Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Do As I Say…You Know the Rest

By Tracy Kiely

There are so many bits of advice I think new writers need to know that it is hard to boil my keen understanding of the publishing business down to just three. (Pause for laughter.  HA! Yes, that was kind of funny. So, let's continue…oh, you're still laughing? Sure, I'll wait. No, no problem. Yes, it was funny. Maybe not that funny, but… right.  Look can you maybe take it outside? We only have the room for an hour. Thanks.)

Anyway, as I was saying.

“It's okay to write crap. Just don't try publishing it while it's still crap.”
First, I would tell new writers that their families, while most likely lovely people, are liars.  Big fat liars. They doubtlessly have told you that your writing is “brilliant,” “amazing,” perhaps even “epic.” (Some families are a little more grandiose than others.) But before you compose your acceptance speech for the Pulitzer, stop for a moment to remember that these are the same people who burst into applause the day you mastered tying your shoe, riding a bike, and making poo in the potty. (Preferably not in that order, but only God should judge. Well, God and Judge Judy.)  They cheerfully plastered the front of the refrigerator with every wrinkled art project you ever pulled out of your backpack. Your mom probably even once wore that necklace you gave her for Mother’s Day. You know the one – it was made out of macaroni, glue, and string and looked like a collection of small tumors. The bottom line is your family loves you. And because of that, they probably aren’t the best critics of your work. So, my advice? Join a writing group. Get independent feedback. It is worth it.  A writing group will tell you what works and what doesn’t work. If you’re lucky, they might offer helpful suggestions as to how to make your writing stronger. If you are not sure how to spot an independent reader here’s a tip:  If they receive your manuscript without gently placing their hand on their chest and whispering through misty tears, “Oh, I am just so proud of you!”/”You wrote all this?”/”Your grandmother would be so proud of you!” you are headed in the right direction.

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career, that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
– Harper Lee

Remember that like most everything thing else, writing is a business. Yes, publishers love books. They love to read. They love finding a book that moves them, that makes them laugh, that makes them cry, that makes them question. You know what else they love? Money. Preferably in large obscene quantities. You can write a wonderful book, but if a publisher doesn’t think it will make money they aren’t going to buy it. It is as simple as that. Publishers spend a great deal of time and money producing a book. It needs edits, proof-reading, cover art, promotion, someone to suggest that it might work better with zombies or vampires, and lots of other things that I don't know about. A publisher needs to know that they are going to get a return on their investment. Rejection is a part of writing. The more you realize that any rejection you encounter is business and not personal, the better your psyche will fare. And probably your liver.

“Lots of times I’m not crazy about the writing, but I keep moving ahead and somehow it gets better. The important thing is to move forward.”

There will be times (days/weeks/months) when you will come to believe that your Muse stepped outside for a cigarette and got hit by a bus. Or ran off to Mexico and is now half in the bag on some beach wearing a sombrero.  You will stare at your computer screen and… do nothing. You will find yourself surfing Pinterest and emailing pictures like these to friends.

But you need to get off Pinterest and keep writing. Keep going! Sooner or later your hussey of a Muse will come staggering back in reeking of rum and eight other aromas you really don't want to identify. She will tell you that "now is NOT a good time to talk" and that she needs her "space for a day" or so and to just "back off." (Muses are not unlike rebellious teenagers and it is our duty not to clock them upside their heads when they act like this.) Soon she will reappear, once again full of energy and ideas (and, if you are lucky, freshly showered).  My point is (besides that fact that my Muse happens to be a walking disaster at times) is that some days are great, some not so much. Some days will make you feel as if you are only fooling yourself and that you probably should check if your local McDonalds needs a new fry guy.  But you can't do that. Write through the tough days.  Write around them. Write over them. But just WRITE. The more you write, the better you will get. And besides, McDonald’s fries, while delightful, apparently aren’t that good for you.  Who knew?

And my final bit of advice before I leave you, is this:

“Beware of advice – even this” – Carl Sandburg


Catriona McPherson said...

Great advice - and free chuckles!

RJ Harlick said...

Too true. Been there done that with family and friends until I finally found a critique group of fellow writers who could finally tell me what was really wrong with my writing.Took me a few months to recover, but once I did, I got down to the serious business of turning my book into something a publisher would look at.

Susan C Shea said...

Hey, what's the matter? You don't believe my family?

Actually, I was way too shy to show my fiction to anyone in my family until after an agent had accepted it, and me.

Love your humor!

Barry Knister said...

One more piece of advice: Save your money. As you save, do everything you can think of to find a reliable gun-for-hire--that is, a freelance book editor. Do not assume that the more you spend, the better the editor, or that all editors are equal. When you are convinced you have found an intelligent, honest person, hand over your money, and pay close attention to what your gun-for-hire tells you. If you aren't prepared to take this last step--paying attention--go to your family members and believe everything they tell you.