The Pubbed Writer’s 7 Deadly Sins

PhotobucketBack in 2007, I published a post here called The Unpubbed Writer’s 7 Deadly Sins. It seemed to resonate with a lot of readers, and was our first experience with the power of StumbleUpon as our stats reached new highs. I was published in 2009, and have had it in mind to revisit this idea–the what-not-to-dos–from a published author’s perspective. I’ve collected some of my own missteps here, but I also reached out to one of my favorite author communities–Fiction Writers Co-Op–to round out the list. If you’re unpublished, learn these lessons now and save yourself some grief later; and if you’re published and doing any of these things, take heed.

The 7 Deadly Sins of the Pubbed Writer:

1. Believing that publication means you’ve found Easy Street. I wish I could tell you that once you’ve published a book you’re suddenly gifted with a smooth ride in this industry. You might think that your next works will flow effortlessly from your fingertips because you’ve traveled this way before; you know how to write a book. But the truth, at least for most of us, is that each book presents with its own lessons and challenges. You’re still going to want to rip your hair out at times, and need another writer’s fresh eyes on your work, and decide on occasion that you’d much rather have been a banker. You’re going to need to open one or twelve of your writing books when you’re stuck–to figure out what went wrong or because you need a hit of inspiration. You’re going to question in some of those moments that you know anything at all, if your muse was replaced by a rusty can of SPAM.

So, no, the writing doesn’t necessarily become easier.

And just because you’re “in” with a publisher, just because you have an editor who chose one of your works and deemed it worthy of a cover and a shelf, doesn’t necessarily mean smooth sailing either.  Says author Judy Merrill Moticka:

Editors leave, houses change/restructure, and just because I have one published book out there, it seems that each submission is just as hard as the previous one (or . . . harder). There is no straight path.

Unfortunately I can validate everything Judy said. My debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was published by the Shaye Areheart imprint at Crown (Random House) in 2009. The imprint shut down unexpectedly in 2010, shortly after my editor left to work at another publishing house. I had a two-book deal, so what was going to happen? I was absorbed by Crown imprint and assigned another editor. She left this year. (Here’s hoping the third editor is the charm!) This business can be as twisty and turny as the writing itself. You just have to hang on, work in earnest, and be as prepared as possible for the unexpected by understanding that Easy Street in the book world is pure fiction.

2. Playing compare and contrast with other authors’ careers. There will always–always–be someone out there who is making more money than you are, who is selling more books than you are, who just always seems to land on his/her feet in a way that makes you feel a little (or a lot) envious. Try reasoning with your emotional response. Says author Melanie Benjamin:

We all seem to want the same career- the career only a scant handful of writers will ever have. We’re not all going to be NY Times Bestsellers, or win awards.

Adds author M.J. Rose:

We each write our own books and live our own career paths. To invite comparison is to negate the beauty and power and grace of what we create. Comparisons invite self-loathing.

Try to be grateful for where you are and for all that you’ve accomplished, and recognize that the publishing biz is like one big ladder: We all have our rung, and we’re all capable of moving up.

3. Allowing voices other than your characters’ to impact your writing process. One of the hardest parts of writing a second book is setting aside the memory of readers’ comments and criticisms over your first book so that you can work unhindered. I found this to be exceedingly difficult as I worked through the first draft of my second manuscript, and I’m not alone. Said author Marisa de los Santos:

Thinking about reader responses (even positive ones, ESPECIALLY positive ones) to your earlier books when you’re starting a new one is a deadly sin. My experience is that the only way to be true to your readers is to be true to your book, to silence all those voices and listen only to your characters and the demands of your story.

4. Taking things personally. Your novel–the one you lost sleep over, cried over, obsessed over for years–was slammed into unconsciousness by one of the top reviewers or a snarky person on Goodreads who felt compelled to give away the curve-ball ending. You thought your publicist was going to get you a feature in Redbook but instead he offered you a spot in your local Neighborhood Courier (circulation: 40). Your book, which sold for a shtankload of money, didn’t end up selling very well.

