With two novels under my belt, Hollowstone and West of Sunset, one of the things I’m asked the most is advice about getting published. Shifting into writer mode which coincidentally looks a lot like Puppet Angel (hence the above pic).
The following is an email I sent to readers sharing my experiences which I think may serve as a useful resource for other writing aspirants.
So you wanna be a writer? Well let me tell you, it’s not easy and I’ve got the ulcers to prove it. But there’s no greater feeling than holding your own book in your hands or people falling in love with your creation.
The road to publishing is vastly different for each writer, so by no means is my journey the end all-be-all. Trust me when I say, there is no one set formula. If someone tells you otherwise, they’re lying. But the following is what worked for me. Many, if not most of these steps (or at least some variation thereof) have worked for many of my fellow published novelists.
While there’s many more facets worth covering, here’s the bare-bones minimum that I think will at least get you a good start.
Be warned. Writing is not for the faint of heart, it’s rarely glamorous and is the most disrespected of art forms. It requires dedication, sacrifice and more often than not, it’s a labor of love. A tough skin, adamantium armor and a strong masochistic streak are required.
Still here? All right, don’t say you weren’t warned. Okay, here we go.
1.) A Novel Idea
Most people start writing a book because they have a novel idea (see what I did there). Once you get this novel idea, think it through. Let the idea develop. I would say give it a few days, even a few weeks.
2.) Jot Down Your Ideas
Once the idea has gained enough stability that you think it can carry a story, start jotting down ideas. It doesn’t have to be coherent to anyone else, just you. Nothing official yet. Think about characters, setting, themes. What are the character’s motivations? What are their internal conflicts? What’s the plot?
3.) Form An Outline
Once you have enough ideas jotted down, start arranging them into an outline. Again this is the brainstorming portion of the writing. If you get stuck trying to work out the logistics, that’s okay. That’s a good thing. This is what the outline is for; to work all of this stuff out before you actually do the writing.
4.) Start Filling Out The Outline
Once I have a solid outline of the novel, I usually begin filling out the outline with more details. This is where I also start getting into the characters’ heads. What are their motivations? How do I flesh them out? What’s their backstory? Is there a funny line or scene I want to include? All that good stuff. Speaking of good stuff, here’s Jason Statham to inspire you.
Butt in seat. Put pencil/pen to paper, type on laptop/desktop/typewriter. Just do it. Do it now. Doesn’t matter how crappy the prose is. Keep writing. If you’re like me, it’s easy to get distracted while you’re writing — oooooh something shiny, must go look. I’m sorry, what was I saying? Oh yeah. Keep writing. If possible, discipline yourself to churn out 1,500-2,000 words a day. Set a time each day to write. Maybe when you wake up before you start your day before you get distracted. Just write. Also: Look Up National Novel’s Writers Month. You will thank me for it.
Doesn’t matter how crappy the prose is. Keep writing. If you edit while you write, you’ll never get it done. Just finish it. Writing and revising is like sculpting. The first draft is the lump of clay or the block of marble. Each revision molds and chisels away the undesirables. But you can’t sculpt if you don’t have the material to work with. Just get the manuscript done.
At this stage, the newness of the novel idea has worn off. Doubt has seeped in and you think you’ve just made the biggest mistake ever. This is all natural. Do not fret. This is what separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls. The true writers, stick it out and keep fighting for their project. They won’t abandon it. They will see it through to the end.
8 ) Keep Writing
No matter how discouraged or distracted or derailed you become. Pick up the manuscript and finish where you left off. Keep writing. The one thing you CANNOT DO is give up. Finish the manuscript. Once it’s finished, you still have a lot of work to do. And while by no means is your journey over, it’s quite an accomplishment in itself. To keep you motivated, here’s a pic of our National Treasure, Ming-Na Wen.
Congrats on finishing your manuscript. You’ve got a long way to go, but already you’ve accomplished more than most. Now is the opportunity to do your first revision and try to polish it up as much as you possibly can.
Now comes the time to get critiques. This is where beta readers come in. Sorry, nope. Friends, families and loved ones don’t count. Unless they’re professional writers. You need readers who know their craft and have no qualms being objective in critiquing your work, telling you what parts failed and how you can do better. If you haven’t already, start looking at online writing critique groups or local ones in the area.
Or at least it’ll look like it after all the red ink on the manuscript. It will hurt because you put your soul into your work only to have it ripped to shreds. Constructive critiques are like alcohol on an open wound. It will sting, it will hurt, but you’ll be better for it. Remember it’s about the work, not the writer. As long as you’re getting constructive feedback and solutions, then it’s all good.
Especially after the critiques. Fight through it. DO NOT GIVE UP!!!!
After the critiques, get back to revising. With critiques, there generally is a rule. Critiques are subjective and you have to be objective in finding your voice, listening to wise advice and deciding if that advice works for the narrative. That said, if 2 or more beta readers are raising the same point about your piece, that might be a clue that you need to address that issue.
Still here? And you have a “final” revision. There may be hope for you yet. Congrats. Here’s the next phase.
15.) The Submissions Process
Here’s where business begins to pick up. This is where you begin researching markets. Find out what genre your novel fits in. Who’s your market? Who’s your audience? What makes your novel stand out?
This is also where you start submissions to editors, publishers and agents.
While the internet has many wonderful things, this is one of those times where you need to go to the local bookstore and pick up one of the annual Guides To Publishers/Agents.
This is how I found my publisher. This requires a lot of work. Publishers and agents are looking for a reason NOT to read your manuscript, so you have to sell yourself in your cover letter and your prose has to be as polished as possible. You’re competing against hundreds, if not thousands. Break out the Sunday’s finest, and bring your A-game.
Go for the big markets and land the big lucrative contracts but don’t discount the indie publishers either. Many writers start with a small indie press, build an audience, which in turn makes them more marketable for bigger presses. And with the beautiful thing is that the internet and e-books has allowed smaller markets to gain ground and new audiences.
You will literally receive hundreds of rejections from agents and publishers. Some may have legit reasons like your novel wasn’t a fit for their company, others will be biased and unreasonable. Some just don’t even bother reading. It is what it is. Keep fighting, keep submitting. Remember, all you need is one publisher to say yes. Again, DO NOT GIVE UP!!!!!!
Many opportunities I’ve gained were through being members of writing communities online, being friends with other writers. I did a virtual book tour to promote Hollowstone. It wouldn’t have been the success it was, if it hadn’t been for my many friends online and the wonderful blogs and websites that were gracious enough to host me.
While you’re promoting the first novel, start working on the second one. At this point, your writing should improve immensely and there’s a chance that your second novel will be better and possibly find a home. Keep at it. It may take months, even years but if you want it bad enough, it can happen. As a wise friend once told me, the ones who make it are the ones who don’t give up.
Keep doing it until you’re published. If someone had told me this way back yonder, I probably would’ve laughed in their face. This is what happened for me. There’s a lot more worth delving into but this is just as good a jump off as any. Writing is painful and often thankless work. But it’s rewarding. And it can be powerful. To publish a book is to do something that millions talk about doing but few actually do.
Good luck. And I look forward to reading your stories.