Thursday, September 27, 2012

Leaning Into It - Staying the Course to Publication

I had to smile when I saw this week's blog topic, which is on overcoming the urge to quit while on the road to publication. For me, quitting wasn't so much the issue as slowing down...

Slowing WAY down.

I never fully abandoned the path, in truth, but there were times that I stood so still, for so long, that I'd become almost a Writing Zen Ninja. That was doing wonders for my ability to go undetected in the darkness, but it wasn't helping me become a published author.

Why would I hit the brakes? Unlike many authors, my reasons weren't family or health-related, but primarily based on my career choices. In a word, I've been BUSY. I've gone from a high-demand corporate life to a high-demand freelance writing business life. I consult. I teach. I work. It all seems very dull to discuss, but it does take time!

I wish I could say that there was one thing that enabled me to flip the switch from aspiring to contracted, now prolific author -- but this is me, here. So there's actually a list. I've done everything on this list (some more thoroughly than others) and I have to say, it's all helped. And hopefully, if you're looking to flip that same switch, you'll find a mix that works for you!


On the path to publication, you'll find some people have roller skates and some seem to have cement shoes. But everyone can move forward, even you, if you just channel your Winter Warlock and put one foot in front of the other.

2. Keep reading (good books, and outside of your genre as well).

Most writers read compulsively, but sometimes what you read can make the difference. The parenthetical qualifier above was actually hard for me, because I read for enjoyment as much as learning. But finally, kicking and screaming, I listened to an award-winning author's teeth-gritted advice to read outside of my genre, especially books that made literary types swoon. And, to my amazement, some of those books didn't suck. (NOTE: Some did. I don't care how many English majors swear otherwise). Still, I learned a LOT from the ones that were both well-crafted and well-paced.

3. Watch well-written movies. 

If pacing is your problem, or layering, or emotion, or action, or... you get the idea. Watching stories unfold instead of reading them can help jump-start your process.

4. Find a process that works for you... and stick to it.

Some people are pantsers. Some are plotters. Some are puzzlers (a new term I ran across, which is sort of a cross between the first two). Some use a defined method to draft or revise, some have a more scattershot approach. But rather than thinking that the next writing book will be THE magical unicorn for you that will enable you to produce a book in a snap... look back at what's worked for you. And simply do it again.

Standardize and keep improving your process, but spend less time on FINDING a process, and more time writing. (I'm one of the people convinced that the magical process unicorn does exist, I'll admit. And I'm pretty sure it breathes fire. But in the meantime, I'll keep using my current process).

5. Aim for Professional, not Perfect.

For years, I was determined not to submit a manuscript until I'd polished it to within an inch of its life. Time after time, I succeeded--in polishing the life completely out of my manuscripts. Now that I've moved a little further down the path to publication, I've learned that your agent (in some cases), editor, and your copy editor (eegads... your copy editor) will give you more edits than you ever thought possible or even REASONABLE. So stop fussing over your manuscript. If it's professional... that's perfect. Send it out.

6. Tailor your work to your audience (and then submit it).

If you're writing for a particular type of publisher or audience, take the time to learn about them. Your audience could solely be readers... or it could be readers + New York agents/editors. Or it could be readers + a niche publisher who does extremely well in your preferred genre. Take the time to tailor your pitch/manuscript/Brand to whomever your audiences are. You are creating an artistic product, no question... but you are also SELLING that product. So know the folks who are going to buy from you. And then submit, submit, submit.

7. Write first, promote second.

In the world of social media, it is easy to become caught up in blogging, tweeting, pinning, facebooking, expanding your circles or groups, or creating a billion and one promotional items (don't make me give you a button). But you can never lose sight of the fact that you're a WRITER first. If you don't write, you don't have anything to promote. If you don't KEEP writing, your readers won't get your next book... ever.

Whew! That was a longer blog than I intended! But hopefully, it's of some help.

