I'm Rebecca Mahoney, a freelance journalist, fiction writer & manuscript editor who likes to chat about books & writing, share editing tips, and muse about the freelance life. Visit my full website at rebeccamahoney.com.
If I had a dime for every story I’ve heard about a writer getting rejected, a book that never sold, a manuscript that languished on a shelf for years—well, I’d be living on my own private island in the South Pacific.
So when I hear a positive story about publishing success, I like to celebrate it. Like the story of my writer pal and editing client, Kelly Stone Gamble, who successfully published her debut novel last fall: They Call me Crazy, a dark and wickedly funny tale of murder in a small town, where nothing is what it seems.
What I love about Kelly’s story isn’t just that she made it past all the hurdles we writers encounter to finally see her book in print, but that she made some very smart choices along the way—strategies every aspiring writer can learn from.
Tip #1. Don’t worry about that first draft – just write. Kelly wrote her first full draft of the novel in less than three weeks. Yes, you read that correctly. She let go of all the stuff that usually holds writers back from completing a first draft: worrying about how the story would work, where it was going, whether it would be publishable, what genre it might be, etc. She just had fun with it. She knew the most important part was to get the words on the page so she’d have something to work with later, and let the story emerge as organically and quickly as possible.
Tip #2: Don’t wait until you’re done writing to hire an editor. Once Kelly had a working first draft, but long before she knew it would be ready for publication, she got an editor involved—me! Rather than revising for months and then asking for feedback, she sought insight while the story and characters were still taking shape. That way, she was able to focus her revisions and develop the story with that feedback in mind.
Tip #3: Query a lot—and listen to your feedback. Kelly knew she’d have to send out a lot of queries to get an agent. But rather than sending the same query to dozens of agents all at once, she queried over time, researching agents to find the right fit, refusing to get discouraged when she was rejected, and listening to the feedback they gave her and revising accordingly. Eventually, her persistence paid off: she signed with an agent who loved her book.
Tip #4: Finding an agent doesn’t mean your job is done. Kelly’s agent began shopping her novel, but Kelly knew she had to play an active role in that process, too. After all, one agent alone can’t possibly pursue every publishing opportunity.
Ultimately, it was Kelly, not her agent, who found her publisher, Red Adept Publishing.
Tip #5: Take an active role in the promotion of your book. Books don’t sell themselves—they need to be promoted to readers in order to find their audience. Kelly’s publisher set up a number of promotional opportunities for her, but Kelly also actively and energetically developed her own marketing strategies. She wrote blog posts, solicited Amazon reviews, set up book signings and radio interviews; she set up a Facebook author page, held contests and giveaways, gave guest lectures, Tweeted… the list goes on and on. She started marketing the book well before it went to print (smart authors know it’s the pre-publication marketing that counts the most) and continues to market the book now. She knows that success does not happen in a vacuum; with publishers increasingly slashing marketing budgets, it is imperative that authors take a proactive role in promoting their novels on their own.
Tip #6: Keep writing. Once Kelly finished revising “Crazy,” she started working on a new book. She wrote while querying, while reaching out to publishers, while revising again, while promoting the first novel after it was published… Throughout it all, she never lost sight of the point of this whole process: to write new stories.
It’s a funny thing, this writing life; our books come from within ourselves, and yet the process of writing and publishing can often leave us feeling powerless. From writer’s block and self-doubt to the challenges with finding an agent, a publisher and an audience, it’s easy to feel discouraged. But Kelly’s story is proof that smart decisions and proactive steps can help make our writing dreams come true.