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Debut Advice

(Admin note: I hatched the idea for this post long before I received the news yesterday that my own debut, which was recently re-released with a fabu new cover - Borders has them in stock, and Amazon will sell the new covers any minute - is ON SALE for $1.99 as an ebook until Friday. Kindle, Nook, iBooks, etc. For less than two bucks! In case you have an e-reader and didn't read it when it came out four years ago. Anyhoo, onto more important news...)

I'm really thrilled today to bring you guys four fantastic debut authors, all of whom have summer reads out and all of whom are supportive, wise and fantastic writers. I had the benefit of reading ALL of their books in early stages, and I have no doubt that all four will be producing great works of fiction for years to come. So I approached each of them and asked if they might share a few words of wisdom for aspiring writers out there. Specifically, I asked:

1) What's the one bit of wisdom you'd offer aspiring novelists?
2) What's the one thing that surprised you now that you're published?



1) Love your work. My second novel, The Bungalow, will be out in March, and I just completed my third (and to confuse myself further, I have just started my fourth!), so it has been a whirlwind and exciting past two years. I could not have done this had it not have been for one thing. Yes, a my fabulous literary agent and a supportive husband helped a ton, but the thing that powered me through these stories was the fact that I was 100 percent in love with them. The ideas for these novels hit me over the head like lightening bolts, and I absolutely had to write them. Because of this, I was able to write them quickly and stay completely engaged. This brings me to my tip for aspiring writers: I see so many writers plugging away at novels they’ve been working on for years and years, and in essence, this is just fine, but what often happens is that they lose the spark, the excitement about their story. And my feeling is that when a writer isn’t excited about their own story, editors and agents won’t be either. My rule of thumb before starting any new novel is that it has to haunt me during the day and keep me up at night. I have to be excited to get back to my desk to work on it. Sure, there will be times when the story doesn’t thrill me, and times when I don’t think it’s that fun to work on, but 80 percent of the time, I need to feel riveted by what’s happening in my work-in-progress. When I start to realize this isn’t happening, I change courses or start a new project.  

2) The most surprising thing about getting published: Hearing from readers! I didn’t expect to get so many notes from readers, and I’ve loved reading every single one! Every morning I run downstairs, fire up my email and turn on my Blackberry and get so excited to see messages from readers. Hearing from people who read my book is about the most exciting and unexpected thing, for me, about being an author. I will never get tired of this aspect of publishing. There is nothing better than hearing from someone who was touched by something you wrote or identified with a character in moving way.  


1)  Don't give up, and don't go it alone. It took me more than 10 years to get published, and while that can seem like a fairly depressing figure, I was learning and growing and building my skills that whole time. So my actual debut novel that came out in 2011 is leaps and bounds beyond the debut novel I would have published back in 2001. If I'd given up in year nine, I would have missed this whole amazing experience. And one of the things that kept me going that whole time was the encouragement and input of other like-minded writers. That's how you get through the valleys on your way to the peak.
2. Thing that surprised me: How incredibly supportive other published authors have been. The number of authors I admire and adore who have offered help, trumpeted my good news on Twitter, given good advice when I needed it -- it's just amazing. And these are people with no stake in my success at all, people who are either complete strangers or acquaintances I've met once or twice. They're just nice people. It blows me away.  

For more on Jael, check out her website or follow her on Twitter


1) Learn from those who know more than you. This is a very complex business and the people who have been in it for a while (like Allison!) and who know the ropes (see above) have valuable information to impart. I'm not saying take every single piece of advice that comes your way, because sometimes it will be conflicting, but if you find people you trust (mentors, teachers, agents who might not take you on but are kind enough to write a personal note) don't let your ego get in the way of listening to them. Good writing is an important part of getting published, but it is certainly not the only part, and you need to temper your confidence with enough humility to realize who you can learn from. I had an embarrassing moment recently where I was struggling with revisions to my second book and I woke up one day thinking that all my problems would be solved if I rewrote one of the characters in first person. I thought I was brilliant! I thought I had found the problem with my book!  I wrote a section like that and shot it off to my agent, who (kindly and gracefully) told me, "Uh, no." And thank goodness. She was completely right. Back to third person I went. If I had dug in my heels and refused to listen to her I probably would have ruined my book. There are many moments like that along the road to publication, and I think learning to whom and how to listen is a crucial part of it.

2) There's always something to worry about--if you let yourself. Even after you've been published. Maybe you didn't get a review in a place you hoped to, or your book is finally out but now you're concerned about sales, or you realize how scary it is to read from your book in front of your whole town at a local reading. Once I understood that (and I think it's true for most, if not all authors) I realized how important it is to find the joy in the actual process of writing, and I am now happier than I ever was to face a blank keyboard and some quiet time. In some ways the writing is a means to an end but in many ways it has to be the end in itself, or else what's the point?  

For more on Meg, check out her website or follow her on twitter


1) Worry less about how many words you've written and more about whether you're writing every day. The thing is, you can't get published if you don't write a book. That can seem overwhelming (trust me—even to someone who's written one before). If you can write 250 words daily, though, you'll have a manuscript on your hands in less than a year. It may not be The Corrections, but you'll have a draft to mold, and it may just be the book that you end up selling. 

 2)  I've been completely blown away by how generous other authors have been in offering advice and moral support, and spreading the word about The Art of Forgetting. Twitter, Facebook, email and the million other facets of the internet have allowed writers to connect with and support each other in ways I couldn't have imagined even two and a half years ago, when I sold  Forgetting to Dutton. And it's not this secret girls' club, either; all you have to do to be included is jump in and join the conversation. 

For more on Camille, check out her website or follow her on Twitter. 

Reader Comments (17)

What I've learned here (and already know) is that most published authors don't forget that they used to be unpublished. I'm never deterred by the success of others, never put off by a book deal. To me it means there's room for me too.

Thank you for all the early morning insights!

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Sue Nathan

Fantastic advice. Thanks all!

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMonica Bhide

Thank you for sharing these -- and all books I am wanting to read anyway! As an unpublished author, I really aprpeciate the pick-me-up these writers gave me today.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

What wonderful advice. Thanks.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKwana

Thanks so much for including me in this, Allison! I LOVE Meg's tip about letting go of worries. It's so true.

This was great! Already read Jael's and Camille's! Can't wait to read Sarah's and Meg's too!

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNina

The writing community is a very giving community. I love that.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

This is such a great post and so many wonderful things to think about - thanks!!

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercrystal

So happy to be in such great company! Thanks to Allison for hosting us.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJael

Thank you so much for this post. I appreciate hearing from those who've gone before me. I've read almost all of these books and have loved them!

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErika Robuck

Thank you for having us, Allison. Really great things to think about. I love what everyone said about the support of the writing community--it's such a gift.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeg Mitchell Moore

The themes I see here, over and over, are love and community. What a wonderful message, spread in such a fitting way. :) Thanks to all of you ladies (including Allison) for sharing your wisdom with us!

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristan

Thank you so much for including me here, Allison! I loved being apart of this group of fab authors. xoxoxo

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Jio

Wonderful! I absolutely love this and I love Sarah and Camille.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDancing Branflake

I found this advice really helpful, Thank you!!

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHannah Lees

My debut novel is due out next year, so it's great to see how other authors have found the experience. I've also been overwhelmed by how supportive other writers are. I've never seen an industry so filled with people happy to hear good news for one another and to offer support and assistance.

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Anthony Shortt

What a great post. Thanks for sharing. By the way, all those book covers are beautiful!

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