Pre-Pub Writers–Seize the Day

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

It’s a given that before a writer is published he needs to hone his writing skills but what else can a writer do while he’s waiting to get that first contract? How can he seize the day? Here are eleven possibilities:

  1. Connect with other writers. Join a critique group. There’s nothing like having experienced readers for every chapter of your book. And each writer friend you make now will become a sojourner with you on this path to publication. No one understands this quest better than a fellow writer.
  2. Read voraciously and review the work of other writers. Some of those friendships that come from engaging with a writer about his or her book will help you with endorsements when your book is published. Besides, you must know what’s already out there and who is writing to similar audiences. This will help you analyze the competition and write that part of your proposal.
  3. Connect with bookstores. Long before you become a local author, you need to be a valued customer. If your bookstore manager knows you well before you ask for an in-store appearance, you will have an enthusiastic supporter.dreamstime_xs_30322504
  4. Connect with other readers. Join a book club. Start a book club. Hang out with readers. Go to readers conventions. Always collecting contact data along the way, of course. This can be the start of your all-important reader database.
  5. Organize your office for success. Writing is a business and takes an infrastructure to keep your business neat and efficient. Set up your files now. Set up a software program to manage your contact database. Create a space that makes you happy, makes you willing to stay in your chair for multiple hours a day. Set up financial books and get in the habit of tracking your writing expenses now. Make sure you know your equipment and keep it all in good working order. Back up your computer regularly–this habit could save your bacon when you are on a book deadline.
  6. Practice good writing habits. Get used to a writing schedule. Even if you don’t have a contract and a deadline, regularly time yourself and know what your writing rhythm looks like. One day your agent is going to present you with an offer, and she’s going to ask you how long it will take to write the next book. You don’t want to guess.
  7. Strategically build an online presence. Getting known is going to be a big step forward in catching an agent’s or editor’s attention. Figure out how you fit this into a busy life. Choose your platforms. If you plan to build a blog, spend serious time visiting and commenting on other blogs so there is potential reciprocity.
  8. Build a website. Now might be the perfect time to build a website. While it’s true you can’t build an author site just yet, experiment with a site so you have time to see what works and what doesn’t. Build it yourself if you have an inclination so you get all that experience under your belt.
  9. Attend writers conferences. This may be the one best way to connect with other writers, potential readers, agents and editors. A good conference ushers you into the community of writers. (Side Note: I’m getting ready to go to Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference and would love to meet you in person.)
  10. Create an inventory of manuscripts and ideas. Don’t just have one manuscript. Most authors tell that their first book(s) never saw the light of day. As soon as you write “The End,” start your next book. Also, keep a file of ideas.
  11. Learn valuable skills now. You won’t have time later. Learn Evernote. Figure out how to use Mail Chimp or Constant Comment for e-newletters. (You can always volunteer to send out your church e-newsletters for practice.) Go into your Word program and figure out how Track Changes works–that’s the system your editor will most likely use in the editing process.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but you get the idea. Talk to any multi-published author. They’ll tell you they wish they had the time to [fill in the blank]. My advice? Seize the day.

So what else should you be doing while waiting for an agent or a contract? What did I miss? Β Published authors, please chime in. Tell us what you wish you had done while you had the time.


Forget twiddling your thumbs. Eleven things a writer should do pre-pub. Click to Tweet

A writer needs to seize the day long before that first contract. Click to Tweet

Ready, set, publish. Eleven things a writer needs to do to get ready and to get set. Click to Tweet

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  1. Organizing my office FOR SUCCESS sounds so much better than “to get rid of the mess.” I should post your helpful list on my bulletin board–the one leaning against the wall because I haven’t bothered to hang it. The one beside the stuff stacked on the desk to get it off the dining table. My desk implies “you’re not serious about writing.”

    Thank you, Wendy, for this attitude adjustment and for the advice–I’m making progress on 9 of the 11. Gotta add #3 and #4 to my list.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      9 out of 11– that’s wonderful!

