Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Top Ten Writing Tips I Learned from Kelly O'Connor McNees

Yesterday’s guest speaker at Saturday Writers monthly meeting was Kelly O’Oonnor McNees, author of the acclaimed breakout novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa Mae Alcott (Berkley). I bought a copy of Kelly's book and had her autograph it. I can't wait to read it!
Kelly’s presentation was low-key, but focused and informative.

The following are the top 10 things I learned about writing, researching, publishing, and marketing during her talk and the Q&A afterwards:

10. Unplug the Internet. Kelly uses a software program called “Concentrate,” which shuts off access to the Internet for a designated period of time. That way she can focus on her writing and not get sidetracked by research or surfing the Internet.

9. Set a daily word count and have a reasonable goal. Hers is 500 words a day. She writes every morning and believes setting a reasonable goal encourages success. Her final manuscript for The Lost Summer of Louisa Mae Alcott was around 85,000 words.

8. Write first then revise. This process works for her because, “You can’t fix what doesn’t exist.” She also sketches out a broad outline and makes changes as she goes.

7. Know the market for your book. Before querying, she researched literary agencies to find agents who represented historical fiction authors.

6. Stay true to your vision for the project. Be open to ideas or suggestions, but stay true to your own vision for your work.

5. Love your story--and love to read and create. When asked what internal attitude motivates her, she jokingly answered, “fear of getting a job.” Then she talked about her passion for creating characters and stories and reading good books.

4. You have to help make yourself successful. Publishers, even mainstream ones, don’t have huge budgets to promote their writers, especially debut authors. Be willing to speak to groups, travel on your own dime, and invest in your career.

3. Keep moving forward. Since publication of The Lost Summer of Louisa Mae Alcott, Kelly has been busy promoting her book. She has also written two novels. The first one she has put aside, but she’s sticking with the second one and moving forward.

2. Be your own best advocate and trust the process. Kelly stated a book’s cover is the most important marketing tool. When the cover art for her paperback version featured a woman with blond hair, Kelly chimed in that the woman’s hair should be dark brown-- the same color as Louisa Mae Alcott’s. The final cover has lovely and evocative art work, featuring a woman with dark brown hair.

And the #1 tip I learned from Kelly O'Connor McNee's talk to Saturday Writers is:

1. You can’t please everyone. She learned early on that there always will be someone who’ll criticize your work. Just do the best you can and believe in yourself.

That's good advice, no matter what goal you're pursuing in life.


  1. What a great post, Donna. You summed up Kelly's presentation quite well!

  2. Kelly sounds down-to-earth. Her top 10 is worth posting next to the computer. Thanks for posting them here.

  3. Donna, you always write fabulous reviews of speakers and books you've read. This was one of the BEST! I'm so grateful that Kelly came to speak to us, and I think everyone there learned some things! Thanks for this great post!

  4. I think number 1 is best...yes, no explaining what others like so as Ricky Nelson says in Garden Party: you please yourself, not the rest.

  5. Just a little PS. I checked out and found out it's only for Mac users. Guess I'll have to find something else, or just start practicing self-discipline!

  6. Hi Sioux,

    Hi Sally,
    You are welcome.

    Hey Becky,

    Hi Bookie,
    Yep. You are right.

    Hey Becky,
    Thanks for checking it out.


  7. These are great tips, Donna. Thanks for sharing. They were a good reminder for me this Monday morning. :)

  8. Hi Madeline,
    You are welcome. I'm glad they are useful!

  9. Thanks for this post. I would have loved to been at that meeting. Had another commitment, although I ended up not making it either due to poison ivy :-(. Thanks for sharing.


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