I would love to make this a regular thing, so let's try it! We'll start off Writing Wednesday with a guest post from Joseph Christiano.
A Penny’s Worth of Free Advice
By Joseph J. Christiano
Author of The Last Battleship and Moon Dust
It takes a certain amount of arrogance to be an author. After all, who in their right mind would think strangers would care to read a story you want to tell? The very idea is preposterous. I’m no exception. I’ve been published twice (well, once. My second novel is scheduled for December.) and here I have the nerve to offer advice. An author’s ego knows no bounds. Hence, my helpful tips to authors.
I. Don’t be an author. Seriously. It’s a lonely profession. And unless your last name is King, Grisham or Rowling you won’t be able to quit your day job.
II. Patience is a virtue. It can take months, sometimes a year, to hear back from a potential publisher or agent. They’re busy with other would-be and professional authors. Checking your email every fifteen minutes will accomplish nothing except to turn you into a chain-smoker or an alcoholic. Or, if you’re very lucky, both. They’ll get back to you. Eventually.
III. Be prepared to kill your children. No, not your actual, flesh-and-blood children. (This is where being a chain-smoker comes in handy.) I don’t even mean your favorite character in the novel. You’ve written what you feel is the best scene in the whole manuscript and the publisher hates it with genocidal fury. Maybe they’ll let you rewrite it but most likely it’ll have to go. Be ready.
IV. Their house, their rules. Every publisher and agent has their own set of rules about what they will and will not accept in a manuscript, and they vary wildly from one to another. I had a potential publisher tell me I could not have more than four POV characters in my manuscript. It did not matter that there were around thirty characters. I was allowed to get into the heads of four of them. Good luck trying to flesh out the other characters if you can never reveal their motivations or what they’re thinking.
Another potential publisher told me they loved the manuscript but I had to ditch the lesbian sex scene or the deal was off. I was at a loss. I had no memory of writing such a scene. They directed me to it and I had to reread it very carefully. No lesbian sex. The two women in the scene did not so much as hold hands let alone get down and dirty. In fact, there was no dialogue to suggest there would be sex. One of the characters implied she was interested in the other and she wasn’t even herself when she said it. Didn’t matter. Rewrite it.
Some publishers and agents want to be the only one considering your manuscript. If you send it to anyone else and they find out about it, that’s the end. So be prepared to wait (See: #2) while they decide whether or not to take you on.
There are more examples but you get the idea.
V. Read. Then read more. And when you’re done reading, read some more. It helps if you read novels in the same genre that interests you as an author, but it’s not necessary. Just read.
VI. Learn your craft. I committed nearly every sin of which an author is capable of making when I wrote my first novel. I thought I knew what I was doing and it turned out I was wrong. I got very lucky and found an agent who took pity on me and helped me whip it into shape. Don’t count on the same thing happening to you because it probably won’t.
VII. Research potential publishers and agents. Most of the time a simple Google search will tell you what you need to know. There are a lot of scam artists more than willing to tie you to a lengthy contract while they try to milk you for everything you have. There are websites out there that can help you. You’ll be very excited when that first contract offer comes your way. Don’t get so excited you forget to check the background of the publisher/agent. There are plenty of sad authors out there wishing they had not signed that contract.
VIII. Be persistent. You’re going to receive rejections and they’re going to be generic form letters. Don’t get discouraged. Lots of successful authors were turned down left and right. I could wallpaper my house with rejection letters had I saved them. I found a publisher. You can, too. Don’t give up.
IX. Get ready for the following sentences from people in your life: 1) You should write about (fill in the blank). 2) I’d like to be an author but I don’t have the time to write. 3) If I give you a story idea can you write it and we’ll share the byline? 4) My life story would make a great novel. 5) Can you loan me some cash?
X. Network the hell out of yourself. Facebook, twitter, blogs, your own website. Don’t count on the publisher to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to PR. Call your local paper or television station. Talk to the manager of your nearby bookstore and ask if you can schedule an in-store signing. You might have written the best novel of the past fifty years but if people don’t know about it they can’t buy it. Get the word out.
There you go. Tent helpful tips to get you started on your journey. No need to thank me. If you hit it big, a check with a lot of zeroes made out to me will be sufficient thanks.
About Joseph: I have been a lifelong reader of both fiction and non-fiction. My favorite genres in fiction are mystery, suspense, horror, and science fiction. My non-fiction affinity is for history books. My favorite and most influential authors are Stephen King, Alan Moore, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, Stan Lee, Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Jan Friedman (who used me as a character in one of his Star Trek novels).
My premiere novel, The Last Battleship, was published by the fine (and intelligent) folks at Wild Child Publishing in March 2012. My second novel, Moon Dust, is scheduled for release December 2012 by Crescent Moon Press.
Find Joseph on Facebook