Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Getting Published: The bald truth

Getting Published: The bald truth: I have no magic formula for getting your work published, but I do have a few suggestions.

Here are a few bald truths from our local writers group (The Dallas Area Writers Group or DAWG for short) that meets every month. Typically, each month an experienced writer tells us about his or her writing experience. There are a few common themes that run through these talks so I thought it would be worthwhile to ponder them in today’s blog.

One of our speakers (James Gaskin) told a story of how he answers the question “How long did it take you to write that article?” with an answer something like – “It took two hours and twenty years.” It took two hours to write the article and twenty years worth of experience to know how and what to write.

So my first worthwhile point is this – read, study and learn.

Virtually every writer I know is also a reader and a perennial student. (If not, make sure you have a good day job.) The fact that you are reading this blog probably means that you read and you're seeking to learn. Good job. Keep it up.

Point two: Learn by doing. Most writers don't make it big on their first submission, or twenty-first or fifty-first submission. It takes most people a while to break through the ice. They learned the writing craft by doing – they submitt query letters – they learn from rejection letters – they learn from other writers, from books, from conferences. On the other hand, I know of wannabe writers who keep mulling over the same short story for five years and never submit anything. There is very little chance they will ever be published.

Point three: Peresistence. Writers need persistence. I believe that almost anyone with a reasonable grasp of the English language can get published if they persist. By being persistent I don’t mean writing one thing and keep trying to sell it. Write several books, a dozen articles, or a hundred poems. Then maybe one of them will become golden. Look at the success of song writers like Irving Berlin and Fanny J. Crosby – did you know that each of them wrote hundreds of songs that never “made it?” And even in their prime they write many songs that never made it. A writer is a writer of many things – not just one story. If you only have one story, your best bet may be to get a ghost writer to write it for you – and pay them well.

Point four: Treat writing as a business as well as an art: Writers who make a living writing know that writing is a business. The product is creative, but it is disseminated (generally) through a money grubbing enterprise (i.e. a big corporation who runs a publishing house.) Most publishers think about selling writing like selling a box of soap. They want soap that sells. They’re not interested in last year’s type of soap. They want the new soap. Writers must know the current and future trends in the publishing world to be successful. Most of the books I had published ten years ago wouldn’t get off the ground today – the world has moved on. A smart writer anticipates change in culture and can read the future – or at least keep up enough with trends enough to know what publishers think the future will hold.

Point five: Be focused. Generalists are a hard sell. Publishers, editors and agents want focused writers. They want a writer who will devote heart and soul to a particular genre. This is hard for many writers (like myself) who are polymaths. We’re interested in too many things. But publishers want writers who can build a career. They want a sci-fi writer to write sci-fi. Not romance. Not a mystery. Sci-fi. Only Sci-fi. In fact, I know a pretty successful sci-fi writer who had several novels published but felt the calling to do another type of novel. To make a long story short, she lost her publisher and had to pretty much start from scratch on building another writing career. Pick an area of writing that you like and stay focused.

Those are the bald facts. These are a few of the tips I hear mentioned over and over again when an experienced writer talks to our group – be an expert on a subject – be persistent in what you are trying to do – know what the publisher wants – and stay focused in your area of expertise.

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