My Advice to Younger Author Me
By: Heather Day Gilbert
I often see people asking “what would you tell yourself when you were younger?” So I got to thinking, what would I have told myself back when I embarked on a writing career, over eleven years ago?
-I would tell myself to go ahead and independently publish my debut novel—which thankfully, I did. 🙂 I’ve never regretted that at all, because I made sure I took the time to do it right.
-I would tell myself to stick with one genre. I didn’t listen to that advice from other authors back when I started, so at this point, I have published Viking historical novels, contemporary mysteries and romantic suspense, and a nonfiction Indie Publishing Handbook. Yet I can’t really gain traction in sales until I have multiple series out in the same genre. This is why I’ve latched onto writing cozy mysteries like my Exotic Pet-Sitter series and I have more cozy series in the works. Writing cozies is my happy place.
-I would tell myself that landing an agent doesn’t ensure that my book will be published. I’ve had five agents at this point in my career, and only one agent has secured a book deal for me. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had some really good agents along the way, it just means my books weren’t what publishers wanted at that time. And that means years of waiting for a contract offer.
-I would tell myself to read bestselling books in the genre I want to write in, and to copy the tropes in that genre. There are reader expectations, no matter what genre you write—from cozy mysteries having a wrap-it-up scene to romances having a happily ever after. If you go in trying to break EVERY mold, chances are publishers won’t know where to place you, and you won’t get picked up. Of course, there’s always indie publishing for books like this…but it’s very hard to move books when even readers don’t get what you’re doing.
I hear authors saying “write your heart” a lot, and I did that with my debut novel, but that book is not one of my best earners because I didn’t study the market first. My books that earn the most fit the tropes of their genre—although my books are always a little out of the box. Thus, I wrote an exotic pet-sitting, video game playing amateur sleuth, Belinda Blake. Thankfully, she’s been doing well, that little mold-breaker. 😉
-I would tell myself to write in the way I feel comfortable writing. This is different from “writing your heart.” This means that if writing in first person present point of view feels the most natural to you, don’t try to rewrite the book in third person past (been there, tried that). Finding your voice is crucial—and making sure your voice fits the genre you’re writing.
-I would tell myself I’m not going to make a fortune with my debut novel. Very few authors do. I don’t know the percentages, but if you want to be an author and make writing your career, don’t count on writing to make you a regular income until many years down the road. This goes for indie or traditionally published authors, although if you’re indie and you can get your books out quickly, you can build a backlist (and steady income) fast.
So that can translate to years of hard work for very little pay. You have to love what you do and you have to believe in your books, more than any one agent or editor ever will.
I hope this advice isn’t discouraging to younger authors, but I do think it helps to learn from those who have gone before and to listen to what they have to say. No author’s journey is the same as another’s—for instance, there are those instant NYT bestsellers—but I wish I’d listened more when authors with established readerships told me to stick to one genre and build on it.
Yes, I was capable of writing multiple genres and yes, I now have readers in each genre, but the fact is that I wish I’d used those years building a huge backlist of cozy mysteries so readers could latch onto me more quickly. Still, it worked out well, because now I’ve written other genres, I know cozy mysteries are the genre I’ll be happy to stick with for a long time.
Regardless, we each have our own paths to tread. If I could go back in time and give myself advice, I know myself—I wouldn’t have listened. I can be really headstrong and determined.
Here’s hoping some writers among you found some advice you could latch onto today! All the best to you!
Heather Day Gilbert, an ECPA Christy award finalist and Grace award winner, is the author of the bestselling Exotic Pet-Sitter mystery series. Her novels feature small towns, family relationships, and women who aren’t afraid to protect those they love. Like her amateur sleuth Belinda Blake, Heather plays video games, although so far she hasn’t done any exotic pet-sitting or hunted any murderers. Find out more on HeatherDayGilbert.com.
About The Book:
Belinda Blake and the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing(An Exotic Pet-Sitter Mystery)
by Heather Day Gilbert
Exotic pet-sitter Belinda Blake is nervous about her new job at the White Pine Wolf Preserve, but it turns out that the care and feeding of wild carnivores may be the least dangerous part of the gig . . .
Pet-sitter Belinda Blake is no stranger to dealing with wild animals, but she’s wary when the owner of the Greenwich, Connecticut, preserve asks her to help out with her “fluffy darlings.” Her caution seems justified on her very first day when she discovers a tour guide—dead, bloodied, and surrounded by wolves in the enclosure.
Was it death by a predator or something more sinister? The body count rises, but something’s not adding up. As she gets to know the rescued wolves and wolf-dog hybrids better, Belinda realizes that her human colleagues are not above suspicion. With help from her own “pack”—her pregnant sister, Red the chauffeur/bodyguard, and hunky farmer Jonas—Belinda is hot on the killer’s tail, but if she doesn’t find him soon, he’ll do more than muzzle her to keep the truth from escaping.
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