Socks by lindseyy

Photo by lindseyy

In April of this year, I got a call from my agent that went something like this:

She:“I’ve been hearing from several editors that they’re looking for a book like X. They were wondering if I had anything to submit that would fit the bill. I don’t, but I do have an author who could write a book like that.”

Me:“You do?”

She:“Yeah. You. Can you get it done in twelve weeks?”

Which is about when a few annoying character traits of mine kicked in: (1) I find it impossible to say no; (2) I think I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it; and (3) I hate to let people down. The trouble is, I work full-time (and not at writing), plus I’ve got three kids who like to be occasionally fed.

As much as I put my mind to bending time and squeezing forty hours into twenty-four, I have not yet been able to pull that off. So here I was. I’d said yes to my agent, and now I was going to let her down. I wrote a synopsis, then sat down to cry when I realized how much work lay in front of me.

A few days later, a woman in my critique group mentioned how she thought it would be fun to co-write a book with me. The heavens parted.

So, we wrote that book, which was told from four points of view (2 major; 2 minor). We each took a major and minor character; thus, we each committed to writing 50% of the book. By the end, this equated to approximately 36,000 words each. Totally doable. We finished the project in not twelve weeks, but seven, and it is now edited and ready for submission.

As quickly as the process went for us, it wasn’t always easy and I learned some lessons along the way. If you’ve ever considered co-writing a book, these tips are for you.

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Writer Unboxed Limited Edition T-Shirts — with profits going to a great cause

T Shirt pic When we learned that a group of writers were trying to raise ~$15,000 to cover expenses (for flights, childcare, hotel, and more) so that they might attend the WU Un-Conference, we were more than happy to help spread the word of their initiatives. Their first big fundraiser, the sale of a writing-resource bundle worth $200, ends today. (There is still time to check that out, HERE.)

Though the fundraiser has done well for them, they’ve raised only half of the money they had hoped they would.

Though the writers in question wish to remain anonymous, we want to be clear that no members of this group are WU contributors; rather, they are a part of the larger WU community. All profits from your purchase of a Limited-Edition WU T-shirt goes to benefit these writers.

Several WU’ers have created, or are in the process of creating, fundraisers to benefit the cause. WU community member Mike Swift created a Writer Unboxed hat fundraiser (check it out, HERE), which sparked the idea for us: Limited Edition WU T-shirts, with all profits going to the group trying to raise money.

A few obsessive days later, we landed on a design we love. Aren’t they gorgeous? We think so, anyway. The red shirt is sized for ladies, and the gray is a unisex fit.

This particular design will never be available again, so we hope you’ll order one while they are, through mid-September. At $23, the price is right, and the cause is more than worthy.


You can help, too, by sharing this post and spreading the word over social media. Thanks so much.

Write on!

Take Five: The Caller by Juliet Marillier


U.S. cover for The Caller

Congratulations to WU contributor Juliet Marillier on the upcoming U.S. release (Sept. 9th) of her latest novel, The Caller! We’re happy she’s with us today to answer a few questions in a WU Take Five interview.

We’re also pleased to tell you that Juliet will be giving away a hard-back copy of The Caller to a randomly chosen commenter for this post, to be shipped later in September to anywhere in the world.

Without further ado, our Take Five with Juliet.

Q: What’s the premise of your new book?

JM: The Caller is the third and final book in the Shadowfell series. The series is for young adults (14+) but is also a good read for adult lovers of folkloric fantasy. The books are set in Alban, an imagined version of ancient Scotland. Tyrannical King Keldec has held the throne for fifteen years, using fear to maintain control. Under his laws, interaction between humankind and the Good Folk, Alban’s uncanny inhabitants, is forbidden, as is the use of ‘canny gifts’, special talents possessed by certain humans. The central character, Neryn, has a canny gift as a Caller, one who can draw out the Good Folk from their places of hiding and win their cooperation. This has the potential to make all the difference in the planned rebellion against Keldec – but the risk to both Neryn herself and to the rebel movement is immense. The main theme of the Shadowfell books is rebellion: What is the true cost of standing up to be counted? Can a person justify carrying out acts of violence and terror in the pursuit of a long-lasting peace?

Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself? Continue Reading »

August Roundup: Hot Tweetables at #WU


Uncaged-Writer-Unboxed-1024x465For many of us, August brought vacation, homegrown vegetables, and plenty of words on the page. Just in case you missed the mergers, the continuing Amazon-Hachette debate, or some downright juicy craft links designed to jump start your writing, we bring you our top tweets of the month. Be sure to browse the #WU hashtags on Twitter for lots more. Enjoy the final days of summer!








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The Dozen New Digital Rules Authors Need to Know


“Choosing anonymity is choosing irrelevance.” Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, author of The New Digital Age.

Today’s guest is Carole Jelen, an author, former publishing editor, and literary agent for Waterside Productions. She is a former editor for major publishers including Addison-Wesley, Prentice-Hall and Sybex, an imprint of Wileyholds, and she has two degrees in English from UC Berkeley and UC Los Angeles. She also holds a California teaching credential, and trains and consults in publishing and audience building. Carole is the author ( coauthored with Mike McCallister) of Build Your Author Platform: The New Rules: A Literary Agent’s Guide to Growing Your Audience in 14 Steps. Her next book, a novel based on transcendence and her travel adventures to 44 countries, is still shrouded in mystery.

Carole’s book “will show you all of the tricks, tips, tools, and loopholes you’ll need to know –empowering you to take control of and build your author platform. When pitching a new author, one of the first questions I’m always asked by my publisher and our sales force is, ‘How’s the author’s platform?’ In the new age of publishing nothing is more important for success (aside from great writing, of course!).” – Andrew Yakira, Assoc. Editor, Tarcher/Penguin Group USA

Of her post today, Carole says that building readership is a subject close to my heart for launching my own novel and to build success as a literary agent for my author clients. I’m hoping to help every writer launch books with a story that needs to be told, and knowledge that will help others.

Connect with Carole on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. And click here to view a trailer for her book.

The Dozen New Digital Rules Authors Need to Know

For three decades my job has been to search for talent, looking to discover the next “big” author. As a literary agent, I’ve come to rely on the web to find the best writers and thinkers. Like all talent scouts, I have to be able to find writers easily, and understand what books are about quickly, as well as seeing indication that people would care enough to purchase them.

My early career building days involved one foot in publishing, one foot in tech, and my head in clouds of ideas. Determined to stay on the west coast instead of transplanting to New York, I luckily found how to combine the best of both via the rise of the Silicon Valley. Out of a Redwood Shores office, I acquired books for large east coast publishing companies, scouring The Valley to publish now famous innovators. I learned from these brilliant yet sometimes reckless movers and shakers how they launched their ideas into the world. Their fervor in audience building influenced my ideal publishing model early on.

Then I realized my own book was growing inside of me, waiting to born in the form of fictional memoir. Because intuition pulls us along into areas where reason tells us not to venture, I went with it, booking a solo flight to a castle in Quebec to open the creative floodgates. I celebrated my finished manuscript—stumbling into a cafe with rumpled clothing, hair a mess, half awake at lunch—with bon voyage French champagne and soufflé.

But that soufflé deflated on the plane home. The reality of the publishing world I knew and the forces of reason combined with gravity to pull down that excitement: I realized I had no readers. With anguish I knew as a literary agent that as an unknown I could not place my own book into a publishing contract.

Teaching What I Know

So this is how I came to co-write Build Your Author Platform: The New Rules. Now in my third decade of working to make authors successful, I’ve studied how top authors who know something about marketing continue to hold a competitive advantage to get more books into the hands of more readers, and yes, achieve higher book sales.

