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. :)