Rookie Mistakes

...and how not to make them.

Rookie Mistakes

I went fishing once and sucked at it. Stupid turtles kept eating the bait off my hook, and when I got angry and tried to grab a turtle, it turned out to be feistier than I figured. Turtles are jerks. I finally caught a fish and tried to do the old catch-and-release-we’re-cool-right thing, but couldn’t get my hook out and ended up ripping half its head off. That was disturbing.

So I really can’t give any advice about fishing. But now that my first year of being an official writer has come to a close, I can share some Very Important Lessons I’ve learned about writing and publishing. Here’s what I got.

Don’t Be Intimidated. I’m usually on the verge of saying something stupid. My wife and I accepted this long ago. I’m also easily star struck, so that ensuing combination of nervousness and idiocy mixes poorly when I meet people I admire. I met Laura Lippman at the Books Alive! Conference this past year and literally panted in front of her. That happened for, like, 35 seconds. But Lippman was very nice about it and didn’t have me removed or anything. This other time, I met Mike Farrell, the guy who played B.J. Hunnicutt on “M*A*S*H.” I told him I admired his mustache.

This isn’t a very good bullet point. I don’t even know what I was supposed to be talking about. On to the next one.

Attend Book Festivals, Conferences, etc. Aside from my panting episode, I’ve only had good experiences at festivals and conferences. From Books Alive! to ThrillerFest to the Gaithersburg Book Festival, every event I attended this year was worth it. The conferences are sometimes expensive, even prohibitively so, but always remember that the security at the door is usually lax. And the panels are generally good, and you have the chance to network (if you’re into marketing buzzwords). For young writers trying to learn about the industry, these events are a great place to start. Plus, many conferences offer pitch sessions, where you have a few minutes to nervously elevator-pitch your work to an agent. Of course, that comes down to whether or not you need an agent.

You Need an Agent. I didn’t have one when I signed my first book with a small publisher (you don’t need agents for every publisher, particularly smaller ones or start-ups). But I met a lot of writers this year and asked them about agents and whether they’re necessary, and every writer I met went on glowingly about their agent and how their careers have been helped. So when my publisher told me they were interested in publishing my second book, I did a small search and, incredibly, got one of my top choices — Michelle Richter, with Fuse Literary. And, holy crap, was everyone right. Michelle understands exactly what I want to do with my writing, has given me invaluable career advice toward that end, and made my publishing contract so attractive that Paper Magazine wants to put its backside on their January cover.

Everyone associated with publishing knows that the industry is changing, and you need knowledgeable people on your side. You’ll hate the process of getting an agent (years ago, with my scattered, unpublishable novels, I struck out time and time again), but rejection is an important part of learning to be a writer. And no matter how much you know about publishing, it’s not enough.

Get an agent.

Don’t Be an Annoying Marketer. Don’t flood Facebook or Twitter with the 5-star reviews you receive. Be cautious when you criticize books. Don’t force your book on people. Try not to partake too much in the gossip that envelops publishing. Don’t post relentless “writers are so nutty and unique!” memes. Talk more glowingly about other books than you do your own. Don’t talk about writing more than you write.

For a really good column about writerly decorum, check out this one by Steve Weddle (Country Hardball, his debut, was one of my favorites in 2013; here’s how you can get it banned).

Don’t Say No. The more conferences you go to, the more festivals you attend, the more writers you meet, the more stories and books you write…the more opportunities are presented to you. It might be a book review, a blog post, a column, an interview, or something else, but you need to get your name out there. Great works have been written in attics and jail cells, under life-or-death circumstances. Remember that, and you’ll realize that you have the time to write an 800-word review about some YA dystopian novel. The important thing is to keep writing.

Yeah, you’ll need to say no occasionally, but only when you legitimately don’t have the time to do justice to a book for review, or a post for a blog.

And remember that nothing ever dies on the Internet. You’ll be surprised what ends up spurring an email from a reader, or what column eventually leads someone to buy your book.

You get an opportunity, you take it. Simple as that.

Finally, Don’t Stop. Not ever.

Happy holidays, and see everyone in January!

E.A. Aymar’s debut thriller, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, was published by Black Opal Books in November 2013. His column, “Decisions & Revisions,” appears monthly in the Independent.

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