5 Most Important Things I’ve Learned About the Writing Business

businessI could write a book about all that I’ve learned over these last four years, but let’s cut to the chase and hit the most important.

 1. Don’t Submit Your Work Too Soon

This is true whether we’re talking about critique partners, agents, OR editors. Remember that not all feedback (or readers) are created equal. I’ve seen crit partners destroy a work and also those who do nothing but gush and fawn over pages. I’ve seen agents pitch works that weren’t ready, either because they just don’t have the chops or because they assume the editor will work out the kinks with the author. Sometimes this is the case, but these days, that’s RARE. Editors want to minimize their towering pile, not add to it. So how do you know when your work is ready? If you’ve done your homework, you have a great agent and don’t have to worry about that (let’s assume you didn’t just sign with anyone willing to take you on). But a great option here is to consider freelance editors (like me—yeah, I know, shameless plug. And here’s an article about knowing when it’s time ). But really, a good editor is worth their weight in gold.

2. Be Flexible

You may be wedded to every word of your novel and even your vision, but keep in mind that your agent and editor understand what sells better than you do. Be prepared to make compromises. This goes for book covers, blurbs, and ads as well. You may think your idea of a pretty cover is THE ONE, when in fact, only women’s fiction readers will pick it up and what you write is hardcore sci-fi. On the flip side, they may have missed the mark. In either case, be flexible to suggestion and they will be more willing to work with you to make you happy.

3. Never Assume Your Book is Done

You know what assuming does, right? It makes an ass out of…yeah, you know that line. Your book isn’t done. Ever. Yes, it has made it through your critique partners, the eagle eyes of your agent and editor and has even gone to press. But your book still isn’t done and you’re NEVER DONE talking about it, pitching it, selling it. So be sure you are utterly in love with your topic, because you’ll be talking about it until the day you’re no longer an author (or on your deathbed—whatever comes first.)

4. Put on Your Game Face

A lot of writers are divas. They’re creative types and highly sensitive so they kvetch about things that don’t go their way in the publishing world, and as far as I can tell, that happens a lot. Keep your mouth shut. Do not whine about crappy reviews, publishers who have dropped you, or other craptastic occurrences ON YOUR FACEBOOK STREAM or Goodreads, or Twitter. This should be done in private.

5. Do Unto Others

Writers like to think of themselves as little islands, living in their fantasy worlds they’ve created on the page. NOT SO. You need all of those other writer friends, the connections you’ve made with industry professionals. You need your family, you need readers. Nurture your relationships with them, help them, BE AVAILABLE. A beautiful thing happens when you help someone else—they want to help you back, and they will support you in your great endeavor to take the publishing world by storm.


What have you learned about the business of writing?

Author: Heather Webb

Heather Webb is the author of BECOMING JOSEPHINE, her debut historical (Plume/Penguin 2014). A freelance editor and blogger, she spends oodles of time helping writers hone their skills—something she adores. You may find her Twittering @msheatherwebb, hosting contests, or hanging around RomanceUniversity.org as a contributor to the Editor's Posts. She is also the Twitter mistress for the popular Writer Unboxed. She loves making new reader and writer friends. Stop on by her website, Between the Sheets!

18 Replies to “5 Most Important Things I’ve Learned About the Writing Business”

  1. I love the “be flexible” tip, one I’ve learned as well, and I’d add to it that I try (as much as possible) to enjoy the process and all the new I learn along the way. Things are changing at lightning speed and it’s a fascinating time to be in the business!

  2. I think that’s a great point and I’m almost included it, Julia. Another major lesson for me is to celebrate the victories (no matter how small!!!) and all the knowledge we learn along the way. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. An important thing that I’ve learned is that good news and good fortune are worth celebrating, because, as you say, the world of publishing doesn’t always go the writer’s way. Shortly after my debut was published in 2012, a takeover meant that my lovely editors lost their jobs and my publisher’s teen fiction list was closed. Bad luck, but it made me very grateful for what I had achieved, and sympathetic to the many other writers who find themselves in similar situations. It’s a tough gig at times, so try to stay positive!

    1. So true, Susan. Trial and error is a must, I’m afraid. But also being open to new feedback is really important, too. Too often I see writers who are unwilling to hear the feedback and go the extra mile it takes to really bring a novel together.

  4. #1 is SO important. I must’ve waited four years between the time I finished a draft to when I finally started pitching my first novel, but initially, I thought it was ready to go! I took it to Kinko’s and had the hard copy bound so I could do an “official” light proofread…and then realized it’d need a lot of work. Yes, it takes a lot of time to have to rewrite and revise, but it only takes an agent or editor a few minutes to reject the work if it’s not ready yet. So that time is a worthwhile investment.

  5. Man, point #1 — I flailed big time on that one! The thing with being a novice is that you don’t know what you don’t know. I could have sworn my manuscript was done (but alas).

  6. Another fabulous post. And I have to agree with Rhiann about your ability to “practice what you preach” on No. 5. Thank you!

    Oh – and I cringe thinking of my first book that I was SO SURE was going to be the next “big thing.” Quite hilarious – and humbling- to me today.

    1. Thank you, Melissa! 🙂

      I look back on the second draft that I tried to sub of my novel and I CRINGE. Ugg. Luckily I only sent it out to a few people and learned quickly from their feedback.

  7. Excellent post, Heather! Makes me think of what a very dear former editor told me: “Writing isn’t for sissies.” You have to be tough, available, and open to learning. You have to lead with your heart. It’s a scary life but oh so fun!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Lynn! I love this– “you have to lead with your heart”. How true that is, and yet daunting. But without heart, I suppose we wouldn’t be novelists at all.

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