Editor’s Note: this is a guest post by fellow Top Ten Bloggers Kathleen Bolton and Therese Walsh of WriterUnboxed.
Kath and Therese from Writer Unboxed here. A big thanks to Ollin for hosting us today!
Ollin asked if we’d like to write a post about important basics we’ve learned about fiction writing over the last few years, and of course we said yes. Then we realized we could probably write a book on this subject! But as we’re writers, we’re also editors, so we trimmed back our list of ideas to hone in on a few critical points.
Therese and Kath’s “7 Secrets You Should Know About The Craft and Business of Writing Fiction”
1. A commercial idea is key–not a story from the heart.
Kath says, “I know that saying this flies in the face of all the advice you hear and all the stories of people who do write from the heart and get published. But those people who wrote the book of their heart and were published also wrote a book that fit somewhere commercially. In the past, publishers were more open to taking a chance. These days publishers are under a lot of pressure financially because readers have more choices than ever and most of those choices are low-cost. Write the book of your heart if you must, but if you can’t pitch its commercial value to an agent or editor, realize that it is likely to remain unpublished by traditional means.”
2. Internalize the fundamentals of craft so you can concentrate on your storytelling.
Kath says, “Working hard on craft pays off. I was in a situation where I had to crank out a novel quickly. Luckily I didn’t have to worry if my dialogue tags were intrusive or if I was telling not showing because I’d been doing it for so long these ‘rules’ became second nature to me. Write, write, write!”
Therese adds, “You don’t need an MFA in order to become a solid, respected, and well-sold writer, however you still need to know your craft. Develop a library of books you can turn to when you’re stuck (e.g. Fiction First Aid by Raymond Obstfeld), when you need inspiration (e.g. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass), and when you’re ready to edit (e.g. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King).”
3. Become your story’s best editor.
Therese says, “You’ll finish your draft-the work you’ve spent months or years on-and be eager to send it to New York. You’ll be convinced that it’s perfect as is, that a top agent will be ready to snap you up, beg you to sign a contract, that you’ll become the next Dan Brown/Nora Roberts/Jodi Picoult/J.K. Rowling. Wait. If you haven’t reworked your draft until every sentence gleams from the inside out, your manuscript is not ready. Please understand that top agents will not overlook glaring flaws. They don’t have to, because their inboxes are overflowing with other choices, including the few polished gems they seek. Let yours be one of them. Everyone edits. Even Dan Brown/Nora Roberts/Jodi Picoult/J.K. Rowling.”
4. Find trusted voices.
Therese says, “I believe it’s critical to share your work with others before you submit a manuscript to agents. Those with fresh eyes will catch nonsensical passages, problems with characters, plot glitches, and contrived ideas that you may not detect. Finding the right critique partners can take time. You don’t want to work with someone who belittles you, obviously, but neither do you want to work with someone who always says your work is perfectly beautiful as is. Let’s be honest, if we want praise, we can get it from our mothers. What we need is analysis of what doesn’t work-where readers feel lost or bored or detached from the main characters. These honest reveals from others can become your story’s greatest strengths. Take the time to find people who will tell you what you need to hear, whose words stick with you and resonate in your gut as truth.“
5. Write for the right reasons.
Kath says, “I, too, harbor dreams of making a killing off a sale and retiring somewhere where it’ll be warm and sunny 12 months out of the year. But 90% of us will be writing for minimal amounts and supplementing our incomes with day jobs. The 9% will be able to make a semi-comfortable living. The lucky 1% will hit it big. So if you write with the idea that one day you’ll be a big shot with movie deals and vacation homes, maybe you should think about a profession that has better odds. Write because you love it, not because you want to become rich.”
6. Educate yourself about the business of writing before your book deal.
Therese says, “There is often a feeling of mystery over what happens once a publishing deal is made, after you’ve landed an agent and an editor. But there doesn’t need to be. The more you know about how things work on the other side of the publishing curtain, the more empowered you’ll be. Contracts, deadlines, working with an editor, working with a publicist-these are all things you can learn about now, on websites like J.A. Konrath’s, and through resource books like The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. Be curious. Become enlightened. Your future agent and editor will thank you for it.”
7. The number one secret that can help you to become a published author is…
We say, “…perseverance. Writing is hard work. Sure, there’s the initial glow of falling in love with a story idea, racing through first chapters. But then there’s a sagging middle to contend with, ideas that veer away from your original intention, characters who won’t behave, story fatigue as you conceive of another idea you like better or after your critique partners point out a problem requiring a massive rewrite. The thing you knew you had to do and that once sounded so easy-plant your “butt in chair” and write-becomes gruelingly difficult. The hardest part of all is when you read over the scenes you’ve already written and realize they are horrible. And they are. You’ll need to make them better.
What you have to know is that this is normal. Perfectly. Congratulations, you’re a writer.
Writing is hard. But there is only one path to your dream of becoming a published author, and that is to do the work. Push through the resistance and the block and the excuses. That’s how it’s done.
Write on, everyone!”
Kathleen Bolton is a professional writer and editor working for an ivy-league university in upstate New York. Her debut novel, Confessions of a First Daughter (HarperTeen, HarperCollins), written under the pseudonym Cassidy Calloway, was published in 2009. Since then she’s written a follow-up novel, Secrets of a First Daughter, which was published in 2010.
Therese Walsh was a full-time health writer before her debut novel was published in 2009. The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Crown, Random House) was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009, was nominated for RWA’s RITA Award for Best First Book, and was a TARGET BREAKOUT BOOK. She is the founder and president of RWA-WF, the women’s fiction chapter of RWA.