5 Great Bits of Wisdom from a New York Times Besteller

It’s Techie Tuesday, my fine More Cowbell friends, and you know what that means, right? Some nifty piece of technology, know-how, or writing advice is coming your way.

Today, I’m delighted to bring you some tips from New York Times Bestselling Author, Susan Mallery. If you haven’t read her Fool’s Gold series, you are missing out!

Click here to download one of her books really quick so you have something wonderful to dive into when you’re done being inspired by her sage advice. It’s OK, we’ll wait… *whistling*

Groovy. Do you have a nice cup of something you love? Then settle in to dream a little. I warn you, Susan makes the world of publishing seem very accessible. When she’s done with you, I’ll bet you go leaping toward your current project. I know I did.

I met Susan at my local RWA meeting this last Saturday. This wasn’t any meeting, this was OCC/RWA’s 30th Birthday Bash. It’s always special when a gal reaches the Big 3-0 and this occasion was no different.

We had Mary-Theresa Hussey, senior editor at Harlequin and long-time chapter friend, in the morning. Susan, a long-time honorary member of OCC, spoke in the afternoon. She shared the “4 Lessons She Learned From OCC” with us; now I’m going to share them with you. (My comments are in blue.)

1.  Never Give Up

The only way to give up your dream of being a published author is to stop writing. The reality is that only one manuscript in a thousand is picked up by the publishing houses and less than 50% of those authors will sell another book.

So what? Getting published isn’t magic. It’s about showing up and doing the work.

No matter what you do, don’t give up. It’s all about the willingness to sit down and do the work and and to reach out to help other writing friends along the way.

OCC’s motto is “One hand reaching forward, one hand reaching back, in a continuous chain.” I thought of this during Susan’s talk, especially as I glanced around the room at some of the women who have been her friends for almost 20 years.

2.  Visualize Your Goals

You aren’t going to achieve your goal if you don’t know what it is.

Susan recommends that you buy a whiteboard and create what she calls a “vision board.” This is where she does things like taking an existing check and Photoshopping it until it reads the amount of her dream advance. She puts this board in her office where she sees these visual pictures of her goals every day.

Susan stressed that you must be focused on what you want. Set a goal and plot a course and stick to it. It’s very easy to say yes to things that have nothing to do with your goal. You need to resist.

3.  Never Stop Learning

She had so many gems here, I’m going to sum them up in a bulleted list. Plus, I’ve divided her advice into two sections because, according to Susan, when it comes to the craft and business of writing, you can never learn too much.

Writing Craft

  • Susan recommends that you master as much craft as you can so you don’t disappoint your readers.
  • Figure out what you’re good at and what you’re bad at. Focus on your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.
  • If you bring your passion and enthusiasm to a project, it will show up on the page.

The Business of Writing

  • You MUST know what’s going on in the publishing world so you can make good decisions. She highly recommends subscribing to Publisher’s Lunch so you know what deals are being made.
  • Her successful self-published author friends spend an hour and a half for every hour of writing time, handling the business of self-publishing. Consider this before you dive into self-publishing with no preparation.
  • Susan doesn’t believe publishing is going anywhere, though the business will have to continue to adapt.
  • Her personal stance is that you must first meet your page count. Then you write the next book. After THAT you do social media. (She does admit that she is in the position to hire an assistant to help her manage some of the social media tasks.)

Take it from someone who loves Twitter enough to throw parties there, social media is a shiny, rambunctious puppy that must be disciplined or he’ll get completely out of control.

4.  Be A Good Friend

When Susan first started writing, she didn’t have people she could call to talk to about the worries and woes associated with living the writing life. At OCC, she found a published author network that included her in their fold, and she found writing friends.

Susan describes writing friends as:

  • People who will hold your hand through all stages of a book.
  • Friends who will share their chocolate and their wine with you.
  • Writers who cheer you on and celebrate your success.

She warns that “not every friendship will survive you being published so ‘make a LOT of friends.'”