The truth is that I couldn’t remain anonymous in order to bring my manuscript to life; and as a commissioned literary agent I have a stake in helping author clients successfully grow readership. This body of knowledge needed to be shared with all writers looking to grow readership.

I recorded how many successful authors build their platform on their own—without paying for consultants, expensive classes or publicity managers, using free web tools, networks and blogs as well as library cards. I discovered how authors find new fans, a surprising level of support, and an unexpected fresh idea stream by using twenty to thirty minutes a day for between six and twelve months.

As a new author, I also had to “walk the walk.” Using these same digital rules and new tools, I’ve built my author platform from ground zero, and it continues to bring in new readers, Continue Reading »

Feel Good and Fail Big

feel good fail bigLast time we talked about the writing process from a tyro’s point of view. Let’s continue with that train of thought, and see if we can continue to build a coherent (and at least cautiously optimistic) view of the writer’s life.

Writing has been described as a battlefield, and the metaphor may be apt, but this battlefield is fluid; you never know where you’re going to make your breakthroughs. In fact, given that creativity often involves taking yourself by surprise, you can expect to make breakthroughs in unexpected places. Especially if you’re expecting them.

Expecting the unexpected? Is that what being a writer is about?

In a sense. There is a phenomenon that’s common to writers, the feeling or sensation that washes over us when we see our writing take on a life of its own. You bury yourself in a writing project for an hour or a day or a week or a month or a year, and later you look back and wonder where did all that come from? That’s the magic of writing: I know that I wrote all the words, but they don’t all seem to have been written by me.

There’s either a logical or a mystical explanation for this. Logic tells us that if we work on a project long enough with our conscious mind, eventually our subconscious mind starts to pitch in too. Mystics tell us that creativity is bestowed upon us by higher powers, and by writing we put ourselves into a place where higher powers can act upon us. Which explanation is right? Doesn’t matter. Choose either one you like.

They serve the same end. If you take the logical approach, you’re going to spend more time writing in order to derive more benefit from your subconscious partner. If you take the mystical approach, then you’ll spend more time writing as a means of positioning yourself to receive the gifts that higher powers bestow.

Either way you win, because either way you’re going to spend more time writing. But there’s a catch: To be a well-informed and confident writer, you have to write a lot, yet to write a lot, you have to be a well-informed and confident writer. How do we resolve this paradox? How can we work toward being the kind of writers we want to be in advance of having the necessary craft and craftsmanship to move forward. How do we build strength? Continue Reading »

Your Repertory Company of Characters

three furies by mandy greer

three furies by mandy greer

Gore Vidal famously said that every writer has a repertory company of players. He thought Shakespeare had about fifty, Hemingway only one, and himself around ten.

I found this quote while pulling together material for Writing Romantic Fiction and it has been swirling around in my mind ever since. If all writers have a repertory company, then I must have one, too. On a flight one morning, I drank coffee and stared out the window at clouds and sky and tiny box towns far below, and thought about that. Who are my characters?

Turns out Vidal was right. I can come up with a company of very specific characters. One major player is a version of Demeter, an earth mother who brings the spring. She likes to cook, and often grow things; she’s creative in some way. She tends to be tall or robust, with significant hair in some form. She is very often the main character in many of my women’s fiction novels, and was often the lead in my romances, as well. There are other leads, but this one tends to be my favorite.

I also discovered Persephone in the line-up, the lost child who needs help and mothering, often by the Demeter character. She’s often an adolescent, or motherless, and troubled in some way. She’s Portia in The Lost Recipe for Happiness, and Katie in How to Bake a Perfect Life and Natalie, the seven year old baby foodie in The Secret of Everything.

There are men, of course. The dark-haired (often curly-headed) man, often ethnic and serious or studious or even sad. He’s Julian in The Lost Recipe for Happiness, and Solomon in A Bed of Spices, and Isaiah in The Sleeping Night (playing opposite the lost, motherless Angel). I often write a beautiful, troubled, lost man who needs connection to make peace with—whatever. The Rebel/Rouge/Bad Boy with a heart of gold, who is Blue in In The Midnight Rain and Zeke in Breaking the Rules.

