Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Assorted Writing Advice (from experts)

Warning: If you’re not a writer-wannabe, this post will be boring.
If you are a writer-wannabe, this post might be discouraging.


Sunday, when I was doing a book-signing at Barnes & Noble, an older gentleman stopped by the table to chat with me. Specifically, he wanted to know how to get his book published. I explained that I was a self-pubbed author and that normally my books wouldn’t be at Barnes & Noble. They (and I) were here because of a book fair. I explained that getting commercially published was much better than self-publishing.

He was under the impression that authors made five or ten dollars per book (highly unlikely except for the biggies) and that a publisher would pair him with a well-known author who’d co-write with him. He thought an author just sent a manuscript in and that was that. (I’ve run into a lot of aspiring writers who had the same ideas.)

I explained as best I could that commercial publishers get thousands of submissions a year and only publish a small percent of what they get. I explained that bookstores want a deep discount (up to 55%!) on the cover price, plus the publisher, printer, warehouser (Ingram, Baker & Taylor), and distributor all take a cut. I told him about how agents also get a cut, but they often negotiate better deals with a publisher than an author could.

I recommended he take a look at Writers Market to learn what publishers take his genre and to learn what goes into a query letter. I recommended that he take a look at the books on the shelves that are similar to his and see who published them. I also recommended he visit Valley Writers (a chapter of the Virginia Writers Club) and get some input from members.

His manuscript isn’t ready to send in yet. All 400 pages are in longhand. I don’t think he’s had any input from other readers. I’m guessing that his, like many other manuscripts by first time authors, probably needs some work.

Many aspiring authors have misconceptions about what the writing and publishing world is like. So, if you’re one and are still reading this blog, let me give you some advice—from other people. From people far more qualified than I:

Stephen King is one of the 200 or so novelists who makes a living writing novels. His book, On Writing, is pretty good. But just in case you don’t have time at this moment to read the entire book or even some excerpts, take a look at Stephen King’s “Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully: in Ten Minutes.”

My favorite tip: #3: “Be self-critical. If you haven’t marked up your manuscript, you did a lousy job. Only God gets things right the first time. Don’t be a slob.”

Once you’ve read King’s advice, move on to John Scalzi’s “Utterly Useless Writing Advice,” which is actually not utterly useless. It tells you stuff you need to know. I especially like his tip #3, too, that answers the “But what if I don’t want to write stuff I don’t want to write” question.

Now, if you’re still reading, Scalzi has some more good advice you need to know in “Even More Long-Winded (But Practical) Writing Advice.” (Warning: if you didn’t like his previous advice, you’ll like this even less because it’s probably not what you want to hear, even though most of us need to hear it if we want to be real writers.)

If you’ve read all three of the above, you ought to be either (1) inspired, or (2) ready to quit writing.

If you’re a teenage writer, Scalzi also has some advice for you in “10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing.” Actually, if you’ve ever been a teenager and you now write, this is worth a look. (I love this sentence: “Blogging very often takes the form of what writers call ‘cat vacuuming,’ which is to say it’s an activity you do to avoid actual writing.”)

Gee, giving advice is easy when it’s someone else’s.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Debi said...

Oh that's funny--if you've read all three you're either inspired or ready to quit writing!

Becky, this post sounds like it could be a great article with a little tweaking. Why don't you do some real writing? Ha ha.

9:46 PM  

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