SOME RANDOM BUT IMPORTANT THOUGHTS ON HOW TO GET YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED
The most important part of getting a book into print is to first make it the best written book it can possibly be. Take classes, join a critique group, read the kind of books you are interested in writing, and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Below I offer you advice I've culled from all of the sources above-maybe you'll find it useful
1. SHOW, don't tell. Use all your senses to help place your reader in the scene-what would they see, hear, smell, touch, taste? Instead of telling us your character walked out into another miserable New England winter morning, show us her cheeks stung, her eyes watered, the wind howled, cars skidded off the road.
2. Kill your babies. If you have written one phrase or line that you especially love, you probably need to take it out. The reader should see your characters and your plot, not be distracted by your fancy words.
3. Avoid "adverbitis". If you think you need an adverb to describe the action, your verb needs work. Instead of "she walked quickly", try "she hurried" or "she trotted".
4. Every line of dialogue should do three things: move the story forward, reveal character, sound realistic.
5. Read everything you write aloud and listen for clumsy patches, unintended repetition, and clichés. Find other words for the clichés. Look out for character clichés, too. Ex.: A stepmother, instead of being wicked, might save the day.
6. Tell the story "in the moment". Use specific details and simple language to help the reader feel he/she can understand exactly what your character is going through. Ex.: "It was a small front room with a hard bed and a mattress slightly thicker than the cotton blanket that covered it. The broken spring underneath me stabbed my lower back."
Books are not written, they are rewritten. (Only God gets it right the first time.)
When I've felt discouraged about my writing, the following books were helpful:
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Other books on writing mysteries and general fiction:
And here's an entertaining and comprehensive article--Michael LaRocca's view on breaking into print publishing, along with tons of writing links.
I don't have a magic formula for this subject.
However, I did find an agent and she did sell my book to a publisher. None of it came easily or quickly. I studied Elizabeth Lyon's The Sell Your Novel Toolkit and Jeff Herman's Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents. I contacted agents who had interests like mine (mystery, sports, psychology), or who had some feature in their personal background that made me think we might connect. I hired an independent editor to give me fairly inexpensive but useful feedback on my manuscript-she directed me to several agents. I attended mystery conventions and talked with people there about the process. I attended the International Women's Writers Guild "Meet the Agents" forum in New York City. I groveled in front of everyone I even remotely knew connected with the publishing business. And I suffered through multiple rejections and shouldered gamely forward, my skin toughening by the hour.
The following websites have helpful information on this topic:
Chris Gaveler's advice on playing the agent game
Mystery author Susan Hubbard's site has an excellent article on writing a great query letter.
http://www.literaryagents.org/ - lists of agents, news about who’s good, who’s looking, who’s hot, tips for cover letters and more
Making Light--a blog entry on getting an agent
Here's a helpful article on fiction writing mistakes by Sally Zigmond:
THE TOP 10 MISTAKES NEW FICTION AUTHORS MAKE
Are you wondering why your short stories keep coming back with polite rejection letters? It could be that one of these ten "fatal errors" is standing between you and publication!
Lack of Editing
Too Much Irrelevant Detail
No Attention to Language
Absence of Imagery and Reliance on Cliches
No Sense of Place
No Shape or Structure
Poor Dialogue Skills
Lack of Technical Knowledge
My Top Tip
Sally Zigmond has had nonfiction and fiction published in several magazines, as well as anthologies, and has won several major short story competitions. She is a joint assistant editor of QWF magazine, and editor of The Historical Novels Review. She writes articles and reviews for the Society and also reviews for the Virginia Woolf Society. Zigmond is a member of The Society of Authors, and lives in North Yorkshire, England.
Copyright 2002 Sally Zigmond
Five Fiction mistakes that spell rejection--Moira Allen interviewed fifty fiction editors for advice on avoiding rejection.
Pat Holt offers "Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)"
Don't forget to write an attention-getting synopsis. Here are three methods, from former literary agent Alice Orr, and mystery writers Kris Neri and Beth Anderson.
How to Write the Fiction Book Synopsis
Synopsis defined: A narrative summary of the main action of your finished or unfinished booklength manuscript.
Suggested length: Up to ten pages for a book up to 100,000 words long, a few pages longer for longer books. (Individual editors may then request a longer version of the synopsis, but this is the ideal length for an introduction piece,) Note: The synopsis should always be double-spaced.
