Things we’ve learned since publishing

My critique partner, Elisabeth Naughton, signed me up to speak on a panel at the Emerald City Writer’s Conference near Portland, OR in October and the topic is…you guessed it, What I’ve Learned Since I’ve Published.  (In my case it’s sold, because my book doesn’t come out until April 2012.)

And it occurred to me that I’d love to hear what all the RUBY SISTERS have learned since they’ve sold and/or published.  So, I’ll start the ball rolling with one element and I hope everyone who has been down that publishing road will give the ball a little kick and add one thing they’ve learned that hasn’t been listed yet.


I’ve learned that the published arena in a much bigger place, and I’m trying to please a whole lot more people, and to do that, I’ve got to be flexible.  About everything.  Title, cover, character names, the way a plot branches, etc.  Being flexible with your time is important because everyone moves at a different pace based on what else is going on in their schedules.  Flexibility extends to your marketing plan, your marketing budget, where your career goes after this contract is fulfilled and/or what you write next.

I’ve dealt with the title changes, the long waits, the altering marketing plans.  And while I’m still waiting for the edits, copy edits and cover changes to come, right now I live in what-comes-next village. 

With the two book contract complete and the option proposal written, I am in that phase of…now what?  It’s…an interesting place.  The freedom can make you a little giddy — but only for a while.  Then it gets a bit dicey.  Especially if what you want to write isn’t what’s selling or something you don’t have the voice to master.  (There is a fantastic article on this topic written by literary agent Laura Bradford here.)  Or maybe you are venturing into a genre that your current agent doesn’t represent, maybe staying in a genre that is saturated and struggling to find a “different” or “fresh” angle or concept to develop.

I recently submitted a proposal to my agent for a paranormal romance.  It was rather different from what I write currently, which is a touch more romantic suspense with paranormal elements.  How is that for pushing around a genre to fit?  But the concept didn’t completely sit right with my agent.  Some aspects worked for her, but some didn’t.  She couldn’t envision how I would be able to make the premise unique enough to stand out from what had already been done.

Interestingly enough, I wasn’t crushed.  I think because my subconscious knew something wasn’t quite right, or maybe I wasn’t completely in love with it.  I don’t know, but I went back to the idea stage.  Pieces of this story had come from an idea I’d had a long time ago, something quite different–dark and gritty.  I took the original idea, fused it with some elements of the newer idea and of course, those two combined created elements unique to this book.  As I developed the book, I could see where it would open up into a series of related books.

Luckily, my agent really liked this version.  We talked over some issues she had, which if changed would make the idea stronger.  Once again, I altered the story and the characters, rewrote the synopsis and am waiting to hear back.

So, that’s just one of the big things I’ve learned since I’ve published…you’ve got to be all kinds of flexible.  Try things you never thought you’d try.  Think in ways you never thought you’d think.  Trust ideas you’d never thought you’d trust.

Think Gumby.

I can’t wait to hear what all of you have learned!!

Tell!  Tell!

31 responses to “Things we’ve learned since publishing”

  1. I couldn’t agree more, Joan. I have been so fortunate in pretty much every arena of the publishing world, so I don’t have any complaints to speak of. I just got my covers for the UK editions, in fact, and let me just say WOW!

    But I have learned to be both flexible with my time and selfish. There comes a time when one simply must put one’s foot down and say, “No! I cannot hang out with you on facebook. I have a book due in five minutes.” But sometimes even with that book due, other things crop up, like first pass line edits, and everything else must be put aside.

    Just the nature of the biz. But I’d say, yes, flexibility is at the top of the list.

    Gumby indeed! lol

  2. Elisa Beatty says:

    Great post, Joan!

    Flexibility is a great quality to have, for sure–and I think you could also call it “maturity.” No room for hissy fits or “it has to go MY way” tantrums in this business. The act of writing may be very private, but it’s clear publishing is a collaborative effort.

    Good luck with your first release!

    • Joan Swan says:

      Flexibility = maturity = professionalism … it could be described in many ways, you’re so right Elisa.

      In relation to your comment on maturity: An editor once told me that when dealing with authors she found she was dealing with a person at the youngest age their dream of becoming an author was cemented. So if someone’s dream of becoming published came at 7 years old, she’d have a much harder time getting through revisions and dealing with any type of changes than someone who decided to go at publishing from the age of say 20+. She said their expectations of what it should be or would be were anchored at that age and incredibly difficult to overcome.

      Interesting concept.

      • Vivi Andrews says:

        Oh God, that’s terrible! I think I was 13. I don’t want to be 13 forever! Or maybe “cemented” means when I really started pursuing publication as a career rather than a dream – so that would be 27. I can live with 27.

  3. Leslie says:

    I’m not published yet (Congratulations, Joan!) but on the writing journey I’ve had to learn faith. There was a reason I put that first word on paper. Sometimes I need to block out all the extraneous and rely on faith in my abilities, faith in my determination, and faith that this path will lead to success.

