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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Nice article. If I could just afford the childcare I’m sure I’d be Sophie kinsella already !
Really cool advice… basically NEVER give up!!! 😉
Such a motivational post for me, as I keep reminding myself how creative endeavours are always a challenge and why we should never shy away from being brave enough to face this challenge to realise the treasure house of creativity. Those last couple of lines resonate with me very closely! So thankful for sharing these wise words, Damyanti. I needed them.
Absolutely! The challenge is what makes us come up with better work and ideas.
But if I don’t panic then I can’t use my panic button. It’s so cute and silly! ;););)
Ah, well if you have a panic button that changes everything!
You have some great tips here, Damyanti. It’s important to just keep writing and putting yourself out there–and remember to be kind to yourself.
This is something that I needed to read at this point when I am trying to get back to writing. Such an eye opener and motivating post at the same time, Damyanti. And I have saved this post as well. All the points are so valid and makes sense for all the budding writers. So happy to come across this post!
I’m so glad you found it helpful- good luck with the writing!
Great tips Damayanti. I suppose they are applicable to all professionals who are waiting for a break.
This is a very valuable post. Thank you D for sharing. Will see these pointers in mind. Your blog is such a treasure trove of information for writers. Kudos on a great job done.
Thank you for your continuing exposure to the ideas of successful writers.
Thanks, Ian, glad you find these posts useful. Janet has been very kind with sharing her insights, and will be responding to comments soon.
A very inspiring article.Writing is no just creativity but also patience.
What wonderful and encouraging advice. I will no longer panic about my plodding progress or let comparisons to others make me depressed – and so much more. Sunlight and a cooling breeze.
Great tips! I agree, persistence is key.
Excellent advice. It always feels like success comes easy when looking at people who have made it to where we want to be, but we forget to account for their journey.
Absolutely! Another reason why comparing yourself to other writers is almost always a bad idea. (Yet of course I still do it all the time!) It’s like looking at people’s social media versions of themselves- you only see the best pictures with the most flattering filters.
Brilliant advice, I think it is too easy to get stressed about a lot of these things before you have a finished piece of work, hopefully I can put some of these into practice ?
So true! The first (and most important) thing is to just get the work done.
A great list of advice for writers. Most of these I could do much better at. I can patiently wait for a lot of things, but I often lose patience regarding the act of writing.
As one who thinks of East Tennessee as “home” (even though I’ve been living in L.A. for the past 27 years), I like hearing stories about the Oak Ridge atomic project. It was an interesting time.
Tossing It Out
Hi Arlee- nice to run into a fellow East Tennesseean here! Writing a novel takes about the most patience of anything I’d tried to do in my life. (Believe me, I’m trying to finish my next book at the moment, and it is hard!)
Hi Damyanti and Janet – what a great post … be patient, plan, take the long view and live life … all excellent pointers as we write and age – cheers Hilary
I think the most crucial part of it is to have great content. Something that an average reader can connect to. Good content leads to curiosity and honest readers too. Thanks for the post. Great one !!
It was very interesting and informative read. Gives you a reality check on book publishing
Great tips. Patience is a virtue in all aspects of life.
Excellent advice! We have to be passionate about our work, to go at the pace we can manage, and to live our lives.
A wise advice, panic is inevitable, believe in positive energy, passionate work
Good tips here!
The big criticism I got back in my query/ first chapter submission days was that one of the characters didn’t appear early enough. She did, actually, just not as her real name. It hadn’t occurred to me that agents wouldn’t put together that her online handle was her, that I needed to spell that out in the query. (To be fair, the main character doesn’t figure it out for quite a few pages either.)
Sometimes it’s simple things like that.
Oddly, that same realization became the tipping point from traditional and small press into deciding to go indie. I was asking non-gamers to promote a book where MMORPG is the meet cute. Knowing nothing about gaming meant they were never going to have a base to fall in love with the story. I needed someone who loved to game. Oh wait, that’s me. And BOOM, I realized I had to make the journey on my own.
It’s great that you were able to take criticism and use it to figure out a better way forward. That’s so important.
Amazing, amazing advice! Especially “Do live life.” I feel like I’m such a slow writer, but it’s never easy to juggle a full-time job, a semblance of a social life or hobbies, and a project like a novel. Thanks so much for sharing this. 🙂
I hear you. It’s still a constant struggle to find the time write and do everything else I need and/or want to do. And I still feel like I’m too slow! But I try to have faith in my own advice- ha!
Patience is definitely the key to a successful writing career!
Excellent advice and timely, too. This time around I’m going the traditional publishing route. Thanks so much for sharing!
Good luck, Meg!
You have to write from the heart – if you don’t, it shows, and no one will want to read it.
Sooo interested in this book–and its author–as I am currently querying for my novel exploring the WWII home front and its impact on women. Thank you for featuring Janet Beard. Great interview!
Good luck, Rebecca- sounds intriguing!
Great advice! Real people tend to come first in my world too 🙂
Research and taking time to consider options is always smart!