Any fiction submission, including a complete manuscript, should be accompanied by a synopsis. Therefore, it is crucial that the author develop a talent for synopsis writing. This is where you showcase your writing ability to the editor; and, thus, it is important that the synopsis be written as painstakingly as the rest of the book. Never dash off the synopsis as an afterthought. Craft it. Polish it. Perfect it, until it is your very best work. Think of this as a telling of your story in the tradition of the ancient tribal storyteller who had to tell a story that kept his audience interested or be banished into the wilderness with no supper. That's motivation for you! So, tell your story in the most compelling and riveting manner possible, and keep that editor leaning ever closer to the tribal fire at storytime.
You begin that task by getting off to a fast start with an opening line
that has been crafted into a truly stunning narrative hook. Then, move
directly into the story. Do not amble in. Start where the excitement of
the story starts, not before, just as you must start your book at the
same point. Don't begin with backstory (the details of what happened before
the book starts) or with description of any kind. You can feed these details
in very gradually, never in large doses, and only as they are needed to
understand the present action of the story. Open your synopsis, and your
book, with conflict. The situation is underway which will plunge your
protagonist into the conflict which is the reason for this story being
told and the thing that makes it interesting.
Write the synopsis in the present tense and the third person. This must be snappy, high interest writing; but be careful that the tone is appropriate to the kind of book your are writing. Begin with chapter one and continue on through the ending. If you are sending sample chapters, the action from those chapters must also be included in the synopsis.
Pay special attention to the verbs, using these in preference to adjectives to maximize the expressiveness of your synopsis. Use action verbs to sustain the sense of intense and compelling action that is ongoing in your story. This is very important, as is the use of present tense to make that action seem more immediate.
Write the synopsis in the form of the running story summarized rather than chapter-by-chapter, unless a specific editor has requested otherwise of you individually for this specific book. One technique for preparing to write this running narrative, is to tell the story into a tape recorder, always in chronological order as the events will occur in the final writing. You can use this verbal narrative as a basis for the synopsis story. Some authors can make their synopsis flow more naturally by employing this device first.
Do not include separate character sketches with your synopsis. Instead, include brief description when a character is introduced, concentrating on the individual's nature and personality rather than physical appearance. Do not include his/her age. Secondary characters need almost no character description in the synopsis other than to identify their function in the story. Use specific names for all persons (and for places as well).
Try to balance the synopsis in proportion to the book in terms of length, with the first half of the synopsis roughly paralleling the first half of the book, the second half paralleling the second half of the book. The exception to this is the ending which, in order to be worked out in detail as described above, may take a slightly disproportionate amount of space in the synopsis.
Do not dramatize or act out the story in the synopsis. This is a telling of the story as opposed to the showing of it, The one exception in this instance might be an occasional line of dialogue, but only if that line is short and has great impact.
Stick to the story line; don't wander off track. And don't overexplain. This is the "meat" of the story. Don't get bogged down in details. Still, you must keep the interest level up; and, by all means, avoid writing what sounds like a catalogue of events (this happened, then that happened, then this happened...). Avoid monotony at all costs!
Make sure there is enough happening here to fill a whole book. The editor is examining this synopsis to determine that you have enough material to sustain a workable full-length manuscript. However, do not contrive incidents to fill in space. Nor should you contrive incidents for the sake of non-stop action alone. Each story event must arise from what happened before it and lead to what happens after in a cause and effect continuum from beginning to end.
Avoid cliches both in phrasing and story action. Use this synopsis as a way of spotting these and other problems in the story itself. Correct these problems in both the story and the synopsis before submission. Other story weaknesses to watch for: outlandish plot developments, jumps in action without sufficient transition, places where the story lags.
The quality of the synopsis is critical to the selling of the popular novel. Nonetheless, you must neither say or think, "I can't write a synopsis", or even "I hate writing the synopsis." The reality is that you have to do it and do it well. A negative attitude will be more likely to hinder than help in that process.
And if all of this seems a bit difficult, maybe even a little daunting,
remember the mantra of those who succeed:
Kris Neri on Writing the Synopsis
I find a synopsis of any length miserable to write. I hate 'em. How can you do justice to your richly detailed novel in a few pages? However, after writing quite a number of them now, I find different approaches work at different lengths. For a 2-page synopsis, I would simply write a cover blurb that included the ending. Read a number of cover blurbs and get a sense of what they're doing. Go for the drama, the high points, the emotional aspects of the story. And since it's a synopsis, do that all the way to the ending, which you wouldn't include if it were an actual cover blurb. With the blurb approach, you'll probably end up in the length-ballpark without much effort.
