Please help me welcome literary agent Paige Wheeler to Romance University. Today, Paige shares with us her top eleven tips on how authors can become career novelists. This is a lecture you’ll want to copy and paste to your permanent file. So, writers, get your mice ready.
The class is yours, Paige!
Learn the Craft
Know what you write and recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Too often writers flounder because they haven’t taken the time to work on their dialogue, narrative, and plotting. You need to understand the rules of writing before you can break them. You also need to understand what makes a book “great” and acknowledge the areas where you may need additional work.
Understand your Specialization
It is essential that you know what you are writing (cozy mystery vs. thriller; commercial fiction vs. literary fiction) as well as what is and isn’t acceptable within your area or genre. You need to know when you’re pushing the envelope too far and when you need to pump it up a notch. Examples include knowing the limits of the YA market; knowing in your cozy mysteries when you should find a dead body, knowing how soon your hero and heroine should meet in romances, etc.
Know your market!
It’s vital that you do your research. A smart writer will read in the area of her specialization and learn which publishing houses publish the type of material she writes—and do it well. You should also know your competition–who is hugely successful? Why? Who is flopping and why?
Find a partner for this process
A good agent can help you grow your career. I may be biased in stating this, but I really feel that an agent is a very helpful tool in your career. In the same way that actors have agents and/or managers, writers need the perspective and guidance that agents can give them. For me, it’s more than just selling a book—it’s about developing a career, making strategic decisions, giving welcome (and unwelcome) feedback on projects, and fighting for an author.
Develop a head for business
Although a good agent can help with negotiations, you need to understand the nuts and bolts of contracts and various rights to make a smart deal. Developing a head for business means understanding the contract you are signing, thinking long term career strategy, and understanding the concept of branding, the opportunities for licensing, the impact of price point, etc. Ultimately the career novelist should be thinking long term and not just about the current deal.
Understand the PROCESS of publishing and all that it entails
If you know the essentials of the publishing process, you’ll be better informed and prepared—both for the pitfalls that may occur and the time you need to shine. Although this may be changing a bit with electronic publishing, right now most books take 9 months to a year to get published—or longer. There are a whole host of activities taking place behind the scenes, from copyediting to launch meetings. You need to be aware of the process so you can dodge potential issues and take advantage of an opportunity that may arise.
Realize YOUR role in making YOU a success
This is a business and success isn’t all in the writing, it’s in getting your name out there. You have to go out and PROMOTE yourself. And it’s not just one book you are selling, you are building a brand—YOU.
Prepare yourself for mid-career doldrums
Sometimes, despite all good intentions, you’ll experience a downturn. Perhaps you’ve been given a new editor who doesn’t appreciate your writing or your book is suddenly part of a crowded market or your publisher just went out of business. A downtick is to be expected. Evaluate the reasons for this and prepare to correct the problem, if possible.
Be prepared to change
Sometimes if you’re really stuck, you may need to make major changes. Perhaps you need to write in a different genre, write under a pseudonym, re-think your style of writing. You may have to switch agents/editors or they may decide to part ways with you. Recognize the signs that a change is afoot.
Learn how to handle the sweet smell of success
Like most things in life, victory can be cyclical. Realize that you could just be the flavor of the month and that may change, so don’t burn bridges. Play nice. Karma could come back and haunt you.
Don’t think about your first book. Think about your seventh or seventeenth book. How do you want to be known? As a writer for literary fiction? Crime novels? Romantic suspense? YA? Both? How do you plan to grow your audience and write the sort of books that captivate you? Have a game plan in place far above, “I just want to get published.” And keep writing!
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RU Readers, do you have any questions for Paige? She’ll try to stop by a few times today. How many of Paige’s tips have you already employed?
Please stop by on Wednesday when Trace from our Man Panel discusses the murky waters of men and marriage.
Paige Wheeler is a founding partner of Folio Literary Management, LLC. Over the course of her career, Ms. Wheeler has worked as an agent in both a literary and entertainment capacity. Prior to FOLIO, Ms. Wheeler founded the literary agency, Creative Media Agency, which she ran for nine years. At New York-based Artists Agency, she repped writers, producers and celebrities for television. She also worked as an editor, for both Harlequin/Silhouette in NY and Euromoney Publications in London. Currently she represents commercial fiction, and upscale fiction (book club type books) which includes women’s fiction, romance, mysteries, thrillers, psychological suspense; as well as narrative nonfiction and prescriptive nonfiction including self-help, how-to, business, pop-culture, popular reference projects and women’s issues.
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