It sucks. It does. But none of these things are about you as a person, which is why you shouldn’t take any of them personally. You cannot control how others consume your book or if they consume it. You cannot control how things shake out with publicity or orders or sales or buzz. You cannot make people love you or your work. All you can do is hang tight to your sanity and remind yourself that there’s a clear divide between business and personal.

Said author M.J. Rose:

Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. So a sin is confusing love and business and taking business failure personally. Our editors are not our friends. Our publishing houses don’t love us. Our agents as much as we respect them and even adore them aren’t in it unselfishly either. This business is going to hurt you at some point – at least keep it from being that much more painful thinking someone who loved you betrayed you.

5. Raging publicly–or denying your feelings entirely. You don’t like the way your book was handled, or what your editor said in his last email, or that clause in your contract. You hate your cover. And while we’re on the subject of Things We Don’t Like, you don’t like author Smarmy Pants. You don’t like Smarmy as a person, or her books. So go ahead and blog about it if you’d like, but don’t be surprised when word gets around and you never receive another publishing contract again; no one wants to work with author Angry Blabbermouth.

No, it’s not a good idea to air your grievances to the wide world and expect anything good to come of it. But that doesn’t mean you have to choke on your bitter stew alone. If you have a trusted confidant, tell that person how you feel, what you’re going through. And at the very least, acknowledge your feelings to yourself. Said author M.J. Rose:

You will read a book and know that it is not as good as yours. You will find the cliches and the awkward phrases. The wooden characters. The boring pace. The insipid dialog. You will see this book become a bestseller while your book languishes in the 100,000s at Amazon and you will feel jealous rage. To deny this is to turn anger inward which leads to depression. Scream at the fates, Let yourself feel with all your heart how furious you are. Only then can you actually continue writing.

Some say it’s unhealthy to have jealous feelings, but jealousy is–for better and worse–an aspect of being human. Don’t hate yourself for feeling jealous, but don’t accept it without trying to work through it either. Acknowledge it. Sit with it, and try to understand it. Then release it, because you can’t control Smarmy or her books or her Amazon rank, and you can’t change the cover now, or that last editorial email, or what your publicist did or didn’t do. You can, however, control your digestion of all that anger. You can control your response by recognizing nasty feelings and thoughts, then evicting them from your mind by thinking something way less nasty. And you can control what you set free from your mouth and fingertips in public forums. Control what you can. Let go the rest.

6. Neglecting to give back. Writing is a solitary venture, but it’s also one that requires us to draw from the wide world–what we observe about people, places, human emotions, and more. Take time when you can to give back to the world that provides you with inspiration. Said author Christopher W. Gortner:

Success can breed a level of egocentrism in a writer that blinds us to the realilty of what we do. It’s a book, not a cure for cancer. Remember that and don’t stop helping others. Get involved in activities that transcend the obsessive-compulsiveness of writing.

Remember too that you’re a part of a writing community. Do you support your fellow authors? Are you reading? Said author Ernessa T. Carter:

I’ve had a complete conversation stall, when I ask an author what she’s read lately and she’s answered “Oh, I don’t have time to read.” Much like established actors make time to workout, I think published writers should make time to read.

If you’ve been touched by a book, reach out and tell the author so. Mention them by name in your blog posts, on your Facebook page, and by participating in #FridayReads on Twitter. Said author Randy Susan Meyers:

The world of books is an intricate web of love and critique. Writers know well the sting of the bad review—from readers and critics. How lovely then, when writers choose to balance out the scale by singing the praises of books which stun them with their loveliness, insight, page-turning value, escape-from-reality quotient: you name it. Writers sin when they don’t give props to books they love.

