I started this blog a decade ago and a handful of short stories published, many trunked novels, one agent come and gone, and two children later, here are a few things I’ve learned on the publishing journey since:
- The most important thing is to know why you want to be a writer and what you want out of it.
- Everyone is on a different timeline, but other writers are not your competition. Cheer for your friends that make it first and help the ones behind.
- You can make true and lasting friendships.
- Have friends outside of writing, because they’ll keep you sane.
- Some people will leave you behind. Sometimes it’s just that they’re busy, but sometimes they were never really your friend and are out there chasing status. Don’t be like the latter.
- You can often tell someone’s character by the company they keep.
- Trends are usually over before you can write to them, so write what you want. You might have to wait to sell it, but nothing is ever truly dead for long. Timing is a matter of luck.
- Many people have more than one agent in their careers, but don’t talk about it. Even if you do your due diligence, sometimes it doesn’t work out because you don’t know what you need until you’ve had one.
- A typo in a query or your manuscript is not the kiss of death.
- If you can’t condense your story into a quick pitch, it might be difficult to sell. Pitching is a skill you’ll need for your whole career, even after you’ve gotten an agent, so take the time to practice.
- Most people get an agent cold querying, but there are other opportunities and unconventional paths. Make the most of what you can. Pitch wars, #pitmad, and #dvpit are all good.
- Agents appear and disappear from the industry. So do editors.
- Everyone knows everyone so don’t be an asshole. It’s a small industry.
- Conventions are not always welcoming or safe spaces for marginalized people, but they can also be a way to meet new people and catch up with internet friends for real. They can often be expensive. It’s a mixed bag.
- Rejection is inevitable and frequent. No matter how many you get, rejections still hurt, but you will learn better coping mechanisms.
- Sometimes it’s good that you’re rejected. You will learn better, and look back in embarrassment. Some ideas don’t age well.
- Leveling up in writing feels a lot like frustration.
- There’s always more to learn and what you need to work on keeps changing.
- Read current books in your genre. If you’re doing comp titles use books published within the last 5 years and not mega best sellers.
- Read books outside your genre, so you don’t just sound like everyone else.
- Beta reading and critiquing are skills that requires practice. Your goal should be to help the writer tell their story more clearly – not to tell them how to do it. Suggestions can be bouncing off points, but shouldn’t be solutions. The writer knows their story best.
- Whatever social media you choose, pick what you enjoy and play to your strengths. You don’t have to do everything. Blogs are apparently dead (so write them only if you like them). Newsletters are apparently the thing now?
- You don’t need to get involved in every Twitter beef, meme, or scandal. It’s actually better to wait a day or two to get the full picture before weighing in.
- Social media etiquette evolves. Know that your power is situational, and ever shifting. Even if you think you’re nobody, you can still have impact.
- Social media platforms come and go, so have a platform you control, even if it’s just a website with contact information.
- Not everyone is genuine online, but others are exactly as they appear. Mostly, what you get is carefully curated parts of their lives rather than the whole, and some people are more careful with curation than others. People are allowed to set their boundaries of engagement.
- Don’t put people on pedestals because no one is perfect and contradictions are part of the human condition.
- This industry is not financially viable for most people.
- Publishing is not a meritocracy.
- The diverse books discourse continues to evolve. You need to try to understand the areas where you’re not as knowledgeable, follow people who talk about them, or read books, take workshops, or just listen. It’s impossible to know everything, and it’s not someone else’s job to educate you. If someone takes the time to point out your errors it’s an act of trust, not an insult.
- If you are BIPOC you’re also more likely to be paid less, face identity policing, tokenization, microaggressions, harassment, and racist reviews (but that’s the same for a lot of industries). Find your people to help you through.
- You can do your best, but you can never please everyone even when you’re writing from your own experience. There is no such thing as perfection and culture is not a monolith. What one person wants isn’t what everyone wants, so write your truths.
- You will mess up, but it’s better to mess up than not try at all.
- Learn how to apologize well.
- The only way to break in: Don’t quit and keep challenging yourself to do better.
What would you add to this list?
This was a list too long to post on social media, so here you go! I mainly read SFF and romance, so gaps in genres reflect that. I’ve mentioned a bunch of these before, but I’m adding mini book reviews so they’re all in one place. I’m absolutely confident there’s something in here that you’ll love!
- The Broken Earth Series by N. K. Jemisin (F) – This series deserves all the awards it received. It takes place on a geologically unstable world where people have fractured into stratified societies where magic users are are treated like tools instead of people. I had a hard time getting through it, but it’s also a master class on craft. Just… damn. The first book features two points of view that interweave – I won’t spoil how. If you’re a writer, you shouldn’t miss it. All her books are great! So don’t stop there.
- Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (SF) – African futurism. Set in post-apocalyptic Sudan, its a revenge story featuring a rape survivor. It is heavy, angry, and if you’re looking for something lighter, I recommend the Binti novellas where a genius Himba girl goes to space and befriends squid-like aliens.
- The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden (SF) – Near future South Africa plus gods, magic, and technology. It’s full of chaotic energy, action, and awesome. I think it would make an incredible movie. I really need to catch up on her newer books!