      And when I say “organize for success” it’s with the understanding that some people are far more productive in a comfy cluttered environment than in what they would consider a sterile environment. It’s what works for you.

  2. Wendy, what a keeper of a post. These are great suggestions. I’ve begun/done some of these steps, but some of the basic ones (like learning Evernoteβ€”it’s on my computer, just not learned) I haven’t taken the time to do.

    Like Shirlee, I’m making progress on a number of these. Some I hadn’t thought to begin yet. Build a website? That scares me. πŸ™‚ But, I’m not afraid to learn.

    So, if I was going to focus on one thing from your list right now, which of these would you recommend?

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      These are just suggestions. Building a website (and mastering Evernote) may never be for you. I was just thinking back to the things I wish I had conquered when I had the time.

      If there were just one thing it would be the connection suggestions– which you are already doing since you are already a recognized name in this community of writers because of your participation in the ongoing discussion held on multiple blogs.

  3. Great advice, Wendy! Here are some further thoughts –

    – For a website, why not have your blog, and reviews of some of your favorite books, to hook attention? And remember cross-linking to your social media.

    – In blogging (and, really, all social media) keep to a schedule. Writing as the spirit moves you is frustrating for those who want to read what you’re writing, and who are genuinely interested in your thoughts.

    And some more general thoughts –

    – Live the life you’ve got today, because today can’t be coaxed back after it becomes yesterday.

    – Your book won’t change the world, but you probably ARE the world to someone, right now.

    – When you are standing in God’s office at the end of all this, He won’t have a stack of your books on His desk that He’ll want you to autograph. He’s more likely to have pictures of the people in your life. Did you give them your whole Heart, and did you reflect His?

    I’ve learned (or am learning) some of these lessons, and they can be bitter indeed. Building an academic career was an analogous process, and it was constant writing and research and networking and planning. I was absent from my life, living in future glory.

    And then the rug was pulled, and it was over.

    None of it was worth the cost of days lost and relationships unfulfilled.

    And love missed.

    • Amanda Dykes says:

      Such wisdom in these words. Thank you for sharing, both Wendy and Andrew! Both lists are such needed facets of our writing life. I think in a way, the uncertainty of being pre-pubbed can be a blessing to our outlook. When engaging in online activity, I like to ask myself (in order to help shape my interactions): If my book never gets published, will my reader interactions have made a difference anyway? This question can help us foster organic and meaningful reader-centric interactions, interactions focused on hearts, interactions that seek a depth, not just a number… which helps us remember why we’re in this in the first place: for the people. The hearts.

      And whether or not my book gets published, does my family suffer, or benefit because of my writing? Such an important thing to keep in mind as we shape and surrender our approach to writing, to keep it a ministry and art, not an idol. Thank you both, so very much!

      • Such wise words Amanda. I love your outlook on it all and your readers will be blessed by it!

      • Wendy Lawton says:

        “If my book never gets published, will my reader interactions have made a difference anyway?” Such an important question to ask. (I just love your heart.)

        You bring up an important consideration– our families. When I spent all day sculpting in my studio and then my after dinner hours with my back to my family, writing, I used to worry that my kids would be shortchanged.

        In hindsight I think they learned a lot about the value of work and the fact that I’ve always had a comfortable chair in my studio and in my office for “visiting” family mitigated some of the damage. (Of course, as parents, we just do the best we can and lean on God to cover the holes.)

      • Sondra Kraak says:

        Amanda, you have a beautiful outlook. I knew when I saw your blog the first time that I wanted to emulate you! I can tell you are intentional about your online relationships.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Readers of our blog should put your suggestions into action far ahead of mine, Andrew. Thank you for this insight. Wise, wise words. We are blessed by your presence here in our community.

    • Kim Fletter says:

      I love what Andrew wrote: “Did you give them your whole Heart, and did you reflect His?” That is so true! I finished my self-pub.) memoir and it’s now going through the Editorial Svcs. process. Since I’m not sure if this will be my first and last published book, I do want my readers to be able to contact me. Would you suggest at least setting up an aol email address to publish with my name? Thank you!