7. Forgetting the most important thing. It’s a hard drop down the rabbit hole when you enter the world of publishing and need for the first time to focus on the business of books. Numbers. Amazon sales rankings. Re-orders. Returns. Second printings. Keep the momentum going, keep your name out there, work, work, work. You may be asked to blog and Tweet all over the place. You may be asked to grow your Facebook “fan” page until you have triple the number you do now. And because you know the importance of the business of the book and your place in it, you may let it drain too much of your time; it’s an easy mistake to make.

Building your platform, for all that it is important, is not as important as what you do best: write. Try to keep it all in perspective. Says author Kathleen McCleary:

I’ve found it oddly freeing to also work as a BOOKSELLER and have the opportunity to witness firsthand the very short life of a book. Part of my job is to scan the books on the shelves in the store and pull any that are “due out,” meaning they’ve been on the shelf 3-4 months. I then take those books in the back room, where they are either “stripped” (the cover is yanked off and they’re recycled) or sent back to the publisher. MY book was one of the ones due out one day, and returned to Hyperion (God only knows what they do with it). It made me feel like I could let go a little bit of some of the intense agonizing I do about my writing, to feel that all I could do is write the best book I can, with all the truth I had to tell, and let it go and be satisfied with that as much as possible. If people read it and connect with it and it means something to them, that’s the success, not the Amazon ranking.

Editors and publishing houses come and go. Amazon rankings, Twitter and Facebook followers rise and fall. Take care of the most important thing that is within your control: your ability and desire to write. Take time to nurture your internal, creative platform–the one that allows you to peer out over life and pluck pieces of it so that you can create grand tales that impact people. This creative platform will grow when you get out in the world, talk to others, listen to music, read, walk, observe. This platform will ensure your well doesn’t dry up and that you don’t burn out. This platform is worth growing more than any other, as it’s the one that will sustain you. Because at the end of the day, it’s not important how many Tweets you sent, or how many friends you have on Facebook, or how popular your blog became. What’s important is that you captured life in a phrase, that you touched someone, that you said what you meant to say in 90k words and that you’re proud of that. In the end, it’s all about the book.

Write on!

Photo courtesy Flickr’s by Janine

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About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.

Comments

  1. says

    I think everyone – pubbed and not – can benefit from all of these. Great points, Therese. I think my favorite is #5. Because we’re all online we feel a little too safe at times and people say things they shouldn’t and wish they hadn’t. Think before you hit send, I always say (and try to do).

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

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  2. says

    This is a fantastic, timely dose of reality. Excellent advice by you and the wonderful writers who added their wisdom. Thanks so much, Therese.

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  3. says

    Great advice! So much of it boils down to being thoughtful and taking the long view, which sounds easy, but can really be challenging in the moment. Emotions run SO high, and this publishing thing is such a rollercoaster. Perspective can be awfully hard to come by.

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    • says

      I think you’ve hit on something, Jael, and that is that emotions *do* run high; we don’t discuss that very much. I think they run so high because the work of the book feels very personal even though the final product cannot be, and also that we assign so much hope–so many birthday-candle wishes–to those books. It’s an exceedingly emotional and personal process, in a business that isn’t emotional or concerned with the personal. Thanks for your comment!

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  4. says

    This is absolutely true, and wonderfully written.

    I so related recently with No 3 — it impacted this book I am working on so much, I near about let myself become paralyzed . . .Finally, I recognized what was happening and put my blinders and earplugs on/in, and then things took a turn.

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  5. says

    Overall theme I am getting here is to thine own self be true and don’t stray to far from the confessional! Truly, a well written post. My favorite quote is that elusive, and yet satisfying when it does happen, “you captured life in a phrase”.

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  6. Vaughn Roycroft says

    So much to love here, Therese. I’m unpubbed, but have already felt the pain of #1. Working on my second project, there have been so many days when I’m stuck with that rusty can of spam, wondering where my muse flew off to.

    I cannot deny constantly comparing my work to the published work of others either–especially within my genre. I don’t know which is worse: seeing work that I consider excellent (better than mine), or work that I consider inferior (hey, how’d they get pubbed/this success?). Sometimes my envy of other authors’ work turns to astonished admiration, and a learning opportunity (as with Last Will :-).

