I hear from a lot of my fans about how they, too, are writers. And I get a lot of questions about writing. So I decided to answer a few of those questions on my blog.
What do I need to prepare myself to become a writer?
This question is easy. You need to read. Read. Read. And then read some more. You need to study books. Ask yourself why you love this book. What is it about the character that drew you in? How did the writer keep you reading? Then you need to start writing. And you need to write. Write. And then write some more.
I keep writing a few pages of one book and then I lose interest and start a new one. How do you force yourself to finish a book?
It is not uncommon for writers to start a book and realize it’s not working. But you need to reconnect with what it was that got you so excited about the idea in the first place. Sometimes you just need to force yourself to keep writing, put your butt in the chair and do not get up! Sometimes you need to spend some time doing some serious brainstorming about the character and the story. Some times when my writing stops flowing it is because I wrote myself into a corner, and the plot stopped feeling right. So look at the last few pages you wrote and see if you can change it and maybe the story will start flowing again. Yes, I have started a book and realized that it wasn’t the book I wanted to finish. But if you do this a lot, it may not be the book, it may be you.
The thing to remember is that as fun as writing is, you still have to be disciplined with yourself. A gymnast has to practice, an ice skater must skate. A writer must write, and they must complete the things they write to become published.
I finished my book, now how do I go about getting it published?
Finishing a book is cause for a huge celebration. Seriously, celebrate. When I finish a book, you will find me out at a nice restaurant. A lot of people want to be writers and start books, but finishing a book means you are serious. It means you stuck it out even when you didn’t always feel inspired to write. It means you really have what it takes to be a writer.
This said, finishing a book is only one step to becoming a published writer. Now you have to figure out if there are flaws in the book. Now it’s time to rewrite. I know, I know, our books are like our babies, and we don’t want to think they could have flaws. But let’s be honest. Some of our babies aren’t perfect—not the real ones and not our book babies. Haven’t you see an ugly baby in real life? Some babies might have a big nose, or big ears. Most of the time, a real baby will grow into his/her nose and ears. As parents of books, it’s our job to make sure we give them ample time to grow. It’s our job to make them as perfect as they can be before we send them out into the big scary world of publishing.
By the way, I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t like this step. I know some writers who love it, but for me it’s getting the first draft down that I love. But this part of the writing process is another sign that you have what it takes to really be a writer. It can mean changing things in your story. So after you finished the book, give yourself some time. Then you need to sit down and read the book like a reader. Do you see things that need to be tweaked? Maybe you see the need to soften a character if the character isn’t coming off very likable—or perhaps you need to give them more motivation for acting the way they do. Sometimes rewriting can mean being downright nasty to your characters because you realize there isn’t enough conflict in your story. Yes, we might like our characters, but to make them interesting to the readers, they need to have to fight for what they want in the books. That struggle to get what they want is what a book is really about. You see, not enough conflict is one of the biggest mistakes writers make.
Now the problem is often that as the creator or parent of this book/baby, we don’t see those flaws. So this means getting other people to read and critique your book before you send it out to a real publisher. And this is the tough part, too. You are going to need a thick skin and a clear head.
Who do I get to read my book and how do I find the right person?
It’s so easy to turn to our friends and our families to read and give us advice. And I’m not saying your friend and family might not be the perfect person. However, you need someone who will be honest with you. If there’s a boring chapter, or if they lost interest in the book in chapter six will this person tell you? Or will they not want to hurt your feelings? If you are weak on grammar and punctuation is this person going to be able to help you?
Then you need someone who knows enough about books so you can trust their advice. If this person doesn’t read, or just doesn’t like books about vampires and your book is about vampires and they tell you the book is no good, will you be devastated? Will you give up? It’s is so hard being critiqued, but as a writer you need to get used to it. You are going to be critiqued by an agent, if you are lucky enough to get one, and you will be critiqued by an editor who more times than not will give you some revisions to do if you are lucky enough to sell the book. So start growing your think skin right now.
