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Friday, May 17, 2013

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Writing

There are a lot of things that might have been useful to know when I first seriously started writing to get published nearly ten years ago. In another ten years, I’m sure I will have many more interesting and useful things that I’ve learned, but for now, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far.
  • Most editors and agents prefer books that don’t go much above 100,000 words, especially for a new author. There’s some leeway depending on the genre, but much above that, especially toward the 150,000 word range or higher, is a bigger risk for a publisher.
  • The average printed page contains 250-300 words depending on the size font. Using this number, you can roughly estimate how many words a book contains. So a 400 page book is around 100,000 thousand words.
  • An agent that isn’t a good match for the writer is worse than no agent at all. When I first started querying agents, I queried every single agent that represented anything vaguely related to what I wrote, over 100 agents. Every single one of them rejected me. These days, I have a much narrower list of agents I query to, less than 5. We’ll see in the long run how well this works, but I’ve heard many authors with a lot more experience than me give this advice.
  • The majority of writing stories is editing. Initially, most of the fun comes from the initial creation of a story, but to get published requires much more than getting a story onto the page. It requires honing and shaping the story until it’s solid and smooth.
  • The best critique partners are those that are at a similar place and with similar desires as each other. I’ve tried out several people as critique partners, and by far, this sort has provided the most satisfying experience.
  • It’s best to prepare for lots of rejection. I have received over 150 rejections, and over my career, I will likely receive many, many more. It is part of writing. Much as it stings, it’s best to accept it as quickly as possible.
  • Be prepared for it to take longer than you think. I’ve been writing stories since I was a small child. I’ve focused on writing for the purpose of building a publishing career since the end of 2004, dabbling in career building since 2002. My first book came out this year, March 2013. Dean Koontz published nearly 40 novels before he hit it big. Most authors do not strike the jackpot right away. Be prepared to put in lots of hours and, likely, years.
  • Determination and hard work are more important than skill or talent. Skill can be learned. Talent is wasted if not used. Only perseverance can bring you to the point where skill, talent, and luck can create something great.
  • Connect with other writers at various levels. Writing is a lonely business. Other writers and people who understand writers make it less so.
For all you other writers out there, what other things have you learned that would have been useful to know when you started your writing career?


  1. Great insights, Laura. You've hit on many of the things I've noticed.

    One thing I wish I knew was that it's okay to write something imperfect. Rejection doesn't mean quit trying. It means KEEP trying.

    I always kept trying, but the rejections were so hard to bear. I wish I knew it would get better. Because it really has! And it will continue to.

    1. Jessi, I love "Rejection doesn't mean quit trying. It means KEEP trying." That's fantastic. I'm going to quote it and you as one of my Weekly Writing Tips on my website.

  2. You've mentioned many things I've come to realize as well, Laura. I believe the two most important things I've learned in my goal to be a successful author is to have good critique partners, and keep trying, no matter the obstacles and rejections that are strewn along the way.

    As a new author, the biggest eye-opener for me has been the dual role of writer and online marketer. I hadn't anticipated I would be doing so much self-promotion. Today, authors have to do so much more than just write. They have to invest the time in marketing too, something I hadn't realized going in. That can be daunting at first. Fortunately, there are many other supportive writers and authors who lend help and experience along the way.

    1. Great point, Mae. When I first started writing, I did not expect to have to promote myself either. So far, it has been both rewarding and daunting. I love interacting with so many people online and sharing with them. But it would be so much simpler if all I had to do was write.

  3. All good points. I'd add to write what you want to read, because you'll write a better book. If you try to write to the market or trends, they'll pass you by while you're still working on a story that doesn't really interest you to begin with.

    1. Great point, Lara. Reading is just as important as writing.