Six Lessons I Learned Before I Got a Book Deal

A few weeks ago, I got the call from my literary agent that I’d been waiting on for what seemed like twenty-nail-biting, “For the love of God, why isn’t this happening for me?” lifetimes. I answered the call to, “Congratulations!” We got a two-book deal with a great publisher. After running around in circles like Snoopy doing his happy dance, I started to think about all I’d learned in the process of trying to get published and the many mistakes I made along the way. And, yeah, there were a boatload:

1. Sloooowwww Down, Sister: I’m a journalist by trade, and we know only one speed: fast. But I wasn’t working on a breaking news story on deadline. No one in the publishing world was waiting expectantly for me to ship them my manuscript. My mistake: When I initially tried to land a literary agent, I sent my manuscript out before it was ready. My advice before you send your work out to the world: Polish, refine and then repeat until you’ve dug so deeply into your characters, you know them better than the person sleeping next to you at night.

2. Keep Zen with the Rejections: As a journalist, someone is always mad at you about something you wrote. So a rejection shouldn’t set me into a tailspin, right? I wish. At the end of the day, rejections stink. Before I landed an agent, I sent my manuscript to an e-book line. It was a rejection, and by the way, the editor reminded me “journalism was my skillset.” He also told me that I was like a “jouster with one of those ‘jousty’ things,’” attacking my craft with this “skillset” that I supposedly had. Say what? I think the guy meant, “Honey, don’t quit your day job or you’ll starve. Now beat it.” Constructive, clear criticism can be a writer’s best friend. When an agent or editor took the time to give me personal feedback on how to improve my manuscript, I was extremely grateful. For the other stuff, stick it in the freezer like Joey did with “Little Women” on that episode of Friends when he found out Beth was really sick and probably wouldn’t make it. Makes me want to burst into tears, too, Joey!

3. Work on Your Next Project: There’s nothing better to kill the pain or ease the excruciating time while you’re waiting to hear back on your current work. After stalking my in-box and cell phone every 2.5 seconds, I started to get on my own nerves. So, I went full combat-mode and started writing a third manuscript, which is almost finished. By the time I was fifty-pages in, my new focus was this work-in-progress, almost like I’d ditched the manuscript currently on submission because I’d found a hotter date to the prom. Seriously, it does help.

4. Build Your Writer’s Platform Before You Need An Audience: The majority of my time is spent writing, and sure I have a Twitter account and blog and the like. But I’d post on a schedule that was about as regular as me seeing the dentist. My husband is a PR executive and social media expert, and I always ignored his insistence that I needed to engage on social media now before it was necessary. Okay, I’ll admit it. He was right. But don’t tell him I said so.

5. There is No End: When I finished my first manuscript and started to send it out, I thought my final goal was landing an agent. But then when I signed with a literary agent, I realized my next goal was for us to rework the manuscript until it was ready to send to a publisher. Now that I have a publisher, I realize my next goal is to keep building my writer’s platform. And keep writing, of course.

6. There’s a Great Big World Out There: Writing is wonderful. Waiting is dreadful. And the waiting and rejection combo is even worse. Don’t obsess on it like I did. Take a hike. Revel in the simple magic of the sound of your children’s feet as they race down the hallway (most likely to a destination where something will inevitably break followed by a ten-second pause before one of them starts bawling their eyes out). Read a good book. I just picked up Stephen King’s “Revival,” and my day is now absolutely made.

I realize I still have lots to learn about the publishing world. The biggest lesson I learned though: Never, ever give up.

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