So you need someone whose opinion you can trust. And here’s another tricky thing about getting critiqued. While you need to trust someone’s opinion, you can’t stop trusting yourself or your gut. Generally, when you get some feedback about changing something our first impulse is to say, “What? That’s perfect. I will not change that!” What I do, and my advice to you, is to take a few days, even a week to reflect on this person’s suggestions before getting upset? Sometimes it just takes a few easy tweaks to change something. Sometimes it takes more.
And here’s the kicker, if someone tells you need to change something, and after reflection, you can’t see changing it, then don’t. You have to be true to your story. But (don’t you hate buts?) most of time when someone I trust tells me something, there is generally some truth in what they are saying. Someone might say… “In this scene Kylie is being a B with an itch.” Maybe I don’t’ see it, but then I realize I could soften her response to something just a bit and then I realize that I never really explained why Kylie was feeling the way she was, so after I added the motivation for her being upset, then she no longer seems to be acting badly. This said, there have been times someone suggested something I just didn’t agree with. And as the writer, only you can decide what to change and how to change it.
So…if your friends and family can’t do it, how do you find the right person to read your work and give you advice? I know that several of you have asked me to look at something. I hate saying no, but I have to for several reasons. My publisher frowns upon me doing this. I know it sounds silly but if something you wrote was close to something I wrote, it could cause a stink, it could actually cause a law suit and has in the past. The second reason is my time. It’s so hard to meet my deadline, and reading and critiquing another person’s work can be very time consuming. So if I can’t do it, where do you turn? Well, if you are old enough to join a writing group, you can meet others writer’s that way. If you are not old enough, or don’t have a writing group around, go to your English teacher or your librarian and she might be able to connect you with other people who trying to write.
Once you find a critique partner, you’ll need to agree on some guidelines and what kind of critiques you want to offer each other. You want to be honest, but honesty should never sound mean. If something isn’t working, say it isn’t working for you, but never tell them it stinks or that they are a bad writer. Always respect each other and accept that what you are offering is a suggestion that the author of the work always has the right to accept or not accept your suggestions. Just because you think they should change something doesn’t make you right. Writing is very subjective.
Okay, I’ve written my book, polished my book, and have had other’s give me feedback, now what do I do to get it published?
Okay…you’re getting closer. And I wish I could tell you it gets easier, but writing is a tough business. Remember me mentioning that thick skin, you are still going to need it. Now it’s time to look and see where to send your book. Most publishers want you to have an agent. That means you have to research agents. Again if you are a member of a writing club you can find info on agents from other writers. However, you can also get it information online or in resource books like Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents or Chuck Sambuchino’s 2013 Guide to Literary Agents. You’ll need to write a one-page query letter telling the agent a little about you and your book and asking them to read it. And this is where the thick skin comes in. They very well might tell you no. This is what writers call a rejection. You can get them from agents and even editors. I know it’s hard. But you just keep writing queries, trying to make them as interesting as you can. Remember that editors and agents get as many as 100 and sometimes more queries a day, and it’s hard for them to make decisions.
If an agent responds from my query and asks to see some or all of my manuscript, does it mean they will accept me as a client?
It means that after reading your query, they think they might like your work. And if they do, they might take you on as a client. But they reject a lot more books that they decide to represent. They may offer you suggestions on your writing, they may just tell you the book isn’t for them.
Do I need to pay an agent to read my book?
No, if an agent asks for money to read your work, I would not send it to them. That said, there are people who do professional editing. It can be expensive. I would only go this route if you are certain that your book is marketable. Instead, I would first try to find a critique group to help you.
If I get a rejection, does that mean I’m not any good?
No. Heck no! Just like you don’t like all the same books as your friends, agents and editors have personal tastes. However, it could mean you just need a little more time to work on your craft as a writer. The really important thing to remember is that almost every writer gets rejected at some point. Most of us get rejected a lot. When I started writing, I wrote novels, short articles and short stories. It may be hard to believe, but I was rejected over 10,000 times.
Just because you are rejected doesn’t mean you aren’t a good writer. You just have to find the right agent, the right editor and you have to keep learning and improving.
