Friendly Advice

By Liz, finding it hard to believe it’s the holiday season already…

Thankful for Our Readers Giveaway: I’m giving away a copy of either Purring Around the Christmas Tree (the sixth Pawsitively Organic Mystery) or Cat About Town (the first Cate Conte Cat Cafe Mystery) – winner’s choice! Leave a comment below for a chance to win.

At this year’s New England Crime Bake, I had the privilege of meeting a number of new and aspiring authors. Really talented people who were there to network, meet agents and editors, pitch their work, and hopefully move to the next step in their publishing careers.

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I remember when I first started going to Crime Bake. I was so eager, and I soaked up everything. Every word, every piece of advice, every opinion, thinking that any of it – all of it – would be the key to my success. And the less that I knew, the more I believed that I needed to listen and take everything all the experts said as gospel.

I thought of that a few weeks ago at Crime Bake as I sat at one of the first page critique sessions, listening to aspiring authors reading their pieces and hoping for positive feedback. They wanted to learn, and they definitely wanted the secrets to publishing success revealed.

They were hanging on every word, just like I used to.

I realized what a privilege it was to sit in that seat – the seat of a published author. I also realized that it’s so important to think about the advice you’re giving out, if you’re asked to do so and so inclined to respond.

With seven published books and a few more in the pipeline, I know a little bit more than I did ten years ago – but not much. I know the experiences I’ve had, and what’s worked or not worked for me. I don’t know what the next seven-figure best seller will be (believe me, if I did I’d write it), nor do I know for sure that a book featuring a protagonist of [insert age here] will sell better than a book featuring a protagonist of a completely different age.

No one in that room knew that without a doubt. Not even the people we all think hold the keys to the kingdom. Sure, the people who work on the business side of publishing have a lot of insights, a lot of contacts and a lot of intel. Unfortunately it doesn’t mean they have a error-free crystal ball with all the answers.

I really believe that writers and artists do best when they follow their gut instincts. It could mean choosing to write your novel as a YA told from a teen’s POV or as a suspense novel told from a detective’s POV.

So here are a few simple pieces of advice for the aspiring authors who have a passion project, or a book of the heart they’re working on.

  1. Be open to all the advice you receive. This is a wonderful, generous community and people are eager to help. You’ll get a lot of advice. Don’t be afraid of it. Say thank you, and be grateful people want to help. Everyone believes what they’re saying is the right thing.
  2. Take only what feels right to you. This might not be any of it, and that’s okay.
  3. Write the book you want to write. You’re an artist. Your gut is telling you what the big idea is that’s right for you. That doesn’t mean ignoring good writing practices, or learning about your craft every day. It just means following your heart. That’s the only way you’ll achieve real success.
  4. Believe in yourself. Enough said.

I know that I’ve been very lucky in my writing career. A lot of people have helped me along the way, by sharing insights and offering advice. I also know that ultimately, I have to write what’s meaningful to me. Yes, I can always make my work better. Yes, I can find different ways to market, or try a new point of view in my story.

But if the story isn’t one that excites me, it’s not going to excite the publisher, even if it’s exactly what they wanted. It probably won’t excite the readers, either.

Your gut doesn’t lie. It’s the only place you’ll find the stories you’re meant to tell.

Readers, what’s the best (or worst) piece of advice you’ve gotten, about writing or otherwise? 

78 thoughts on “Friendly Advice

  1. Those four pieces of advice are good for everyone to remember. I know when I started teaching there were always people telling me how I had to do it. Turns out, you have to do it the way that feels right to you. That genuineness comes through and that is what is effective. Thanks for a chance to win a cat mystery.

  2. Do the next thing. Even if you’ve received the worst possible prognosis, just do the next thing that you need to do to get on with living.

  3. Best piece of writing advice besides the four above – kill your darlings. For me, those are usually the first two or three chapters of the first draft. They are always the backstory I have to tell myself so readers will “know” the characters and situation. Bye-bye!

  4. The best advice I have would be to treat each day as a gift – to look at it with joy and anticipation, to unwrap it slowly so as not to miss anything, and to make sure to check all the corners because sometimes the most important things are hiding there. After we lost our daughter, we learned that this was so very true. You don’t know what you have until you lose it. So if you embrace each and every day as a special day – a present – then you won’t miss out on all life’s adventures. I think this could also be true with writing. Don’t overlook something just because it may seen mundane because really it’s the little things that make up the big things in life.