I have a very specific penchant for casting Sam Elliot, at many ages, in lots of roles. It’s not even conscious, really—I just notice that I’ll be writing along, and once again, Sam will be taking the role. The dad in this book, the lover in that, the friend in yet another.

I like a wise woman character, too, who is often—weirdly—a ghost. Maybe she represents my ancestors, my dead grandmother and other women who guided me. She’s vigorous and powerful and wise, and often quite beautiful, even in advanced age. She understands the world and her place in it, and often provides insight for the main character. In Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas, she’s a living breathing woman, Eldora, and not so much wise as experienced.

Often my sidekick characters are dogs or cats, which made me laugh. It’s true for many of us, though, isn’t it? We find connection and support in our pets. Animals can save us.

I wondered for awhile if exploring this idea would make me appear to be a hack in some way, if it would take away some of the pleasure of reading the work. But we are writers here, dissecting our own processes, and in the end, it was entirely too fascinating for me to leave it alone. Where is the power in knowing who the players are? Continue Reading »

Reading Synesthesia

ReadingSynLast month I caught what can only be titled The Stomach Virus from the Damnable Pit of Hades. Yes, it earned the superfluous moniker. But don’t worry—this isn’t a post about my gastrointestinal woes. I’ll spare you those details. I mention it because it was the first time I’d ever experienced synesthesia of the body and more significantly, of books.

I’d read about this phenomenon in my Writer Unboxed sister Therese Walsh’s novel The Moon Sisters. So I felt I had known it in my imagination, through her character Olivia, who lives with the neurological muddling. To help you understand, in case you have yet to pick up Therese’s book (which I highly recommend you do at once, especially if you are a WU aficionado!), here is what I experienced physically:

Toothpaste tasted and felt like baking soda on my tongue; mouthwash, like too-sweet honey. Black tea brewing clear across the room smelled like burnt hair. All soda pop smacked of cough syrup and bubbled down like cat nails in my throat. Cubes of cheese were salty sea sponges. A whirling fan was like being slapped in the chin with each blade. The sound and feel of closing a desk drawer, the cupboard, or a door ran like a tuning fork through my body in bursts of orange that made me have to lie down. The ping of my Twitter Tweetdeck induced nausea. Okay… so that last one may affect others similarly.

Point being, it was the strangest thing I’d ever encountered. Nothing was right. The world was topsy-turvy and all I wanted was everything to go back to being what my memory-senses said they should. For the familiar to be the familiar again.

All of this I could blame on illness and medications. They were messing with my senses, I consoled myself. As soon as I was over this thing, I’d get my regular appetite, hearing, smells, sight and feeling back. But what scared me most was that my imagination seemed to have been impacted too.

Like most writers, I’m a reader, first and foremost. So when diseased by the Netherworld, I reach for a comforting book and panicked. The novels I’d purchased mere weeks before in giddy excitement, I couldn’t focus on past the first sentences. I had one bewildered, tearful moment where I lined my TBR pile up on my sickbed, cover to cover, picking up one and trying to get “into” the story dream. Failing. Then picking up another and doing the same. It was miserable—and I presumed I was a very, very sick woman. Obviously.

So I decided to try something outside my normal, literally and literary. I went online and ordered three books that were not my typical reading fodder but were written by good friends in whom I trust for prose prowess and storytelling. A cinematic summer thriller. An apocalyptic dystopian novel. A sci-fi romance adventure. Continue Reading »

How to Make Social Media Worth Your Time: When Is Enough Enough?

Flickr / Thomas Hawk

via Flickr / by Thomas Hawk

A writer recently asked me to comment on whether there is anything to be gained from being active on more than two or three social media accounts. How extensive should you really get—and is it possible that “less is more”?

I interpret this question to mean: When is enough enough? And how do I make any effort worth my time?

