Wednesday, April 22, 2009

You are what you think you are

People sometimes say to me, "Wow, you seem to have known a long time ago that you were going to have a publishing career. You did so many things right."

They are usually talking about blogging, websites, or the accumulated knowledge I've gotten about how publishing works. Not that I can claim to know everything! Good gracious, no! But yes, several years ago (2004 to be precise), I did something different than what I'd done before.

I started treating myself like a professional. I acted like I was already published. To myself, of course -- because that's the most important person you have to convince. I decided that it wasn't a matter of if, but a matter of when. And I wanted to know as much as I could before I had to start learning about things on the other side of the fence. (Promo, revisions, deadlines, etc.)

I'd like to say I set myself deadlines and met them, but the truth is that without someone breathing down my neck, it's not likely I'll dedicate myself to the hours and days it takes to produce a novel in a short amount of time. Instead, I decided I wanted to learn to blog -- though of course I wrote books too, because without books I definitely wasn't getting anywhere. And I bought my domain name and built several ugly homemade websites over the years. (Thankfully, those days are over, and my professionally designed site is now available for all to see at www.lynnrayeharris.com.)

The point was that I wanted to be prepared. I didn't know what kind of story I'd sell or if I'd use my own name, but I figured the experience would significantly shorten the learning curve for me when I did sell a book.

And you know what, it did. I already understand how websites work, how to blog, and now I know how to Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace too. I'm not an expert, but I know what they are and how to use them.

Of course I don't mean you should waste valuable writing time goofing off with this stuff! But I don't think it hurts to understand how it works. When you sell, you will have so many other things to think about -- promo, revisions, proposals -- that budgeting yourself some time now to learn these things is no different than the time management you'll need to practice when you have a book to promote.

The other thing I did was get a Publisher's Marketplace subscription. I wanted to know who was selling what. I wanted to spot trends. I also frequented the sites of editors and agents and learned as much as I could about how they work and what they like to see.

I also practiced discretion. I realized that I couldn't post rants on my blog, that it wasn't prudent to say who had rejected me or which book they'd rejected, and that I shouldn't badmouth anyone. (Though, if you've been following a couple of things in the blogosphere lately, you'll see there are writers who don't get that. Some have put their foots in their mouths so badly that they have angry agents posting in their comment trail. Not good, IMO.)

Badmouthing is always bad. It's as bad as the stories that float around every year about the clueless writer who said nasty things about an editor in a crowded elevator at National -- only to have that editor be in the elevator. Yikes!

Probably the most important thing on this list, and I didn't always succeed at it I will admit, is that I tried very hard not to compare myself to other writers or to mope around because Susie Author sold a trilogy of stories about the very same thing I was working on.

Never, ever compare. And never assume that because there are already stories out there about vampires or Regency lasses or, heck yes, billionaires and virgins, your story won't find a home. You don't know that.

None of this goes away once you sell, btw. There will always be another Susie Author out there with a similar idea, there will always be the temptation to complain about something or someone, and there will always be the desire to sleep or watch TV instead of work on the book that's due a month from now.

You just have to be a professional. Starting now. You are what you think you are. :)

16 comments:

Playground Monitor said...

When we first started the Writing Playground and I was tasked to look into blogging, I emailed a lot of authors I knew who already blogged and asked for their advice. All that eventually became a newsletter article, but the one thing I kept hearing over and over was "If you wouldn't want to see it on the front page of the NY Times, don't put it on your blog."

Can we get an amen? I've seen ugly rants on blogs and just want to cringe and ask "Why did you do this, fool?"

Maintaining a professional demeanor is so important whether it means not gossiping in an elevator car or crowded bar or posting something derogatory on a blog. One should engage the brain before opening the mouth or typing on a keyboard.

Marilyn

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Amen! :)

M.V.Freeman said...

Lynn,
This is outstanding advice, and I am going to take it. Treating oneself as a professional is important and I have to admit, I've struggled with that.

This particular blog is a keeper for me!
Thank you.

