To say the least, my road to publication sported a few potholes.
I started pursuing publication way back before Amazon, before Kindle, before ebooks. I can’t even tell you how many times I was rejected. It broke my heart at times. When a letter from Harlequin arrived in my mailbox mere days after I’d sent in a query, I knew it was bad news because it meant the editors didn’t have to think long before rejecting it. Inevitably, I’d receive one of those form letters which said Thanks but no thanks.
All that rejection did a number on my confidence. I began wondering why I was even bothering. My writing sucked and whatever it took to be a published romance writer, I didn’t have it. But something inside me wouldn’t give up. I can’t tell you why or how I hung in there and kept writing and submitting. All I can tell you is that I’m glad I did.
Despite flailing around blindly for a lot of years, I did a few things right during my years of ‘apprenticeship’ that eventually allowed me to be published. Here’s some of the things I learned:
- Keep learning your craft. I read many, many books on writing and tried to put into practice the things I learned. I attended writing conferences when I could. When online classes came into being, I took many of them, enjoying the convenience of working on problem areas of my writing from the comfort of my home. I joined writing groups like Romance Writers of America and their Outreach chapter. I also joined local groups in my area, like the Saskatchewan Romance Writers (SRW), I group I still belong to today.
- Don’t be afraid to show others your work. The first time I submitted my writing for critique with fellow members at SRW, I was a nervous wreck. Would they tell me my writing was hopeless? As it turned it they liked my writing. But that didn’t stop them from picking it apart. They made numerous suggestions they believed would improve my work. Since then I’ve had many critiques from various critique partners and groups. I’ve always found that a good critique was invaluable. If I’d been too afraid to let others read and critique my work, I likely would never have moved forward in my career. Just be careful choosing critique partners. Make sure they understand the genre you write in, and are at roughly the same level in their writing careers as you are. If you ever feel beat-up or humiliated by a critique, say goodbye and walk away. Critiquing should be about trust and respect.
- Keep reading. Reading is important whether you’re multi-published or just starting out. Reading the best of the romance genre, and in other genres, provides inspiration as well as giving an indication of what it takes to publish, and what kind of novel sells.
- Finish the book! I can’t tell you how many novels I started, then abandoned after writing only the first three chapters. Sometimes I’d lose interest, write myself into a corner, or lose confidence. It won’t work for everyone, but something that I learned worked for me is doing a lot of pre-writing. By the time I start the actual writing, I know quite a lot about my characters, and I’ve hopefully worked out most of the plot holes.
- Embrace the magic of revisions! It took me a long time to figure it out, but I finally realized that it was okay to write a shitty first draft. I used to try to get it right the first time out. Consequently, it paralyzed me, and I had a hard time finishing a manuscript (see #4 above). But once I finally got it through my head that revision was not a dirty word, a strange thing happened. I actually began completing manuscripts. If I didn’t worry about being perfect, I could power through and finish that first draft, knowing I could fix it later. I learned that revision was where a novel really came together and began to sing.
- Keep writing and submitting. Writers get better by writing, but it’s all for nothing if you keep your work hidden in a drawer. If you never submit you can’t be rejected, but you can never be published either. Be brave!
The main thing I learned on my road to publication was that publishing a novel requires hard work and dedication. Anything worthwhile always does.
What was the best thing you learned on the road to publication?