Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Few Things I'll Bet You Didn't Know About Being an Author

I started writing stories in elementary school. Back then, I believed that all I had to do to become a best selling author was to learn how to write a good book that people would want to read. That's it. Art in its purest form. So simple. No fuss.

I look back on my sadly disillusioned, naive, young self and laugh until the tears come.

What I didn't know back then, is that creating a book is only a small part of the writing an author has to do in order to get  published. What kind of writing, I hear you authors-of-the-future ask? Well let me enlighten you my creative friends. If you are serious about wanting a career in fiction writing, this is just a small sample of some of the crazy stuff you'll need to learn how to do--and do it well.

Most publishing houses will not even look at unsolicited manuscripts. In other words, they have to ask to see your manuscript. You can't just send it off to them. To get solicited, you must first send them a query letter. This is a short, one page long letter that includes two very important things.  A short synopsis of your story (a pitch) and your resume as an author. Here is a link to a more in depth description of how to write a query letter. I'll warn you now, writing queries is not for the faint of heart. But those who are serious about wanting to become published MUST learn how to write them. And this leads me to the next thing on the list--something no self respecting query letter should be without . . .

A pitch is your story reduced down into one or two paragraphs. But not just any paragraphs. These must be the most gut wrenching, breathlessly irresistible paragraphs in the whole entire world! Because, for most of your manuscripts, these paragraphs are all the publisher will ever see of your story. If they don't like your pitch, then they will never have the desire to see the full manuscript in all its glory--no matter how many years you have spent honing it into finely crafting perfection. Writing a quick and concise pitch is nothing like writing a fiction novel. It is a whole different craft unto itself. There isn't room for depth of character or a slowly simmering sense of place. This is short and sweet in its most refined form. And that kind of writing takes practice.  Lots of it!

Proposals usually only work once you get a book published and already have a working relationship with a publishing house. A proposal is when an established author has a great idea for a story but they haven't actually written it yet--such as a sequel.  A proposal includes an in depth outline of the entire book, a description of all the characters that will star in it, and the first few completed chapters of the final manuscript. A first time author, attempting to get their first book published, will rarely be asked to write a proposal. But once you get that first book accepted, be aware that a book proposal might be in your near future.

Every author goes about writing a book in a different way. I always start mine with two things--a  character list and a chapter outline.

1)   A character list includes: a physical description of all characters, (major and minor) a quick summary of their personality traits, and their history and driving motives. I also like to have the proper spelling of their name on hand because, darned if I can remember what I called that little guy who shouted out from the back of the crowd on page 5.

2)   A chapter outline is when I write up a description of the whole book chapter by chapter. The summary for each chapter is usually not longer than one or two paragraphs.This outline gives me an idea of how many chapters I currently have in the book. And once I know how many chapters, I guess about how many pages a story will be. It also helps me see if there are any problems with the story's plot without having to write three hundred pages and THEN realize something is seriously wrong.

3) Writing a rough draft of the story is the next step. At this stage, my writing is only a skeleton of what it will become. I don't spend a lot of time on sense of place, characterization, or flowery descriptive passages.  I just write whatever comes into my head and get it down. I do not allow myself to go back and do a lot of fiddling at this point, because if I did, the book would never get done. Ever. In other words, I just write a bunch of garbage. Really bad garbage. And I don't worry about it. Yet.

4) Editing the manuscript comes next. Once my rough draft is complete, I can now go back and see where all the problems in the story are and fix them. I go through the manuscript multiple times, focusing on a different aspect of storytelling each time I do. On average, I will polish each chapter in a story anywhere from 5 to 12 times, depending on whether or not the chapter is working right. (Some chapters are so difficult to figure out that it can take more than 12 times to get the chapter where I want it.) I really hate when that happens. I'll often skip on to the next chapter and come back to it when I have more patience. Authors do not have to edit their books in chronological order. Author's prerogative.

And those are just the kinds of writing you have to do before your book gets published. AFTER it is published is a whole other ball of wax--but I'll save for a post on some other day.

So at this moment, I am currently working on two brand new book proposals, one almost finished manuscript, and three in-process manuscripts. So, if you ever wonder why I'm a little slow updating my blog posts--now you know why. : )



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