3 Things I Wish I’d Done When I Started Writing

The landscape for writers and publishers has changed so much in the last 25 years it’s barely recognizable. I started actualizing my dreams of being a writer almost two decades ago when said landscape was hitting a very late puberty. A well-oiled machine of agents, publishing houses, and hopeful authors was deteriorating, and eBooks and a culture of self-publishing was on the rise. In my 21-year-old naivety, I held fast to dreams of publishing the “right” way, but so much was changing; the publishing terrain was more pockmarked than a 13-year-old’s visage, and I, one illustrated children’s book and a handful of agent rejection letters in hand, froze.

I wish I’d kept trying

I wrote and illustrated my first real book when I was 20. It was a cute children’s book intended to be entertaining and to show elementary-age kiddos that every kid has insecurity and anxiety (of course, I hadn’t articulated that in my query because at the time, I didn’t realize that was a secondary accomplishment of the story).

I used a copy of Writer’s Market to find several agents who might be into my writing (side bar: Writer’s Market has been around for nearly a century and is the most comprehensive resource for seeking up-to-date information on literary agents, publishing houses, and contests).

The query was sent it to the various agents with an SASE, so I could get a response (these days, e-mail is an option for many). It took several weeks, but responses soon came limping in.  “Thank you for your submission, but….”

Rookie mistake: Using the same query for every agent.

Discouraged but not defeated, I took a big step back unsure of what to do next. I thought my story was good, but I had no idea how to move forward. When I showed the letters to my creative writing professor, she said they were good rejections.

In other words, some rejection letters are Simon Cowell-level honest. “Please never write again. Don’t even e-mail. Break your fingers and find a new vocation.” Some, however, like the one I got, had a nugget of hope. The suggestion that I had a good concept or that there was something salable in the manuscript (MS) was a veiled invitation to respond to the letter and to ask how I could improve the query or the MS to make it something that the agent would like.

Rookie mistake: Letting bad news take the wind out of my sails.


I wish I’d joined an organization

If you’re a “writer”, you likely also have a full-time job, which means to your friends and family, your writing is a “hobby” or something you do in your spare time, which they have little regard for. Only other writers understand what it means to be a writer.

Even in undergrad, I wanted to be an editor. Only recently did I become a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). I wish I had joined EFA, the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and other organizations 15 years ago. Not only am I in contact with professionals who are succeeding as writers and editors, I also have access to industry information and insights that I previously knew nothing about. In addition to the support, I’ve also come to realize how much I have to learn.

Rookie mistake: I didn’t take advantage of finding or ponying up the dough for joining potentially career-advancing organizations.


I wish I’d made time for writing when I thought I had no time

My four year-old tells me she’s “tired” or “too busy” (when I tell her to clean her room or so help me, I’m getting a bag). Every one is tired and busy; only a select few authors or aspiring authors have the luxury of having nothing better to do than walk around the house touching objects, scheduling the Roomba, and writing (obviously, I have no idea what rich authors do).

When I was in college, when I really did have time between my full-time class load, waitressing gig, and hours of AIM chats with my long-distance boyfriend. I look back at that girl who thought she was so busy and want to smack her.

Years ago, I met a woman whose 20-something daughter was working on a PhD in some noble life-saving science field but who also had an agented book deal for two young adult novels she stayed up late writing because she had such a passion for it.

A quick-self assessment confirmed that I, who also had a passion for writing, did not have an agented book deal because I “didn’t have time to write”. I also wasn’t at least saving the world. Oops. Talk about a kick in the crotch.

Rookie mistake: I didn’t write because I was waiting for time to appear.

Time has only gotten more and more elusive as I’ve gotten older. When you’re a writer, time lost is experience lost. Also, when you’re a writer, you’re the guardian of your writing time. I now write early in the morning and late at night when my beloved-yet-time-consuming family are sleeping. While I do wish that I’d been more focused when I was a bourgeoning writer, the best I can do is learn from these mistakes (and hopefully, so can you)

Whether you’re an experienced writer or just flapping your baby wordsmith wings, you’ll make mistakes, but querying an agency or self-publishing with an unrefined manuscript doesn’t have to be one. Work with an editor at any stage of the writing process to more quickly achieve success in either the traditional or the self-publishing marketplace.