    • Joan Swan says:


      I LOVE your use of the worth FAITH. It’s so right-on accurate. Faith is defined as a strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence. When you’re an unpublished writer, working toward that first sale, you have to have faith–in yourself, in the industry, in the universe at large.

      Faith is independant of positive or negative thoughts. Faith is independant of fear, anger, sadness. Faith is believing in spite of all those things.

      And having faith in yourself, your own abilities and beliefs and possibilities, is the most powerful thing you can have — in writing or life.

  4. liz talley says:

    Hmmm…I could write a book on what I’ve learned.

    First, I learned you don’t have to win a contest or have an agent to sell a book. Because I’ve done neither. I also learned that some people find agents invaluable but they don’t know themselves what an editor will or will not buy. I know this mostly because an agent I wanted to work with on my next proposals turned me down for rep because she thought my 2nd and 3rd book weren’t strong enough. My editor bought them both the next week.

    I learned you have to be professional and deliver your book, art fact sheets, AAs and anything else in a timely manner.

    I learned it takes a long time to get edits. To get a check. And to get your author copies.

    I learned readers can be cruel and awesome.

    I learned my family doesn’t want to hear the next plot of my book. Their eyes glaze and they say, “Um-hum” a lot.

    But mostly I learned that there is nothing better than holding your book in your hands, writing your “fake” name on the title page and hearing how much a person liked your book.

    • Joan Swan says:

      Awesome, Liz!

      I agree with every single one of those!

      Personal merit, professionalism, patience and passion.

      And I’m so glad to hear that mine is not the only family who struggles to show interest in my crazy plots and characters!!

  5. I haven’t published, but I want to share a lesson that a newly pubbed lawyer friend of mine told me about:

    When you autograph your books, you shouldn’t use the same signature that you’d use to sign your checks. She made the point that anybody could copy your handwriting and forge your name on legal documents. Granted, our “real” signatures are all over credit card receipts we sign every day and give to teens behind counters, but putting it in a book and sending it out into the world might be asking for trouble.

    She said that authors should create a wholly new signature to autograph books with, and save their legal signature for legal documents.

  6. Vivi Andrews says:

    I think the catch-word I’ve learned is: ACCESSIBILITY to readers. Not just whether your book is widely distributed (though that is huge) but also this word to me means something about how easy it is for a reader to imagine sliding into your world and loving it. My shifter series is more accessible in that it has an easier one-line lure and a level of familiarity as a subgenre.

    It’s like a spin on high concept, almost. How accessible is your premise? It’s a balancing point between unique and familiar. And I feel like I’m not making much sense on this, but it’s a concept I’m just starting to wrap my head around.

    • Joan Swan says:

      That is an interesting spin on the concept, Vivi. I too will have to give that some thought, but I can see, as both a reader and a writer, how I want to know more about the writer behind the books I admire.

  7. Patience. With a capital “P”.

    Things in the publishing world do not move at the pace I would like them to move. They move at the pace of agents and editors and pub schedules. Just because I’ve finished a proposal doesn’t mean my agent is going to drop everything and read it right away. She has other clients just like my editor has other authors and I have other ideas.

    The other thing I’ve learned (and am still working on) is balance. Life goes on even when you have an insane deadline and you’re behind on a book. Kids still must be fed, clothed, listened to. Dogs have to be walked, baseball games have to get played, etc. For Mother’s Day my son wrote me a bunch of lovely poems (they’re doing a poem unit in his class) and one of them spelled out the word “Amazing Mom” and had a sentence about me that began with each letter. For ‘A’ he wrote “Always on the computer”. Lately, he’s right. I am. I have a book due in 3 weeks that just might kill me. But again I was reminded that balance is key. (And yeah, having lots of mommy guilt for that right now.)

    • Joan Swan says:

      Patience is key. Balance is something I think I’ll always struggle with, as my OCD likes to pull me one direction or the other.

      And on the kid thing…mine did the same thing. I got a valentine’s card with a picture of me sitting in front of computer depicting “My Mom’s Favorite Thing To Do.”

      As mine have gotten older, I can look back and see that it was simply an observation, not an opinion or a judgement. I was the one who let myself feel guilty even though I spent far more hours off the computer than on.

      That balance is key to keeping that guilt in check. And sometimes there will be more balance than others. Less at deadline, more after submission. Ebb and flow. 🙂

      And I happen to know you’re an AWESOME mom.

  8. Cate Rowan says:

    I’ve learned Courage.

    If some people don’t believe in you, forge ahead anyway. Make your own path if you have to. It will all turn out well in the end.

    I’ve also learned that fan letters are the world’s best emails!

  9. Rita Henuber says:

    Don’t listen to what They Say. Everyone’s experience is different. You can’t count on what happened for one author happening for you. This is your career and you have to mind it carefully. Nobody else will.
    Don’t stop learning your craft and never give up

  10. Train to focus. I’ve had to take using time wisely to the next level after publishing. I had no idea how much time was needed on non writing tasks. With all we need to do –revisions, edits, promo, etc.– time disappears.


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