Sunday, August 21, 2022

A Thread of Reflection by Sarah E. Burr

I recently came across a Twitter thread asking writers to reflect on their debut novel and, if given a chance, would they rewrite it? Of course, this prompted me to spiral for hours, thinking about my past books while effectively procrastinating my current work-in-progress.

I think the tweeted question consumed me because I recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of my first publication, a little indie novella called The Ducal Detective. While many writers on the above-mentioned Twitter thread were confident in their work and would never change it, I constantly think about the things I would change because I have learned so many invaluable lessons since I began writing professionally. So I thought I’d share some of those lessons with you today.

The importance of choosing a name. When I first began writing, I naively selected a pen name just because I liked how it looked and sounded. I did no research whatsoever into pen names or author names in general. The result was finding out last-minute that someone else also liked this pen name and had already published several books using it. Since they wrote explicit vampire erotica under this moniker, I didn’t want to risk our brands being confused and readers feeling like they were being tricked. Someone expecting to read about lusty vampires would not find that content in my lighthearted fantasy-mystery books. So I needed to find a new name, and quickly. What’s more, by this stage in the indie publishing process, I had already commissioned a (stunning) cover and received the “final” product. In changing my name so late in the game, I had to go back to the cover artist with my tail between my legs and ask them to update the cover. At that moment, even though my fabulous cover artist was more than accommodating, I felt like a total noob who didn’t know what she was doing (which, in retrospect, I didn’t). The moral of the story is to do a little research on the name you plan to publish with before you go full-steam ahead.

Writing a book is half the job. The other part is marketing it. When I first began this writing journey, I had no idea I would need to become a marketing expert. I thought I could post a few pictures on social media, and that would be it. Someone would see my book post, retweet it, I’d go viral, and boom, a bestseller. Okay, I wasn’t that delusional, but I honestly had no idea how much of my “writing” time would be dedicated to things outside of writing a book. On average, I spend 1.5-2 hours a day working on marketing materials, whether it be designing Instagram posts, writing an article, creating a Reel, or crafting a book trailer. That number used to be significantly larger until I invested in content creation applications to help me. My recommended platforms for do-it-yourself marketing materials are Canva, Book Brush, Filmora, and the Meta Business Suite. I would never have gotten to be somewhat of a marketing expert without them.

Be kind to yourself, even when others aren’t. You are doing great work. Once, I sat in front of my computer, wrote 2500 words, and felt incredibly proud, only to go out to dinner with a non-writing acquaintance who commented, “That’s what you did today? You’re so lucky you don’t have to do real work.” You’ll note the use of acquaintance because this person is no longer a friend. A friend, even a non-writing one, would never demean someone in this manner, but unfortunately, a lot of people have no idea how much work goes into writing 2500 words, let alone an entire book. You’ll need to learn to tune those naysayers out; I cannot tell you how often I’ve encountered condescension when introducing myself as a mystery author. From “Oh, well, what else do you do?” to “So, what do you actually do for a living?” These questions discourage me because mystery authors work incredibly hard to bring entertaining, engaging stories to readers, which should be celebrated, not degraded. If you ever meet one of these people (I hope you don’t), remember that you know how much time, effort, and love you put into your writing, and that’s what matters. And, of course, you’ll surely meet a ton of delightful people who’ll hear “I’m a mystery author” and go full-on police interrogation with their eager questions, so don’t let the meanies get you down.

Sharing is caring, and it helps builds a great community. The online writing community is unlike any other group of professionals I’ve ever met. Everyone is kind, encouraging, supportive, and always ready to lend a hand. I’ve never seen many of my writing buddies in person, but that hasn’t stopped us from forming a beautiful bond. As an extreme introvert, it took me a long time to put myself out there and engage with the writing community, and it is one of the things I really, really regret not doing sooner. For those of you wondering, “well, how do I create a community online,” the first step is easy. Pick a social media platform you feel most comfortable with and seek out groups with like-minded goals and interests. As someone who loves Instagram, I looked up posts with hashtags like #cozymysterywriter and #amwriting and started checking out the profiles attached to those posts. Soon, I began commenting and cheering on other cozy mystery writers, and they, in turn, began stopping by my posts to see what I was doing. Fast-forward a few years to the release of my first traditionally published novel, #FollowMe for Murder, and I had such a great support system celebrating my release with me. Some of my best writing friends are people I connected with virtually, and these relationships have grown into cherished friendships.

If you’re starting your writing journey, I hope these hard-learned lessons help you on your road to publication. And if you’ve been around the block a few times, what lesson(s) did you learn the hard way?


  1. Sarah -- a great post for those starting their journeys and a great reminder for those of us still progressing.

    One item I would add that relates to your choice of a pen name is to also consider the search results for you main character(s). If you are writing a cozy and someone searches on your character because someone told them of this great book (but they couldn't remember the title or the author) and when they do a search the first page of results is all for a porn star with the same name . . . well, let's just say that isn't what you want.

  2. Jim, that's such a great point and one that never crossed my mind at all. You really do learn something new every day in this line of work!

  3. What a wonderful blog! Yep, learned the hard way and still learning, I'm considering your marketing section as a master class! Congrats on all of your accomplishments.

  4. Great information, Sarah. So glad part of your marketing is to be part of this blog.

  5. As the saying goes, You've come a long way! And you'll continue to go much farther.