A professional writer is a strange beast. She writes through crests and troughs of life and career, with or without rewards whether financial or praise, with or without the time to write, or the mind space to do so. A writer writes, a professional writer writes despite everything, even herself. Traditional publication can be soul-destroying for a writer if she doesn’t take the right approach.
Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the guest post series, it is my absolute pleasure today to welcome author Janet Beard, whose recent publication, The Atomic City Girls has been making waves. Please check out her book, and her wonderful pointers to any writer on the path to traditional publication!
10 Rules for a Writer to Survive the Long Haul in Traditional Publication
I began working on my second novel, The Atomic City Girls, twelve years before getting it published. Some of that was simply because life got in the way. I moved and changed jobs multiple times, traveled around the world, got married, had a child, became distracted with other writing projects, and binge-watched a lot of TV.
But even without distractions, writing and publishing can both take a long time. While the first draft came quickly, rewriting was a slog. I spent years sending the manuscript out to agents, getting comments, slowly revising, and sending it out again. When I finally got an agent, we went through another revision process together. And when I finally got a publishing contract, it was still another year and a half to publication.
So the most important rule is: be patient. It’s not the most talented writers I know who have found success, but the ones most able to put in the work and time required. Here are ten more tips I learned along my journey for fellow writers feeling frustrated on the long road to publication.
Do make a plan.
On the most basic level, you need to figure out when and how to get the writing done. But you will also need a plan for getting your work into the world. Take the time to research literary agents before contacting them. And explore other ways to get your writing noticed, like contests, conferences, etc.
Don’t take rejection personally.
Unless you’re very lucky or have very well-connected friends, you’re going to be rejected. A lot. Get used to it, and don’t take it personally. Not every agent or editor will be a good fit for you. And they may simply be too busy to give your work consideration.
That said, do take criticism seriously.
Any time someone gives you feedback—especially someone in the publishing industry, you should consider it carefully. Chances are they know what they’re talking about, and even if you don’t entirely agree, try to find away to address the criticism.
Nothing’s wrong with thinking of your future readers when you write and trying to satisfy them. But don’t write something that doesn’t interest you because you think it will interest publishers. When you’re heart isn’t in it, the writing almost always falls flat.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
Possibly the hardest rule of all! But truly, it’s great news if you have an acquaintance who finds success. Use them for connections, advice, and possibly blurbs! And no good can come from obsessing over people you don’t know who have achieved things you haven’t.
Do keep writing.
Keep putting the work in. If you’ve finished one project and are shopping it around, then move onto the next one. It will keep your writing sharp and your mind off the rejections.
Do keep putting yourself out there.
Writers don’t get discovered while waiting at the bus stop. You’ve got to keep sending out your work and trying to make connections with people in publishing.
You’ll probably find lots of reasons to freak out through the process. While I was still looking for an agent, a non-fiction book, The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan, came out on exactly the same subject as my novel. I panicked. But when I finally got a publishing contract, my editor told me that the success of that earlier book helped her pitch my novel to the publisher. What looks like disaster at first glance may actually be a blessing.
Do take the long view.
Unless you’re writing about something particularly timely, you don’t need to rush. Getting your manuscript into the best shape that you can and finding the perfect home for it is more important than winning a non-existent race.
Do live life.
As you could probably tell from my first paragraph, I never let writing get in the way of living my life. I could have sacrificed some of my experiences from the last twelve years to get the book out faster. But I don’t have regrets.
Finally, you should know that I have worked on plenty of projects that have not been and will never be published. Not everything you write will succeed and figuring that out can be painful. But all your work is teaching you something. Even failures help you become a better writer, and sometimes you have to write the wrong thing before figuring out what the right thing is.
Remember: be patient.
Born and raised in East Tennessee, Janet Beard moved to New York to study screenwriting at NYU and went on to earn an MFA in creative writing from The New School. Her first novel, Beneath the Pines, was published in 2008, and her follow-up, The Atomic City Girls in 2018. Janet has lived and worked in Australia, England, Boston, and Columbus, Ohio, where she is currently teaching writing, raising a daughter, and working on a new novel.
Do you have questions for Janet Beard? If you are a writer aiming for, or involved in, traditional publication, do you have any advice to add? Have you read The Atomic City Girls? What advice would you give to any writer attempting a novel?
This post was written for the IWSG. Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for organizing and hosting the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) every month! Go to the site to see the other participants. In this group we writers share tips, self-doubt, insecurities, and of course, discuss the act of writing. If you’re a writer and a blogger, go join rightaway. Don’t forget to stop by and thank the co-hosts this month: Toi Thomas, T. Powell Coltrin, M.J. Fifield, and Tara Tyler!
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