Answering this question requires stepping back—waaaay back—and looking at how and why authors use social media in the first place. I’m going to focus on the three most common stages.

  1. Growing relationships in the community.
  2. Actively marketing a book (or product/service).
  3. Nurturing reader relationships.

Stage 1: Growing relationships

This kind of activity is largely unquantifiable, but it’s also where nearly every single person starts (at least if you’re not a celebrity).

As you learn to use any social media tool, there’s a “warming up” period as you understand the community, its language, and its etiquette. Most people begin by reaching out to the in-real-life people they already know on the network, then branch out and connect with people they haven’t met in person before.

What’s the purpose of this activity?

Well, why do any of us attend social functions? To have a good time, to learn and be informed, and to seek encouragement and support.

When does it reach its limits of utility? That’s kind of like asking how many relationships, or how many friends, is too many. If it’s starting to drag on your resources and time to do other things more important to you (such a writing), then it’s time to re-assess.

While I don’t recommend analyzing your social media use (from a numbers perspective) when you’re focused on it being, well, social, it’s helpful to check in with yourself on how the activity is making you feel. Energetic or drained? Positive or anxious? Empowered or jealous?

If you’re experiencing more negative emotions than positive, it may be time to step back from the specific networks causing these emotions, or stepping back entirely until you identify what’s creating bad mojo.

Stage 2: Actively marketing a book

You’ll only be successful at marketing on social media if you’ve already been through stage one. No one likes a stranger barging into the room and hawking his wares. It’s considered rude and the stranger is ostracized quickly.

But let’s be honest: many people have been told to get on social media in preparation for a book launch, and have no interest in using it beyond the marketing and promotion utility. That people feel this obligation or burden is one of the greatest failures of publishing community, but I’m going to set that aside (for this post), and instead speak to how to manage this stage authentically without rubbing everyone the wrong way.

Social media is excellent at building awareness and comprehension in the community of who you are and what you stand for. Over time, you become more visible and identifiable, because you show up consistently and have focused messages (let’s hope). It’s usually only after this recognition and trust develops that you can run a successful campaign that focuses on the sale—getting the community to buy.

Measure traffic to your website from social media. Does it make up a high or meaningful percentage of visits? If you don’t know, this is a significant gap in your knowledge that is preventing you from really answering the question: How do I make it worth my time?

For those who don’t have these relationships or trust in place, here’s a work around: Get your friends and influencers who already have relationships and trust in place to help spread the word for you.

If you do have a solid foundation, then create a focused and strategic campaign, with specific start and end dates, for each social media network. Build in ways to measure if it’s working or not. For example, it’s easy to track how many people click on your links in Twitter, or retweet or favorite you. Facebook shows you the number of likes and shares. Over time, these simple metrics can tell you a lot about what people respond to, so that you can adjust and improve your updates. (At its heart, social media has a lot in common with strong copywriting. For lessons in copywriting, see Copyblogger.)

Regardless of your stage of activity—but especially during marketing campaigns—you should measure traffic to your website from social media. Does it make up a high or meaningful percentage of visits? If you don’t know, this is a significant gap in your knowledge that is preventing you from really answering the question: How do I make it worth my time? Continue Reading »

How To Fire – and How Not to Fire – Your Publicist

picture by Nic McPhee

picture by Nic McPhee


It’s like a dirty word. In fact, I’m calling it today’s Dirty Word of the Day. Once, I needed help with an author contract and reached out to a woman about hiring her as a consultant. I got an email from her that said, “I don’t like publicists but sure I’ll talk to you.” Uh, no thank you. I wouldn’t want you to slum it with little old dirty me. And I wouldn’t want to disappoint her and her preconceived notion of a “publicist” either. After all, I’ve been told I’m quite likeable (usually).

