I have learned a few important things along the way, and in an effort to pay it forward, I'd like to share.
My TOP 5 THINGS I WISH I KNEW BACK IN 1993:
5. Read what you write--like obscene amounts. Read so much of what you write that your television gets dusty.
Why this is so important: It keeps your writing fresh and relevant and on point--genre wise. It's like a free writing workshop with the professionals in your genre.
4. Don't stop at one book (or short story, or article, or whatever it is you write). Keep writing and writing and writing and writing.
Why this is so important: The odds are that the first book you write won't be the one to get you published. I know it happens, but it's not prevalent. So get going on your second "thing" and don't look back.
3. Get very used to revising. In other words, publishing professionals (agents & editors) are going to have you kill your darlings and sometimes its a bloody damn mess.
Why this is important: Back before I had an agent or an editor I used to get defensive about my writing. These were my people and my story and I knew them best. Letting the critiques in and truly listening to what is being suggested can only make your writing stronger. HOWEVER, be very careful who you "let in" and always trust your gut.
2. Social networking is great, but human contact is better. Everyone and their dog is online. We know this. I'm online so much my husband is jealous of my laptop. But the real networking payoff comes when you network in person, when you step away from the computer and meet other writers face-to-face. There's a certain, oh, magic in it.
Why this is important: While I'm sure the reasons are obvious, I'd like to add my number one reason for making human connections: it puts a face/smile/laugh/story to the online handle. That can't be beat.
1. Publishing moves slow. I now understand why. Reading and editing take extraordinary amounts of time (we know this as writers). Agents and editors are plain old human beings--they can only stay awake for a certain amount of hours in a day. As far as I know, robot agents and editors haven't been developed yet ; )
Why this is important: During my query journey I got frustrated with the molasses-like-time frames of publishing, believe me. I may have even lost it on occasion. We writers are human as well. But I've recently come to understand the slowness. We all know agents get tons of query letters. We all know agents ask for partial and full requests. But what I failed to consider back when I was querying was the amount of reading an agent must do on behalf of her clients. Let me just say, LOTS. And reading takes time. The same goes for editors. They not only read a manuscript once or twice--more like, my editor read CRACKED as many times as it took for us to get it right. I'll say it again, reading takes time. And when you're reading for editing or revising purposes it is a much slower read. I don't know why this personal revelation didn't come to me sooner. It's rather obvious.
Hopefully these five things I've learned along the way will help someone out there.
*that picture book manuscript was queried a few times back in '93 but remains unpublished. Thank God. I do, however, pull it out every once in a while for a good laugh.