Advice For Beginning Writers
By Anne R. Allen
June, 2006, 21:14
Todayís mail brought an acceptance of a non-fiction piece, a (small) check for another, plus five rejections of my new novel: a typical writers day.
A teacher friend also sent the following questions penned by her creative writing students. I wish I'd been smart enough to ask this stuff when I was 15. Not that Iíd have chosen another path, but I would have been better prepared.
Ms. Bís class in Lakewood, California, thanks!
"Wat advise can you give the begging writter? (sic) "
- Learning to beg is good. Learning to spell is better.
- Seriously: spelling, grammar and neatness count. Learn the basics. And keep a copy of The Elements of Style about your person at all times.
What are some words of confidence if you or others don't like your work?
- If you donít like your own work, close the file to revisit in 6 months. If you still think itís a snooze, save it to use in another form. Donít bin it in a fit of self-criticism, or youíll kick yourself later.
- If others donít like it, consider the source. Ultra-critical peers are probably venting their own issues. If its your teacher, listen up. Even Tiger Woods didnít shoot under par first time on the links.
- Remember successful novelists like Steven King and Catherine Ryan Hyde got thousands of rejections before they sold a book. Learning to take rejection is as important as learning to spell.
If you write from your heart, poetry for example, and others don't like it because they don't understand, what should you do?
- If you write poetry for yourself as a form of journaling and processing emotions, ignore them
- If youíre writing for the public, donít expect mind reading. The word gerbil may mean fearsome creature to you, but most of us werenít there when you got traumatized by that rabid gerbil at age five. Spell it out. Withholding information is aggression, not communication. And remember that grammar counts in poetry, too.
How do you find a good publisher? Good depends on your needs: we have three kinds of publishers in the States.
- Big publishing houses (Random House, Doubleday). Because of corporate merger-mania in the 1990s the US has eight. (Four are foreign-owned.) In order to interest an editor at a big-name house, you need an A-list literary agent. (Watch this space: more on agents in July). To snag an agent, establish cred: publish articles and stories; win contests; earn an MFA. Preferably all of the above. Or be Madonna.
- Independent and University presses: New ones sprouting all the time. POD technology makes smaller presses with smaller print runs viable. They donít pay big advances and expect you to do your own marketing. The first Harry Potter book started with a small press print run of 6,000. Some indies still work with unagented writers. When your ms. is complete and has been critiqued by several people who are not blood relations, compose a great query letter and a 1-3 page synopsis. Then research publishers and find one that specializes in what you write. (You can write the next Da Vinci Code, but send it to Harlequin, and its shredder fodder.)
- Self publishing: Lots of POD outfits out there. Some are scams, so beware. But even with good ones, distribution is tough and bookstores won't stock them. If you have a niche area of expertise (say, breeding toothless gerbils) and you can sell the book at specific marketing venues (like pet shows) or if youíve already got a Web presence and can sell exclusively on the Web, then self-publishing is the way to go. It's also cool for a gift book of poetry or memoirs for your friends and family.
- E-publishing: Mostly only profitable for erotica now. But new technology may bring flash-change. Witness the i-Pod revolution in music.
What advice would you give someone who is looking at writing for a career?
- For creative writers, two words: DAY JOB. Learn auto mechanics; get a job with the post office; earn a teaching credential. Less than 2% of fiction writers make a living at it.
- If you can't fight the fiction addiction, write every day and keep on top of markets with writers conferences and journals like The Writer, Writers Digest and Inkwell Newswatch. For literary writers, an MFA is good; so is a personal Voodoo practitioner.
- Consider other aspects of writing, like journalism, technical writing and content/copywriting.
- Read, read, read!!!
Anne R. Allen is a California novelist and book editor who has been living part time in the UK. Her latest comic novel, The Best Revenge, An Historical Novel Of The 1980s, (Babash-Ryan) debuted in the UK in 2005 and is available from amazon.co.uk and most UK bookshops. Her first novel with Babash-Ryan, Food Of Love is available from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com as well as amazon.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org
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