So seriously, how long will it take before I become a published writer?
I will not lie to you, being a writer is hard and it can take you a long time to make it. Not that it doesn’t happen for some people really quickly, it does. I know people who wrote and sold their first book. But I know a lot more whom it took years to finally see their books in print. And for most of us, it does take time.
I wrote ten years before I sold my first book. It’s my opinion that you have to love writing more than you hate being rejected. You have to write, praying you sell the book, or article, or short story, but you have to write another one even if that one doesn’t sell.
Even after I sold my first book, I couldn’t sell another one. So, I started writing short things for magazines. I started selling a lot, but I got a ton of rejections on my short pieces. It took a few years, but I eventually stared selling a lot of articles, but I still got a lot of rejections. Then in 2000, I decided to go back to writing books. Six years later, I had written eight books and six partial books before I finally sold another book. This time my career took off.
Please don’t think I’m telling you this to discourage you. I want you to know that if you get a rejection, it doesn’t mean you are not going to make it as a writer. Writers get rejections. Smart writers who really want to get published keep writing. They keep learning and continue to take steps toward their goal of making their dreams come true.
I’m not an adult yet, can I still publish a book?
Yes, there are some young adult writers. I’m sorry I don’t know what all it would take, but I’m sure your parents might also be involved. I did not start writing books at a young age and I’m envious of all you guys who are already working on your craft. So keep on writing. Anything is possible.
If I can’t get an agent does this mean I will never sell?
No. There are many different routes to getting your books published. There is not a right or wrong way. It is what is best for you. Today, a lot of writers are putting their books up as e-books. And some publishing houses do not require an agent to submit. If you want to sell to a bigger publishing house and see your book in print, not just as e-books, I recommend you try to find an agent before trying to do it on your own. But if you try for a while and don’t snag an agent’s interest, trying to do it on your own may be what’s right for you.
Can’t I just send my book to a publishing house?
This depends on the publishing house’s guidelines. You can usually find those guidelines online at the publisher’s website. Some want the first few pages of the book, some just want a one-page query letter telling them a bit about the book and a little about you. They will also state if they accept unagented queries. Or they may state that they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. That mean you need to query them.
What should I know before sending my book out to an agent or publisher?
Like I earlier stated, make sure your book is the best it can be before submitting. You should also know what the guidelines are for sending or querying that agent or editor. Like the publishing houses, agents have websites and tell you how and what to send them. Follow their guidelines or you risk them not reading your work.
Know what you write and what type of books the publishers/agents represent or buy. Some agents do not represent certain types of books. Some editors/publishing houses only publish certain types of books. They will also tell you the length of the books. If they say they only accept paranormal romance of approximately 85,000 words, you wouldn’t send them a 10,000 word story or any story that wasn’t a paranormal romance.
When should I give up writing and my dream of becoming published?
You should only give up when you no longer want or dream of becoming a published writer. I love writing, but I still have some bad days when it feels more like a job than a passion. Writing can be hard. But quitting writing was never an option for me. So when everything inside of you says you are supposed to write, then write and never, ever give up on that dream. I didn’t. And while it took me a long time to get where I am, every year, every month, week, day, hour and second was worth the journey to get where I am.
Good luck to everyone. May your make your dreams come true.
And for today’s blog why don’t you practice writing a pitch for your book. I’m talking about no more than three sentences. I.e. My story is about a girl who has spent sixteen years trying to figure out who she is, only to discover she doesn’t know what she is. Sent to a paranormal camp, she learns that even the other supernaturals are clueless to her type of supernatural. Can she find her answers before everything in her world goes crazy?
I’m not going to be critiquing them, but I think everyone would enjoy hearing about what you are interested in writing and this is a good practice for your queries.
Last week’s winner of the Shadow Falls bag of swag is Gabrielle Sanders. The winners of the copies of Whispers at Moonrise are Gelske (The Netherlands), Stephany Regina (Brazil), Elizabeth Tardecilla and Olive. Please email your mailing addresses to firstname.lastname@example.org. Congratulations!