This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Ed Aymar, author of YOU’RE AS GOOD AS DEAD) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.
Author E.A. Aymar has written two novels: I’LL SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD (Nov. 2013) and YOU’RE AS GOOD AS DEAD (June 2015), both from Black Opal Books. He is also a monthly columnist with The Washington Independent Review of Books, as well as the Managing Editor of ITW’s The Thrill Begins. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in a number of top crime fiction publications. He lives just outside of Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.
1. Just Say Yes. I started writing seriously in 1997 (now I feel old), first tried to get published in 2002, and finally did in 2013. So I spent a lot of time on the audience end of readings and panels, imagining what it would be like to stand on the other side of the podium. It’s because of all that time spent waiting that I’ll do anything in service of my books. Someone wants a guest column? Written! An interview? Spoken! A reading? Read! We’re all busy but, chances are, we’re not that busy. Before I finally got that acceptance letter, I hated the waiting–just hated it. Now that I’m finally published, I’ll never get spoiled or settle. Those rejections still burn.
2. You Need to Get Better. However, taking on challenges and assignments doesn’t mean you can afford to get sloppy. One of my best opportunities came after I wrote a guest column for The Washington Independent Review of Books, a site I’d long admired, and the managing editor offered me the chance to become a monthly columnist. I happily accepted (see #1). It’s eight hundred words a month, which isn’t much, but the Independent has a good audience in D.C.’s well-read literary community. Every column has to be sharp, intelligent, impactful. You never know who’s reading it or what they’re going to say about it. Everything you write must be better than the last thing you wrote.
3. Agent Up. I’m a beneficiary of the booming small press industry. I was able to approach a small publisher without an agent and, happily, my book (the third one I’d written) was accepted and published. But publishing is a big scary monster with snapping teeth and only a few understand it. You need someone knowledgeable about the industry who has your back; someone who understands how the confusing changes by Amazon and the Big Five affect everyone involved; someone with a sharply-critical eye who loves what you write and how you write it. After my first book was published, I made a point of finding an agent for the second, and ended up with my top choice (Michelle Richter of Fuse Literary). Now I’m part of the Fuse family, a supportive team of industry pros. In today’s environment, that support structure is necessary for any published writer.
4. Posse Up. I steered clear of writing organizations until I was published, mainly because the process is arduous and unforgiving and I didn’t want to have conversations like this one:
“How’s the book coming along?”
“Oh, just waiting on few agents to respond.”
“No takers yet?”
“Nope, no takers yet.”
“It’ll happen. These things happen when you least expect it.”
“Thanks! I’d talk more, but I’m too busy filling with despair!”
That attitude was a mistake. Since I’ve joined the Mystery Writers of America, SinC, and the International Thriller Writers, I’ve made a number of friends and contacts that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and a lot of those people are writers I’ve long admired. I attended Bouchercon 2015, and the warmth and friendliness of the crime fiction community was lovely. We’ve all fought the same war. We understand. My heroes have become my friends.
5. Don’t Be Too Much of a Selfish A-Hole. Everyone loves uncompromising artists who place their passion above everything else…until they meet one. The pretentious writer thing loses its appeal really quickly. Balance the whole “I need to create art” and “Dancing with the Stars is on” equation with your family. As Garrison Keillor once said, “Writing is a sacred calling–but so are gardening, dentistry and plumbing, so don’t put on airs.”
6. Point #5, Seriously. Treat other writers with respect. Don’t be overly negative; writers love to complain, but that gets old. Don’t be a pest on social media. Don’t do favors and expect something back, and never do a favor and then ask for one in return. Make it a point to talk up books you admire. Most marketing advice inherently instructs you to cheer loudly for yourself. That’s actually not bad advice for a field traditionally filled by introverts, but remember to cheer for someone besides yourself.
7. Keep It Pure. We work so hard—not just to finish a book, but to write more, invent characters, contribute to a tradition that means more to us than most can understand–that we occasionally forget this is more than an industry. I absolutely want to sell so many millions of books that I can afford to buy Hawaii and walk around with two pet lions, but I never want to write for that. According to my math, there’s a thirty percent chance that a helicopter could fall on my head tomorrow (keep in mind, I studied English, not math). We may not live to walk with those lions. So don’t sell yourself short. Keep your work pure, your readers deserve it. Balance.
E.A. Aymar’s newest thriller, You’re As Good As Dead, is on sale for $0.99 at Amazon.
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Agent Spotlight: Nikki Terpilowski (Holloway Literary Agency) seeks Fiction, Nonfiction and Children’s.
- Got Rejection Dejection?
- Why Dogs Make Fun Writing Partners.
- 5 Things To Consider Before Writing A Memoir.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.
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