Three Things I Learned from a NYT Bestselling Author

Chris Stewart is many things–most famously a New York Times Bestselling author. But he’s also a candidate for U.S. Congress, a world-record setting pilot, the owner of an environmental consulting firm, and a husband and father. But, lucky for me, he’s also my uncle. I’m aware of how fortunate I am to have such a resource, and today I’m going to share three of the many things I’ve gleaned from Chris Stewart about writing over the years.

1) Write the best query letter you possibly can.

Chris advised me that no matter how great your novel is, no agent or publisher will bother to give it a look unless you can sell it to him/her in a concise, well-written query letter. He said spend a lot of time on it. Polish it to the point where it’s the very best it can be, then send it out to agents. It’s your introduction to an agent. You want to put your best foot forward. If you can’t write a query letter, chances are, your book needs work–or at least that’s the impression an agent or publisher will get.

2) Be careful who you show your manuscript to.

This was advice Chris gave when he came to the ANWA Conference 2011. He said there’s a tendency to show your book to just anyone who’s willing to look at it. But, he said, that’s kind of dangerous–not so much because someone might *steal* your idea, but because the response you get could be from someone who a) wouldn’t be your primary audience; b) could either steer you wrong during edits or could discourage you from further work on the project. Instead, carefully choose your beta readers. Make sure they understand where you’re going with your project and can give you reliable, honest and encouraging feedback.

3) Be generous.

This is something I’ve learned from Chris’s actions more than his words. Being writers we sometimes tend to see other writers as our competition. We feel guarded, and there’s sometimes envy if someone else achieves a measure of success, and we tend to reserve the happiness we should feel for our fellowmen at their achievements. That, or else we guard our own hard-won knowledge and don’t want to share “writing secrets” with each other, or we don’t help build up those around us. However, Chris is always generous with his skills and time. He has taken time to give me a critique now and then, to write an endorsement for a book cover for me, to come down and speak at my writers group’s annual conference. — That amid the myriad things he is already doing. It’s generosity. And it comes back to you, like it says in Ecclesiastes, cast thy bread upon the waters, etc.

We as writers can learn from the success of others. It’s nice to have someone who doesn’t hold back the “secrets” of his success, but is willing to share good advice. I’m sure Chris has many more good things coming his way–and I hope the same for all my writing friends!

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