Jun 08 2014

Primer for New writers

What’s the most common question most writers get after ‘where do you get your ideas? How do you write a book? Neil Gaiman answered that question the best – you put your butt in the chair and typWriter-kitteh-300x207e a sentence. Then another. It’s as simple and as hard as that. (Paraphrased, of course.) For some people – pantsers aka those who write by the seat of their pants – it is exactly that simple. Other folks are plotters – they need to outline and have character descriptions. Your first few novels will tell you which you are, and most writers are a combination. Whichever way you write, it’s right, there is no right true way and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise should go jump themselves.

How do you tell when the story is done? When it’s done. I had one book where I thought I had written the ending…but it kept nagging at me. Something still needed to be said. The characters weren’t done with me, the more I thought about it, the more the characters talked to me, I knew where it had to go. That’s what I wrote. I knew I was done.

Step away from the story. I said, step away from the story. Give it time to percolate, get some distance. Go back.

With the aid of the Manual of Style, edit the book. As you go, you’ll probably refine it.

Send the story to beta readers – people you trust to be honest with you. Suck it up when they give criticism. Bask in any praise. Make the suggested corrections if they aren’t changes to your story. (There’s always one of THOSE.)

Hire an editor. To find one, get recommendations. A good one is usually right about the changes they suggest, but they may not know what you meant, so consider each change carefully. A good editor is worth their weight in gold and gives you a much better chance of being a successful writer whether traditionally or independently published. By the way, the good ones are not free.

Write a blurb – a short explanation of the story, introducing the primary characters and the heart of the plot. It should be one paragraph. This is harder than it sounds. It took umpty-many pages to tell the story, to condense it down to one short paragraph is difficult. Figure out the theme of the story – what were you trying to say? That will help.

Now comes the hard question – traditional or self-published. Technically, self-publishing doesn’t, or didn’t, keep publishers/agents away. I’m not going to recommend either method. Both have their merits.

How to publish traditionally.

Write a query letter (try query shark to find out how to write a good one) for each agent/publisher you want to query. There are a number of sites – just type literary agents and you’ll get a list of of them. Or use http://querytracker.net/.  To decide which one to query, check their webpage. (For all small publishers, always check Preditors and Editors before sending a query, there are a LOT of scammers out there.) Read their requirements. Do not vary from those requirements. To them it’s like big red signs that say ‘ Does not play well’  and ‘Will be difficult to work with’. Send query letter. Wait for acceptance/review and resubmit/rejection. Unless you’re extremely lucky you will pile up a lot of rejections. Although most will be form letters, a few may add personal comments, read them for hints on how to improve your chances. It may take up to six months for them to respond.

In the meantime write book two and book three.

On the off chance you receive an acceptance, be prepared for them to do additional editing and to make changes to your manuscript. Suck it up, buttercup. You signed the contract. Most changes will make your story better. Some will be to fit your story to their style. You will have a little input on the cover, but only a little.

An advance is NOT guaranteed. And most authors DO NOT earn out their advance if they do get one. Let me repeat. An advance is NOT guaranteed. And most authors DO NOT earn out their advance. The typical pay structure is that the publisher takes 70%, you get 30%, minus the agent’s commission. For this they will do that additional editing and the cover art. The idea that they will do your promotion/marketing is a myth. They do minimal marketing/promotion for new writers. That consists of posting it for a brief time as a new release on their webpage. If they really, really like you (or you’re killing it on Amazon) they might talk things up. Might being the operative word.

You are also not Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Lee Childs, etc.  Even if you were, they promoted and most still promote. I saw Lee Childs at a convention. Marketing/Promotion is necessary. You need a web page, a blog, a Facebook page and an Amazon Author Central page.


Depending on whether you used Word or a program like Scrivener to create your manuscript, you need to add the front matter (title page, copyright page, dedication) and the back matter (any existing or upcoming novels, plus their blurbs.) I would suggest using a formatter to properly format your book. If you don’t use Scrivener or other software program, definitely hire someone to format for you. There are good ones who are fairly inexpensive. Hire a cover artist. Just type cover art in Facebook’s search line and you’ll find a number of them. A good one will work with you – just don’t expect miracles, for them to read your mind, or for them to recreate that really great scene in the book. (Leave that last to the reader’s imagination.) If strapped for cash some offer pre-made covers that are fairly inexpensive.

Decide whether to take advantage of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select program. If you decide to do so you must be exclusive to Amazon for 90 days. My personal opinion is that it’s worth it. During that 90 days you can offer it free or at a discount, and Prime members can borrow it for free while Amazon pays you the full fee. They also promote free and discounted books as part of the service. You get 70% of Select, or 35% if not. To upload, type Kindle Direct – Kindle Direct Publishing will come up. Create your login – which may be the same password you use to make purchases. You will need to give them instructions on how to pay you – including direct deposit. Go to Add New Title and follow the instructions on how to upload the cover and the document. Typically they won’t start paying for 60 days, after that you’ll get regular checks.

Decide whether you want to do print. The satisfaction of holding a physical book in your hands – your book – is indescribable. POD –  print on demand – is easy and inexpensive, but you’ll generate much more income from e-books. Creating a POD book is fairly easy, but you might want to wait until you’re sure the e-book is doing well….AND…if you were silly enough not to get proper editing done you’ll find out soon enough. Some folks will be more than glad to point it out.

These days you can also offer audiobooks. You have the choice through ACX of either paying for them to produce it, or split the proceeds.

At the end of the 90 days, post your book on Smashwords, Kobo and Nookbook. In most cases either clicking Add new title or Publish will take you to the page where you can upload your text and cover. You will need to give them instructions on how to pay you, either direct deposit or through Paypal. For most writers you will still make more money from Amazon than from the other sources combined. Your popularity will vary in direct correlation to your editing, cover art, and writing. Just FYI.

Self-publishing worked for Hugh Howey, it worked for Joe Konrath, it worked for Jacinda Wilder. If you create a good book that appeals to readers, they will come.

For those writers who think they can make their own rules, that editing is for suckers, the proof will be in the pudding. If your sales suck, chances are you need to promote more, or get a better cover, or no one understands what you were saying. Reviews will tell the tale.

Write book two, then book three. Revel in the creative process because it’s glorious. Never, ever, forget this part. That is what writing is really all about – the joy of creating new worlds or exploring this one, scaring the crap out of someone, or making their heart sing in a romance. And always, always, remember that you do something important, and magical, you give your readers a little time to breathe, or a needed escape.

That’s it. Now it’s up to you. And, believe it or not, it’s an amazing journey through the fantastic worlds in your mind.

  1. “Write a blurb… This is harder than it sounds.”

    That may be the perfect understatement. I spent three weeks tearing my hair out over mine, only finishing it about five minutes before I had to send the cover reveal package out. It seems to have worked out, but it was a LOT harder than I expected it to be!

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