Tag Archives: lessons

The Importance of Knowing Yourself

[Ed. note: Today we have a special treat for you, as fellow EMLA author Corinne Duyvis stops by for a guest post feature to celebrate the launch of her own debut, OTHERBOUND!]

Whether you’re searching for an agent, hoping to snag a publisher, or going it alone with self-publishing, writing is often a difficult and stressful job. Add the complications of having a day job, a family, and/or a disability, and it becomes even more difficult to keep up your spirits and your productivity.

My first novel only just released, so I’m in the early stages of being a professional author. I’ve still had my share of publishing heartbreak: the novels I’ve had to shelve, the agent that didn’t work out, the negative reviews, the rejections—both before and after the book deal–and I’m sure that list will only grow.

(Though, um, I’d rather it doesn’t.)

The most important thing I’ve had to learn throughout all this is me.

In order to survive this business, no matter which route of publishing you choose, it’s so, so important to learn your own desires and reactions, your strengths and weaknesses.

What are you looking for? If you’re querying or interviewing agents, it can be tempting to either stick to the huge names you see in the Twittersphere or to contact any agent who takes your genre. This can work out perfectly. It can also work out terribly.

To protect yourself from heartbreak and ending up in no-win situations, figure out what you want, and do it early. Do you value lightning-quick communication? One-day turnarounds on manuscripts? In-depth editing? Massive deals? Perfect author-editor, book-publisher fits? Do you want to have your hand held, or to be whacked on the back of the head when you’re not writing quickly enough? Or do you want to be left to your own devices as much as possible?

Know what you want, look for just that, and communicate your needs clearly.

It also applies to later stages of publishing. Some authors can’t handle feedback at an early stage; make sure to explain that so you can come to a mutual agreement about when to submit your work.

Conversely, if you’re constantly worrying about which project to work on next, you’ll want to find an agent who will help you decide, or you’ll want to ask your editor which of your pitches she thinks is most interesting. It isn’t a guarantee of a book deal, but it might set your mind at ease knowing there’s interest.

I’m one of the latter. I need feedback to stay motivated.

Not everyone will need this. Decide whether you do.

So far, this has been about communication, about navigating your publishing partnerships, but it works at any level.

If you know yourself, you know how you cope with deadlines.

Whether you struggle to write while waiting for feedback.

Whether you work better in mornings or evenings.

Whether feedback at an early stage will invigorate you or crush your creativity.

Whether keeping track of your word count helps you or hurts you.

Whether the magic happens in the drafting stage, or when you’re tweaking sentences later down the line.

Whether editing or drafting requires more focus.

Whether bad news can throw you off your game, and how long for.

And if you know all these things, you can guard yourself appropriately. It seems obvious, but it surprised me just how much of this I didn’t know about myself—or how much I thought I knew, and was wrong about.

Even better, it surprised just how much of it can be worked around with some foresight, flexibility, and planning.

Publishing is hard enough already. It’s OK to look around and figure out how to make it a little easier on yourself. Guard against your weaknesses, capitalize on your strengths, and tweak your habits and partnerships accordingly.

(And when you need it, don’t hesitate to break out the hot chocolate.)

Corinne DuyvisA lifelong Amsterdammer, Corinne Duyvis spends her days writing speculative young adult and middle grade novels. She enjoys brutal martial arts and gets her geek on whenever possible.

Otherbound, her YA fantasy debut, released this week from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. It has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and BCCB. Kirkus called it “original and compelling; a stunning debut,” while BCCB called it “a brilliantly paced edge-of-your seat adventure” and praised its “subtle, nuanced examinations of power dynamics and privilege.”

Find Corinne at her Twitter or Tumblr.



Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Launch, rejection and success, Writing and Life

Lessons Lived

I’m going to tell you a story, but you have to promise not to laugh.

When I was sixteen, I was a finalist in the now-defunct Sassy magazine’s Sassiest Girl in America contest.  (Stop that!  You promised!)  I was flown to New York with five other girls from all corners of the country.  We were put up smack of the middle of midtown Manhattan in a $500-a-night hotel, ferried around to ritzy restaurants, taken shopping, made over and photographed for the magazine.  We stayed up late and skittered down hotel hallways in our pajamas and flirted with the teenage bellhops and bonded like crazy.

One night, we went to see Grease.  Somehow the front office found out who we were, and they invited us up on stage to dance with the cast as they wrapped up the closing number.  They rousted us out of the audience and herded us down the aisle, but we stood there in the wings like deer in the headlights.  Dance?  In public?  In front of all those people?

All of us but Sara.  She grabbed two of us by the forearms and said, “Look, guys.  We’re in New York.  They want us to dance with a Broadway cast.  WHEN DO YOU THINK THIS IS EVER GOING TO HAPPEN AGAIN?”

We all looked at each other.  Then we got up on the stage and danced like idiots to We Go Together.

I'm second from the left. I had that same hairstyle till about three months ago.

All of it – pedicures and shopping sprees and exceptionally hot photographers named Arthur – all of it was only going to happen once, and those four days flashed by so fast that all I have left of them is a single picture that ran as an afterthought, after Sassy was bought out and the contest scrapped by the new publisher barely a month after we all went home.

I wish I could say that precocious, difficult sixteen-year-old me was aware that she took away something profound from the experience.  But I wasn’t there yet.  I wasn’t ready to admit that the world was full of lessons.  But now as I move through my debut year I keep coming back to this experience, to everything I got out of those four days.

Cynthia’s debut lessons are informed by deep currents of wisdom and a clever, sparkling maturity.  Mine are more ramshackle, cobbled together from an unexplored current of singularity and wonder that runs deep and goes back to Sassy and is rooted in this: exceptional experiences teach you exceptional things.

I’m pretty sure that lessons need reflection, but by then they won’t do me any good.  By then, the exceptional will be old hand.  So here are the lessons I’ve been making up as I go along:

* While everything is going on – and especially when things feel like they’re happening crazyfast – stop and consider the sheer magnitude of what’s happening.  Reflect while things are happening.  It makes you slow down and feel every beat going by, and you’re not getting any of those back.

* Let things go.  There are already things I wish were different about my debut, but as of now they can slip through my fingers like sand.

Off I go.

* Don’t let the debut process consume you so thoroughly that you neglect the other carbon-based life forms that are important to you.  Turn off the computer sometimes and prioritize your friends, your spouse, your kids, your cat.  Sure, this is only going to happen once – but the people you love will still be there afterward.

* Enjoy yourself.  Be giddy and silly.  Squee all over the place when good things happen.  Celebrate the milestones of your writer friends and cheer their accomplishments.  Grab their arms and drag them on stage with you.  You won’t remember who’s watching.  You’ll only remember dancing.


Filed under Writing and Life