Talking to other authors, particularly the top-selling authors, is a great way to learn.
Not long ago, the fabulous Eloisa James spoke to a fascinated audience at the RNA meeting in London.
Eloisa writes historical novels that are regulars in the New York Times bestseller lists – and I was ready to learn whatever she had to teach me.
Her theme was the things she knows now that she wishes she had known back when… and this is what I took away.
Read what’s selling now, look for reasons why it’s selling. Find the things about that book that work for you – the ‘reader pleasure’ moments. And read widely – not just your own genre. She suggested reading the best books a second time – being very analytical as you go. She also suggested finding something popular to attach your book to – if there’s a royal wedding in the air, write a royal wedding book. If fairy tales are selling – write a fairy tale. But take care not to leave it too late and get left behind.
Read your own work analytically too. It’s important to know what you do well and to work to your strengths.
Get into your Zen.
Things go wrong – even for someone who makes the Times Lists. Don’t let it get to you.
If it’s a problem with the book, listen to your editor and work to fix it. Ignore bad reviews. If your career has a hiccup – accept it, do what you can to fix it and move on. Don’t let those bad moments bring you down.
Sometimes you write rubbish.
We all do it and that’s fine. Let yourself do it, then accept it’s rubbish and fix it and write something better.
Be a businesswoman.
We write because we love writing – but it is a business. We need to understand the contracts we sign. We need to understand tax rules. If we need help understanding this stuff, get help from a lawyer or accountant – here in the UK, the Society of Authors is very helpful.
Be a manager.
Manage your career. If you have an agent and an editor – manager them too. This really means work with them. Tell them what you want to achieve , or what you want them to do for you.
Publishing a book is humiliating and risky.
When you send your book out there, you are exposing yourself to criticism. Genre fiction , and particularly romance, is sometimes viewed as ‘trash’. Or not even a ‘real book’. Don’t buy into that. Romantic fiction will not change the world, but you can deeply move an individual reader or maybe help them through a difficult time in their life. That’s a good thing – be proud of that.
Manage your grief
Books fail. Contracts fail. You will get bad reviews. You can learn from these – but first you have to manage the totally understandable emotional reaction. Do whatever you need to do to get past it. Eat chocolate. Take a long bath. Go to bed for a day. Then leave it behind and learn form it.
When you get bad reviews or are attacked on social media. Or misquoted. Don’t respond. That will only make it worse and could even expose the bad comment to an ever greater audience. It will take longer to get past it. Just ignore it and move on.
Never Make bad blood
There will be unpleasant moments with other authors, or with agents or publishers. Don’t let things get nasty. You never know when you will come back into contact with that person again – or in what roles.
Your friends aren’t always your friends
Don’t let your friends, however well meaning, take control of your writing. Don’t give your manuscript to too many people to read.. and don’t react too quickly to what they say. If you change your style or your voice or your story with every comment from every person – you will lose your own voice.
If you want a critique partner or beta reader, find someone you trust, whose opinion you value and work with them.
But at the same time – the friends you make among other authors will be among your very best friends. We should always be there for each other. Supporting each other. Helping each other write the best books we can.
There are too many reasons not to read – tv and computers and whatever – we all need to work together to make sure there are so many brilliant books out there that the readers keep coming back.
All very well said Eloisa – thank you. I’ll do my best.