor what it takes to get a third book deal, she said, sell this one. And then can I be back in my slippers? I have learned to embrace my inner John Grisham from January through June. Now it’s time to work on the second half of the year. And so . . .
Have fun with the book promotion. And your readers will too.