· How do I become a writer, to start with?
o READ as much as you can
§ Read great works
§ Read at least weekly
§ Don’t forget to read short fiction to track trends (and discover great new authors!)
§ Go friend me on Goodreads :)
o WRITE as much as you can
§ Make it habit.
§ Make it part of your schedule if possible.
§ Do it weekly minimum, better yet daily.
§ In the case of young children, multiple jobs, and/or serious health issues, just do what you can when you can.
§ Try writing in short form as well as long. Mix it up, ideally; stretch yourself. Try different genres and lengths.
§ Write different pieces, one after another. Fast writing doesn’t mean bad writing (Dumas, Dickens, Verne…). Don’t be crippled by doubt. Just write.
§ Get writing partners who will review your work, ideally running a story past two pairs of good eyes before you send something out.
§ Make friends in the larger writing community; ask for critiques. You never know what you might get.
§ THEN MOVE ON. Don’t keep rewriting the same story. Keep writing NEW material. Learn from the past mistakes and then keep going. Make new, more interesting mistakes!
§ More on that below.
o SUBMIT frequently in a careful, targeted, trackable way
§ I recommend Duotrope. More on this in a minute.
§ Format the document to the magazine’s specifications and don’t permit errors. Your slusher has limited time…they must dig for gems in a pile of nonsense to hand to the editors! Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with simple mistakes.
o BUILD YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE
§ Make a blog.
§ Publish nothing anywhere – even on Facebook – that you wouldn’t want your publisher or fans to see.
§ Get small publications and build up.
· What should I be learning about?!
o Learn how to format your documents. See William Shunn for short stories. Novels I haven’t found a bulletproof design, but I use Shunn’s base but add in appropriate spacing before chapters and # for mid-chapter breaks.
o Figure out what works for you. What time of day do you like to write? What do you like to write (genres)? Do you start with an outline? (You need something, most likely.) Do you need something like Scrivener to help you plot and organize? Experiment.
o Learn about grammar, punctuation, and the lingo of your preferred genres like your life depends on it. I own five grammar books. You can’t write a good program if you can’t do basic coding.
o Learn about clichés by reading lists of stories magazines have seen too often (here is a great list) or by slushing for a magazine.
o Attend writing conferences to learn from other authors.
o Consider attending business writing conferences, like the Superstars Writing Conference.
· Ok, tell me more about submitting…
o RESEARCH. Duotrope, Ralan, and Grinder are excellent resources and will point you in the right direction. Duotrope is now a paid service (about $50/year), but sell one story even to a very small market and you’re covered. It also offers an excellent tracking service so you can remember where you’ve been rejected, accepted, or encouraged to submit again.
o SUBMIT! Constantly put stories out there. Take some time and get to know your market. Read magazines; buy subscriptions; support the industry and find out what is selling and what each market is into. Once you know what some good markets are, start submitting. Before I started writing a ton of novels, I tried to never have less than 3 short stories on the market at a time.
o KEEP SUBMITTING. Unless you are exceptionally good and exceptionally lucky, you will get rejected. A lot. Really, really a lot. Make it a point to send a rejected story out again the same day it’s rejected and log the information in your database. Don’t let stories sit idle (unless you realize it doesn’t work, in which case, rework it, or put it aside as a learning experience). Don’t take it personally when you get rejections. Learn to better target your stories, and keep writing NEW stories and always look for new markets. Don’t look down on small mags. If they pay, they tend to take the market seriously and do great work. Check them out. (My rule of thumb: their web presence has to look impressive, and they have to pay, even if it’s only token. If I could achieve both those objections on a shoestring budget - I used to run an online magazine - I expect the same from them.)
o KEEP IN MIND THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE SHORT STORY AND NOVEL MARKET.
§ The short story market is generally friendly, low-paying, open-minded, very reasonable in terms of rights, and completely open to unagented fiction. Format your story well, get second readers, clean it up, send it in, get published, and build your resume. It’s a great system, even if it won’t pay your bills. (Another reason to support the industry - so publishers can afford to pay more!) It’s very typical that you’ll sell first rights and they simply ask you not to publish anywhere else for a year. Read every market's guidelines closely. Common sticking points are 1) many markets do not accept simultaneous submissions, so unless it explicitly states that this is acceptable in both locations, never submit to multiple short story markets at the same time and 2) most don’t accept reprints. Again, read their requirements so you're sure of what you're getting into, but for the most part, it's a great, flexible market.
§ The traditional novel market is generally held captive by its gatekeepers: the agents. Most traditional publishing houses will not accept unagented fiction. (Here is a list of those that do.) My take as to why? There are many short story markets, but not so many large publishing houses. They can’t waste their time reading everyone’s first novel. Agents are the first step in finding high quality material.
