M M F i n c k
The title of the first novel I ever wrote was called SWYPSY, a mash up of "sweet gypsy girl," a term of endearment from my protagonist's father. It was a coming-of-age story, set in upstate New York, that centered on an artistic, ukulele-playing, spirited gypsy girl who got involved in not only a love triangle but a crisis of culture. Think: Romeo and Juliet & The Fiddler on the Roof. I wrote it for fun, for myself, so every moment I spent writing it was delicious. Take your cake; I'll take my lap top and my favorite red writing chair. I had an infant at the time so I wrote at 4:30 am, seven days a week, and during her naps. I gave up sleep and food and laundry and what little television I watched. I gave up everything but my family. I also kept it a secret. I was writing a book! It was too insane to share! I remember fondly hosting Thanksgiving for my gigantic family and still needing to write. My sister (nosy, as only sisters can be) found me hiding at 6am on the bathroom floor with my computer on my lap.
The call to be a career writer is insane. Yet here we are. As unexpected as this vocation was for me, I am grateful for it. I've never felt more alive or connected.
Which is why the very first thing I want to convey is: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. No matter what you are feeling, the very best of us have been there. Inspiration? Yup. Faith? Yup. Triumph and hope? Yup. Pride? Yup. Fear? Yup. Rejection? Yup. Insecurity, helplessness, hopelessness? Yup. Yup. Yup.
It takes a village to raise a writer. Thankfully, we are an inclusive, helpful breed. I'd still be splattered on the sidewalk if it weren't for other writers. In that light, here I am to share with you some of things I've learned and give you recommendations for people who know more.
Types of Publishing
Four popular ways to get your novel published are:
I am going to leave explanations of the second two to other people as I am not as familiar, though I know many people who do both. If this is your vision for yourself, you are on a well-worn path. Go to the great Google. Same if you are writing non-fiction. Hybrid publishing is similar to traditional publishing. The main differences are that the writer does not need an agent, and the writer shares in the financial investment in their work with the publisher.
For many reasons, I chose traditional publishing for myself.
Write a Book (then revise, revise, revise, get reviews, revise, revise, revise.)
Query Literary Agents
Interested Literary Agents request partials, then full manuscripts. Sometimes they will ask for revision.
Interview and sign with Literary Agent
Agent pitches your manuscript to editors
Editor is interested and requests manuscript or not
Editor LOVES novel (as with agents, this is an extremely competitive step as editors choose very few manuscripts a season). Sometimes they ask for changes before they officially "love" it.
Editor pitches manuscript to "Ed Board" which is comprised of a collection of editors and other key people at the publisher, including members of the marketing department.
Ed Board decides whether to not to make an offer on the manuscript. If so, they decide the $'s of the advance, promotional budget, and where in the food chain the novel will fall among other titles they will be launching in the same season as yours.
They notify the agent.
The agent notifies you, and you pop the champagne!!!!
Then you get editorial feedback. You revise and edit, revise and edit. There are several rounds of review and revision.
As the pub date approaches, which is often two years from the time your agent pitched it to the editor, you plan and carry out publicity and marketing.
Rejection occurs at every single step, even to already-published authors. Fun, huh? This is one of the reasons I view writing as a call or vocation, more than a job. Not to mention that the money is, for many authors, below a living wage. More fun. :)
Show Me The Money
In essence, the money is sporatic and takes a handful of successful books to make it less so. Here is a great piece that explains it all.
WHY YOU CAN'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB YET by Carly Watters
Querying is not writing. It is publishing. Those are two entirely different things. The querying process can be - for most of us, is - very difficult, even heartbreaking. Remember: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Failure can't land if you don't give up. Don't. give. up.
Most people query too early. The first and most important thing is to know your craft. Study craft until you feel like you could teach it. Apply everything you know until every word of your manuscript has a purpose, every scene moves the story, and your opening is undeniable.
Query. When I started (too early), I knew no one in the business and had no idea what I was doing. Now I count dozens of bestsellers as real friends and am represented by an agent I admire and trust at one of the most successful literary agencies in the country. Here is how I got from one place to the other. Use it. I hope it helps. -
SUCCESSFUL QUERYING: IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT THE LETTER
(It also includes how to write the letter.)
IF YOU NEED EXTRA HELP, USE ME. I Will Be your QUERY QUIll.
Inspiration & Encouragement
Award-winning, bestselling, Meg Rosoff said to me last year, "We're writers. We're depressives." Ha! Nobody would look at me and think, "That MM, she sure is a depressive." :) Yet I understood what she meant. We are feelers. We are thinkers. We dig ourselves in too deep sometimes. What we're doing is hard. What we dream of is hard to achieve. We are in this together, my friends.
YOU'RE A WRITER. NOW ACT LIKE ONE!
There is so much wisdom and camaraderie out there. Here are some great sources.
AROUND THE WEB -
Women's Fiction Writers - award-winning blog by Amy Sue Nathan
WebsiteSetup (featured in Forbes and more)
Agents tweet query tips and wish lists using the hashtag #querytip.
"10 Queries in 10 Tweets" - this recurring event was first started by Sara Megibow of the Nelson Agency and now a lot of agents do it. Search for it on twitter.
#pitmad is another organized event by agents and writers who wish to pitch to them.
#AskTBA is something Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency does for writers on twitter.
#5amWritersClub is a hashtag used by early morning writers to connect and support each other.
WRITING THE BREAK OUT NOVEL by Donald Maass
also the workbook!
HOW TO GROW A NOVEL by Sol Stein
SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Browne and King
THE ANATOMY OF STORY: 22 STEPS TO BECOMING A MASTER STORYTELLER by John Truby
SEE JANE WRITE - A GIRL'S GUIDE TO WRITING CHICK LIT by Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin Jacobs
THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry ("The Book Doctors")
I urge every writer to get her- or himself out into the writing community. I believe whole heartedly that we elevate each other to heights we wouldn't reach otherwise. It has always been that way - Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Silvia Beach, James Joyce - all friends! Most writers are introverts. I certainly am. If you aren't a "joiner," don't. I went to writers' conferences for three years before I joined any group. It was two before I spoke a word to anyone outside of asking questions in session. But I learned! Being there, surrounded by other writers, getting to better understand the industry, agents, and editors present, fueled the fire within me and made me better in every way.
Another great way to get involved is to comment on your favorite web posts. Dialogue often ensues and friendships/connections are made.
Writers associations also do a lot of teaching. They have events and newsletters, magazines and classes. I wouldn't be where I am if it weren't for my memberships in RWA, WFWA, and JRW and the experiences and connections that arose from them. Now when I need someone to read my draft or someone to do a blog tour or giveaway with me or blurb my book, I have dozens of colleagues I could ask. And I do the same for them. It takes a village to raise a writer. It's a fun generous village.
All genres have their own trade associations, as do most cities. See the earlier "RESOURCES" section for some online communities.