For a longer sysnopsis, what I do is make a list of all the events I consider important; for character, I tie it into events. Then I go through and rate all of those items on a 1-3 scale, with 3 being the most important. Then I start writing a rough synopsis linking the 3's, tying in a few of the 2's, and dropping all the 1's. It's invariably very rough, and it takes a fair amount of revising before I can make it sound polished. But those approaches have both worked for me.
Mystery author Beth Anderson describes her method for producing a tight synopsis that sells books.
If you don't know your characters as well or better than you know yourself, how can you write how they'll react to a given novel situation? You can't. And so you stumble to that stop without a clue as to how to proceed. And that is often interpreted as writer's block.
The solution to work past it: interview these people. Author, Kim Kozlowski, crafted a wonderful character interview that is indispensable. It takes time to complete, because it's very thorough, and you won't use all the information you glean in preparing it. But you will know these characters, and you will know what they wouldn't or wouldn't do in any given situation. And in interviewing them, they will spur the plot-one that is custom-made to highlight their goals, motivations, and conflicts, and enhance their novel purpose. Result: no more writer's block.
The same situation with character holds true for plot. Without a clear path on where you're going in the novel--and what story events you intend to incorporate to take you there, you can write yourself into countless corners, brick walls, dead-ends with no logical way out. And while this too is often interpreted as WB, it isn't. Not really. It's a lack of planning. Of knowing how you intend to get from Point A to B. One way to eliminate this situation is to use a plot board.
Do a synopsis; lay out your chapters and scenes. Then check that plot board for all manner of things. Character growth and development, conflict, motivation, logical succession of events. You can check for logic gaps, natural progression, character consistency. You can check your time line-make sure things are happening in the right order, sequentially. Check your settings to make sure each is compatible with the mood and tone of the scene. You can check essentially all elements of the novel on this board.
In addition to realizing that thoughts hold an enormous amount of power, that creativity must be nurtured and that well refilled to be able to meet demands of putting out, knowing the novel, the characters and their deepest secrets, fears and desires, and having a plot plan, I think it's essential that a writer feeling blocked examine the whole. I mean the whole novel, and more. I mean the whole writer.
First look at the novel. Do you love this book? Does it tap into your emotions? Make you want to laugh, cry, choke the living daylights out of something? Does it arouse your passion? If not, change it until it does. If you don't, then apathy sets in, and you're setting yourself up for more blocks. And for rejections. You can't arouse empathy in anyone else if it isn't put there by you, the writer. If you don't feel it, how can you stir it in others? So get passionate. Write something that matters to you. If you can't do that on this novel, then ditch the project. If your passion is aroused, you'll have plenty to say-and tons of ways to say it. Passion arouses all the nebulous creative juices and they make the work flow.
As a writer, how do you feel about writing this particular book? Are you writing a category novel because you love them, or because you've heard that so many of them are published your odds of breaking into publishing are greater by writing one of them? Are you writing your novel because it's the kind of story you love to read? The kind you've always done and changing is too hard, or intimidating?
Writer know thyself. Know why you're doing this project. And if the reason is anything other than for the joy of it, because you love the story, do yourself a favor. Recognize the odds of it being your best work are shot before you pick up a pen. Why waste your time-this is your life, you know?-working on a project that doesn't matter to you? Feigned interest and enthusiasm is glaringly apparent, and it's as offensive as anything else that is hypocritical. You can't fake it. You have to feel it.
WB is an unforgiving term. It can cause writers a lot of pain and agony. It can have numerous tentacles and each one of them can choke the writer. With each choke, fear and doubt that you'll ever be able to write again, gain strength. But you have the power to work past it. By analyzing each tentacle, writers often find that they're not blocked at all. They love writing as much as they ever did. They've only burned out and not recharged their creative batteries, they've forgotten the value of passion, they've stepped off the trail and gotten mired in the brush.
Well, get a sickle. Hack through that brush and more often than not you'll discover you're truly not blocked; you're suffering phantom pains. Ones that are rooted in exhaustion, splintered focus, too many demands. In structure, discipline, and definition-lost limbs.
The best news is that once you identify them, you can form a concrete plan of action to combat them, and these limbs can rejuvenate. It takes effort, a little indulgence in spending the time and energy to figure out the root causes of the problem. But when you have, you can rejoice because you've worked your way through writer's block.*