Staying True to Yourself (and the Audience You Someday Hope to Have)

A while ago, I had a really exciting opportunity for a book I thought was going to be shelved forever. Like, really exciting. Think publication. It was a small press, and that was fine. Not my original dream for my book, but still an opportunity to get it out there in the world and read by people. Maybe people who didn’t even know me would read my book. Maybe I would get fans. Maybe people would send emails begging for a companion novel set in the same world with the same people because it was just that cool. Someone might even get a tattoo of their favorite quote with a symbol of the book and send me the picture and I could tweet it and feel awesome.

Despite all those maybes (and there were plenty more), I noticed something. Not all of me was excited. While the hyperactive happy puppy part of my brain was gamboling about imagining a fan-run wiki and people dressing up like my characters for Halloween, the cranky leash-holding part of my brain was saying, “Heel, pup, because something ain’t right.” It didn’t feel safe.

So I did two things. First, I did more research on the publishing company and their books and authors. I asked around. I asked friends to ask friends to ask friends. The results were mixed. In the name of realizing a publication dream, I might have gone for it.

But the second thing I did was sit quietly and think about what I wanted. (Fine, we’ll call it what it was: brooding.) Did I want this particular book to be my debut novel? Did this book represent my best work? Would it put me on the path to writing more of the same, or would it allow me to grow and experiment? This was an old manuscript—I wasn’t even writing in that genre anymore. And what about self-promotion—how much time and energy would that take away from my new WIP?

We all know what happened in the end. Obviously, because um, I haven’t published a book. Maybe I never will. But it was important to me to follow my intuition, improve my craft, and wait. At the SCBWI Summer Conference in August, agent Steven Malk talked about slowing down and having a plan, really evaluating where you want your writing career to go.

Steven Malk addressing kidlit lovers at the SCBWI Summer Conference in 2013. I'm off to the far left--sitting next to one of my writer crushes, Sonya Sones! Thank you, Lee Wind, for permission to use the photograph.

Where do I want my career to go? I want my first book to be the best possible work I can show my audience. If I don’t give them my best, I won’t have an audience. That book I was talking about? That wasn’t my best. So I’ll slow down, keep learning, keep writing, and hope that someday I write a debut book I’m proud to share with the world—maybe not a book worthy of tattoos and Halloween costumes, but a first book that makes the audience want to read my second one.


This is really sound advice, I couldn't agree more. Organizations like SCBWI are really helpful for steering writers toward good choices. With so many options out there, it can be tempting to jump into self-publishing or submitting to presses. Being so connected online,when I see other author's successes, I want that too!

I'm pretty involved with RWA. Recently a published author was speaking to an online class how she believes you should have 3-5 completed novels under your belt before trying to get published. A few people freaked out at that, though her point was that it takes a few projects to work through initial newbie writer roadbumps, and to establish a style. It doesn't mean all those will or should get published. I tend to agree with her. I partnered with an agent on only my second written book, and since then have a few more drafts under my belt. I'm actually excited to revise because I think I'm a stronger writer than before.

Thank you for the reminder that slow and steady may be the best choice for some of us.

Holding out for what you really want is a wise decision, Beth!

It can be so difficult to put on the brakes, Steph. And yes, the number of completed novels before publishing TOTALLY depends on the writer--some can make a first or second novel work because they are just that good! Looking at the business side of writing as a career and thinking about what I want in the long run--that helped me make my decision.

I admire you, Beth, for slowing down and asking yourself the really important questions. Thanks for writing this.

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