The entire writing process is fraught with perils. Many writers would argue that the hardest part of writing is beginning.
When asked what was the most frightening thing he had ever encountered, novelist Ernest Hemingway said, “A blank sheet of paper.”
Other writers believe that ideas are easy, it’s in the execution of those ideas that the hard work really begins. You have to show up every day and slowly give shape to your ideas, trying to find just the right words, searching for the right turn of phrase, until it all morphs into something real.
Then comes the wait to discover how your writing will be received. Chilean author Isabel Allende once said that writing a book is like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean. You never know if it will reach any shores.
So just how do you go about facing an empty page, coaxing your ideas into the world of form, and steering the end result toward shore? You can start by studying the tips and advice from writers presented below.
Basically, here’s a guide:
1. Make sure your story is completed and well-edited before you even consider what to do with it.
Regardless of whether you plan to submit it to an agent for publication or to self-publish (vanity publish… which I don’t really recommend, because most of the industry frowns on the practise, seeing it as circumventing them/putting them out of a job & it’s very rare for a self-published author to make it big as a result — EL James was a fluke), it needs to be a clean, well-written copy. Typos, grammar issues, etc. will make you appear amateurish, and no one will be interested in reading your story.
In order to assure your story is solid, most aspiring authors join crit groups (i.e. groups of people who you trust who are well-read and literate, who share their stories with each other and offer advise on how to improve the writing). *Note: Make sure everyone in the group has agreed to non-disclosure and copyrights, or else you could risk your story being stolen and published by someone else (I have seen this happen).
2. Once your story is done, you need to multitask. Part of your time should be spent on creating a smart business plan (because as an author, you are a self-employed business, and as such, you have to understand how royalties work, how to read contracts & understand what rights your signing away, how to negotiate a good deal to keep rights to your work, how to report such earnings to the government, and how to run a business out of your home). The other part of you needs to split your remaining time between writing query letters to agents (if you plan to go that route)/prepping your story for self-publishing issues (if you plant to go that route - i.e. obtaining an ISBN, buying cover art, learning what online resources offer the best return on e-book sales vs. exposure to a larger audience, distribution methods, etc.) and move on to your next story immediately (because most publishing houses want you to have at least 1 in the hopper with 1 complete before they consider you).
Never go idle as a writer. Just because you’ve finished a story doesn’t mean it will sell. Always be prepared for it to flop or never get published, and write other stories to console yourself with the failures. They happen. Not everyone is going to like your ideas or how they are presented. Accept it, take it on the chin, and march on. Come up with new ideas all the time.
3. If you intend to get an agent, you have to send query letters to available agents in the genre you tend to write (i.e. romance, young adult, etc.). There are sites online that will allow you to know what agents are currently accepting new authors, and the genres they are accepting for publishing purposes (some agents are experts at certain fields, and some include lists of genres they WON’T publish this year, i.e. vampires, werewolves, etc.). Agents read these introductory letters, which includes a brief background about you and usually a catchy synopsis of your story. If they’re interested in reading more, they contact you. If the agent likes the work you send them, they will consider signing you and offer you a contract (the terms of which are negotiable).
Remember: the agent you pick is a doorway into publishing - they hook you up with an editor, who hooks you up with a publishing house (in a nutshell). The industry has changed a lot because of vanity publishing, but this is still the basic gist. PICK YOUR AGENT WISELY (be discerning). Don’t just jump at the first offer, and don’t pick an agent because they take you to dinner or are super nice to you. Look at who else uses them, who they represent, and how many contacts they have with the industry. Make sure what they can offer you is compatible to where you want to go as a writer (if you’re looking for a movie deal, find an agent with solid contacts in Hollywood, etc.). As a writer, whoever you choose to represent you will open some doors for you and close others (depending on who they’ve angered or annoyed in the industry previously). It’s all very political and unfortunately, blacklisting does exist, so you need to consider your choice of agent (and how to turn down other agents) VERY carefully.
*NOTE: I would also NEVER tell an agent you were/are in any way involved in fanfiction or fanart, no matter how excited you are about it. It’s considered a taboo subject by many of them because of the copyright issues. Bad idea. Trust me on this.
*Note: There are websites online dedicated to helping you know how to write a good query letter. I highly suggest you read as many as you can before you try to write one of these.
