Thursday, March 11, 2010

Even more on how NOT to get published

My mother always used to say: Every old crow thinks her little bird's feathers are the blackest. We can easily apply that sentiment to writing. All writers have done it, especially in the early days. We peruse bookshelves with our noses in the air and thinking, "How in the world did that thing get published? My book is ten times better?"

One of the easiest ways NOT to get published is to fall in love with every word you write. After all, any dummy can see it's pure brilliance. You've created a magical world in which any reader will be swept away. Your characters are multi-dimensional and complex. No other writer living or dead has come close to hammering out a plot like yours. Every reader who picks it up will be on the edge of her seat, unable to put it down until the final, satisfying scene.

Not a jot or a tittle can be added or taken away to enhance the story. If a publisher or agent can't see that...well, they don't deserve the honor of publishing your book anyway.

I believe William Faulkner said it first, and a whole lot of teachers of creative writing, film making, journalism and other kinds of storytelling have been repeating it through the ages: Kill your darlings.

Samuel Johnson had similar advice: "Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out."

I don't mean to say the only way to recognize if you've written something worth saving is that you must hate it. Just don't fall so in love with your work, you don't think it can be improved upon. Only God does it right the first go-round. Or in the case of writing--the twentieth go-round.

First drafts are easy. Throwing words on the page with little regard for grammar or syntax or if the crazy thing even makes sense. It's the editing and rewriting where many writers want to take shortcuts. Fixing the plot holes, checking the facts, smoothing out the rough edges, getting the whole thing to flow, well, that's just plain work.

What writer wouldn't be happier if all they had to do was throw their writing onto the page and be done with it. I've read much from writers who do exactly that. It's always beginning writers who have not taken the time to learn the craft. They have a story inside them they've been wanting to write forever. It flows beautifully inside their heads. Sadly that vision does not always translate as brilliantly to the page.

If you don't want to get published, write your story the way you want. Refuse to follow the advice of those who've been down the road before you. Anyone who doesn't like your work doesn't have to read it. (Believe me, they won't.) Don't read books on writing. Don't study the classics or bestselling books in your genre to see what they're doing right and you probably aren't.

Most importantly, don't read through your work objectively. Don't be willing to hack and slash any passage that slows the flow of the story, anything that doesn't further the plot, anything that might cause the reader to scratch his head and say, "Huh." or worse, throw your book across the room. Whatever you do, don't get rid of those long, flowery passages that demonstrate your illustrious writing prowess.

The only thing important is that YOU like it. A good story doesn't really matter as long as readers know how smart you are.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More on how NOT to get published

Thomas Hardy wrote after a particularly scathing review of Tess of the D'urbervilles, "If this continues, no more writing for me. A man must be a fool to stand and be shot at."

I know how poor Tom felt, on a much smaller scale of course. Even before the bad reviews come--and they will come--we feel shot at nearly every time we sit down to write. Or when we browse bookshelves and compare our writing to that of those who consistently sell hundreds of thousands of copies every year. Or when we receive yet another rejection.

Let's face it, this business is hard. It can be discouraging on the best of days. I tell fledgling writers if they need instant gratification or validation or the occasional pat on the back, they should go into a more encouraging field like the ministry or motherhood.

So here's number two on my list of how NOT to get published. Wait until someone likes you.

Take your manuscript to work and show it to the meanest, most critical and judgmental person there. Your father-in-law will do in this exercise as well. When they give you positive feedback, when they tell you they've never read anything more beautifully penned, and that you are the most brilliant, prolific writer since the Apostle Paul, you are ready to seek publication.

Until you get validation and encouragement from your peers, you shouldn't write another word. Who else but the people you work with or your family who never read a book until the Twilight series came out, can better judge your work?

By all means, don't go to writers' conferences and show your manuscript to people who actually know what they're talking about. Don't read books on the craft or practice with shorter pieces. Don't admit your first attempts might not be as good as you first thought, and should be rewritten from the first word or scrapped altogether.

So stop writing. There are already thousands upon thousands of writers more talented than you who can do what you do much better than you do it. Competition is too fierce. Publishers aren't buying so you might as well stop writing. You won't find the validation you crave in this economy so just give it up.

Great men undertake great things because they are great; fools, because they think them easy. - Vauvenargues

Happy Writing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

How not to get published.

This is a non-scientific list about how NOT to get a book published.

I'll add a new observation every day this week about how to avoid getting published. My first observation is this: Lazy writers do not get published.

There are many reasons why lazy writers can't land a book contract. For benefit of space and time, I'll cover just a few. First and foremost, lazy writers don't spend enough time with their rears adhered to the chair pumping out the words. They talk about writing. They watch the latest Oscar winning movie and tell everyone who'll listen that their story is better. They lament with their unpublished friends about how cliquish and unfair the business is. They discuss ideas and say, "Someday I'm going to finish that book." Or start it...

Hence, they never get published.

Lazy writers don't bother to learn the craft. They say, "I'm from the school of hard knocks. My story is about REAL life. It will set the industry on its ear and have readers clamoring to buy my book. My mechanics aren't that great. I forgot most of my high school grammar rules. I not really sure what Point of View or back story are, but my story will make up for all that. That's what editors are for."

Lazy writers don't look for smaller markets to publish their work while working on their novel. The day will come to seek publication of your novel. Editors and agents will want to know your bio. M.B.A.'s are impressive, but that doesn't mean you can artfully string two sentences together. What's your experience? Where were you published before? Friends' blogs and article directories don't count. Get published somewhere that pays for your work. Not only is the practice and experience invaluable, you will show you are a writer who can produce something someone is willing to pay for.

Lazy writers don't go to conferences. There is no better--or more fun--way to learn the craft, make contacts, and get inspired. Most aspiring writers don't have many writer friends. It's difficult in those early days to find someone who understands the frustrations and joys that go along with the writing life. Every person at a writers' conferences hears voices in his head the same as you.

Lazy writers don't take the time to build a platform. Nearly as important as getting work published in a smaller market is having built an audience before ever approaching a publisher. I don't mean you must have 10,000 readers committed to buying your book before a publisher will open your submission. But competition is tight and getting tighter. Thanks to the Internet it's easy to get your name in front of readers. Create a webpage. Every writer should have one. Guest host on writing blogs. Create a Facebook page to promote your work. Write articles about your area or expertise, even if it's just about writing for publication.

It will take more than a well written book to get the attention of publishers and agents in today's economy. Don't get lazy or get used to a mailbox full of rejection letters.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Make them Suffer

While preparing for a writers' workshop--You Can Write a Novel--I came across this great quote by Alfred Hitchcock.

“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.”

While Al was speaking more of moviegoers, the sentiment can easily be applied to writing. I love quotes. I love using them in teaching and using them to inspire myself. And this one is a gem.

"Always make them suffer." This is every writer's purpose. Build an emotional attachment between the reader and the character, put the reader into the situation, and create extreme nervous anxiety that stretches the reader to the very limit of endurance. Make them suffer.

Isn't that when you know you just read a good book? When you, as a reader, became part of the action. When you felt like you had something to lose. Even with romances, YA, or picture books, pull your reader in. They should experience whatever the character experiences. Whether romance or danger or the exhilaration of buying the perfect dress at 80% off, the reader should experience these sensations.

My challenge to you today is to open your current WIP at random. Any page. Open and start reading. Is there tension on that page? Does it capture your imagination? Do you want to learn more about the character and the situation just by reading that one small excerpt? Is it enough to keep you reading? If not, raise the stakes.

Happy writing and make them suffer.