    • Andrew, thank you for your perspective. So well said. I, too, resonate with the questions Did you give them your whole heart, and did you reflect His? Great thoughts to ground my focus in. Thank you.

      • I so agree with your comment Andrew, “Did you give them your whole heart and did you reflect His?” Always the focus to come back to over and over. A needed heart check. Thank you.

  4. What’s on God’s desk? Fascinating image to ponder. Thanks, Andrew.

  5. Kristen Joy Wilks says:

    My writing friend (and sister) challenged me to write something in a ridiculously short amount of time. She sent me the publisher’s guidelines and gave us an insufficient amount of time and boom! Off we went writing like crazy. It was such a good exercise. I learned stuff about myself as a writer that I never would have otherwise and to see the manuscript come together and see how fast I could get stuff on paper and then how long it took to edit and actually turn into something good. A very fun and beneficial thing to do now, while we do not have deadlines, while it is just a fun dare.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      And if you can learn to write a first draft without self-editing (self-torturing, really) you’ll have some wonderful raw material to wrangle into a story or manuscript.

      So, yes, good suggestion. Challenge yourself to try new writing techniques during the pre-pub days.

  6. I have done, or am attempting to do, each of these. Other than #5. My office is my dining room. I can only organize it so much, then I have to feed people. Like, whatever. Fine. Eat your Christmas dinner, then get out!
    Okay, not really (< first lie of the day, hopefully the last…okay, YES, the last)

    I think one thing I was totally blessed to do was take two research trips. If the finances are available, now is the time to do as much research as you can. Wander through your work, turning over rocks and peeking into details. If your books are set Stateside, try as hard as you can to spend time in your location. And if your era has anyone alive who remembers it, or has stories from their grandparents, go and interview them.

    • You made me think of that line from the movie Overboard … “Go eat your checkers!” Ha ha!

    • I too have been blessed to go on research trips. Nothing quite like observing the natural world, feasting your eyes on a sunset saturated sky from the same location as your fictional character, and hanging out with the historians who’ve made it their goal to help others remember the history of that specific region.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Great advice, Jennifer. Yes. Collect those stories.

      I wrote a book about Harriet Tubman and the best resource I found were the slave testimonies taped on old recording devices by unemployed writers and anthropologists during the depression on behalf of the WPA. The Smithsonian published those recently– fabulous first hand accounts voiced by the people that lived them.

      • Kiersti says:

        WOW! What an incredible research find that must have been, Wendy. Primary sources–or as close to it as possible–make such a difference.

        Thank you for this wonderful list! Some I’m trying to do, others are in progress, others are good to think about…like getting organized and learning skills and connecting with bookstores. Always something new to learn, it seems! And yours and others’ reminders that relationships are what really matter–whether we get published or not–I needed that too. πŸ™‚ So true!

  7. Thanks for this great list–and the great comments, too. I’ve started most of the items mentioned here, but I’m concerned that my blog is taking up way too much of my writing time. I’m in the process of trying to re-evaluate my priorities and the ROI on all the activities I’m involved in.

    • Jennifer, may I ask how you feel your blog is taking up too much time? Trying to find balance is tough.

      • Jenni, I feel it’s taking too much time because while my blog is going strong, my novel writing has come almost to a standstill. I have two toddlers running around, and they distract me often, so it feels like pretty much anything I do is slow-going. πŸ™‚

        Even without considering the toddlers though, I’m spending a lot of time reading and reviewing books for my blog as well as accepting miscellaneous blogging opportunities…I enjoy it all, but I’ve wanted to author novels for twenty years now. As much as I enjoy blogging–and have even learned from it–it’s now taking probably 75% of my writing time. The other 25% goes to writing Bible study curriculum for teens.

        So much fun to have, so little time!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      That’s an important consideration, Jennifer. I think it’s wise to evaluate often.

  8. Angela Mills says:

    I need to work on 1, 3, and &.