    Luckily, such learning opportunities have reminded me how much the work matters. I have seen the benefits provided by the support and comaraderie of writing communities like WU, and I know you personally practice what you preach in #6.

    I’ve told you before, Therese, that I consider you the glue that holds together the WU FB community, and I want you to know how much I appreciate all you do! I wish you success in saying what you meant to say in 90K…again. ;-) Write on, indeed!

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  7. says

    This is a fabulous post – what a comeback! #2 – The ladder analogy. I continue to feel that there is more, more, more to learn – and I keep at it. #5 – Angry Blabbermouth. I think all of us have been here. If I do rant about someone, they remain anonymous, but I do think I need to smile and laugh it off a little better. #6 – Neglecting to give back. I think quite a few successful writers forget what got them there in the first place – their readers. I do reach out with personal emails to those writers that I enjoy. And I’m often surprised what a great conversation can start this way! Awesome post.

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  8. says

    “Much like established actors make time to workout, I think published writers should make time to read.”

    SCORE! I knew I picked the right path. I’d rather read than jog any day of the week.

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  9. says

    Wonderful and useful post. I am unpubbed but find I get locked into #2 too often. I think: Yikes…if HE/SHE can get a book published, then I certainly can. Comparisons don’t work, nor do they motivate. (I’m still UNpubbed, see?)

    I am part of a critique group and #4 seems to be the one that I have a difficult time accepting. My style/genre/voice/story won’t be for everyone. It’s NOT personal. There are books out there people love…but I loathe. It’s about my tastes and preferences – not the book.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Brilliant.

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    • says

      It would be so much easier if we could all universally agree on what is good, right? ;-) Thanks for your comment, Heather, and best of luck with your wip.

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  10. says

    I may just have to print this out and hang it by my desk so that someday, when I join the published ranks, I can avoid these pitfalls!

    I will probably have the hardest time with # 4 because my book is highly personal. The protagonists are my great-grandparents and I have, quite literally, grown up with their story. I see a mix of their features when I look in the mirror!

    I hope that I already help encourage other writers and if I enjoy someone’s book, I’m not shy about it! I never slam an author if I don’t though. Any time I feel jealous about an inferior book selling millions of copies, I try to figure out what that author did to keep so many people reading. Something special must be in there. If it isn’t the writing or the plot perhaps the emotion or the tone rang true to the masses.

    Great post, Therese!

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    • says

      Any time I feel jealous about an inferior book selling millions of copies, I try to figure out what that author did to keep so many people reading. Something special must be in there. If it isn’t the writing or the plot perhaps the emotion or the tone rang true to the masses.

      Very wise, Kim! Good luck with your book; it sounds fascinating.

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  11. says

    Thank you for this, Therese. Everything you said here resonates for me. I especially appreciated hearing other writers’ experiences. The frank words here, in a very important way, serve to normalize the intense feelings I struggle with about working towards publication. It’s so crucial to know I’m not alone.

    Thank you.

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  12. Jessica Messinger says

    Wonderful post! Applies to everything from writing to music to surviving high school :-)

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  13. says

    I think one of the reasons I’m coming into this business of writing and editing later in life is the fact that I wasn’t ready for these lessons when I was younger! I thought that the books I saw in the store came out of the author’s head perfectly formed and went straight to the bestseller list. I had similar delusions about singing; I can sing, but because I thought all recording artists sounded just like their albums I kept my singing to the shower.
    In a way, it’s a relief to realize that it’s work, plain and simple. I need to mind my P’s and Q’s, write every day, and market myself.

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  14. says

    Lovely, lovely post. This advice is not just pertinent to published writers, or writers at all. It is valuable to everyone. I especially appreciate the ideas of focusing on what’s most important and taking things personally.

