There are so many things I was unaware of when I started writing my romance novel, things that would have saved me a lot of time. But at the time I was writing for my own enjoyment. Not that I didn’t aspire to become a published author; I just didn’t think I had what it takes. I hooked onto an idea, dove headfirst into it, and didn’t let anything distract me. Now I realize I could have gotten to where I am today a lot earlier if I’d just believed in myself a bit more.
These are only a few of the mistakes I made along the way:
Feeling embarrassed for writing romance
I grew up in the seventies believing the romance genre wasn’t worthy, that it was looked down upon for being fluff, stuff for the weak minded. Although mine were squeaky-clean stories, it was still romance fiction, and most sub-genres of modern romance seemed to carry a stigma of being ‘rubbish’. I scoff at the idea today. After all, romance is among the most popular bestselling genres, making up 23% of the overall fiction market. But for years I didn’t open up to anyone about my passion for writing. In my teens I would invent stories and test them out on my closest friend, pretending they were books I’d read. Each time I hoped to fuel a spark of interest in her eyes, a sign that certified I was doing something wonderfully creative. But I never saw more than mild, polite interest. Eventually, I stopped telling her my stories. I didn’t know anyone who loved reading as much as I did, let alone who read romance novels. I convinced myself I was part of a minority of dreamers who fantasized in private about romantic love and happy endings.
Taking long breaks between writing or editing
In my early writing days, I didn’t have anyone to tell me self-doubt is an inevitable part of the writing process. I studied famous authors’ writing styles and consulted the internet and reference libraries for research. Reading and researching were the ways I knew to hone my craft. But even as I improved, I could never measure up to any of my favorite authors. I was constantly second-guessing myself, and the result was that I would often lose interest. I would write in the weekends and sometimes I’d let months go by before I returned to writing. Long breaks between writing meant that I did a lot more editing, because by the time I took it up again I would look at it with a new perspective and change things. Also, I would forget some details and realize after a while that it had lost consistency. It became more of a rewriting process than an editing one.
Not thinking plotting was important
Any novel needs plotting. I learned that the hard way. I just hooked onto an idea and fell headfirst into writing as my creative juices flowed, not caring where it took me. Until I kept hitting one dead end after another, with no end in sight.
Plotting is important to make sure all the pieces fit together in the right way. I can argue that my book was character driven, rather than plot driven, but the truth is, my story didn’t have a structure. I let the characters’ emotions drive the events, even though I didn’t always agree with their choices.
Not marketing myself before publishing my book.
I wish I had started setting up my marketing platforms long before my book launched, but it all sounded so overwhelming. I was never a fan of social media, and the thought of putting myself out there for the whole world to see was terrifying. I created a website but had nothing to put on it. I had a manuscript that was getting the last touch-ups, a bunch of cover designs I couldn’t decide on and was querying agents and publishers. I couldn’t possibly find time to create content for Facebook and Instagram. When I finally took the plunge, I realized other debut authors were way ahead of me. They had a blog, a newsletter, a street team to cheer them on, as well as ARC readers pledging to post reviews on release day, and they were planning launch parties. It was a sobering discovery.
Despite these missed opportunities, it hasn’t been a complete waste of time. Writing my book has been one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, and now as a published author, it continues to give me joy through the feedback I’ve gotten from readers. But I do regret letting my insecurities get in the way of my writing. If I have some words of advice for new or aspiring writers, it’s: don’t let self-doubt and lack of self-confidence hold you back. Learn the fundamentals of writing and become more competent in your own abilities. Finally, look beyond your goal. Writing a book doesn’t end at the words ‘The End’. There’s so much work to be done before and after the publishing process. Start right away the moment you decide you want to write a book. Find your niche and build your audience by starting a newsletter or a blog—or both. Ultimately, all this can be immensely gratifying almost as much as the writing itself.