· Wait, so how do I catch an agent’s attention?
o Create a positive online presence
o Have followers
o Have publications
o Have a killer query letter
o Be a professional in every way: be the person they want to work with
· What if I want to self-publish?
SELF-PUBLISHING (“INDIE” PUBLISHING)
· Is it for real?
o Well, yes. It used to be disregarded, but now lots of well-respected authors are doing it. Yes, there are lots of bad books. But the cream tends to rise to the top, especially if you market yourself well…and have the time and energy to pursue it in a professional, well-ordered way.
o Even traditionally published authors are often choosing to self-publish some works because of increased creative control and a substantially higher portion of the proceeds.
o Anyone can do it, but it takes a lot of time and fiscal investment.
· Is this the same thing as a vanity press?
o NO. A vanity press takes your money and then does little to nothing for it – poor editors, poor covers, poor product. Traditional marketing houses will NEVER ask you to pay a dime. Self-publishing yourself requires an investment, but it’s a whole different ballgame.
· So what do I do if I want to go indie?
o Write the book, get beta readers, polish it off.
o Then hire a TRUSTWORTHY, RESPECTED freelance editor with a strong track record. Expect to spend $40-$60/hour…and expect 40-80 hours work on a novel. Remember, they don’t work for free, but you CAN give them a short story piece for editing to see if their style works for you (and pay for it).
o Integrate edits into the novel.
o Do a final copy edit.
o Format the novel for the markets you want to sell it in.
o Make numerous decisions about where you want to sell.
o Get the book printed.
o Get the audio book developed (ACX is a good option).
o In short, it’s not an impossible task to self-publish, but you’ll have to read up a lot and effectively run your own business – formatting, editing, publishing, printing, marketing, etc. Keep in mind that romance and erotica, mystery, and science fiction in particular seem to do well in indie publishing. Other genre authors seem to struggle more.
· Then why do I want to consider a traditional publisher?
o Maybe you don’t! But if you do, it would probably be because…
§ They’ve done it a million times.
§ They have contacts.
§ They have pro editors and illustrators.
§ They’ll format it for you.
§ They can get you distributed broadly.
§ They have marketing budgets.
§ They can help groom you as an author.
§ They are more successful in supporting literary fiction.
· AHHHH – so much information
o Trust me, this is out of my league. But I will say...
o Never sign a novel contract without getting a lawyer’s opinion and your agent’s as well. Got an offer without an agent? Great! Don’t sign yet. Go tell some agents you like about your offer and find someone to represent you for the bargaining process! Remember, this has become a DETAILED BUSINESS. There are many kinds of rights. Don’t sell yours without knowing what you’re selling! And NEVER do business without a reversion clause.
o Remember agents exist for a reason: if you’re looking at a traditional publishing house, they have expertise in getting you the best contract possible. The more you make, the more they make, and they will open up international avenues for you as well as film rights. You can also benefit from past battles they’ve won.
· Can you at least tell me about author advances?
o Yes. They exist. :) There is no standard advance, alas. Effectively, if you go with a traditional publishing house, they will probably give you a token amount. Your first advance is often pitiful, although it depends on the genre (some genres pay better than others, but keep in mind they tend to have fewer publications as well). This isn’t a bad thing necessarily; if you get a big advance and don’t earn it out, they might never want to work with you again. (I.e., they pay you $100,000 and your book sells 20 copies…bad news.) Later advances likely more profitable. It’s extremely hard to guestimate how much you’ll get. Here are some articles that are food for thought.
§ http://brendahiatt.com/show-me-the-money/ - see the incredible differences in advances
§ http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-book-advances-work-a-simple-explanation-for-writers - basic process of advances
§ http://community.scratchmag.net/book-advances-gender/ - gender & money
§ http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/media/features/n_8972/ - just read it, this is fascinating
BLOGS TO FOLOW
You're pumped! Great. Now keep it up and go explore a little more by reading the following blogs:
· Hugh Howey – very thoughtful writer; writes about the industry; poster boy for successful indie publishing
· Terry Odell – phenomenal self-marketer, does a great job teaching young authors about the business
· Scott Boone – legalese of being a writer
· Kristin Nelson Agency – tips on many writing aspects
· Brandon Sanderson – lecture series on writing
· Orson Scott Card – writing seminar
· Victoria Strauss – chases down scam agents
· Writer Beware – making you an informed author
· Katie Cross - A fresh young indie author with great insights into the industry
· SFWA – Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America – A TREASURE HOUSE OF INFORMATION!
REMEMBER, BE RESILIENT. Know how tough it is, but know how awesome you are, too. Keep learning, keep writing, keep submitting!
Show up, show up, show up,
and after a while
the muse shows up, too.
~ Isabel Allende