This woman, she’s not alone in her prejudice. There is this love-hate relationship that exists between authors and publicists, between publishers and outside publicists – now there is a really dirty word and occupation: outside publicist. Like… porta-potty cleaner, fishmonger, used car salesman or …porn star. (In fact, for fun, here are a few other really disgusting words, perhaps far more disgusting than publicist. And some really disgusting jobs, perhaps far worse than publicist.)

But, in all seriousness, and back to the Dirty Word of the Day: At some point as an author, you are going to have to make a decision about hiring a publicist. And at some point you might not be happy with that publicist, you might not know what to do or you might be considering firing that publicist, or perhaps looking for another porn star…err publicist to take their place. Here are some tips on how to fire – and not to fire- your publicist.

#1 Share some pie

If you are on the fence about the relationship with your publicist and whether you want to extend it or terminate it, sit down and talk. My grandfather (a true Midwesterner) liked to say that there’s nothing that a good pie can’t fix. If you live in the same area, sit down over coffee (and pie) and have a face-to-face, heart-to-heart with your publicist. They are (usually) people too. I’ve been doing this awhile and I know that sometimes it’s a matter of neither party understanding the feelings, needs, expectations, hard work and situation on both sides. If you don’t live in the same area, try Skype or Face Time. Relying on email or texts is not a great way to communicate, especially over big matters. And if you have hired the kind of publicist that would never even consider sitting down over coffee, let alone pie, with you, then you should probably fire them (just kidding…sort of).

#2 Be Patient

I often have clients say, “Why haven’t you heard back yet?”, “Well, you would think local media would be very interested in my story”, or “What’s taking so long? It’s been over a month now…”. Media relations is tough and it takes time and a good publicist is aggressive and persistent without being annoying. Sometimes who you know can help, sometimes not. Sometimes an editor is busy or out or just not interested or has other things they are focused on. Sometimes they are still reading your book. Sometimes they read it and didn’t choose it. Sometimes they didn’t like it. Sometimes they loved it and still there wasn’t a place for it. There’s never any guarantee and it’s very hit or miss. This is very difficult to hear when you are paying money for a publicist. I had a book featured in Entertainment Weekly that the editor called “The undiscovered YA book of summer”. I couldn’t have written that better myself. Oh wait, I did write that in the pitch, and it got put in the story. Amazing! But you know what? It took eight months for that to happen. So just don’t jump the gun – a good publicist knows that media relations takes time and effort and requires follow up. If you don’t think that follow up is happening, ask. Ask again. But be patient if there’s been no word. Patience and consistency wins the race, or something like that.

#3 Stay Classy Continue Reading »

Networking for Writers

Photo by Michael Heiss

Photo by Michael Heiss

Today, we’re thrilled to have Margaret Dilloway with us. She’s the author of the upcoming novel, SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, (Putnam, April 2015) about two estranged sisters who are inspired and brought together by reading the history of real-life 12th century samurai woman named Tomoe Gozen. She is also the author of the middle grade fantasy novel MOMOTARO (Disney-Hyperion, 2016), as well as THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS and HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE.

Margaret lives in southern California with her three kids, and unruly Goldendoodle and husband (yes, she means unruly to apply to both of those characters).

Publisher’s Weekly has this to say about How to Be an American Housewife:

In this enchanting first novel, Dilloway mines her own family’s history to produce the story of Japanese war bride Shoko, her American daughter, Sue, and their challenging relationship.  Dilloway splits her narrative gracefully between mother and daughter (giving Shoko the first half, Sue the second), making a beautifully realized whole.

Follow Margaret on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Networking for Writers

For the typical introverted writer, the hardest aspect of the job (besides, you know, actually writing and getting published) is networking. Yes, you have to network in your writing job exactly as you do at any other job. Establish relationships, form friendships, and help each other out.

But this means you have to pop up out of your dark little hidey hole and actually talk to people. (Or at least talk online). Everyone has to do it, because every writer at some point will need help from other writers in the form of blurbs, advice, cross posts, or getting the home address of a new agent (kidding).