Marilyn, your advice on blogging makes me laugh, and cringe. I believe I've managed to avoid rants..LOL

Sri Pammi said...

Hey Lynn,

That's really good advice! I keep telling myself that I have to treat my writing as a job but it's hard sometimes, especially with a 14 month old, but I'm trying. :-)

Sri.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Hey, Mary! Glad if you find something useful here. :) It is hard to do at first, but once you get into the groove, it'll seem more natural. And others will notice, trust me. :)

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Hi, Sri! Well of course it's hard with a baby! Goodness. I never had to deal with that, so I don't even pretend to know how to do so. Being a mother is hard, demanding work, I realize.

But I think of Allison Brennan, who has 5 kids and who gave up television to finish her first book. And then she sold in a mega-deal and her first book hit the NYT.

You'll find the way that works for you. Make the commitment to treating yourself professional, even if it's only an hour a day that you feel that way. It'll come. :) Thanks for dropping by!

Christine said...

Lynn: from the moment I met you I was so impressed with your grace and your professionalism. And this was BEFORE you were actually published. I am so very happy for you that you received the call and you are on your way. Plus YOU WERE READY.

I think that is what it boils down to: being ready.

I could have made PRO 4 years ago had I sent in the application along with the glorious PERSONAL rejection letter from the editor at Silhouette Desire, but if I had then, I don't know if I could have handled all the PRO advice. I think I would have been overwhelmed with inadequate feelings.

Now I am ready. This year I made it a goal to do what you have done now that I am a PRO. I already am treating actual writing time as WORK, not a hobby. But I needed to up the ante. I started a blog (I don't think I have ranted on it, but I have been honest about my health cutting into my writing time this past week--it's been a struggle). I am also guest blogging on SM and enjoying that experience. And I am reading more blogs about writing well.

I am also actively investigating making a web page. It'll be cheap, homemade through Mobile Me but it is a start. And I am taking a tutorial throughout the year for my new MAC (wahoo) because I am determined to understand it and my IPHONE once and for all. No more hiding my head in the sand just because the technology daunts.

My biggest hurdle is query/synopsis writing. I am FORCING myself to write both, working on them a bit every day, for the third MS as I go through yet another revision and polishing of the MS. It's hard but Kira's craft corner helped and I have MV encouraging me to keep my eye on the prize.

Thanks for a great post -- now -- must go check my blog and see if I pass the "No rant" test.

Christine said...

Lynn: from the moment I met you I was so impressed with your grace and your professionalism. And this was BEFORE you were actually published. I am so very happy for you that you received the call and you are on your way. Plus YOU WERE READY.

I think that is what it boils down to: being ready.

I could have made PRO 4 years ago had I sent in the application along with the glorious PERSONAL rejection letter from the editor at Silhouette Desire, but if I had then, I don't know if I could have handled all the PRO advice. I think I would have been overwhelmed with inadequate feelings.

Now I am ready. This year I made it a goal to do what you have done now that I am a PRO. I already am treating actual writing time as WORK, not a hobby. But I needed to up the ante. I started a blog (I don't think I have ranted on it, but I have been honest about my health cutting into my writing time this past week--it's been a struggle). I am also guest blogging on SM and enjoying that experience. And I am reading more blogs about writing well.

I am also actively investigating making a web page. It'll be cheap, homemade through Mobile Me but it is a start. And I am taking a tutorial throughout the year for my new MAC (wahoo) because I am determined to understand it and my IPHONE once and for all. No more hiding my head in the sand just because the technology daunts.

My biggest hurdle is query/synopsis writing. I am FORCING myself to write both, working on them a bit every day, for the third MS as I go through yet another revision and polishing of the MS. It's hard but Kira's craft corner helped and I have MV encouraging me to keep my eye on the prize.

Thanks for a great post -- now -- must go check my blog and see if I pass the "No rant" test.

Christine said...

no idea why that was a double post--me

Keli Gwyn said...

