So you want to be a writer…?
So you want to be a writer? Fine. We won’t talk about whether the idea of loads of money sparked your desire, even though it’s a fallacy that all authors earn megabucks. They don’t. Take it from me. No author will sell well if no one’s heard of him/her. And most likely no one will hear of you unless your publisher decides you’re going to be a bestseller. You’ll get minimal marketing. If you want to be marketed you’ll have to do it yourself via a website, a blog, postcards, bookmarks, flyers, newsletters, talks, Author Pages on book websites. All while holding down a full-time job, bringing up the kids, doing the shopping, cooking cleaning, whatever. And that’s always assuming you actually get published. Because, as all you would-be writers out there know, getting published’s the first hurdle.
So what do you do? I can’t say I went the obvious route of joining writers’ circles and book clubs and the like. I have been a member of writers’ circles, but I didn’t find them that helpful when it’s a novel that you need to be critiqued. Novels are too long to be critiqed at your average writers’ circle meeting. Think about it: you’re one of maybe a dozen at the once-a-month critique meeting and have to take your turn. So you’ll be able to read no more than a single chapter. Spread that out over how many chapters are in the book and you see the difficulty. Who the hell remembers what happened in the earlier chapters by the time they get to the last one? Of course, if you show your face often enough and make friends, you might persuade one or two other members to read your book in its entirety. But it’s still not a very satisfactory way of finding out where your work needs improvement. And it will need improvement. Believe me.
So what do you do? Well, once you’re sure you’ve got the fundamentals of line spacing, page spacing, spelling and grammar sorted out, it’s time to try the professional criticism route (details of who provides these services can be found in either the Writers’ Handbook or the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook). A good professional criticism service is worth its weight in gold and will provide a detailed crit and tell you where your plotting, characterisation, storytelling, etc has gone astray. And though such services are expensive, they’re worth it. You’re paying for expert advice, so of course it doesn’t come cheap. It’s what made all the difference for me. I might have mentioned before on this blog that, if it hadn’t been for such professional advice, I might still be bemoaning my fate as an unpublished author. But I don’t think it’s a thing that can be stated too frequently.
I’d written a book a year for six years, all romances, and all aimed at the Mills & Boon market. All while I had a full-time job and household chores to do, too. And all but the last one received nothing but rejections. That last one was Land of Dreams, a romantic novel set in the Canadian Arctic. And while I was finally published, my next romance offering was rejected.
It was when I switched to writing crime novels that I first started paying for a professional crit. And it paid off because that first crime novel, Dead Before Morning, was taken from Macmillan’s slush pile and published (1993). It was only the second time I’d sent it out, so as you can imagine, I was thrilled. It was also published in the States, in hardback and paperback and, as it’s a backlist book, I’m now in the process of publishing it on kindle. It even sparked interest in a Los Angeles film producer! That came to nothing, alas, but it was exciting while it lasted.
Maybe you’ve taken my advice and paid for a professional critique and still got rejected. Have you asked yourself whether you’re chasing a dying trend? Different types of books are hot at different times and then fade till no editor wants them. Maybe, if you’ve had nothing but rejections on your current project, you should put it away and start again. Most first books are unpublishable. Writing’s a trade and needs to be learned. And no trade is learned overnight. And when you start again, do so with the book you actually want to write rather than the one you think you ought to write. Believe me, when you’re writing from the heart, about characters and themes you care about, it shows.
That’s it! Lecture over. I hope you’ve found my observations helpful. If not, and you’re still getting rejected, buy yourself a big, fat jokebook, one with a section on writers’ woes and you’ll at least see that you’re not alone. Persevere, as nearly all published writers had to do and if yours is a true vocation, you’ll get there.