    I’ll be at Mount Hermon πŸ™‚

  9. Lori says:

    I need to work and improve on all of these good suggestions. Can’t think of anything that should be added, except that Jennifer needs to work on her singing. (I know Jennifer has been under the weather and so have I.)

  10. Jenny Leo says:

    My theme of the year so far seems to be “develop patience,” so this post is very energizing. I would add “brainstorm marketing ideas” to the list as well: clever giveaways, nontraditional sales outlets, possible spinoff products, fun events, etc. Nobody knows your story better than you do, so a little blue-sky thinking about marketing ideas up front, and even some preliminary legwork–finding out what things would cost and so on–could prove very valuable later on. Plus, beefing up the Marketing section of your proposal shows publishers we’re excited about the marketing side, even if not all our ideas ultimately pan out.

  11. Great post, Wendy. So many important elements here for pre-publication. One thing I wished I had focused more on was organizing my time. One wonderful thing about pre-publication is being able to write freely. That can quickly change after contract and it took me about two years post contract to really get into a good groove with managing my schedule in a way that worked well for what I needed to accomplish writing wise, but also very importantly for my family so that my writing life didn’t completely unhinge our family life. I’ve found methods now that work efficiently and I wished I had figured them out sooner.

    • Amanda Dykes says:

      I love and respect that about you so much, Joanne! You’re always such a great example to me of maintaining those priorities– carving out time for each role in our lives, with great purpose.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Good advice, Joanne, but don’t you feel like it’s hard to anticipate how frenetic the pace becomes if you get a multi-book contract? We don’t really understand the rhythm of writing, edits, galleys, marketing until we’re in it. And no one tells you that these overlap so that while you are trying to be creatively first drafting you may get a 26-page edit notes document that has a deadline.

  12. Sarah Thomas says:

    I’d add: Enter contests and sign up for critiques at conferences. I got some of my most valuable feedback via those two routes and it’s usually a steal of a deal.

    • I have to say that I’ve steered clear of contests after a bad experience. That said, I know eventually I’ll need to get over it and start submitting to them again.

      • Sarah Thomas says:

        Oh no! I hate to hear that, but know it happens. My method was to pay close attention if I got a piece of advice multiple times and to take it with a grain (or two!) of salt if just one person shared something.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Yes, Sarah. Contests are a great way to get valuable feedback and sometimes much-needed recognition.

  13. This is all such helpful advice. I did some of these while waiting for that first contract. Other things, I wish I had done back then when I had more time. Using social media effectively takes practice. Granted, Facebook and Twitter weren’t such huge things when I started out, but in the last several years new social media sites have also become important, so if I had a more solid knowledge of FB and Twitter first, I could have concentrated on getting to know the others when they started to pick up speed.

    This is the first I’ve heard of Evernote. I’ll have to check it out.

  14. Thank you for this helpful post, Wendy. I’m going to print it off, and I’m grateful that many I can check off already. I’m not published (yet), but I would add one thing from a pre-pubbed position. Get your family on board. I am blessed to have a husband and children who will be thrilled to see my first contract. I don’t take it for granted that they help me brainstorm and proofread also. It’s hard to imagine sticking to something as challenging as writing with an antagonistic spouse.

    Looking forward to the other comments and helpful hints.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      So true. Most writers I know are blessed with supportive family. But because a writer is always researching and exploring new things, the family is blessed with a parent who is never boring.

      I can’t remember which famous mystery writer used to write up in the attic all day long but when he came down for supper the kids couldn’t wait to hear the stories from that day. His daughter wrote that it took her years to figure out that those characters didn’t live up there in the attic.

      • That’s a great story, Wendy. Not long ago, my oldest daughter and I were talking about one of my characters. My 10yo boy walked in, listened for a minute, and said, “Who’s this? Do I know her?” πŸ™‚

    • Oh Meghan, you’re right. Having my family on board makes such a difference! My husband helps me keep writing in the right priority. My boys are my cheerleaders. They’re also the first to let me know without a doubt if I’m taking too much time away from them to write. πŸ™‚

  15. Wendy, what a great list. My craft partner and I were just talking about this. I’m not published, but she is. And the effects that the deadlines have…man, they’re tough. But too, she had years before publication to learn the craft, to develop a platform so the marketing process was easier, to build friendships with others who could talk her off ledges. And I’m trying to do the same on this side of things.