One last piece of advice

After her keynote speech, Susan answered questions that ranged from her writing day to how she plots. Someone asked her about writer’s block and, just like Nora Roberts, she doesn’t believe in it. Both of them believe you just keep writing and push through it.

The statement below was my most favorite, in a long list of wonderful nuggets for the day. I believe she actually credited this remark to Nora Roberts while explaining her views on writer’s block:

If your toilet is stopped up and you call a plumber, you don’t want to hear that he’s not in the mood. By golly, if your plumber comes to work, he’s there to work.

While it’s true that writing is potentially more creative than plumbing, there’s a lot to be said for just showing up.

So, Tip #5: Show up to the page and do the work.

Susan will tell you that she’s taken a modicum of talent and a whole lot of drive (and focus) to get to where she is today. I’m here to tell you she’s loaded with a whole lot more than “a modicum” of talent. She was modest and witty and wise – a “writer’s writer” who was a pleasure to meet.

What are your “bestselling tips” for a writer inching down the path toward success? These can be from a person you met, a book you read or a speech you heard. Regardless of the source, enquiring minds always want to know here at More Cowbell!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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59 Responses to 5 Great Bits of Wisdom from a New York Times Besteller

  1. Amber West says:

    Thanks for this, Jenny.

    The thing I think some people neglect (which is very clear in the points laid out here) is that writing, no matter how much you love it, is work. If you are going to be a success, effort is required.

    I love #4.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You are so very welcome, Amber. I think the hardest mindset to overcome for most writers is the idea of it being a career, rather than a hobby. We all grow up writing in all our spare moments, without a real goal in mind besides “get published.”

      Susan really brought home to me during her talk that we need to have a more specific goal and work toward it.


  2. Join ROW 80! Go PUBLIC with your goals. (NOTE TO SELF: be mindful of the “L” that ikes to stick on your aptop).

    Bonk your inner editor (Gracie) on the noggin and get past the “must be perfect” first draft. A perfect first page doth not a selling novel make–until it’s followed by 399 like-minded mates.

    SO on-board with the writing buddies. I don’t know what I would do without writing sprints interspersed with chat (with Sherry). We chat, someone finds their mind and calls for a 60. We set timers and write. Chat for a bit. Then, set timers again. It’s better than (gasp!) hanging up and writing alone.


  3. All good points Jenny (Susan). I think many would-be writers don’t realize writing is work. Learning about writing is work, even writing blogs (like yours) is work. It has to be done, not just thought about.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks for that, Nigel. Yes, blogs (and all writing) are work. But it’s been interesting to me how much they have enhanced and opened up my writing.

      I don’t know if it’s the social interaction with wonderful people (like you!) or the requirement to write daily…probably it’s both. My entire critique group has notice the changes in all of us now that we blog.


  4. Ellie Ann says:

    Awesome post!!! Thanks for sharing her wise words.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Ellie!! I will confess that I had not picked up a Susan Mallery book until they announced her as the October speaker but now I’m a huge fan. Her words helped me so much…I’m happy to pass them along.


  5. K.B. Owen says:

    Jenny, I love this! And for me, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I just heard from my agent on Thursday, and Poisoned Pen Press (our last go-to publisher) turned down my manuscript. Sad face. I’m out of options – EVERYONE has turned it down! My agent still believes in it/loves it (she’s a sweetheart), but didn’t have any suggestions for me aside from self-publishing and selling well and hoping to get a publisher’s attention, and a contract. That’s just not the route for me, although I know it works for others.

    So, last ditch effort – I’m doing massive revising and submitting it to a unpublished author contest that offers a contract with St. Martin’s Press as the “prize.” Big long-shot! After that, I’ll go back to working on the 2nd one.

    Thanks for listening to me ramble!
    “Just keep swimming” Kathy


  6. Saying yes to things that have nothing to do with my goals is the most difficult for me. I’m doing better at saying no and not feeling guilty about it. I find her take on social media interesting because I’m searching for that balance.

    Love when serendipity happens! A couple of days ago I brought home The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vision Boards from the library. LOL No kidding! Also there’s a great post from a couple of years ago by bestselling YA author Chloe Neill on her blog about virtual vision boards. I wasn’t sure if I should post the link (is posting a link on someone’s blog considered that bad manners?) but if you google “author Chloe Neill’s vision boards” it will come up.

