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Answering a Few Questions About Publication


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Recently I returned from a national writers’ conference. One of my favorite things to do there was talk with aspiring writers and answer any questions they had about publication and being an author.

Even though I’m home now, I still love the opportunity to answer questions, most of which come via emails. While I don’t always have time to write back, sometimes I answer the questions here on my blog, especially when they’re the kind of questions other writers might have too.

Recently I got just such an email from Hannah, one full of lots of great questions.

Hannah said: I am currently an English major who would love to have a career in writing novels. I would love it if you could share how you got started in the writing world and became successful. How long did it take before you first got published? How long does it generally take for you to write a novel? Do you work for someone who gives certain deadlines or are you self-employed and work at your own pace?

1. How long did it take before you first got published?

It took me approximately 7 years (nonconsecutive) from when I first started writing seriously as an adult to when I got my first book contract. During those years, I read every writing how-to book I could find, and I wrote five practice novels that now collect dust in a closet and will never see the light of day. My sixth book became my debut novel.

The number of years and practice books it takes will vary from writer to writer. BUT what won’t vary is the NEED TO LEARN. Every writer has to take the time and do the hard work of learning the craft of writing by reading technique books, practicing, getting critiques, and honing their skills.

All too often nowadays with the ease of self-publishing, I see too many writers skip the hard work of learning and practicing. Whether going the traditional or self-publishing route, a writer won’t find success without taking the time and work necessary to become skilled.

Once a writer is consistently getting feedback (from critique partners or editors) that their work is starting to look ready for publication, my advice is to seek out agents and writing contests. I made my big break into traditional publication by finaling in a prestigious writing contest. After my final, I re-contacted the agent who already had my manuscript in her slush pile. She offered me representation a few days later. A few months after that I had a three book deal.

2. How long does it generally take for you to write a novel?

After writing close to 30 books and having about 25 of them published, my writing muscles are much stronger now than when I first started. I like to compare writing to running. When a person first decides to take up running, they lumber down the street and can hardly go a block without having to stop for a break. After years of practice and running consistently, they can often go many blocks without needing to stop. Maybe they’ve even worked up to running marathons.

Writing works the same way with lots of slow lumbering, often much fumbling, and eventually going longer with stronger output. I started by writing 500 words a day during my kids’ nap-times. It took me a year to complete one book. That was all I could manage as a busy (and exhausted!) mom. Now, after years of writing, I can complete the first draft of a novel in 8 to 10 weeks. My kids are teenagers and more independent, and I’m in a season where I can devote more time to my writing.

3. Do you work for someone who gives certain deadlines or are you self-employed and work at your own pace?

With my traditional publishers, I’m under contract to write a certain number of books in a specific time period. Generally for me, that means I turn in a book every 6 to 9 months. During contract negotiations, my publisher gives me deadlines for when I need to turn in the first draft and also with the various stages of editing.

For my indie books, I don’t have any deadlines, although I do try to work carefully around my traditionally published books so that releases don’t conflict with each other. Even without strict deadlines for my self-pubbed books, I’ve still found it very helpful for my productivity to establish my own goals and publication schedules. I try very hard to stay on track with the schedule, especially so I can remain timely for the editors, cover designer, beta readers, etc. who are a part of my self-publishing process.

All that to say, I approach my writing career in a business-like way. Not everyone does nor do they need to. It’s just what works for me and my personality. I like to establish yearly goals (sometimes even plotting out my writing and publishing schedule for a couple of years). Then I know what I can fit in and where.

Your turn! How long have YOU been writing? What is YOUR writing process like and how long does it take YOU to complete a novel? 

14 comments:

  1. It took me 3 years to write my first novel for children and 5 years to find a publisher. During those 5 years I was constantly polishing and revising. I agree,it is so important to be willing to put in the time and effort to produce a book worthy of reading. After 8 books, I am still learning!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Darlene, I'm still learning too! In fact, I came away from the writer's conference I recently attended with some great reminders as well as inspiration to push myself to be better.

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  2. Great questions AND answers! Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    Teresa

    ReplyDelete
  3. This post was very helpful and informative, especially the part about writing contests. I wasn't sure at first whether it was worth it to submit stories to writing contests, or whether I should start with literary magazines first. But I've done both, and I like the writing contests because often they come with interesting prompts I hadn't thought of before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, so true! Another benefit to writing contests is that sometimes the judges give feedback (acting like editors). So in a way, entering contests is like getting a paid critique.

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  4. Writing is something I've always enjoyed, but didn't get serious about until a few years ago. I've written four practice novels. This year I entered my first writing contest and made it to the semifinals. The feedback encouraged me that I was heading the right direction, and yet humbled me with how much further I needed to go. At this stage I'd say my writing process still needs a lot of tuning. The word "deadline" strikes fear in my heart, and I don't even have any deadlines.

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