In fact, in looking over this list, it could be modified as a "How To" for reaching just about any dream--a combination of learning, doing, and announcing your dream to the world. So to all of the dreamers out there, I welcome any other tips on how YOU accomplished your goals!

Jennifer McGowan has been writing fiction since well before she knew any better. A past Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and 2011 Golden Heart finalist, Jenn is represented by agent extraordinaire Alexandra Machinist, of Janklow & Nesbit.

Jenn's debut novel, MAID OF SECRETS, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 7, 2013, assuming she gets her revisions done ;). You can find Jenn online and on twitter.


  1. What a great post, Jenn! I especially like the last point. I think some people use social media & blogging as a means to avoid their WIP, which doesn't do them any favors. I always say 'you can't tweet your way into a book deal.'

    And I LOL'd at the button comment. I *love* my Maid of Alien button! You're awesome. :)

  2. The blog is brilliant and just what I needed. Thank you.

  3. Hi Jenn, great insights here! One of my biggest issues was #6. I'd written for myself for years, so grasping that I needed to write for an audience took some time. If I loved the story, what was the problem? The problem was reader expectations. I loved romance but didn't care for the sometimes overly sentimental writing, so I wound up with a Women's Fiction/Romance hybrid that just didn't work. Once I got it, I realized it was all about immersing my reader in the kind of book she craved--just in my voice.

    I will add another thing that worked for me, and that is time management. Setting aside a strict window of time each day when I could write. For me, that meant the moment the kids got on the bus. So, no appointments, lunches, calls, nothing. Reimmersion into the world began when I saw the yellow bus slowing to a stop up the street! It has made me a zillion times more productive and professional.

  4. I so agree about the write first and promote second item. Editors and agents say the same thing...get the next book out there. I'm trying to not get online till after 12 and write in the morning while fresh. Congrats on keeping at it, Jenn. All your hard work paid off!

  5. Excellent post, Jenn! You nailed every point.
    This is a good kick in the pants for me because I'm dragging around some size 9 cement shoes right now. (love that analogy!)
    Waiting doesn't mean standing still. =)

  6. If you could just go in and put (Bria, "ditto") after everything that would be great. I'm also one who slows down when forced -- and sometimes, no matter how annoyed or stressed it makes me, it often is just everything coming together to say, "DUDE! Take a break already!"

    Also, on the movies, I love to watch the director commentaries. Hearing them talk about the hows & whys of what worked (or didn't) is always inspiring to me.

  7. Ooo--i love the new tips you guys! Time management, director commentaries, and writing FIRST no matter what...

    hmm. maybe i should go tweet something... ;)

    Thank you so much for stopping by!

  8. I would add to listen to criticism. Don't defend your mms at critique meetings. Listen. Then go home and take the advice that resonates and ignore the rest.

  9. What a great post! I have to remind myself that I need to write first when I come home to a mountain of emails :( Makes my teeth itch not to answer them, but I'm trying to learn to compartmentalize. Congrats on the sale!!

  10. Great post! I've been dragging my feet lately, not because I'm too busy, but because I'm too scared. I'm just going to keep pushing myself, though. You've inspired me! Thanks!

  11. Thanks for the suggestion, Michele--I have to say, I can take some criticism better than others... and usual the crits that upset me the most are the most I need to hear!

    Romily--if you can figure out compartmentalization, please let me know. It's ALSO the magical process unicorn for me!

    And Jeigh, hang in there! Fear is a crazy thing--sometimes it makes you rush forward blindly, sometimes it makes you stand very still in the darkness. Just keep walking, my friend. That's really and truly the best way. ((Hugs))

  12. Love tip #3! It's a great one for a Friday night. Thanks for the post, Jennifer.

  13. "Aim for Professional, not Perfect." SO TRUE! I had no idea how many rounds of edits, line edits, copyedits, proofreading, first pass and second pass pages awaited me. Our editors HAVE OUR BACKS, don't they? It's a relief to know that the finished products will be finessed. We just need to tell our stories :)