4. Once you have an agent, your business relationship with them will commence. There is an expectation of putting out at least 1 publishable work a year (some agents demand more). You have to gauge your audience, build up a fan base for demand, and assure you are hip on marketing techniques (as some pub houses have terrible cover artists). Early in my career, I didn’t understand such fine nuances, and some of my stories were pub’d with terrible cover art that I’m embarrassed to look at now, and which definitely affected sales (which affects how many copies a pub house prints or how much of a marketing budget they apply to you, which corresponds directly to how much money you make and whether or not you appear on a Best Sellers list… and whether they think you’re a name worth continuing to publish).
5. Attend writers conventions and join an association of writers in your genre in your area (i.e. The British Fantasy Society, Romance Writers of America, etc.). You need to network, because you need to have published authors willing to write a blurb for your book to help it make more sales (a blurb is something like, “BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR. Couldn’t put it down!” - Stephen King, or “A witty ride through Victorian England featuring steampunk zombies. The most imaginative plot I’ve ever come across!” - The British Fantasy Society, etc. - appears inside or on a cover, usually). Conventions also offer you a chance to do signings for fans, which is a great way to get the word out that you exist and recs from fans on sites like Tumblr (which can improve your image and sell books).
*pant pant pant*
I think I covered the basics. I hope this help you. Good luck with your writing, dahling!!!
If you’re looking for talks from authors, look no further. Google has been recording interviews, speeches, discussions, and readings from authors who they invite to speak for their employees for years. Here is a list of most of those talks taken from the GoogleTalks YouTube page.
Do some scrolling. Find an author you love or click a random link to discover a new perspective. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
John Hodgman’s Advice to Writers
John Hodgman is an author and former literary agent. You may recognize him for his stint on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
One of the most important lessons you will ever hear about writing; get life experience.
Naomi Ruth Lowinsky Offers Inspiration For Writers
Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins and We Live in Water: How I Write, in the Daily Beast.
For those who can’t click the image, here’s the link to the awesome article!
by Bridget Zinn
WriteWorld Note:Celebrate Bridget Zinn and Poison with us!
Recently, I got an email from one of my darling cousins about writing. She was asking about getting motivated to write, especially after having taken a break — in her words “get back on the ol’ writing horse” and how to complete projects and make writing a more integral part of her life. This comes up a lot with writer friends, so I thought I’d post my thoughts for you all (if you mainly read my blog to check on my health and are not a writer, I’m doing great, thanks! Feel free to skip this post).
I have to admit that I hardly feel like an expert in many areas of writing (as you can see by my random punctuation) and I’m always learning a lot from other writers and from my agent, but the one element of writing I feel I have managed to whup into shape in the past eight years or so is the Getting a Lot of Writing Done and Finishing Projects aspect of writing. Even and especially when I’m busy with a million other things.
by Bridget Zinn
WriteWorld Note: This article is all about the “Road To Publication” for Bridget Zinn, author of Poison. Celebrate Bridget Zinn and Poison with us!
Setting the scene: I grew up writing and had notebooks stuffed full of novels, poems, and fragments. After graduating from high school, I tried all sorts of other career options. I went to massage school, worked as a jazz dj, earned a bachelor’s degree in theatre and generally looked for interesting things to do (click here to learn more about crazy jobs I tried).
Then I started working in cancer research. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was NOT the job for me. I loved the idea of saving-the-world etc., but it was a less-than-cheerful job (and my office didn’t even have windows!) and not at all the puppies and rainbows sort of thing I like.
This was when I discovered that what I needed to do with my life was to write fiction for young people. I fell really and truly head-over-heels-in-love with writing. It was a great escape from my job and, even when I quit that job and moved on to more satisfying work, it was still absolutely perfect for me. In what other job do you get to spend your days living through crazy high-jinx, falling in love, making cool friends and having damn fine adventures? Writers get to create a world with each novel—a fun, gorgeous, tantalizing world with inhabitants who crack you up.
My writing voice turned out to have a strong teen vibe and that was what I had the most fun working on, so it was clear what I was going to write.
