I've written six novels. Here is what I know.
  1. Rewrite at least two more times than you think you need to
    My biggest peeve with new writers is that they think they are done when they are not done. Sending out "good enough" work is never good enough. It's shitty. And it sends the message that you expect readers to give their time (and money) for your "good enough." How would that make you feel? You really, really, really want an agent? That means doing more work than you'd like. Full stop.
  2. Have no ego
    Listen, you are going to be told a million times and ways how to make your writing better. This doesn't stop. I just finished my sixth novel and STILL got extensive notes over the course of seven or so drafts. My first draft was, in hindsight, a train wreck. A good editor sees things that you cannot. Not all the constructive criticism is useful. But going into it with the attitude that it IS makes you more open to change. Which makes you a better writer.
  3. Partner with people who know more than you
    My agent is smart and savvy and has my back. I trust her. My critique partner is smart and savvy and has my back. I trust her. Ditto everyone I work with. Editors, publicists. Seek out and surround yourself with a team of people who fill in your industry-specific (and non specific!) education. It's not always best to be the smartest person in the room.
  4. Do all your homework
    Jesus, there is just no excuse anymore for not poking around the web and learning all you need to know about query letters, about agents, about market trends. I ran a blog for six years answering reader questions about the industry and finally shuttered it a few years ago because a) okay, I was kinda sick of it but b) there were so many other resources out there to fill the void. If you can't do your homework, again, no reason to take you seriously.
  5. Champion other writers
    Many of my closest friends are fellow authors. We cheer each other on and spread the word about great books. Don't be a competitive dickhead with others. If someone buys my book, they are no less likely to buy yours.
  6. Be gracious, say thank you
    I get a lot of emails asking for publishing advice. I'm happy to help when I can. However, it's surprising how many people don't write a quick thanks back. Not that I do it to be thanked! But still. When you ask for my help again, I'm not biting. If, however, you are gracious, I'm happy to have an on-going dialogue for....infinity. I've become friends with people who reached out in the past. Getting back to my last point: don't be a dickhead. Who wants to help out someone like that?
  7. Read a lot
    Inspiration can and should be found in those who did it before (and often times better) than you. You don't buy/pick-up a lot of books? No sweat by me. I watch a lot of TV too. My life is really busy too. I don't judge. But don't expect me to take you seriously when you talk about wanting to write a book.
  8. Get used to rejection.
    It will happen. A lot. A loooooooooooot. Don't take it personally. If you do, you will wither on the vine. Instead, keep writing.