Lynn,

What a great post. Your advice is right on. We are writers, and writers are professionals--even before we land that long-awaited first contract. By believing in ourselves and our writing and taking steps such as you've covered, we'll several steps ahead when we do receive The Call.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

LOL, Christine -- don't worry about the double post. Oh the technical things that have happened to me! :)

Thanks for the compliments -- and I do believe you are doing it right. You chose to move forward when you were ready. I got my PRO pin in 2004, when I made those decisions about myself, though I too could have had it earlier. There's nothing wrong with not being ready. You are now. :)

Mac web pages are awesome! That's exactly what you want to do, what I did -- play with a site, build it, learn how it publishes and how to move your elements around, etc. And taking those courses from the Apple Store is a good idea. It's all part of your investment in you as an author. :)

We all have issues with queries/synopses I think. Yuck. I still have to write a synopsis, but my editor and I both know I won't follow it. But I still obsess over it, same as you do. I'm so new I don't want to let her think I'm lazy, you know? :)

Keep going, Christine! You're doing it right! Much luck and hugs. :)

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Hi, Keli! Thanks so much for coming by. That's exactly what I was aiming to say, so I'm glad that's what you got out of it. It costs nothing to treat ourselves as professionals -- in fact, I think it adds value.

Before I sold, I know there were people who thought I was insane -- and that my husband was more insane for not making me go out and get a job.

That crazy Lynn, staying at home and pursuing an impossible dream while her poor husband works for a living.They aren't laughing anymore. :) I feel a lot of satisfaction knowing they now believe what I do is a job with value. 'Course, some of them now expect my husband to retire and for us to move into a mansion. *sigh* Darn J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer, skewing people's view of authors. ;-)

Christine said...

Lynn: thanks so much for the encouragement. I am also getting business cards with my pen name on them for the National Conference.

And LOL about the people "wondering what you did all day instead of getting a real job" while dear husband worked. I have had the same comments spoken aloud by In-laws when I was a SAHM with a 2 year old and a husband living in another city for nearly 3 years who visited the home hearth whenever he was able to. Sheesh. Whose business is it anyway? As long as we treat others with respect and applaud their decisions, why should our decisions demand any less?

I"m glad you're getting the last laugh.

Louisa Cornell said...

Fantastic advice, Lynn ! I am doing some of the things you listed - website, Facebook (finally,) blogging, getting advice from published authors, trying not to offend anyone when I post on people's blogs and I do have business cards with my pen name on them. Trying to appear professional whenever I go to luncheons, conferences, etc. I try to send thank you notes out immediately to contest judges, editors and agents even when they reject me.

My father always said don't write anything you wouldn't want to see in the newspaper or do anything you wouldn't want to see on the six o' clock news.

I have seen so many young writers post on public blogs about "stupid judges, stupid agents, stupid editors" I just shake my head and think "not smart, sweetie - not smart at all!" Sure rejections hurt, but rest assured at this point I KNOW everyone else knows more about this than I do. Editors and agents are in their positions for a reason. I can't please each and every one of them. In fact, all I have to do is please one of them enough and I am in. Get me in there and I will work my butt off to stay there!

You're one smart cookie, my friend, in addition to being a great writer and a terrific person. There was never any doubt you were going to succeed in this business. Thanks for passing along some great information and a little nudge to start treating myself like a professional writer because that is what I WILL BE one day!

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Christine, I totally agree! What's wrong with people? You're going to have so much fun at conference. :)

Louisa, my Pixie pal!!! Do y'all have a name yet for this group?

Thanks for your comments. You made me teary eyed there at the end. :) And I have no doubts you are going to succeed at this business!!! You have the right attitude, your writing is quite obviously fabulous (all those contest wins/finals!), and you have the determination to succeed. I cannot wait to read your first book!

Will you be able to make the HOD luncheon? I hope so!

Carla Swafford said...

Good advice for everyone, Lynn. I know I try to keep my posts here centered on writing. And my posts on my blog on writing. Wait! I believe there's a trend here. LOL! And I work hard at keeping it upbeat and positive if I get sidetracked.