Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Lessons Learned from a Decade in Publishing

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Looking back on ten years as an author—and what I’d have done differently if I could have.

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the release of my debut novel, The Shifter. The cliche is to say, “Wow, I can’t believe it’s been ten whole years!”, but I have no trouble at all believing that. A lot has happened since I published my first novel.

Although no two writers have exactly the same experience, we do have experiences in common. This gives both a unique perspective and a shared common ground about being an author and a writer.

If I had the opportunity to do it all over again, here are some things I’d do differently.

And yes, I know some of these contradict each other, but that’s just life. Being an author is difficult at times, and part of the challenge is identifying when we need to do X instead of Y and not let Z distract us. Also knowing when we need to ignore that and do Y anyway. Or maybe Z.

Take Advantage of Opportunities When They Appear

There’s a lot thrown at you when you start out, and much of it is overwhelming. I was still learning about the industry and trying to get my second book written, so I didn’t say “yes” to things I probably should have.

We never know what will make a difference in our careers.

That blog that asks you to guest post that you don’t have time for? It might have a huge readership you just missed out on.

That author who asks you to blurb their book? They might wind up on the NYT Bestseller list with your name and book title on their cover.

That person at the conference you only chat with for a minute before you excuse yourself to talk to a friend you spent all day with? They might be the assistant editor of your dream publisher.

Opportunities come from everywhere and any one of them could be our big break .

Or not.

We just don’t know, which is why it’s easy to say no and walk away. But if we say yes, it could lead somewhere amazing. At the very least, we’re giving back, and that’s always a good thing.

(Here’s more on Writers: Just Say YES When Opportunity Knocks)

Do the Annoying Things You Know You Ought to Do, but Keep Putting Off

I knew eight years ago I needed a newsletter and should start building an email list. Did I do it?


I eventually did, but I cringe now to think about how much time I wasted because I just didn’t want to do something vital to my career.

“It’s not fun” and “I don’t know how” are not good excuses.

There were a lot of marketing-related tasks I put off because they weren’t fun, and I had no idea how to handle them. I was a writer, not a PR guru.

Had I taken the time to educate myself then instead of years later, I’d have known more, and likely would have had things in place to benefit from market trends and new technologies. Instead, I missed out.

The work you do now will benefit you later.

Sure, it’s easy to rationalize all the work (and money sometimes) to establish a business or marketing plan when you’re just starting out. You barely have any readers, you need time to work on the next book, you’ll get to it later when you’re not so busy.

But later is often too late.

By the time you realize you need it, you might have missed the window for when it would have benefited you the most.

Good luck is just being prepared for opportunity to knock.

It’s cheesy, yes, but true. To continue with the cliches, you miss all the shots you don’t take. Take the shots.

(Here’s more on The Rhythm & Reality of Treating Your Writing Like a ‘Real’ Job)

Keep Writing, Even When It’s Hard—Especially When It’s Hard

Writing is an emotional activity. When life gets tough and things crop up that pull us away from writing, we just don’t have the emotional fortitude to stay with it.

Sometimes it’s necessary to take a break, but it’s also a seductive excuse to not write when we’re feeling doubtful.

We’re scared we can’t sell another novel, so we find reasons not to write.

We’re worried our current WIP stinks, so we focus on social media or a blog, because “that’s building my author platform.”

We worry we aren’t doing enough to help our career, so we ignore writing altogether to network, take classes, do research and everything that isn’t writing.

And sometimes, writing is just plain hard. We get scared, we get blocked, and we worry it’s all for nothing because no one is ever going to want to read our drivel.

If we don’t write it, they won’t read it. Missed shots, remember?

Turn off email. Ignore social media. Stop watching the news.Writers, write. Readers can’t read a novel we haven’t written, and even if that first draft sucks, at least it’s written. We can make it better.

(Here’s more on The Circle of Write (Or Why Some Books Kick Our Butts))

Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin

Writers wear a ton of hats, and I suspect have more than most. Between this site, teaching at conferences, coaching, editing, developing online classes, writing my nonfiction books, and writing my novels, I have three or four full-time jobs. It’s hard to juggle all that and get anything done, and when I can’t, I feel like a failure.