    Love reading everyone’s comments!

  16. A generous writer friend of mine recently spoke to our ACFW chapter about connecting with our audience one reader at a time. She’s made very concerted efforts to reach out to bookstores and interact with her critique group, but her main focus is on connecting with the heart of individuals. Our whole group was blessed and inspired by her. So much of what she shared ties into your bullet points.

    See you under the redwoods Wendy! πŸ™‚

  17. TIMELY – I have just contracted with an agent at Hartline Literary Agency- I have several of those 11 things checked off, but am so so excited to see what else would be of GOOD to my future work habits. THANK YOU for the points you’ve listed here!

  18. Peter DeHaan says:

    This is a great list, and I’m encouraged because I’m already doing most of these things. The one item to add is “build a bigger platform!”

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Aaaarrgggh. Yes. We hear that “platform” word over and over. Many of these suggestions– like website, blog and social media are part of your platform. What I didn’t mention was the old fashion version– speaking gigs. Thanks for the reminder, Peter.

  19. Wow! I’ve started some of these, but there are many I’d never even considered. This is a real gem of a post. It’s also nice to hear others’ ideas to overcome some of the issues I’m dealing with. Thanks everybody for the helpful advice.

  20. I had 4 hours of sleep last night, and therefore, chose the wise route and stood back and said very little…there is so much wisdom here!!
    After a wicked fall, which has taken 2 months to feel like I’ve even come close to recovering, then a bout of the flu, and now almost enough sleep to get arrested, one thing remains the same…just how rich and valuable this blog is.
    I do not know of an agency that puts this much effort into the education of writers.
    I’ve said it before, this place is a brain trust, and I’m honoured to come to school everyday and LEARN.

    Thank you, ladies.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Thank you.

      I need to add that I don’t know of a blog community anywhere that puts this much effort into peer education via our comments section. We agents have talked about this many times– we learn as much or more from you as you get from us.

      Now, Jennifer, your assignment is to get better.

  21. This is such a helpful list, Wendy. Thank you. It is now printed out and I will be going down checking off as I accomplish these suggestions.
    Evernote is new to me and a definite addition to my research organization.
    Family first is a daily commitment that takes priority and is truly a blessing to honor even with young adults are at home instead of small children.
    Andrew’s honest share about counting the cost and loss, including love, puts it all in Godly perspective. His glory, not ours.
    Grateful to you both, Wendy and Andrew.

  22. May I add one more suggestion? Read your work out loud. I still do this. Find one or two people who are in your target market and read a chapter to them out loud. It’s amazing what you pick up when you hear yourself as well as what you will be able to pick up from the expressions of the listeners. You’ll know when they’re engaged and when they start to nod off.
    One of my first books was for 2nd grade reading level. I went to the public school, offered to read to the class and had the students draw a picture of what they heard me read. Those drawings delighted the illustrator who was able to see what the target age group saw in their imagination when they heard only the words of the story.

    • Kristen Joy Wilks says:

      What a great idea Robin. Thanks for letting us in on your secret second grade plan. I wonder if it would work for teens…

  23. Anne Love says:

    Coming in late here, but so glad I did. Great tips Wendy. I’ve done a lot, but now I can see where I still have to strive for new goals and learning. Thanks. πŸ™‚

  24. 12. Hug your dog.

    It’ll make you feel good enough to work on the other 11 steps.

  25. Thanks for a list of things that can be done now to be prepared when the time comes. I’ve got the website covered. I need to work on posting more regularly to that blog. I also have a separate homemaking blog that has a small following. It’s not related to the novel I’m writing on but it could be the start of attracting readers over to my writing site. So thanks for the suggestions about making connections with readers.