I’ve gotten these questions a lot lately, so rather than just trying to parse it out in twitter or facebook or keep answering it on twitter, I’m just going to do it here…and then link here… I’m lazy… and swamped.
These questions often go hand in hand, so I’ll answer them that way.
How long have you been a writer…
Always. Seriously. I think I came out of my mother’s womb telling stories. I’m just a storyteller. I started actually writing them down in middle school, as far as I can remember, although my mom says it was before that.
I wrote short stories all throughout middle school and got into longer stuff in high school. I had notebook upon notebook crammed with stories written in horrid purple ink… (yeah, what was I thinking). Many of them were fantasy, although there was one contemporary young adult that had the hero dying at the end. Yes, even in high school, I was all about the angst. In nursing school, there was the start of what might have been a halfway promising romantic suspense, and if I can ever find that one, I might try to rework it and do it again.
Now… when did I start writing professionally?
I sold my first book in late 2002. By then, I’d written dozens of stories, if not more. I’d had dozens of rejections. I kept working in nursing even after I’d sold and even though I was able to quit my day job in 2004, I keep my license active because writing isn’t a stable field.
I’m not exaggerating on this and I’m not trying to scare anybody, but just because you’ve sold ten, twenty, thirty, sixty books doesn’t mean you’ll be able to keep on selling. Trust me on this…I speak from experience. There are no guarantees in life, and especially not in writing, except for this. It’s hard and signing a contract doesn’t mean it gets easier.
Sooooo…if I haven’t managed to completely scare you…
The next question that generally comes…
How do I become an author?
The answer to this depends…Are you a new writer? If so…
- Read. Read a lot. It’s fuel for the brain and if you tend to read the books from the sort of publisher you want to write for, you’ll get an idea what sort of books they are looking for.
- If you haven’t written a book, you have to do that first. And you have to finish it. If you’re a new writer, the very first thing an editor and an agent need to know is that you can finish a book. If you have the most amazing, brilliant idea that will leave Nora Roberts, Stephen King and JK Rowling in the dust, but you get half way through and you can’t finish…that idea doesn’t mean much to them.
- If you’ve just started writing, then finish that book. And then…start another. The fact of the matter is, the first few books almost any writer writes aren’t going to be published. Yes, there are exceptions, but if you focus on being the exception, you may be setting yourself up for a life of disappointment. Focus on reality. Writing the first book, and the second, and the third is what improves your craft and gets you to that crucial point… where you have a book that is actually really good. You find your voice, you figure out what in the hell is show versus tell, you nail down point of view switches and all of that.
- If none of that makes sense, you can figure it out just be visiting various writer blogs or forums… Absolute Write is a good writer resource. PBW/Lynn Viel is a great resource for writers. Ilona Andrews has some wonderful tips on writing. And if you don’t know what any of that means, it is absolutely okay. We all start somewhere. Just don’t try to start with me, because I’m a lousy teacher…I’m still figuring out what the shorthand is for some of the writer lingo. It would be the blind leading the blind.
Have you been writing for a while but don’t know how to go about getting published?
- First things first…be prepared for this one simple thing. You’ll get rejections. We all do. I had one book rejected by two different publishers just this year. My urban fantasy thing that I’m trying so hard to sell isn’t exactly grabbing anybody and it’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever written. You’ll get rejections. No matter what. Be prepared for it, accept it…and whatever you do, don’t have a hissy fit and email the agent/editor back and go off on them. Your book didn’t grab them. That doesn’t mean you wrote a bad book. It doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t like it. It means it doesn’t work for them.
- If you’re not sure how to go about getting an agent or editor…this is going to vary depending on whether you want to go digital (Ellora’s Cave, Samhain, Carina, etc) or traditional (the big New York houses, Random House, Berkley, Grand Central, etc) that focuses more on print. Most print houses require that you have an agent. Very few digital publishers do require this.
- If you decide to try digital houses, that’s awesome, but never sign a contract without having it reviewed. You can get a contract attorney for probably $250. I know that’s a chunk of change, but not all contracts are created fair and equal and there have been more than a few authors who have huddled in their beds and cried because they signed a bad contract and when things went to hell, they were screwed.
- Visit the websites of the houses you want to write for. Read their work. Does your work fit them? IE… if you love to read inspirationals, but you’re writing erotic…you’re going to get a rejection. That might sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised. This is why publishers often say in their form letters: “Read our work to get a feel for what we publish.”
- Find out if you need an agent.
- If you do, start querying them. don’t ask me for help on this…I suck at it. But you can find help for that at places like Absolute Write and many agents have blogs. Visit them and see what to do and what not to do.
- One thing not to do…go against the guidelines. If they say no digital submissions… then use snail mail. If they say don’t send the MS…then DO NOT SEND IT. This is a sure way to end up in the NO pile. That might sound harsh, but when you’re getting hundreds (thousands?) of submissions and half of them make it clear they don’t care enough to follow the simple guidelines, then it tells the agent/editor those writers are not taking their writing seriously. Some writers have this… ah… megalomania thing, almost, where they think creating something means they get special treatment and they needn’t follow guidelines and then they get pissy when they get rejectons. Yes, we see this happen and no, they aren’t any more special than all the other billions of people out there. They wrote a book and so did I, so did hundreds of thousands of other people. They want to get published? They have to plod through the steps the same way all of us do. You stand out by actually following the guidelines, being courteous, being professional. Well, being an ass will make you stand out, but not the way you want.
- Hang out at writer/writing blogs and forums. That sounds like a cop out but you learn a lot there.
- Consider joining RWA-Romance Writers of America. Whether you’re a romance writer or not, RWA will do more to help grow you as an aspiring writer than just about any other writer organizations out there. They have online chapters, local chapters, the website, online workshops, etc where you can learn about how to write query, how to pitch your book, etc. You can learn to network, learn which agents to avoid (yes, they exist), which digital publishers are good to write for (yes, there are some that you want to run screaming from…learn them, know them, so you can hide your lovely writerly goods from them), which print publishers aren’t playing well with their writers (they definitely exist), and too much to list. Like anything else in life, though, you’ll get out of it what you put into it.