Thursday, April 21, 2016

Advice for an Aspiring Author

Gabrielle Here:

Facebook reminded me that four years ago this week, I met Beverly Lewis in person. She was the first big-name author I had met and it was only a few months after I had decided to pursue my dream to be a published author.

To say I was nervous is an understatement.

Beverly had drawn a big crowd of reader fans, and during the course of her talk, she asked if there were any questions from the audience. People all around me asked general questions about her books, her life, and the inspiration behind her characters.

I timidly raised my hand and asked one of the most popular questions an author receives: "What advice do you have for an aspiring writer?"

Little did I know I would be asked that same question countless times in the years to follow. I also didn't know that her advice was just the tip of the iceberg for all I had to learn.

Here is Beverly's advice, and what I've learned in the four years since then:

1. Read and write as much as you can. I would go a bit further and say that you should be well-read in the particular genre you want to write. For years, I lived and breathed historical romance--and still do. Reading extensively in that genre helped me develop a "historical" voice. It helped with my vocabulary, turn of phrase, and general "feel" of a historical novel. Many people also recommend that you read extensively outside your genre to get a feel for the industry and what's popular, etc. I would agree with them--but I'm not great about doing this. When it comes to my reading time, I would choose a historical romance novel any day of the week.

As far as writing goes--yes! Write as much as possible. I often tell people I had almost a million words written in story form before my first novella (20,000 words!) was published. It's in the process of writing, and re-writing, that we find our voice, strengthen our weaknesses, and learn how to tell a good story.

2. Join a critique group. Oh, my, this is an important piece of advice! At the time, I didn't have any writing friends, but now I couldn't live without them. Not only do they make your writing better, but they become essential to lean on for support and fellowship. I thank God for my writing buddies. They are the first people I go to with my writing failures and successes. These people don't even have to be critique partners, they can just be good writing friends. This past weekend, Erica came to my house so we could read through our next novella collection, and the time we shared together was priceless. We laughed, talked, and worked--and the time flew by. In the process, she taught me so many valuable things I will use as I write my next story. Join a critique group, but more importantly, make writing friends.

3. Attend a conference, meet editors, and find out what they are looking for. Again, great advice. I attend the ACFW Conference every year, and hopefully I can attend RWA in the coming years. Conferences are great for networking (finding those writing friends!), meeting editors and agents, and educating yourself about the industry. Conferences are a great investment of time and money. I have made so many important connections at ACFW--both personally and professionally. If you have the money, and you're on the fence about attending, my advice would be to go. There's really no way to over-emphasize the importance of face-to-face meetings. I had an editor tell me that she won't publish an author until she's met her in person.

4. Write from the heart. The oldest advice in the writing world is to write what you know--which translated means: write from the heart. I have an incredible passion for my hometown and state. I love the history, the culture, the climate, and the people (both past and present). I know there are other places more interesting, more beautiful, and more appealing--but this is where my heart belongs and I have the ability to make it interesting, beautiful, and appealing when I write through the lenses of my perspective. It's a lot easier to write from my heart than it is to write from my head.

5. Spend a great deal of time in prayer. I couldn't agree with Beverly more. Writing is an act of worship for me. God has anointed me to write and He's entrusted me with words--which have the power of life and death in them. I don't take this responsibility lightly. Words are like seeds, and I want to make sure I'm planting good seeds into the heart soil of those who read my stories. Prayer is essential in all aspects of the writing journey, from the moment a story idea is conceived, to the moment it's published, it should be approach in prayer.

I would add one more piece of advice to an aspiring author:

6. Educate yourself on the writing industry. Not just at conferences, but through writing blogs, books, workshops, online classes, and mentors. There's so much to know about publishing (both traditional and independent). After you learn how to write a good story, you must know how to find an agent and get that story in the hands of editors. It's important to know the stages a manuscript goes through at a publishing house, what happens when you're contracted, how to market a book, how to use social media, how to track sales numbers, what an advance is, how much you can expect to earn, and on and on. There's no end to what you need to know. I'm learning something new almost every day. If you don't know where to begin, ask an author to point you in the right direction! Most authors I know are eager to help.

Your Turn: If you're an author, what advice do you give to aspiring writers? If you're a writer-wannabe, what would you like to know?

I have a winner from last Thursday's big announcement! The winner of an advance copy of Seven Brides for Seven Texans Novella Collection is: Jan Hall! Congratulations, Jan. I'll be in touch. :)

Gabrielle Meyer
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  1. This is really valuable advice, Gabrielle - thank you! I'm looking forward to seeing you on Sunday!

    1. I'm looking forward to seeing you, too, Laurie! Thanks for stopping by. :)

  2. How do you make the time commitment to write? How do you know it's the "right" season to make that time? While raising children full time, I feel mentally drained much of the time, which I think most moms do, but I have so much rumbling around in my head, but just to get it out, down on paper, and have the mental "space" to do that seems like something maybe I might have to wait on? :) Amy

    1. I know exactly what you're talking about, Amy. I have four children. We homeschool the two oldest and the two youngest are six-year-old twin boys. For me, writing is my escape. I need my writing time to be a better mom and wife. I don't watch television, craft, or shop. Writing is my "me" time. I do most of my writing late at night, after the kids are in bed. That's when my brain really wakes up. For some mom-writers I know, they write early in the morning before the kids wake up, or during nap time--or whenever they can fit it into their busy schedules. I realized a long time ago that if I didn't make the time, I would never find it. It also takes a lot of discipline and sacrifice (mine and my family's). My husband has been the most supportive man I know and I have a great support network within my extended family and friends. It's a group effort, to say the least. :) I can't imagine not writing.

      There are definitely seasons of waiting, too. For me, it was a burning desire to pursue publication, and several open doors, that led me to believe it was my time.

    2. Thank you so much, Gabrielle! Also do you know of any conferences/workshops or help for support with non-fiction? Is ACFW the biggest Christian writing conference?

      Another thought/question? As you've pursued publication, have you found that projects you LOVE in your heart, aren't what is wanted and you are asked to write different things? How does that work? Do you write "on the side" things that you are passionate about and then write other things that you love, but are more "marketable"??? Hopefully, that came out right and wasn't bad to ask. :)

    3. You're welcome, Amy. I was hoping this would be helpful. ACFW stands for American Christian Fiction Writers, so they emphasize fiction. But there are other Christian writing conferences that specialize in non-fiction. The Blue Ridge Writers Conference and She Speaks are two I can think of right off the top of my head that work with non-fiction.

      As for your second question, the answer is yes and no. I wrote three stories from my heart that were ultimately rejected for different reasons. One of the main reasons is that my writing wasn't ready for publication. I want to honor the time and money my family has invested in my writing and sell my stories, so I'm going to write stories that are marketable. The really successful authors are the ones that can write marketable stories from their heart. I have dozens and dozens of ideas, and when I make a suggestion to my editor, she may say yes to one and no to the other (she just did this), so then I go back and find another idea to propose. I have a pretty good pulse on historical romance and can make an educated guess on what would work and what wouldn't. That's why it's so important to read as much as you can in your genre, and to know as much as you can about your audience. I don't have the time to write "on the side." I'm too busy trying to keep up with my contracted deadlines. Maybe, one day, I'll write something outside of my genre on the side--but that won't be until my children are all grown.


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