    Thanks for sharing Susan’s wisdom with us. This is a keeper!


    • K.B. Owen says:

      Wow. Vision boards – I had no idea they were such a great tool. I’ll have to check out that, too. Jenny, you’ve got the best peeps around – I’m learning as much from the commenters as I am from you! Now I’ve got writing sprints and vision boards to check out. 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Double wow! Who knew there was an “Idiot’s Guide to Vision Boards”??!! I’m gonna go call my library for it tomorrow. Thanks for popping over here to tell us about it Kate – I’m all fired up. 🙂

      p.s. The balance thing is hard for everybody!!!


  7. Nora Roberts also said something to the effect of, “You can revise/edit a crappy page but not a blank one.” There is a lot to just showing up 🙂

    Thanks for sharing these wisdom nuggets, definitely keepers!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I’ve heard that one, Raelyn and I try to live by it. Of course my favorite Nora Roberts quote is:

      Earrings are like orgasms – you can never have too many.

      Stellar. 🙂


  8. Lena Corazon says:

    Wonderful tips, and like Amber, #4 is my favorite. How can you go wrong with people who will share chocolate and wine? In my experience, these are very, very special people indeed. 😀

    You have some AMAZING people down at OCC! I think I am going to have to wander down and check out the party one of these days.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Lena! We’d LOVE to have you come down and visit. Please, please do. I’m gonna lean on Kate Wood too. 🙂

      Lifting a glass and a square of chocolate to my writing friends…


  9. Hartford says:

    Wonderful post – thanks so much for sharing Jenny. I think knowing ahead of time that this is basically a second job – to my fulltime day job – has helped me keep in perspective what I am doing. Love the advice to have a vision board and a well definied goal – key – how will you know you’ve attained success if you haven’t defined it. I will be taking that project on soon!
    Love the other tips to. And the quantified hourly cost to self-publish – so cool!
    You rock – thanks for bringing this to us!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Agreed, Natalie. It’s important to know what you’re getting into and to make goals. I am a firm believer in building your goals up over time though. The goals I’d make now aren’t the ones I made back in the day and so on. Soooo glad you’re doing ROW80 this round!


  10. catwoods says:

    Great advice. I love the plumber scenario. Simply showing up has its virtues. It’s a lot harder to not work when you’ve clocked in.


  11. Stacy Green says:

    Just love this. I’m one of those writers that will easily feel like I’m not in the mood, and her comments are the kick in the butt I needed. I’ve got the time now with Grace in school and need to be approaching writing more as a job.

    You are so lucky to have such great opportunities to actually go to the RWA conferences and speak with authors/editors. Thanks so much for sharing with us!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Stacy, I used to be an “in-the-mood” girl and then I got blood clots and time felt short. You get that booty in the chair while Grace is gone…we’ll all cheer you on. 🙂

      I feel very blessed by geography in terms of my writing chapter. OCC really is the BEST CHAPTER EVER. (p.s. We’ll all likely be at RWA 2012 in Anaheim…I’m just sayin’…


      • Stacy Green says:

        Oh, Jenny, I’d love to go but that’s just way too far for me. I don’t belong to RWA because I write suspense and just wasn’t sure if it was right for me, especially with the fees.

        I’m working on getting the butt in the chair. Actually, that’s not the problem – it’s focusing on the right stuff while my butt’s in the chair, lol.


  12. Laura Drake says:

    The thing that struck me in listening to Susan, and Linda Howard, and Debbie Macomber (OCC IS an amazing chapter!) is how accessible and friendly they all are. More than willing to pass on helpful info – I’ve had drinks with these ladies, and I can tell you, any one of them could be your next-door neighbor – sweet and normal, everyday women.

    It’s one of the things about authors that never ceases to amaze me – I’ve never met one who is stuck up, or stand-offish. Thanks Jenny, for posting this!


