One of the most important skills that you, as a writer, can develop, beyond the obvious concerns regarding craft and story telling, is the ability to pace yourself. This is true of a writer just starting out, who has yet to acquire an agent or a publishing contract, and for the writer fully in the thick of their career, balancing writing with editing, marketing obligations, and anything else that might come their way. It is important to get things done, but it is equally important to avoid illness or burnout due to being stretched too thin.
When I first sign on new, unpublished writers, they are almost unanimously in a hurry to get their manuscripts out the door and onto the desks of editors. After all, they’ve written the book and acquired an agent, so surely the book contract is the next step, right? They’re willing to do some tweaking, some revising based on my comments…but then it’s time to submit, yes? They can be surprised when I ask for another round of changes, or additional polishing — when I question plot points and ask them to dig deeper. It never occurred to them that this was not a strictly linear path.
What I try to impress upon my clients is that I want to help them get their manuscripts into the best shape possible before we begin submitting to publishers. I’ve signed them on because I see the potential in their project, and in their writing, and I believe we can sell that novel. But this in-between stage is also about helping a writer help themselves — so with the next manuscript they will polish as they go, ask themselves those questions that enable them to dig deeper. Now is the time to do that, when there isn’t a deadline looming over their heads.
Once a book is sold — perhaps in a multi-book contract — that writer will never again have the luxury of working without pressure, without expectations. There will be a date on the calendar that they must work toward — the day the book is due to their editor. They will be conscious of wanting to match or improve upon the quality of their previous efforts. The carefree period of being an unpublished, aspiring author will be over.
One of the most common complaints I hear from unpublished writers is that they have trouble finding the time to write between their other commitments. In most cases, they have full-time jobs. Many have children to care for, family and friends who demand more of their days. And in our health-conscious age, they also struggle to fit in some personal time to get to the gym or go for a run, fix a healthy dinner, and so on. Time is a precious commodity in our modern era, and writing regularly can be a difficult task.
I won’t argue with that. But I will point out that a writer’s job only gets more complicated once a book is sold. Most writers do not get six-figure book deals, which means if they held a full-time job prior to selling their novel, they will most likely continue to hold that job after they sign their book contract. That spare time they fight for will now go not just to writing — because there’s more than likely going to be a second book in the works — but to making changes on the first book per the editor’s requests, reviewing galleys, and so on.
Then there will be marketing tasks. Most new writers don’t have to worry about a big publisher’s book tour, but many take it upon themselves to reach out and do signings in communities where they are known — current hometown, wherever they grew up, perhaps the town or city where they went to college. Although cleared with the publisher’s publicity department — you don’t want to step on toes — these events will still take time and effort on the writer’s part. There are also conferences and conventions that offer opportunities to speak about writing in general and your project in particular — another way of getting word out about your book.
Even if a writer does very little in the way of traveling publicity, the virtual world has opened up a huge number of marketing opportunities. So there will be “other” writing obligations, including maintaining and updating the writer’s own web site, blog, newsletter, Twitter account, etc.; providing the publisher with any extra material they might wish for publicity; guest blog posts; and more.
Gone are the days when a writer only wrote. If you wish to write for publication and to have your audience find and read your work, you need to devote some time to the marketing and business side of your career. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have a break-out bestseller that affords you the luxury of writing full-time and hiring on a publicity staff, there will always be parts of the job you must address yourself. You must learn early to balance your schedule, prioritize your tasks, and to enjoy the lulls when they come. Develop a system early to keep track of what you’ve agreed to do, whether it’s to create an online presence before you sell your book or to market your soon-to-release masterpiece. And make sure you communicate with your agent and editor regarding your publicity ideas; they may have suggestions on how you can streamline your efforts.
I am not saying wait forever before you submit your work. It is certainly possible to linger on the shore, afraid to dip your toe in the water. At some point it is necessary to move forward, to dive in and swim hard, or you’ll never get to the other side. But while you do have that time, that moment of fresh air before the plunge, don’t forget to breathe deep and appreciate it.