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Friendly Advice

By Liz, finding it hard to believe it’s the holiday season already…

Thankful for Our Readers Giveaway: I’m giving away a copy of either Purring Around the Christmas Tree (the sixth Pawsitively Organic Mystery) or Cat About Town (the first Cate Conte Cat Cafe Mystery) – winner’s choice! Leave a comment below for a chance to win.

At this year’s New England Crime Bake, I had the privilege of meeting a number of new and aspiring authors. Really talented people who were there to network, meet agents and editors, pitch their work, and hopefully move to the next step in their publishing careers.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I remember when I first started going to Crime Bake. I was so eager, and I soaked up everything. Every word, every piece of advice, every opinion, thinking that any of it – all of it – would be the key to my success. And the less that I knew, the more I believed that I needed to listen and take everything all the experts said as gospel.

I thought of that a few weeks ago at Crime Bake as I sat at one of the first page critique sessions, listening to aspiring authors reading their pieces and hoping for positive feedback. They wanted to learn, and they definitely wanted the secrets to publishing success revealed.

They were hanging on every word, just like I used to.

I realized what a privilege it was to sit in that seat – the seat of a published author. I also realized that it’s so important to think about the advice you’re giving out, if you’re asked to do so and so inclined to respond.

With seven published books and a few more in the pipeline, I know a little bit more than I did ten years ago – but not much. I know the experiences I’ve had, and what’s worked or not worked for me. I don’t know what the next seven-figure best seller will be (believe me, if I did I’d write it), nor do I know for sure that a book featuring a protagonist of [insert age here] will sell better than a book featuring a protagonist of a completely different age.

No one in that room knew that without a doubt. Not even the people we all think hold the keys to the kingdom. Sure, the people who work on the business side of publishing have a lot of insights, a lot of contacts and a lot of intel. Unfortunately it doesn’t mean they have a error-free crystal ball with all the answers.

I really believe that writers and artists do best when they follow their gut instincts. It could mean choosing to write your novel as a YA told from a teen’s POV or as a suspense novel told from a detective’s POV.

So here are a few simple pieces of advice for the aspiring authors who have a passion project, or a book of the heart they’re working on.

  1. Be open to all the advice you receive. This is a wonderful, generous community and people are eager to help. You’ll get a lot of advice. Don’t be afraid of it. Say thank you, and be grateful people want to help. Everyone believes what they’re saying is the right thing.
  2. Take only what feels right to you. This might not be any of it, and that’s okay.
  3. Write the book you want to write. You’re an artist. Your gut is telling you what the big idea is that’s right for you. That doesn’t mean ignoring good writing practices, or learning about your craft every day. It just means following your heart. That’s the only way you’ll achieve real success.
  4. Believe in yourself. Enough said.

I know that I’ve been very lucky in my writing career. A lot of people have helped me along the way, by sharing insights and offering advice. I also know that ultimately, I have to write what’s meaningful to me. Yes, I can always make my work better. Yes, I can find different ways to market, or try a new point of view in my story.

But if the story isn’t one that excites me, it’s not going to excite the publisher, even if it’s exactly what they wanted. It probably won’t excite the readers, either.

Your gut doesn’t lie. It’s the only place you’ll find the stories you’re meant to tell.

Readers, what’s the best (or worst) piece of advice you’ve gotten, about writing or otherwise? 

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