Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Hindsight is always 20/20. It’s easier to look back and see your writing career more clearly than when you’re starting out. This year marks the 30th anniversary of my first romance novel being published. I had books out before then but they were nonfiction, and nothing beats the thrill of holding your first novel. Or your 50th for that matter. For me, the excitement never wears off. Last week I received the French translation of With a Little Help, and couldn’t wait to share the news with my agent and social networks.

I still get a kick out of my translations.The guy on the cover doesn't hurt either.

While I hope the thrill never stops, I’m glad some things have changed. Today I share six things I wish someone had told me when my journey began. They may save you some needless angst.

  1. Publishing is only the beginning. I thought of having my novel published as reaching a summit. I’d plant my “successful” flag, readers would cheer and I’d never worry again. Until my editor asked, “What are you writing next? And after that?” Readers might cheer, but they also want more. There are revisions to do, proofs to read, promotion, even before social networking became everyday. Plus writers’ conferences to attend, speeches, workshops and media. Rinse and repeat with every book.
  2. You can be ‘real’, your family won’t even notice. Using aspects of my family history in stories once kept me awake nights. What if family members were offended, hurt, angry? When one book I considered especially revealing came out, they read the characters, setting and situation as fiction. In other words, they didn’t connect real life with my story. Change the names and details to protect the guilty, and sleep well.
  3. No matter how many books you sell, someone will ask what name you write under. Nearly 30 million sales on, I still get asked what name I write under. Right before how long it takes me to write a book, and where do I get my ideas. Knowing I’m often the first writer some people have met,  I answer the questions as if they’re new to me, too.
  4. The fun stuff you get to do really IS research. If you read my previous blog about this, you’ll know that everything a writer does is research, good and bad. I know writers who’ve had major surgery and taken notes because it will come in handy sometime. Everything from lazing on a tropical island to cuddling a Tasmanian devil has found its way into my books.
  5. Your family IS proud of you but won’t necessarily let you know. One sister wishes I’d write like Stephen King. Not in me to do. I can only write as me. The other used to read my magazine short stories in the supermarket queue. She changed after learning that I’d spread this around.  No one I know has asked when I’m going to write a “real” book, mainly because I’d written so many books before turning to romance. But you might get asked. Rehearse the reasons why romance is the world’s biggest-selling genre in ebooks and print. Romance Writers of Australia has all the amunition you need here:
  6. Changes in publishing are NOT the end of the world. Change has been part of the industry as long as I’ve been writing. The first time my adored editor was reassigned, I was a nervous wreck.  These days I roll with the punches. Editors move on. Lines and even publishing houses merge with others, disappear or reinvent themselves online. Print books become ebooks, audio and graphic novels. The one constant is they still need writers providing exciting content. Don’t panic. To paraphrase a popular saying: Keep Calm and Keep Writing.

What have you learned on your writing journey? Please comment below, and share on Twitter, Facebook and any other medium invented while I was blogging. Change is the one constant in life, not only for writers.


On Twitter @valerieparv

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Comments on: "Six things I wish I’d known about being published, when I was starting out" (20)

  1. Valerie, as ever, you are a voice of sanity in this crazy-making business. Thanks for sharing, because Lord knows, if anyone knows what this business is like, you do and those of us just starting out need to hear this stuff. Sometimes daily. Sometimes only hourly… Off to keep calm and keep writing, Imelda

  2. Thanks for a wonderful blog, Valerie.

    Re Number 4. As I sat in the CEO’s office while he told me I no longer had a job…I remember looking past his shoulder, out to the plane trees beyond and thought to myself “I must remember this emotion. It could be useful for my writing.” LOL!


  3. Valerie, your words of wisdom are relevant to writers at any stage of their journeys!
    “Knowing I’m often the first writer some people have met, I answer the questions as if they’re new to me, too.” I love the way you said this–it reflects your generous personality and how supportive you always are of “newbies”.

  4. The hardest thing I’ve learned is that not everyone is going to love my books. I’m still learning not to let the ones who don’t spoil the joy of the ones who do.

