Karen Witemeyer writes historical romance fiction for Bethany House, believing the world needs more happily-ever-afters. Her debut novel, A Tailor-Made Bride, is a finalist in the Best First Book categories for both the prestigious RITA® award and the National Reader's Choice Award. She makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three kids. Please visit her at her website.
Surviving My First Year as a Published Author
It's hard to believe that I've been a published author for over a year now. My first book (A Tailor-Made Bride) debuted in June 2010, and just last month, my third book with Bethany House, To Win Her Heart, hit the shelves. What an exciting whirlwind adventure this has been!
For those of you who are not yet published, I thought I'd share a few of the myriad lessons I've learned during the transition from hopeful writer to published author. Believe it or not, signing a publishing contract is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is just the beginning of another journey, one that will take you through unfamiliar territory with a whole new set of obstacles and pitfalls to navigate.
Learning to work with an editor.
Most of you have probably worked with a critique group or received feedback from contest judges on your manuscript. Some of you may have even invested in hiring a freelance editor to go over your book. All of this is wonderful for helping you perfect your craft, and I highly recommend it. I still work with my critique group on every book I write. However, making the switch from critique group to publishing house editor is like switching from working with a high school baseball coach to a major league manager. The expectations placed upon you increase and the time to make improvements decreases. Thankfully, the editor wants you to succeed just as much as you want to succeed, so it can be a marvelously rewarding partnership.
In learning to work with an editor, attitude makes all the difference. Here are some tips for making this process a blessing instead of a trial:
• Trust your baby to the care of another. You are no longer simply a passionate writer, creating the story that best pleases you. You are now a professional writer who must please a publisher and readers. Don't forfeit the passion, but temper it with professionalism. I often hear unpublished writers say things like, "If an editor ever suggested I change X about my manuscript, I'd find a different publisher." I strongly caution against this attitude. Publishing is a team effort. Be a team player and remember that the publishing world is a small one. Don't make things harder on yourself by gaining a reputation as a diva.
• Editors are allies, not enemies. It might not feel true when you get that 12 page, single-spaced substantive edit letter, but keep your defenses in check. Remember that your editor is there to help you create the best manuscript possible.
• Approach conversations with humility. Editors know the market better than you do. They know what their readers like. Submit to their mentoring and heed their advice, but don't be afraid to respectfully speak your mind if you have a strong aversion to one of their suggestions.
Dealing with deadlines.
• Everyone writes differently. Some pour out their stories unchecked then go back and add layers, weaving in editing as they work through multiple drafts. Some outline extensively before ever writing a word. Some spend weeks delving into research. I'm one of those odd ducks who uses both sides of my brain at the same time, editing as I go. This makes my pace slow as I constantly edit as I create, but I essentially write only one draft.
• The key to dealing with deadlines is to know your writing pace and plan accordingly. Set realistic intermediary goals. (For example, instead of a daily word count, I choose to set weekly goals. I try to write one polished chapter a week.) Then be sure to budget a cushion into your schedule to allow for unforeseen circumstances. Illness, family vacations, work duties—many things can pull you away from your writing. Don't add to your deadline stress by cutting things too close. I try to pad my deadline by 2-4 weeks to give myself some flexibility. Plus it's cool to get brownie points by turning in a manuscript early.
• Good reviews can send your spirit soaring, and bad reviews can send you plummeting into a pool of doubt and insecurity. You must learn to find balance. Some wise authors I know choose not to read reviews at all. I have to admit that I can't seem to resist the lure. I check my reviews on Amazon every day and eagerly await news from my publisher about trade reviews. Publisher's Weekly tends to give me great write-ups, yet the ones from Romantic Times are usually a bit lackluster. The inconsistency can be frustrating, but I constantly remind myself that reviews are subjective. That fact became very evident when my publisher decided to offer my debut novel as a free e-book download last month. I was pleasantly surprised by all the new 4 and 5 star reviews, but then there were the 1 star reviews that came with them. Ick.
• Not everyone will love your book, so gird your loins in advance.
• Enjoy the pleasure of positive reviews, but don't let them puff you up with pride. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. ~Proverbs 11:2
• Learn what you can from a harsh review. Look for ways to improve your craft for future projects. However, don't dwell on the sour words. They will destroy your confidence and steal your passion. Glean what you can, then walk away.
This publishing journey can be a long and arduous one, but it is rich with rewards as well.
For those of you who are still seeking publication—what makes you the most nervous about making the transition to published author?
And for you published authors—what other advice would you share with upcoming writers regarding what to expect after the contract is signed?
Everyone who leaves a comment will be entered for a chance to win a copy of my latest release, To Win Her Heart.
Having completed his sentence for the unintentional crime that derailed his youthful plans for fame and fortune, Levi Grant looks to start over in the town of Spencer, Texas. Spencer needs a blacksmith, a trade he learned at his father’s knee, and he needs a place where no one knows his past. But small towns leave little room for secrets. . . .
Eden Spencer has sworn off men, choosing instead to devote her time to the lending library she runs. When a mountain-sized stranger walks through her door and asks to borrow a book, she steels herself against the attraction he provokes. His halting speech and hesitant manner leave her doubting his intelligence. Yet as the mysteries of the town’s new blacksmith unfold, Eden discovers hidden depths in him that tempt her heart.
Levi’s renewed commitment to his faith leads Eden to believe she’s finally found a man of honor and integrity, a man worthy of her love. But when the truth about his prodigal past comes to light, can this tarnished hero find a way to win back the librarian’s affections?
Don't forget to leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for this book!