Q: What advice do you have for writers looking to be published?
First, remember that everyone starts out as a yet-to-be-published author. I know it sounds elementary, but don’t attempt to set out into the publishing world until you’re fully ready. In other words, begin by finishing a novel. It’s almost impossible to sell a partial manuscript or idea if you’re unpublished. Polish it and send it out, because as much as we’d like them to, editors won’t come looking in your desk drawer. Yes, showing your work to the world involves some risk. Don’t let rejections wash you up on the beach and keep you there. While you’re waiting for news, write another book. If the first one sells, you’ll be set for a two-book deal. If the first one doesn’t sell, you have eggs in another basket.
Don’t take a critique too seriously if you hear it from one person. Editors, agents, friends, and readers are individuals. What works for one may not work for another. If you receive the same comment from multiple sources, consider revising your manuscript before you send it elsewhere. Be tenacious, be as thick-skinned as possible, keep writing while you wait for news.
If there is a particular area of your writing that seems to be holding you back (action scenes, dialog, description, characterization, etc) devote extensive study to this area. Seek out conference sessions and online workshops devoted to the topic. Study other authors’ techniques in this area. Don’t just read and admire—dissect, break down, make notes, keep a scrapbook of examples and notes-to-self. Read these notes-to-self when you’re stuck/struggling/editing something that isn’t working.
Watch for overbalance of narrative in your writing. Nothing slows down the pace of a story like huge patches of narrative. Narrative produces pages with big, blocky paragraphs that read slowly, and that tend to “tell” rather than “show”. When possible, work story elements into dialog, action, reaction, and short thought sequences, rather than using narrative. For example, rather than describing the main street of your town, have your character walk down Main, greet a neighbor or two, and reflect on a few random childhood memories of people/places. Be careful that you don’t slide down the slippery slope of having characters engage in meaningless chatter designed only to dump information to the reader, but always seek opportunities to work details in naturally during character interactions. Remember that body language speaks volumes, too.
Lastly, never marry yourself to one project. Keep creating new material—that’s where the joy is, and if you keep the joy of this business, you keep the magic of it. If you have an innate desire to write and a story to tell, then don’t let anything hold you back.
Three-Act Story Structure Worksheet
Check out Lisa’s Three-Act Story Structure Class Worksheets.
Books and Reference materials
1. Writer’s Market and Writersmarket.com — the ultimate guide to publishers, agents, and submissions. You can find it in the the reference section of your bookstore. A subscription to the Writer’s Digest website is also helpful.
2. How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larson
3. A slew of useful links to writing articles, nicely categorized by subject: http://www.supersummary.com/fiction-writing-guide/
4. Write Naked by Jennifer Probst — A short, good, sometimes funny take on the writing life. Also some valuable insights on the art, business, and psychology of maintaining a writing career.
5. Writing Screenplays that Sell by Ackerman — A study in story formula that is useful for writing novels and short stories, as well. Analyzing movies can help you understand story formula and plotting.
6. Query Tracker — A great way to track your query letters. Also contains a database of basic agent information and agent stats. Valuable if you’re in the process of submitting your work.
7. Manuscript Wish List — Check out the wish lists of literary agents and editors on Manuscript Wishlist. For the latest, also search the Twitter hashtag #mswl
8. Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
Women’s Fiction Writers Association
A very supportive organization for women writers of all types of fiction.
Romance Writers of America (RWA)
The largest group comprised of writers targeting fiction for women. Conference yearly and local groups meeting monthly in many locations.
A supportive group with much to offer to writers at all levels. National conference yearly and local groups meeting monthly in many locations.
Other Genre Groups
There are writers’ networks for just about any genre, both nationally, locally, and online. A short search on Google will turn up other options that may appeal to you.
Google in your local area/state. Chances are, you’ll find a statewide writer’s league or group meeting near you.