When I first came to publishing an editor told me to "enjoy the learning process." I was so ignorant about the CBA then. I was without an agent, didn't have internet access here in the woods, had never been to a conference, had no writing contacts, and hadn't entered any contests. I was only marginally aware that these things existed. I simply knew that if I was ever to realize my dream of publication it would take a miracle. Since then it's been quite a ride. The door did open miraculously for me and I signed with a CBA publisher, Revell/Baker Books in 2008.
Often readers and friends ask what I've learned along the way. While every author's journey is unique, I can tell you what's been true in my own experience and what the Lord is teaching me. Since He's an infinitely personal God, my lessons are specific to me and my own writing journey. My struggles may not be your struggles, nor my joys your joys. But here are a few highlights...
*Critique partners are truly valuable. I didn't have a CP till my third published novel. Now I realize how much harder I had to work to get those first two manuscripts into publishable shape.
*Know your history. During the editorial process, questions will be asked of you regarding the history you've included in your manuscript. It's almost like a test. You need to be able to explain or document anything you've included. Oftentimes editors aren't historians but you, the author, should be able to back up your handling of history.
*Good editors are allies, not enemies. Trust them to know what works and what doesn't during edits. They're usually right. Mine are:). Often you're so close to your story you can't see it objectively.
*Bestseller lists don't tell the whole story. Big box stores like Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, as well as other accounts, don't report to these lists. Bonnet books really do sell twice as many copies, be it Shaker, Quaker, Puritan or Amish, according to a Baker Publishing Group marketing executive. Stories set in the 19th-century American west and those about mail-order brides are also said to be top sellers. Oftentimes lists are made because of an aggressive marketing campaign. But a book can become a bestseller simply by word of mouth long after release day. More importantly, many overlooked books leave a lasting impression on readers' hearts. Only God knows the good your words do.
*Reviews are a two-edged sword. And they're simply one person's opinion, as an author friend reminded me. I've seen books I love given very low ratings and books I think aren't quality writing on bestseller lists. But then, that's just my opinion;) Some authors never read reviews, others check them daily. As time goes on I think less and less about them.
*Conferences really are important. I went to my first ACFW conference the month after my first book was released. Since I didn't know a soul, I found myself tapping a lot of people on the shoulder and introducing myself, quite a feat for someone who is naturally shy. Many of these people have since become dear writing mentors and friends. The focus of the annual ACFW conference is truly Spirit-driven. You'll feel so honored and blessed to attend. It's worth every cent!
*There's a world of contests out there. I think contests are helpful for unpublished writers in terms of name recognition and agent/editor contacts, etc. But I'll never forget my shock when I learned published writers nominate themselves for awards! My publisher and readers enter my books for the Carol and Inspy Awards and I consider this an honor and blessing. But I don't pursue contests personally.
*Don't shipwreck your family or your faith for your writing dream. You may achieve short term success but long term misery. Heaven's version of success is very different than ours. Being taken captive by social media (Facebook, Blogger, Twitter, etc.) and being preoccupied with stats and lists can spell disaster to your loved ones and the Lord. Time is a gift we need to use wisely and something I'm still trying to manage well.
*Take writing breaks. This is especially important when finishing a manuscript. Put it in a drawer, tell your beloved characters goodbye for a couple of weeks and work on other things. Your perspective will be restored and your book will be better in the end.
*Be gracious. Sending handwritten thank you notes and/or flowers to your editors, agent, writing mentors and others, plus cards/gifts to readers and those who've been helpful to you is so important.
*Be thankful. Writing is play to me but publishing is hard work. When I'm tempted to return to my sane, ordinary life, I remember that there are thousands of writers who would love to take my place. I've been given a tiny sphere of influence for a short period of time and it's all about God's glory, not mine.
*Treasure your readers. Author Robin Jones Gunn brought this home to me during a retreat several months ago. She spoke about our little flock of readers and how God has entrusted them to you as an author. Be gracious and giving of yourself, your time, and your resources with the ones the Lord brings into your life. My readers have enriched my life in countless ways and I'm so thankful for each one of them!
What are you learning in your own writing journey, whether you're unpublished or published? If you're not a writer, what has God been teaching you in the areas He's called you to minister?
Please stay tuned for more reader pics and a devotional post on Wednesday...