- Trail of Lightning Series by Rebecca Roanhorse (F) – Supernatural x Navajo mythology. It’s a gritty future world, featuring a tough as nails monster hunter with no fucks left to give and a gorgeous healer with secrets.
- Sorcerer of the Wildeeps (F) by Kai Ashante Wilson – This is one that I think needs to be read aloud or listened to on audiobook. It’s dark and brutal story about mercenaries escorting a caravan through a monstrous jungle to a famous city.
- MEM by Britanny C Morrow – This one defies categories. It’s a novelette set in an alternate 1920’s where people make clones of themselves to store painful memories. It’s unsettling, strange, and leaves you thinking about what it means to be human.
- Witchmark by C.L. Polk – A queer Edwardian murder mystery, set in an alternative world where magic exists but is outlawed.
- The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (SF) – It feels like she predicted the social unrest in the world we’re living in. All of her books are worth checking out.
- River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy (First in a F series) – Two sisters must battle each other for the throne, but Eva has a dark magic that hasn’t manifested. Eva goes up against unfavorable odds and love for a sister she’s supposed to kill. There are different kinds of magical creatures, monsters, and peoples in this book.
- Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron (First in a F series) – West African inspired fantasy where a girl is born without magic in a world where everyone else has it, and a demon king has returned. This one gets dark, and I’m not sure if the MC is a hero or an anti-hero – which is a cool dynamic.
- Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow (SF) – This book is an ode to music and books. In a world where the arts are banned a rebel librarian and a music loving alien go on a road trip and end up saving the world.
- A Blade So Black (3 books F) – Alice in Wonderland x Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Thick with romantic tension, trouble with strict parents, living a double life, and MONSTERS. Lots and lots of monsters and unfortunately ruined clothes.
- The Belles (2 books F – though I’ve heard rumors of book 3?!) by Dhionelle Clayton – A world where beauty is currency and some girls are born with the magic to cosmetically alter people. It’s fantastically pretty and sinister at the same time. One of the most original series I’ve ever read.
- Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (2 books) – These books are so richly detailed, and OMG they made me hungry. Original world building and characters you root for. I’m really looking forward to reading War Girls and Riot Baby.
- Dread Nation (2 books) – ZOMBIES + girls kicking butt during the civil war. FUN but also history.
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – Currently being made into a movie. It’s an African inspired heroes quest for a magic artifact. Also, falling in love with the enemy.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – It’s a movie and on the best seller’s list forever for a reason. It’s a story of police brutality, yet ends with a hopeful note. Powerful. You should check out On the Come Up too.
- The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon – A romance that takes place in the span of one day, with a black immigrant MC about to be deported and a Korean-American love interest. It’s got music, sweetness, and the end punched me in the gut.
- Pride by Ibi Zoboi – A retelling of Pride and Prejudice about families on a block in Brooklyn. I’ve mentioned it here before, but it’s one of my faves.
- Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann – A romance featuring an asexual protagonist. The first ace romance I’ve read, and I could relate to a lot of it. Happy ending, of course!
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – It’s a book of narrative poetry, that tells the story of a girl finding her voice and going for her passion. One of the most original books I’ve ever read.
- The Tristan Strong books by Kwame Alexander (F) – These are packed with SO much attitude and humor, I snorted in laughter so many times. A fun, fast paced set of books infused with American folk tales.
- The Jumbies books by Tracey Baptiste (F) – A series of creepy things happen when a stranger comes to Corinne’s town. It’s a story steeped in Carribean folklore, magic, and the kind of monsters that snatch kids in the dark.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – It’s not just a book about history, but a masterclass in narrative craft. It left me wrecked, and thinking for a long time about the legacies of slavery.
Hollywood Homicide Series by Kellye Garrett – A former actress turns detective. It’s funny, fashionable, and very LA.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay – Her essays are smart and poignant. Many of these were published online previously, but it’s nice to see them in one collection.
These authors are PROLIFIC. I can’t even rec individual books, just everything by them, because they’re that good.
- Alyssa Cole – Her princess books are nerdy fun, and her historical fiction handles the complexities of the past with a deft hand. Read it all!
- Alexa Martin – I’m not a fan of sports, but her books are so much fun and I have a new appreciation for both athletes and their partners.
- Kennedy Ryan – I picked up Queen Move on sale, and now I’m going through the back list on one click order. If you like messy, complicated drama in relationships, and soulmates, you’ll like these.
- Jasmine Guillory – Funny and sweet. Good if you want something lighthearted to make you smile.
- Rebekah Weatherspoon– Very explicit, but also character focused, and full of sweetness and heart. I’m a particular fan of the FIT books, and the Loose Ends books.
- Melissa Blue – You want sexy Scottsmen? Melissa’s got a series of them. Also explicit.
- Beverly Jenkins – The QUEEN. She’s written 60+ books? I haven’t had time to count the actual number, and she’s still going!
Of course, I hope you either continue to, or begin to, read books by Black authors all the time, and not just now. My personal goal is to add more non-fiction to my reading list this year.
What are your favorites or what are you looking forward to reading next?