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  15. says

    Thanks Terese, as a newly published author I really needed this. There is so much to get caught up in and detracted by. It’s easy to forget why you’re in the business of writing in the first place.

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  16. says

    I am printing this out in huge font to hang on my wall! The risky mix of putting your private thoughts out there for public comment is painful and exhilarating, reaffirming and humiliating. But a book becomes more than paper and ink only when it is shared, so onward we go.

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  17. says

    Don’t forget about their inflated arrogance, or sense of entitlement. And their misguided beliefs that us e-pubbed authors and our stories aren’t worth the paper that their novels are printed on, when in fact us “wannabes” will soon be eating up Amazon all day long.

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  18. says

    Great advice, Therese! But you don’t say what to do when you start with a can of Spam;)

    I really liked your comments about not thinking you’ve arrived, that you can never take for granted that your next book will be published.

    And it is very freeing to think that a book has a shelflife much of the time. Is everyone else thinking “But my book will be a classic!” with me? ;)

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    • says

      Wasn’t there a Top Chef episode when the chefs had to make something luscious out of SPAM (and maybe some other less savory items)? They did it. SPAM can be transformed, given ingenuity, time, and probably the right sauce. ;-)

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  19. says

    Therese, this post is a perfect example of why WU has become the “beast” that it is today. Perfect insight into the hearts and minds of writers, mixed with understanding and advice. Thank you for sharing these lessons. Believe me when I say I’ll do my best to take them to heart!

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  20. says

    I love what M.J. Rose said: “Writing is an art. Publishing is a business.”

    It’s such an important reminder to not confuse the two. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t remember that professionalism and knowing the industry matter, but we can’t let platforms and sales figures obscure our love for the craft. What would be the point in that?

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  21. says

    Wow Therese! You hit on a lot of the “sins” i’ve committed or contemplated committing! This truly puts myself and my work in perspective and lets me know I’m not the only “sinner” in writing purgatory, LOL!
    Thanks for the reminder!

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  22. says

    Oh, how I’ve missed your posts. I knew this at the intellectual level, but when you finally put one out there for consumption, it’s extremely…pleasing to me. ;)

    Lots of great quotes in there, too. Can’t help noticing MJ Rose has a lot of well-deserved airtime. Love that woman’s feistiness.

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  23. says

    Wow I wish I had had these a few months ago when my first novel came out. I can’t believe what a learning curve it has been! Thank you for such a heartfelt look behind the curtain and a glimpse into potential pitfalls of the future.

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    • says

      I should’ve written more quickly! Seriously though I agree completely with you; it’s a steep learning curve. I think only supremely perfect or supremely informed people can hike it without a stumble.

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  24. says

    Wow, Therese … these seven are great tips to take to heart. And, like Kathleen said, embroider, frame and hang on the wall.

    #5 is truly a tough one in the age of instant broadcasts. I think it’s incredibly difficult to censor every thought that could be typed up and forbid ourselves to emote on the web. And it’s true that the writer’s community is so very important. Thank you for continuing to nurture that here at WU. You have a magical mix of posts here that speak well to all writers. Thank you!

    Finally, I love what Jael said above, that if we can just take the long view and gain perspective, we’re closer to being on track. So true.

    As always, thank you!

    Jennifer King

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  25. says

    Great post, Therese, and as always so wise and full of good advice.

    I’ve just had the first book of my trilogy Fear of the Past published on Kindle and all sorts of things went wrong with it at first (the formatting/conversion of files, even my name: Amazon filed me under my real name instead of my pen name, creating immediate confusion…)

    But the worst of it all is how my “platform building” is eating out the time I have to write. Too much tweeting, blogging and at the end of the day, not enough writing.

    You reminded all of us how wrong that is: our book is the thing, NOT the platform! How right you are and I thank you for reminding us of this. It helps to keep things in perspective!

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  26. says

    Therese,

    This is brilliant and generous advice, with perfectly tuned in quotes from fellow writers. Thank you!