For the record, I’m not, and neither are you when you feel this way. We’re just trying to do too much. When we’re not under the pile of it all, we can see that.

There’s only so much we can handle, especially if we have day jobs and families and responsibilities outside of writing.

A author career is a marathon, not a sprint (there I go with the cliches again). Novels take time, and killing ourselves to get one done isn’t something we can sustain indefinitely.

Writers need to find a balance between work and life they can live with.

When I moved from Georgia to Florida, my routine got thrown out of whack. Nothing I did worked anymore, and I had no idea why. It’s taken me three years to find the right schedule again.

Finding that balance isn’t always easy, and the goal tends to move over time. What worked for years can suddenly fail when something in our life changes. We have to change with it, find the new balance, and keep it manageable.

Because if we don’t, we burn out.

That’s when writer’s fatigue sets in, and we get blocked, and we can’t write, and we feel miserable and like a failure and we’ll never sell a novel and we should just give up and it spirals and spirals and spirals…

You get the picture.

Set achievable goals. Know your limits. Push them when you absolutely have to, but remember that’s the exception, not the rule.

Doing ten things at once and never getting them done isn’t as productive as doing two things and finishing both.

(Here’s more on On Balance vs. Burn-Out)

Move on From a Manuscript When You Need to

Some manuscripts kick out butts. I have one I’ve spent close to four years writing on and off over the past nine years, and it’s still not right. It might never be right, and I really ought to shelve it and be done.

But it’s hard to do that, because I love it.

This butt-kicking manuscript has made it easier to toss aside manuscripts that aren’t working though. I know the path they’re on and I don’t want to do that again.

Not every idea we have will make a great novel. Not every manuscript is worth revising, even if the idea is good. 

It’s hard, but if the best thing you can do for your sanity and your careers is to set it aside and work on something new, you should do it and not feel guilty about it.

(Here’s more on I Quit: When to Give Up on a Novel)

Don’t Let the Writing Isolate You

We spend most of our time alone at a keyboard, and even when we do socialize, it’s often online. We have fears and self-doubts which keep us from asking for help or sharing our worries, because if we were “a real writer” we wouldn’t have those doubts and fears, right?


Even bestselling career authors have doubts and fears and worries that they suck.

It’s called impostor syndrome, and it affects a lot of creative people. Even when things are going well, we worry it’s a fluke. People will notice we’re a fraud and call us out.

Talking to other writers and hearing you’re not alone helps.

This is why being part of a writing community is so vital to our mental health. We can share our concerns and take comfort in knowing we all go through this. We can get support when we need it, even if it’s just a friend saying they had the same struggle and here’s what helped.

Even if all they say is “I feel it, too.”

When we get busy, and then overwhelmed, we tend to draw back so we can focus. But often, stepping away from the keyboard and reaching out is the cure.

We need our friends. Don’t let them slip away.

I’m not good about keeping in touch with people, and I’ve let far too many friendships fade. I regret not trying harder to maintain those writer friendships, and it’s something I’m working on. Maybe I can rekindle those relationships, and this time, keep them burning.

Stay connected. It's your writer's lifeline.

(Here’s more on The Benefits of Writerly Camaraderie)

Looking back allows us to see the things we should have done, and while we tend to focus on the regrets, we should also pay attention to the lessons we learned. It’s not too late to heed them and make the next step of the journey a little easier.

What have you learned as you’ve traveled your writing path? What do you wish you’d known, or listened to, sooner?

If you're looking for more to improve your craft (or a fun fantasy read), check out one of my writing books or novels:

In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel. 

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structureand the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.
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  1. Thanks for sharing your insights. I will remember them if I ever get published. And many are relevant now as I try to balance my job and writing and promote my blog. I see many missed opportunities too.

    1. Those are the ones that hurt the most I think. It's too easy to "Monday morning quarterback" it and think if you'd only done X, you'd be further ahead or whatever. Not necessarily true, but it feels that way sometimes.

  2. The first one resonated with me immediately. I'm followed by a string (of maybe 2 anyway) opportunities I didn't latch onto! And it's been ten years since my first book was published as well.

    1. They do haunt, don't they? I have a couple like that, too. Nothing like the shoulda woulda couldas :)

  3. What a great post, Janice! All good reminders.