'Bout to drag this waaaay off-topic?
You're involved in the literary scene? Give me advice! I'm DESPERATE to break in, completed my first book, poked around a little, then stalled and it's been 5 months since then
I have friends in the publishing world, mostly authors. I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers and most of the authors write in that genre. I write mostly for fun, NaNoWriMo, novels and short stories as well as essays. I’ve had a couple of essays published. My oldest daughter, Miriam is a writer; her debut novel, City of a Thousand Dolls,will be released by HarperCollins on February 5th, (you can preorder on Amazon & Barnes & Noble ) . Here is some advice I hear all the time from published writers as well as Miriam.
First, it is very hard to break in. Just like every other form of art the number of people wanting to make it versus the number that do is huge. Just like music, publishing is changing daily with advent of eBooks and the ease of self-publishing. None of the big six publishers or any of their imprints accept unsolicited manuscripts anymore. The gatekeepers are the agents. Right now only 2% of submitted material is accepted & that includes all the automatic acceptances of famous people writing books.
Here is the first advice you will hear from any author if you ask them how to get published. Write, write, and write some more and read, read, read. The funny thing about writing is that everyone already writes so they assume there is a trick to getting published, but no there is no trick. People would never think, “Oh I can hear, so I can play the piano well enough in six months to be a studio musician”. It is an industry rule of thumb that you need to write a million words to get good enough to even have a submittal manuscript.
Miriam is somewhat of a prodigy, she learned to read at four and was read post high school by the time she was nine. She wrote her first story at seven and had her first novel done by the time she was a senior in high school. I read on average 75 books a year. Miriam is a voracious reader; Two years ago we had a contest. I managed 106 books she had 147 and those were new reads. Every year she rereads a number of books, include all of the Hercule Poirot books. She didn't actively start writing for publication until she was twenty two. She wrote 5 complete novels and broke through at thirty, which is two years shy of the average of ten years. I’ll tell you how she did it a bit later. First here is a list of things to do.
1. Write, write, and write. Stephen King said there are four kinds of writers. Prodigies, good, average and poor. He said you cannot take a good writer and make him or her a prodigy (Shakespeare if the best example of one) they are born not made. You cannot make a poor writer into an average one, it can’t be done. But you can make an average writer into a good one.
2. Read, Read, Read. Not just books in your genre but all kinds of books and magazine articles. Read good writing, like Vanity Fair. The more you read good writing the better you will see the bad in yours.
3. If you don’t have one, grow a thick skin. Rejection is the name of the game. You have to believe in yourself or no one else will. A friend of mine, Toni McGee Casey is a brilliant writer who writes both fiction and non-fiction. She used to be a member of a blog called Murderati. Here is a link to a story she told about determination and never quitting. It is a lesson all writers have to learn. How Do You Know When To*Quit? - Blog - Murderati
4. Get Strunk and Whites Elements of Style – read it and reread it often. Some of the rules seem archaic and their pet peeves have become standard usage, but it is still the bible of good writing. Two other books that are more modern and funny as well are, Woe is I and Eats Shoots and Leaves.
5. Have not only a dictionary and thesaurus, but an English usage manual, Webster has one, but I prefer Oxford Press’s Fowlers.
6. Read books on writing. The best and a must read is Stephen King’s On Writing. It is an autobiography and is worth the read just for that, but it also a guide to how one writes.
7. Understand how a novel works – for example structure. Most novels, like plays, have a three act structure, whereas TV scripts have four. Pickup books on writing; including ones on setting the scene, perspective, plotting, etc... Writer’s Digest has some very good books on those and other subjects.
8. Follow other writers that write in your genre, read their blogs, follow them on FB and Twitter, there are a lot nuggets you can pick up. Including the actual method of writing. There are two types of novel writers –plotters who outline and plan the book in advance and pantser who just sit down with an idea and start to write. A pantser does more rewriting while writing their first draft than a plotter does.
Here are a couple of websites to get you started.
Timothy Hallinan - Writer's Resources
Screenwriting Tricks for Authors by Alexandra Sokoloff
Dancing with Dragons is Hard on Your Shoes.: Posts for Writers
When you have a completed draft put it in a drawer for a month then start rewriting. There’s an old saying, “There are no good writers, but there are great rewriters.” If you can get into a good critique/writers group, they are gold.
When you have a manuscript that you think is ready then give it to your chosen group of readers. You want tough readers you respect, because you want the constructive criticism.
Then comes the tough part, you have to start querying agents or if it’s short stories the publications. First get a copy of the current Writer’s Market. There used to be only one, but now there are specialty book for example just on the children’s market. Also, get the Guide to Literary Agents. Biggest mistake new writers make on submission is querying the wrong agent or publication. If you write children’s books don’t query an agency that only handles Horror & Urban fantasy.
The query letter is a btch. It is one page and you have to convince an agent to ask for a partial of full read. There are whole books and websites dedicated to just the query letter. You should be following and investigating likely agents. What kinds a books are they looking for, who in the agency handles what books. Always write a query to a specific person.
This is already too long, so to close here is a link on how Miriam got an agent and sold a book.
Dancing with Dragons is Hard on Your Shoes.: All the Gory Details: an agent story (part 1)