Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Surviving My First Year as a Published Author, by guest blogger Karen Witemeyer

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 I often hear unpublished writers say things like, "If an editor ever suggested I change X about my manuscript, I'd find a different publisher."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.

Handling Reviews

• 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! 


mitzi said...

Great advice--thanks!

Kathy Harris said...

Really enjoyed this, Karen! Thank you for taking the time to offer insight into "the next step" of an unpublished writer's journey.


Karen Witemeyer said...

Mitzi and Kathy - Thanks for stopping by today. There is always more to learn, isnt' there? I'm still feeling my way along the path.

Have a blessed week!

Judy said...

Karen, I'm a reader not a writer but I still enjoyed all the tips that you wrote about. I even loved the scripture you quoted from Proverbs 11:2. Also, you said not everyone would love their book so gird your loins in advance. As a reader I will admit I haven't read too many books I didn't like. Shouldn't this be encouraging to a writer? :) I would love to win a copy of your newest release, To Win Her Heart. This book sounds really good. Reading is my passion!

Katey said...

I absolutely love your books. You're one of my all time favorites. I can't wait to read the newest one. I loved this article. Very interesting.

Anita said...

Is this book a sequel to Tailor-made bride? I enjoyed this book so much. It was so good I couldn't put it down. After I finished it, I wanted more. Your a very good author and have a lovely ablitity for challenge one spiritually. Thank you.

Regardless if this is a sequel or not I would like to be entered in the drawing.

Candice said...

Loved your first two books. Can't wait to read this one! I'm not a writer either but enjoyed the info!

Mobile Beauty said...

I loved your first two books and cannot wait to read this one. The information on how to become a successful author was great, too! You are truly a talented gal, Karen!

leeswa said...

Thanks for the great advice! I wish you much success on all of the books you write!

Karen Witemeyer said...

Hi, Judy. You are EXACTLY the kind of reader we authors adore! Easy to please, enthusiastic. Nothing could be better. With all the critics in this world, it is such a blessing to have readers like you out there. Keep reading!

Karen Witemeyer said...

Katey, Candice, and Mobile Beauty - Thank you so much for your kinds comments. I'm so glad you've enjoyed my books. You are certainly entered in the drawing!

Anita - To Win Her Heart is not a sequel to Tailor-Made Bride. It stands alone, but you will find a similar time period and setting. I hope you enjoy it!

Karen Witemeyer said...

Leeswa - Thanks for the encouragement! I hope you found something to bless you along your own journey.

maudie-mae said...

I will be so excited to read your newest. I have read your other two so far and LOVED them. Enter me, please.

Carrie Fancett Pagels said...

Wow, Karen, it is hard to believe it was just a year ago that you asked me to be an influencer for your first book that came out. Of course I loved it and posted my review and was also recently able to get your second book's review up on my blog and now the third is out. Whew! Thanks so much for sharing your journey. I do have a freelance editor who works with me so my "hope" is that when an editor from a publishing house gets ahold of me that it may not be tremendously painful thanks to Susan's help! Blessings to you, Karen, and congrats!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Karen,

I can't believe you've had all 3 books out within your first year! Wow - lucky us!!

Thanks for these great tips. I will keep them to ponder for the time when I have my first contract.

No need to enter me in the draw. I have your book in my TBR pile!


Karen Witemeyer said...

Maudie-Mae, Your enthusiasm makes me smile. Thanks so much for your kind words. You are definitely in the drawing!

Carrie - It's hard to believe a full year has gone by. How time does fly. Thanks for all the support you've given during this journey. Travelling together makes the road so much more fun. I can't wait to see a books of yours in the mix!

Hey Sue - Thanks for the encouraging words. You always make me smile. I hope you enjoy Levi and Eden's story when you whittle down your TBR pile enough to meet them. so many great books, so little time. Oh, how I can sympathize!

Gina Holmes said...

As someone in your position, every word you say is true. I write like you do and also can't resist reading my reviews. I have your debut on my Kindle and can't wait until I have the time to read it. I hear good things. So happy for your successes!

Karen Witemeyer said...

Thanks, Gina. That means a lot. I'm wishing you the best at the Christy's next month!

Deborah H. Bateman said...

Thank you so much for sharing this post. I am new to all of this so it really helps to get other people's insights.

casey said...

I'm so glad that you started writing! I've read both A Tailor Made Bride and Head in the Clouds and I loved them both! Head in the Clouds is definitely one of my favorite books of all times :) I could not put it down and was sad when it ended. Keep writing! Thanks so much.

Karen Witemeyer said...

Hi, Deborah. I'm glad you found my post helpful. I hope that you get to experience this part of the journey yourself soon.

Casey - You've made my day! I'm so glad you enjoyed my first two books. I had so much fun writing Head in the Clouds. I lke to think of it as my Texas fairy tale. I hope you enjoy To Win Her Heart equally well.

Rose McCauley said...

Great advice, Karen! I am a few months behind you so enjoy knowing what to expect when my first book comes out in Sept. Your first two books were great, so put me down for a chance to win this one!

Beck Gambill said...

I so appreciate your honest advice. My biggest fear about becoming a published author is that it will never come! However, if it does, I will remember the tips you've shared from your journey!

Carol N Wong said...

Even though I don't write books I do write reviews and post them on various sites. Thank you for the advice on good and bad reviews. I will never forget the bad review I received of my review. I had neglected to say that the dog in the book was not the same breed as the book lets you think in the beginning. Bad reviews teach me to be more careful. I look forward to reading 'To Win Her Heart".


Carrie L. Lewis said...

Honestly? The thing about getting published that unnerves me the most is the follow up novel.

I've been marketing and dealing with rejections in the art world for over 30 years, so that's not a problem.

But if I sell one novel and can't come up with a second one? That's the monster under my writing bed!

Carla Olson Gade said...

Karen, this is excellent advice. I just received my first edits from my publishing house, so timely advice for me as well! I just love all your books and am so excited that you had such a remarkable year!

Carla Olson Gade said...

Please don't enter me in the drawing as I have a review copy.