Unfortunately, nobody writes the unspoken Rules of Networking down for anyone, so either you’re naturally good at it, or you have to observe and enact the secret customs, or you’re terrible at it.

Now that I’ve crossed the bridge to the other side and become a published writer, I’ve kind of gotten to know some of these unwritten rules. And now I’m on the receiving end of strangers asking me for favors out of the blue. I thought it would be helpful to write some of these rules down. Say them aloud. Discuss them.

The most important thing to remember when you approach another writer is that you want the other writer to feel respected. Ever used that dating app, Tinder? On Tinder, if you express an interest in someone who’s already expressed an interest in you, you can send each other messages. (Disclaimer: I’m not on Tinder. I swear). You might get a message saying, “Hey, beautiful, I want to spank you, meet me at my apartment in 30.” If you’re looking for a long-term mutually respectful relationship, then that message will be a turn off.

Same thing with networking. You want to approach someone with the intent to have a long-term mutually respectful relationship, not with the goal of using them for your means, then discarding them. I mean, take me on a date before you invite me back to your place, for goodness’ sake!

So please. Take the time to get to know the writer a bit better before you start bombarding him with requests for favors. In other words, treat the writer like you would your friend with a truck. Everybody wants a friend with a truck to help him on moving day. People with trucks don’t want friends who only call them when they want to use their truck.

Do’s Continue Reading »

There is No Horse & Cart. On Finding Success as a Writer.

Before we get to today’s post, I wanted to make you aware of an offer by a group called Writer Mamas. These women are trying to raise funds so that several WU community members can attend the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference in November. To that end, they’re selling $200 worth of writing books and guides for half cost. Click here to learn more about the offerings.

“That’s putting the cart before the horse, isn’t it?”

This is probably the metaphor I like the least, yet hear most often. In what context do I hear it? Things such as:

  • Developing an audience before you write a book is like putting the cart before the horse.
  • Starting a newsletter list before you have a dedicated audience is like putting the cart before the horse.
  • Thinking about long-term goals before you know who you are as a writer is like putting the cart before the horse.
  • Spending a single minute on social media before you write 1,000 words each day is like putting the cart before the horse.

Why do I dislike this phrase? Because it simplifies to a romantic narrative of how to succeed as a writer. It nearly always whittles it down to:

Romantic thing about writing vs creepy horrible spammy businessy thing.

It’s easy to feel wise and pure by saying things like that. I mean, I would love to say:

“Filing a joint tax return before hugging my wife is like putting the cart before the horse.”


“Waking up early to change the cat’s litter box before writing a poem about my son is like putting the cart before the horse.”

For the context of a writer, when we talk about success as a PROFESSIONAL – things are often more complicated than simple romantic contrasts. You have to do a wide range of tasks concurrently; you are unsure of what works; the world you WANT to live in (where cupcakes have no calories and where a book naturally finds its way into readers hands), differs from the world we DO live in (where it may actually take effort to help get a book into the hands of the right reader. Don’t even get me started on cupcakes…)

Now, before I go further, I want to be clear about two things:

  1. Yes, developing your craft as a writer is indeed THE primary thing you have to work on. I wrote about this just last week.
  2. If you have ever used the term “cart before the horse,” I am NOT making fun of you, I am not saying you are wrong, I am not trying to pick a “side,” I am not judging you. I totally get (and appreciate) that people often use this phrase when they see others veering off track and losing perspective. The phrase is meant to get people to focus on what matters.

But I worry that these simplistic phrases and encouragements: “don’t put the cart before the horse” mask the reality of how complex success really is:

  • Success is rarely a linear plan with clear steps that are taken in order.
  • Success is often more nuanced.
  • Success is often confusing, even after the fact.
  • Success is usually overwhelming.
  • Success is filled with WAY more luck than we would like to believe or admit.
  • Success usually requires a wide range of partnerships, some formal, some informal.
  • You can do everything right, but if the timing is off by 1/2 a degree, success can be elusive.

Continue Reading »