  13. Marcia says:

    I’d love writing buddies-no luck with that yet. I do believe in visualization, definitely works and will check out Kate’s idea for examples of vision boards. For avoiding writer’s block/getting stuck, outlining is the key. Thanks, Jenny.


  14. Amy Kennedy says:

    Thanks Jenny for Susan’s words — I adore her writing. I loved the “plumber not being in the mood.” Yeesh, I’m guilty of that — no more, though.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You’re welcome, Amy! I’m going to tweet her about the post and let her know her fans liked it. 🙂

      I find that the stuff I right when I’m not in the mood is the perfect thing to edit when I AM in the mood. Somehow my “force-myself-to-sit-my-ass-in-the-chair” writing ends up giving me some of the best trajectory.


  15. Very inspiring. I keep reading all of these great posts about how much fun you’ve had at the OCC/RWA bash and I’m SO jealous! I wish I’d joined sooner! That’s OK though, I’ll be there next year 😉


  16. Julia Nelson says:

    I love the idea that what you write doesn’t have to be perfect right out of the keyboard. Writing is rewriting.


  17. GREAT post – thanks for hosting Susan, Jenny! I especially believe in #3. Writing is work. I make it a point to write every day, even if just a few hundred words. Practice makes perfect?


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Tiffany! We hosted her on Saturday for our meeting, but I did take REALLY good notes for y’all. I think it’s awesome that you make it a point to write every day. I see that practice in your wonderful blog. 🙂


  18. Catherine Johnson says:

    Fantastic post. Love the quotes. It’s a fascinating journey being a writer..


  19. Great post, Jenny! I’d echo lots of earlier comments. I’ve found so many great people in the writing community.

    I think my vision board would include the support of so many great people with wine and chocolate, because without them, I’ll never dive off that board into my dream.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Oh yeah…definitely the wine. I’d give all my chocolate to my pals (so I don’t get a headache) but the wine and the vision board and I’d be good pals. Thanks for stopping in – I know it was your bedtime when you wrote this!


  20. Draven Ames says:

    Absolutely love all the tips. I may be a horror author, but these are some great pointers for any writer. Thanks for sharing them. My favorite is that we need to push and work through writer’s block. Show up.



    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Draven! That was my favorite too.

      And thanks for stopping by so quickly. I popped into your site too but couldn’t see a place to comment or where the list of Pay it Forward sites are – enquiring minds WANT TO KNOW as that’s a great idea. 🙂


  21. Fantastic post Jenny! Number 3 is what resonates the most for me. My writing “turned the corner” if you will when I started investing some serious time in workshop-focused conferences and craft classes. And the learning wasn’t just improvements and changes on my writing. It was also learning to read more in-depth like a writer and taking in knowledge from critiquing the work of others. All of it got me out of the cocoon of solitary writer.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      It’s wonderful for me to read about which lessons resonate the most with my peeps. I’m so glad you came out of that cocoon, Barbara, so I’d get to do some wild Twitter partying with you!


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  23. Annie says:

    Some really great advice and very inspirational. I guess I better get back to it and stop making excuses! Thanks for the encouraging words!


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  25. Thanks for the inspiration, Jenny, by sharing what you learned at your writing group’s birthday celebration (Congrats, by the way!). Well done. 🙂


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  28. lindagartz says:

    The ratio of dealing with the business of writing to the actual writing is scary. I know we have to be involved in our own marketing, but I wonder what all this is doing to the QUALITY of our writing. If I write for four hours and must spend SIX hours on the business, the writing is suffering. I assume by self-publishing, that includes not only knowledge of how to do that, but also all the social media that accompanies self-publishing. I hope. Re: getting two books done and then doing social media–this is the dilemma and I hear two totally different messages. This one, and then the one: “If you think the time to start on social media is when your book is done, you’re dead in the water.” and “You must have a tribe built up and followers before your book comes out or no one will know. That’s the premise of Christina Katz’s book, Get Known Before the Book Deal (through Writers Digest). Any clarification to offer? I am trying to build up social media presence, but it definitely takes time away from getting the product done that I’m trying to promote!


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