    Thank you so much for the chance to win a copy of either Purring Around the Christmas Tree (the sixth Pawsitively Organic Mystery) or Cat About Town (the first Cate Conte Cat Cafe Mystery)!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  5. I just love your advice to the writer and the comments that follow. I recently told a high school class in creative writing: find your voice and believe in your unique message. One student came right back with, ” How would you describe your own voice?” Wow! That was one question I wasn’t prepared for! 🙂

  6. Liz, I think those four pieces of advice apply to everyone, not just (aspiring) writers. I wrote dozens of technical reports and academic journal articles in my federal government career. And I competed for research grants with other academics in universities and the private sector.

    So my main piece of advice received for work was to not take rejection personally. And to persevere (try and try again) if you think your (research) idea is good enough.

  7. I’ve only shared with one person that I was interested in writing a book. She’s a writer and gave me many great suggestions. But one of the best things she said to motivate me was this: “The beauty of you taking a shot at writing is that there’s no pressure with respect to how fast or how much you write. You can take it at your own pace, and do it as long as you enjoy it.” That’s so true. I’ve been contemplating doing it but so many other things have taken priority in my life that it just went on the back burner. But those words have stayed with me and I’m determined to get going and finish that book one of these days.
    I like your advice for aspiring authors too. Very practical. ( :

  8. Great advice, Liz. It took me a while to understand that it’s okay to say, “Thanks for the advice,” but if it feels wrong it’s okay to let it go or modify it – no matter who gives it to you.

  9. In college.., one side of the art department said make what feeds your soul. Marketing is crass and takes away the soul of your work. The other side said make work that sells. You gotta eat, that existential soul stuff will not keep a roof over your head.
    I found that life is somewhere inbetween soul and money. As a student, though it was a complete turn off to hear both sides bicker instead of giving practical advice of how to just live your own path.

  10. Great advice Liz. I heard a lot of great things at Crime Bake and was very impressed by the stories and advice shared. I also liked hearing about writing styles and the differences between them. Nice blog. Thank you.

  11. A new writer should be open to all suggestions, but a more experienced one will sieve through that advice for what feels right. For that perfect fit.
    I was glad to read your comments on the “age” thing. What age should your protagonist be? What age should you write to? One agent told my friends that their protagonists of a ‘certain age’ will not sell. We, being of a ‘certain age’, did not agree with that.
    When one agent suggested I turn my YA into an adult book and another said to tone down my intellectualizing they were actually saying the same thing yet coming at it from different angles. It felt right to me when I heard both those comments.
    Thanks for your tips.

  12. I had the pleasure of meeting Susan Wittig Albert. She told me not to worry about how old I was when I wanted to write. Just write!
    Thank you for the advice and the giveaway!

  13. This is great advice. I know from my own experiences that this is a very generous community. I’m a self sufficient kind of gal and I don’t tend to ask for help in any aspect of my life, even when I probably should. I am always hesitant to ask for advice or even speak to an author about writing. However, I’ve pushed myself to to do so from time to time after I framed it in my own mind as being about learning, not “getting.” And sure enough, one nugget of information leads to learning about something else and that leads to meeting someone else and learning something from them… Thanks for the additional nuggets of advice, Liz!

  14. Not taking rejection personally, here, too. I sold insurance for nine years, a product no one can see, touch, or show off to their friends, but which costs a significant portion of everyone’s ready cash. It helped me a great deal to realize and understand that a rejection of my product (or sales pitch) was not a reflection on me. And I’ve seen this with other types of art, as well. No single product or book or painting will ever appeal universally.

  15. When advise contradicts itself, go with your gut. Advise is people sharing what has worked for them. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay.

  16. It really shows when an author writes what they know (or don’t know!). It also shows when an author has done a great deal of research. Those are the books that are interesting as well as fun to read.

  17. I am so impressed with how the authors i follow and read handle rejection. Your is a difficult journey to publishing and as a reader I am very impressed. I have been rejected my entire life in every aspect so I have a thick skin but know some do not . I would love to have Purring if I win.

  18. Probably the best advice I have ever gotten was to trust my gut. I love the advice you give here, and I really love how supportive the mystery writing community is. Thanks for the giveaway and Happy Holidays!

  19. There is always someone for everyone in the World was one of the best things my mother always told me. Now I find myself telling my own daughter the same thing. Thanks so very much for the opportunity to enter the giveaway. I’d really enjoy reading Purring Around the Christmas Tree. robeader53(at)yahoo(dot)com

  20. The best writing advice I ever received was “Write what you would enjoy reading.” Your words are all great advice especially #4! Hope you have a blessed Christmas. judy

  21. I’m honestly not a writer, despite everyone’s assumptions to the contrary based on all my questions at Malice, but the advice that helped me to do papers in college was to either know what you’re writing about thoroughly or learn everything you can about it so it becomes second nature. I really believe people can see through you when you’re writing about something that you could care less about.

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