    Jealously? Comparing myself to others? Rattled by too many voices? Emotional highs and funks. Been to all those places.

    I’m printing this out to help keep me centered.

    Thanks, again.

    Jessica

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  27. says

    Excellent post. I think I’ve bitten most of those apples at one point or another. Being published is just one long exercise in learning to get over yourself.

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  28. says

    Great post Therese!

    I think we’re all a little guilty of these at one time or another. For me, #4 & #7 are the ones that stand out. I take criticism way to personally and the query process nearly destroyed me until I was finally able to develop that “thick skin” everyone talks about.

    As for #7, I’ll soon be e-publishing my first novel and as a Indie published author, I’m finding the business side of things to be extremely time consuming. Getting a cover designed; arranging for formatting and file conversions; trying to blog; establishing a marketing plan; keeping up a Face book , Twitter, Goodreads, etc. appearance seems never-ending. All I really want to do is write, but lately it seems I’m doing everything but that. It’s good to know there are others like me who feel the same way. Thanks for keeping it real. Breathe in… breathe out.

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  29. says

    Thanks for this excellent post. “It’s a book not a cure for cancer” will resonate with me for a long, long time.
    My book has just launched and I am so grateful to you for sharing and consolidating this wisdom. You’ve managed to ground me, inspire me and, most importantly, remind me to get back to the writing ASAP.

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  30. says

    You published during the same year I did, 2009 at Little Random. It was a bad time for publishing, too, and most people I worked with left or were fired. It’s hard to feel always adrift, particularly with a two-book deal (which I also had). To be sure, you can take nothing for granted. It’s very easy to go from limo rides and trips to the city to having barely anyone speak to you, for nothing you’ve done but have ‘eh’ first sales. Good advice: Write, and, in terms of the publishing ‘biz': At least have an agent you love, because everything else stems from those two things. :) All Best Wishes, Sandy

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    • says

      Yes, it went something like this: great book deal, and then the following day the economy crashed. You’re so right about the importance of having an agent you adore. Best wishes to you as well, Sandra, and thanks for your comment.

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  31. says

    Excellent post!! You’ve hit so many questions I pondered regarding how authors balance writing with the publishing business…

    “Much like established actors make time to workout, I think published writers should make time to read.” I agree 100% :)

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  32. says

    I enjoyed this post and am sharing it with my writer friends. And I used to work for a remaindered book store. There’s a good chance Hyperion sold the bulk of the that writer’s books and they had a second chance with a new group of readers.

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  33. says

    Excellent post and solid advice. When you’re thrown in head first it’s easy to think it’s all very personal. Sometimes it’s good to see the perspective from others. Thanks for sharing.

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  34. says

    I don’t need this advice yet, but wanted to say I’ve for sure been on the receiving side of your “giving back.” Thank you! :)

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  35. says

    So much wonderful insight here. As a writer with a debut book released three months ago, I’ve been worrying about returns and sales when I should be enjoying a time I’ll never have again. I’m sensing that my book will be one that makes a deep connection with certain readers (the ones who write and email me) but never gains a mass audience, and I’m learning to be okay with that. Thanks, Therese.

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  36. says

    It was three books before I came to understand most of this, and after adding another, I still struggle with some of it. Wise words, indeed. Thank you.

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  37. says

    My debut novel was released by a small, traditional press in 2008 and went on to win a Silver Medal from Military Writers Society of America. I was lucky to get some national media attention.

    Although I’m very pleased, I have been attacked by the green monster. Right after my novel came out, a friend of mine hit the big time with a top agent, top publisher and now her novel has made several bestseller lists and has already been translated into over twenty languages. I’m so jealous that there are times it’s gotten in the way of my work, my moods, and my feelings toward this other writer.

    Your comments on jealousy really helped. I just need to focus on my new novel at hand. :) Oh, and be grateful for all I’ve accomplished and the readers whose lives I’ve touch. Thanks, Therese

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