For Writers

 

As you can imagine, I hear from lots of writers who want to be published.  I’m going to do my best to answer some of the common questions here.   Please understand that as the mother of four, writing two 90,000 word books a year, my time is very limited and I cannot critique your work.  No matter how fabulous it is!  Plus, I’ve been known to make authors cry with my critiques, so you wouldn’t want one anyway.  I’m missing important social skills.

 

Here are my best tips for new authors:

 

First off, this is not a fast business.  You will learn patience, and practice with me now:  Go to the bottom of a swimming pool (a lake will do) and see how long you can hold your breath.  When you’re dead, that’s about when you’ll hear from the publishers.  Kidding, I’m kidding, but it is not a fast business, so please get used to wasting time.  You will waste a lot of time.  Don’t rush to get something out that isn’t ready.  It will only come back to you with a rejection faster.  Take up knitting or better yet, work on your next project.  You will have a new, obsessive relationship with your mailbox.  Embrace it.

 

  • READ WHAT’S SELLING:  See what publishers are putting on the shelves.  Not just Christian publishers, but secular publishers as well.  You want to know what’s capturing the market’s attention.  Watch the bestsellers’ lists.  Both the NYT and CBA’s.  A book that stays on the list indicates staying power, read those books to analyze why.  Don’t copy them – you don’t want to be an “also-ran”, but see where the writer’s passion made the book different.

 

  • READ YOUR GENRE:  Please don’t write romantic suspense when you’ve never read it.  An author must know their genre.  If you want to write women’s fiction, read lots of it.  That may change as you find your place in the market, but when starting out, understand how you differ from the competition, it will help your position with publishers’ marketing departments.

 

  • READ THE CLASSICS:   There’s a reason these books have been around for centuries.  And though, the style is much slower and most likely you couldn’t sell a book with such narration today, it’s important to see how they created such perfect conflicts that have withstood the span of time.  Here are my suggestions.

 

  1. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

  2. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

  3. Tess of the D’urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

  4. Great Expectations and David Copperfield by Dickens

  5. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurer

  6. Camille by Alexander Dumas, fils (Jr.)

  7. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

  8. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy

 

  • UNDERSTAND CRAFT: There is more to writing a novel than sitting down and telling a story.  Personally, books on writing haven’t been all that helpful to me because my mind doesn’t work in such an analytical manner.  But some I do recommend are: PLOT AND STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell and WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass.  For basics, I recommend, SELF EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS.  There are some simple things you must understand like Point of View shifts, showing versus telling and it’s a great resource for the mechanics of what today’s novelist must know.

 

  • TO PLOT OR NOT TO PLOT:  There are those authors who can sit down to write from a perfectly constructed diagram of their plot.  I cannot do that, and you may not be able to either.  I start with a character, and I let her gel in my mind.  Her situation is something I must get her through, but I don’t sit down to write the book until I have the first line.  That sometimes takes three months.  It works for me, but my point is, you must write the way you write.  Don’t let anyone tell you there’s a right way

 

  • CONFLICT:  A novel must consist of plot.  Your protagonist must have a goal, you cannot simply tell the reader your grocery list (or what you would like to wear as in the case of some chick lit).  Perhaps it is internal (like she wants to be married) or maybe external: her father has cut her out of the will.  Either way, it should start your character on a journey that most readers will want to know the answer to.

 

  • JOIN A LOCAL WRITERS’ GROUP or AmericanChristianFictionWriters.com   One of the hardest things about learning to write is allowing your baby to go out in public and hearing it’s ugly.  Yes, it will happen.  Glean what you can from critiques and move on, get better and get revenge by getting a bigger advance.  : )  I still hear my babies are ugly, there’s no accounting for taste.

 

  • YOU DO NOT NEED AN AGENT:  If you’ve been turned down by publishers for a certain manuscript, an agent will not save you.  Just this week I was critiquing five manuscripts for a contest.  I kid you not, they all contained the same basic storyline.  Understand that agents and editors WANT to be wowed.  They want to see something special.  Perhaps, you’ve read what’s on the shelf and think, “mine is better”.  Put that to the test.  Buy the book and give it to a friend (who will be brutally honest), along with your manuscript and ask them, why do you think THIS book got published and mine didn’

 

  • ENDORSEMENTS: I’m inundated with requests for endorsements.  And while I certainly don’t feel worthy of all that, I have to say, I just don’t have time for them.  I can barely read my kids’ homework folder in a week so it’s very rare that I do any endorsements – which come from the publisher FYI.  So please don’t be offended, I am not singling you out.

 

  • WATCH YOUR WORDS!  Not just on paper, but with other writers.  Humility goes a long way in this business and a lack of it can keep you from getting a contract.  No one wants to work with difficult people…and publishers generally have a choice.  Unless your name sells books in the bestselling range, there probably isn’t room for hissy fits.

 

  • ANNE TYLER WON’T READ IT:  Don’t think that you need to have Francine Rivers or Anne Tyler critique your work to have it mean something.  Every single reader is only one subjective reader.  Yes, a published author may know what you’re missing, but an up-and-coming writer or an avid reader will know the same things.  Don’t discount everyone’s opinion just because they aren’t a bestselling author. At the same time, trust your gut. Only listen to people whose critiques make sense to you. 

 

NOW GET BUSY, GO WRITE AND QUIT MAKING EXCUSES.  A badly finished manuscript can be fixed.  A blank sheet of paper?  Not so much.

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