    • I remember Dr. Phil saying, of all the people you meet, 1/3 will like you no matter what you do; 1/3 will DISlike you no matter what; and 1/3 won’t care either way. Guess it’s the same with our books. We just assume the kiljoy is in the wrong 1/3. KC&KW LOL

  5. Awesome advice, Valerie! I particularly love the part about being ‘real’, just changing the names and situations to protect the guilty. Uh, to preserve anonymity. … Off to keep calm and keep writing.

    • Thanks for the kind words and warm responses. When half your friends are writers, it’s difficult believing you’re the first writer someone has met, but it is often the case. Movie people and mountain climbers probably have the same experience. In fact I’ve still to meet a mountain climber LOL. Right now Chicken Little is alive and well in publishing, but writers will survive as we have through other upheavals. KC&KW

  6. I am so glad that one of the first things I did when I decided I wanted to get published was to find a good agency, then read that agency’s FAQ about things “wannabes” like me should do. I started connecting with other writers, and #1 is hammered home to me every day.

    I do worry about #2, but more with friends than family. I remind people that I take all the tiny little snippets in life, put them in a blender, and reuse them in more intriguing ways. My family doesn’t generally inspire my stories, although my mom tends to think every mother in my stories is about her, even when the character is a tempermental alcoholic. 😛 (Which is her polar opposite)

    I hope that the day will come when I am asked the same inane question over and over. I hope if I’m someday sitting at a book signing, and (~gasp!~) no-one is in line, that I can graciously tell someone about my book when they stop by and ask “Who are you? What kind of book is it?”

    • LOl at your mother assuming every mother is inspired by her. I guess there’s a kernel of truth there, just as every hero was inspired by my DH. Writers are sponges, I tell all my friends that “anything you may say will be taken down…”

      • I hope you do have a great book signing experience…and soon. Anecdotally, the question most asked of authors at signings is, “Which way to the bathroom.” Hasn’t happened to me yet, probably because I go armed with plenty of chocolate. Bribery rules!

  7. Love the parts about family involvement, Valerie. I’m very lucky that my family are all pretty quirky individuals and have accepted my writing as an extension of my own quirkiness. I was humbled recently when my older cousin (a woman I’ve always looked up to) told me how proud she was of my achievements, and even my Mum (who isn’t crazy about the whole “erotic” thing) always asks how the next book is coming along.

  8. Congratulations, Valerie and Thank you!. Fab advice. I need the “Keep calm” words as I start my 20th book, which is my third ST and I am having big problems with it. “Embrace your process” is something I fight all the time. Do you have any wisdom for that?
    I desperately need it!

    • Jennie that’s so great your family accepts you quirks and all. Do you rent them out? I could use a few like them.
      Fiona, congratulations on 20 books and 3 single titles, amazing. Do you know why you fight your own process? Is there a voice inside saying you “should” do things another way? Often we absorb “rules” for how life should be that need acknowledging before we can allow our own process. I have problems working at odd hours. Not the hours themselves but the inner voice saying I “should” work business hours. I can be up till midnight and still feel guilty for sleeping late, not wanting to seem “up myself” if I indulge my artistic needs. Even writing this seems pompous when the truth is, writers *are* artists and art plays by different rules.

  9. I almost laughed when you said about having surgery and taking notes. I just had major surgery and I kept thinking about how I could put it in a book and make it work now I know so much about it =) Number 5 sort of happened to me just after I signed a contract when my fiancee’s uncle said it was about time I signed otherwise my man should make me get a real job and give up the pipedream… Lucky my man has never and will never do that to me! I nearly slapped his uncle!

    As always, words of wisdom. Thanks!

  10. Greta Marlow said:

    Definitely words of wisdom! I especially liked the point about research. I’ve done the observing my own surgery thing, lol. You never know what you’ll need in a story someday, right?

  11. This message came at the right time for me. I keep looking at the massive changes in the publishing industry, seeing the droves of people writing ebooks and wonder to myself, “How can I even compete against all this?” A part of me feels like giving up, wondering whether my words will even matter in the long run – why bother trying, goes the voice. But you’re right: “Keep calm, and go on writing!” That’s a mantra I’m going to repeat to myself. For now, as I’m writing my first novel, I tell myself that the reward will be finishing my first novel. And then my second, and then my third … and never ever give up.

    Thanks, Valerie.

  12. […] 6 Things I Wish I’d Known About Publishing When I Was Starting Out by Valerie Parv […]

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