Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Advice For Newbie Writers

A fellow writer asked me for advice today. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, I seem to have offered up a straight answer (for the most part). Straight answers really kill the entertainment potential, but do make for a nice break.

I've written most of my life, but only sought publication about three years ago. Up until that time, I'd written journals, poetry, and short stories. I'd always wanted to write and sell a novel, and fancied I could if I put my mind to it. I love crime thrillers, so I tapped out a Jim Thompson-type noir. It took me about six months to polish the novel into something that I believed was good enough to send out. I researched the book biz and realized publication would be a tough nut to crack, still...I was pretty confident. I'd written a great story after all.

I decided that the best way to get my story published was through an agent. I'm talking mainstream publishing. You can self-publish and create a quality book, but I wanted to be a writer, not a publisher. The best tool I found for locating an agent was and the best tool I found for writing a decent query was Evil Editor.

I sent out queries and no one was interested. And it was a great story! Thrills, chills, spills, and all that...
But a great story is not enough. Luck and timing are involved. And sometimes the story needs more work. And sometimes it needs to go into a drawer for a few weeks or months or years. Everyone says it, and it's true: Keep writing, keep re-writing, keep polishing, and keep submitting. When you get feedback, listen to it. You don't have to agree, but listen to it.

So I sent out queries and collected rejections. Mostly form rejections and the occasional form rejection with a personalized scribble at the bottom. I decided that while I was submitting the crime thriller to agents that repped crime thrillers, I could write another novel to send to agents that repped other novels. Like what? I'd read somewhere that the thing to sell was a romance novel. So I tried my hand at romance...and didn't have much luck. It wasn't fun. I'm not a romance reader and I didn't enjoy writing it. And you have to write something you enjoy. I have three chapters of a romance titled TRAIL TO LOVE that I hope no one will ever see.

As a kid I was a big reader, so I took a stab at a story for young readers. I cooked up a middle grade adventure and loved it. I loved writing it. I sent it out and collected more rejections. I wrote a second middle grade work and began sending that one out. I collected rejections, refined my queries, filled the occasional request for sample chapters and manuscripts, and refined my queries even more.

Next I thought I'd give horror fiction a try. I was in the middle of writing a novel about underwater vampires when the notion of an eleven year old girl who only "thinks" she's a vampire entered my head. That idea eventually became the story that is currently sitting on shelves in libraries and bookstores around the country.

A TASTE FOR RED. (Does happy dance)

So my advice to newbies is simply a regurgitation of my own experience: Write things you LOVE to write, read all the time, listen to informed feedback when you're lucky enough to get it, set reasonable goals, and don't be discouraged.

It's hardly original, but there you have it. One nugget I'll offer that veers slightly from the run-of-the-mill is this: If you have a day job, quit. Even if you don't want to be a writer, quit your day job.

Work is silly.

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