I love books. My late father Donald, who taught Wordsworth and Melville to inner-city kids for decades, used to read Ulysses to me while he carried me on his shoulders. Perhaps it was inevitable that I grew up to be a writer. Now, after years of investigative reporting for Wired and other magazines, I’m finally writing a book of my own.
The subject of my book is autism, the variety of human cognitive styles, and the rise of the neurodiversity movement. The seed of the project was an article I wrote for Wired in 2001 called “The Geek Syndrome” about autism and Asperger syndrome in high-tech communities like Silicon Valley. I’m happy and humbled to say that it was an influential article, and I still get email about it from the families of kids on the spectrum and from autistic people themselves, though it was published more than a decade ago.
The science of developmental disorders has made significant advances in recent years, and some of the social issues that I raised in the piece — such as the contributions that people with atypical cognitive styles have made to the progress of science, technology, and culture — seem more relevant than ever. At the same time, the wave of kids diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the ’90s is now coming of age, and their heroically devoted families are facing fear and uncertainty about the future as crucial government-funded services and support provided to families of special-needs children dry up. Meanwhile, neurodiversity advocates are challenging narrow definitions of “normal” cognition, and autistic people — even those who are unable to employ spoken language — are using assistive technology like the iPad to express themselves. There’s a lot of new ground to cover.
I’ve signed a contract with a wonderful publisher — a Penguin imprint called Avery Books — and a sharp and enthusiastic editor named Rachel Holtzman. One of the most thrilling moments of my life as a writer was walking into Penguin headquarters in Manhattan and seeing classic jackets for Jack Kerouac’s novels like The Dharma Bums framed on the wall. It was reading the exhilarating, compassionate, and perennially fresh poetry and prose of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and their friends that made me want to grow up to be a writer in the first place.
I’m not sentimental about old media vs. new media. Nothing will ever replace the sublime feeling of sanctuary created by the printed page, but I treasure the books on my Kindle too, particularly when I’m reading at 30,000 feet. What I love is words — storytelling, the flow of well-wrought sentences, the gradual unfolding of a long and thoughtful tale, the private communion with an author’s mind.
But now comes the hard part. It’s one thing to work up a 4000-word magazine feature and another to sit down and write a 100,000-word book. I’m acutely aware that I’ve been granted a precious opportunity to cast light on forgotten history and provide a platform for voices that are rarely heard. At the same time, I’m scared out of my wits that the two decades of journalism that have led up to this project have not prepared me to write a good book. I wake up at 3am staring into the darkness, wondering if I’ll have the skills, discipline, and inner resources to pull it off.
I’ve chosen to deal with my anxiety by tapping into the wisdom of the hive mind. I recently sent email to the authors in my social network and asked them, “What do you wish you’d known about the process of writing a book that you didn’t know before you did it?”
I’m delighted with the sheer range of practical advice that poured in. The writers in this group are as diverse as the volumes that line the shelves in my home office. There are top science writers and journalists like Carl Zimmer, Jonah Lehrer, Deborah Blum, Paula Span, and David Shenk; prolific blogger Geoff Manaugh of the endlessly fascinating BLDGBLOG, which focuses on architecture and the future of urbanism; award-winning poet and essayist August Kleinzahler; a wise-beyond-his-years entrepreneur named Ben Casnocha; a Zen master named John Tarrant and an author of Buddhist bestsellers, Sylvia Boorstein; two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee David Crosby of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; and two of the geniuses who helped launch 21st century digital culture and the spunky “maker” movement, Cory Doctorow and Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing. A more diverse group of writers, talking about the nuts and bolts of their craft, would be hard to find anywhere on the Web.
A few things became clear as soon as their replies came in. First of all, I’ll have to throttle back my use of Twitter and Facebook to get this writing done (and I may never rev up my idle Quora account after all.) Secondly, scheduling intervals of regular exercise and renewal amid the hours of writing will be essential. And thirdly, I’ll certainly be buying and downloading a software program called Scrivener, which is a powerful word processor specifically designed for writing books and keeping vast amounts of related data in good order.
Reading these tips has made the voice in my head that whispers I can do this a little louder when my eyelids snap open before dawn. I hope the advice here inspires the creation of many great books, not only the one I hope to write. I’m deeply grateful for the time and attention of the master writers assembled here.
Enjoy — and good luck with your own writing!