This is an update to my post “Things I Wish I’d Known” from December 2008 (Live Journal). Every now and then my perspective changes on the subject of Why in hell I didn’t figure this stuff out earlier. Here are my latest thoughts on the subject:
It’s been twelve years since I published my first novel, The Seeds of Time. Since then, I’ve published nine novels and a bunch of short stories. Below are a few things I wish someone had told me when I began.
Not selling your first novel is no predictor of how you’ll do in the industry. Many first novels are trunk books. You can—and likely will—go on to successes if you keep writing.
Second novels are often undertaken in giddy recklessness. I’ve sold my first novel, the second one is bound to be lovely. Think very carefully about that second one.
Don’t be afraid to learn from the marketplace. If a book tanks, be fearless in asking why. Maybe you were poorly published, or the book stores didn’t like the cover. But what if it was a problem with your story?
People you meet in the industry may well be as rewarding an experience for you as selling stories. I know you don’t believe this. And the corollary:
Writing will not save you. Once you are regularly selling novels, life tends to look much the same as it did before, except now you have a bad back.
Know your business. Follow publishing houses and their current lists, read reviews, bone up on industry issues. Follow popular culture and media, especially if you’re writing in genre. This is your job; don’t be a lightweight.
Envy is rife in this industry. Fend it off in any way you can. Writers are famous gripers. Try not to be one of them. You’ll be happier for it no matter how maddening, unfair, ludicrous, and evil the industry may be! Celebrate wonderful writers; steal their techniques.
Study the structure of the novel. Storytelling is a craft–with artistic elements, to be sure–but also with a body of shared knowledge.
Ups and downs. It is highly likely your career will swing up and down. Neither one is permanent, though it may feel like a trend to you.
If these things are self-evident to you, then you are way ahead of where I was at the outset. In a few years, make your own list. Pass it on.