Darby Karchut has stopped by for a guest post, and the reality of writing a book!
Book World Reality
Let me be right up front with you—there’s no easy way to write a book. There’s also no correct way to write a book. You can outline or you can make it up as you go. You can write it backwards. You can write it from the middle and work outward. You can write just the action scenes and fill in around them. Use any system that gets you to the magical The End.
Which, of course, is really The Beginning. Almost everyone who writes a book wants to get published, too. A Very Cool Thing. So, I thought I’d share some of the stuff I’ve learned about publishing and the publishing industry:
Finish your book – No matter how terrible you think it is, do not stop writing until you reach the end.
Nothing—and I do mean nothing—will ever teach you more about a writing a book than writing your first book. Worried that it stinks? Remember, you can always fix your writing. You cannot fix a blank page. One of the best ways to complete the first draft is to guard your writing time. Teach yourself to write when you have a 15 minute (or more) block of time. I wrote my first six books while working full time by writing on my lunch break and in the evenings. Here’s an old trick: stop in the middle of an exciting scene where you know exactly what’s going to happen next. That way, when you pick up your manuscript again, you can jump in without that warming up period. By the way: save and back up everything. Early and often. Minimum: hit the save key at the end
of every page. Be that person whose work is on the Cloud, two different flashdrives, and even email a copy to yourself. I take one of my flashdrive with me when I leave the house in case my house burns down. Paranoid, much?
Read to Write
Read as much as you write. Read all the time. In your genre and out of your genre. Know
comparable books to yours. You will be asked to craft a book proposal at some point and will need at least three titles that are similar to yours. One title can be a classic, but the other two should be within the last few years. Ideally, you should mention comparable titles in your query letter.
Speaking of querying. Submitting your manuscript to agents or editors takes time and effort. Start making a list of those who might be interested. Keep adding to it. One great place to start is Twitter’s #MSWL (that stands for Manuscript Wish List). You can also Google agents and editors. I would recommend narrowing your search for the last 24 months. Writer magazines (The Writer and Writer’s Digest are two examples) often have a list of editors and agents in the back.
Set Up for Success
Keep your manuscript within the sweet spot for word count, especially if you are a new writer:
Middle Grade: 20,000 — 60,000
Young Adult: 55,000 — 90,000
Romance: 70,000 — 100,000
Mystery & Thriller: 80,000 — 110,000
Literary Fiction: 80,000 — 110,000
Sci-Fi & Fantasy: 80,000 — 120,000
Stay Within The Lines (At Least, For Now)
Every agent and editor has a detailed submission page. Read it. Make sure that particular editor or agent is seeking your kind of book. Then, follow the submission directions exactly. This is one way many of them cull out potential authors. Who wants to work with someone who can’t/won’t follow straight forward directions? Believe me, this will put you ahead of 80% of the rest of the writers.
Live like Churchill
Never, never, never surrender. Keep trying. Assume everything is a yes until it is a no. You never know what the day will bring. That next email may be a response to your query letter asking to see more.
It’s A Small World
The book world is, indeed, a small world. And it’s even smaller within genres. Everyone knows everyone, and editors and agents and authors and reviewers talk to each other. Never, never, never be anything but gracious and professional. If you act like a jerk, word spreads quickly. Editors and agents and fellow authors and bloggers are people, too, and they don’t want to work with jerks. Don’t be that person. It will destroy your career.
Join at least one professional writing organization. This shows editors and agents that you treat your art as a profession. If you write MG or YA, I would recommend SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Each state or region has their own branch. By joining SCBWI, you automatically become part of your regional branch at no extra cost. But, it is expensive – $80.00 a year. One cool thing about that: editors with Big Houses are often interviewed and they allow SCBWI members to submit to them for a short window without an agent.
The Dreaded “P” Word
“P” stands for Promotion. And promotion is a fact of life for authors. No one will care about your book as much as you do. Ever. No matter what they say. You are the most important factor in your book’s success. But promotion will differ depending on you and your genre. Adult books tend to take off like a rocket—you have about a three month window to make an explosion—then it levels off. MG and YA tend to start slower and build an audience over time. A longer shelf life, don’t you know. Have a website at the minimum. Participate on social media however you can. Editors and agents do check to see how active you are on social media. Blogs versus websites? Depends on your genre. Newsletters are becoming popular right now, so that might be a better fit for you than a
blog. To be successful, you must decide early on what promotion looks like to you and your genre. With my Middle Grade and YA books, social media is one part of my promotion strategy. Facebook and Twitter are fun places to hang out with friends and fans and fellow writers, and occasionally, I throw in some stuff about my books. The best part is that I’ve met some amazing folks who’ve become friends. *Grins and waves at Starr.*
I also contribute articles to Owl Hollow Press and Spencer Hill Press (two of my publishers) and Writing from the Peak (the Pikes Peak Writers’ blog), as well as articles for magazines such as VOYA and Sweet Designs Teen Magazine. I’ve also done some radio interviews and podcasts.
However, my main focus is literacy/educational conferences, book signings, and author festivals. School visits are my sweet spot (in person and Skype); places where I can connect face-to- face with my young audience. Speaking of school visits…
Bless the Children
If you write for children and teens, never pass up an opportunity to talk with them. Face to face, eyeball to eyeball. Say yes to every school visit you can. Say yes to every library event you can. The more you fire up kids about the magic of books, the better for all of us. Sure, you’ll sell books, but more importantly, you’ll be inspiring kids to read. And kids who read grow up to be adults who think and feel.
More Than You Can Imagine
I once thought being a published author would be amazing. I had all sorts of delightful little daydreams when I first started writing and querying and learning about the publishing world. The reality is way, way better. Maybe not in the way our society labels success, which is mostly determined by fame and money. My “success” came in November of 2011. I was still teaching 7th grade social studies and the last half hour of each school day concluded with a study hall period. If a student was finished with their homework, they could read silently. I was helping another student when I noticed one of my boys put away his work and pull out a paperback book. Good on him. He was leaning forward over the book, one elbow resting on the desk. He laughed at something on the page, then glanced at me and held up the book so I could see the cover.
It was my debut novel, Griffin Rising.
Thank you Darby, for taking the time to stop by the blog! I am looking forward to reading more of your books and I am so grateful for our friends. *Waves*