Write a Better Book

When I was an aspiring author, I remember hearing other aspiring authors spending a good deal of time complaining about how this or that NYT best-selling author had just published a piece of crap, and how publishing was all totally about who you knew and once you had it made, everything you wrote would be published, no matter what. Yeah, I actually still hear that part a lot.

But here’s what I believed then and repeated whenever I was given the chance:

You have to write a book that’s not as good as what is being published right now. You have to write a book that is better. In fact, you have to write a book that is so good people find themselves unable to say no. They just love it so much they can’t think of a reason to say no.

Because editors and agents are looking for reasons to say no.

How do you write a book that is so good that people can’t say no?

1. You learn the skills of writing. Usually this means writing a lot of words. Sometimes they get published in smaller magazines or by smaller presses. A lot of the time, they don’t. I’ve said it a lot of times, but I wrote 20 really bad books before I got published, so yeah, that was at least 1 million words.

2. You tell a story that is yours to tell. That means giving up on following trends. If you happen to hit a trend, that’s not why you hit it, so I’m going to insist that’s not following a trend. Sometimes you’re mad about what isn’t out there being published already. Or you’re mad because what’s being published on a certain subject isn’t the truth—and you know it. Sometimes you write the story that’s yours because you are so much in love with a certain genre or story or character that you couldn’t NOT write it, even when people told you it wasn’t ever going to sell.

3. You get feedback from other people. And somehow (believe me, this still eludes me on occasion), you figure out how to hear the useful advice and how to ignore the other advice.

4. You revise the crap out of your book. You do the delicate dance that is truly the art of writing, in keeping what is good and throwing out what is bad. You leave it when the revising is done. But you don’t leave it before then and go work on something shinier. Although if there is something shinier, it makes me wonder if this is really the story that is only yours to tell. Maybe it is and you just lack any self-confidence. That’s not unusual, come to think of it. But look at every word, every sentence, every scene, every chapter. Be willing to do the big changes if they are necessary. Listen to your heart or your gizzard or whatever you believe in.

5. You do the work of meeting editors and agents however you can. Sometimes it’s by forming a relationship by sending manuscript after manuscript in. Sometimes it’s by going to conferences that are nearby. Sometimes you volunteer for something writing-related, and stuff happens. I don’t believe that bad writing is going to be published just because you know someone (it happens, but I wouldn’t count on it), but you learn a lot from these connections. People tell you things about the industry that’s useful to know, for now and for the future. And also, it’s always good to have friends to get advice from. And to hang with.

I’m not going to pretend this is an easy formula. It’s not. You’re signing up for a long apprenticeship and there are no guarantees.

I will admit that I have become more cynical about the publishing world than I once was. Maybe that’s me or maybe it’s that publishing has actually changed. But I still think it’s good advice to write a better book than the one you see published today that you hate. I also think that every book has a lesson to teach you, bad or good. And I think it behooves authors not to diss other authors, however easy it is and however good it makes you feel temporarily. We’re in this together. Let reviewers and readers diss us. They do it plenty.

Interesting essay on sexism in praise

"Starting in infancy, parents tend to give boys more process praise, an advantage that results in a greater desire for challenge, and a growth mindset, later on. In the classroom, teachers give boys more process feedback, inviting them to try new strategies or work harder after a mistake. As a result, boys learn to see challenges and setbacks as things they can tackle with the right plan.”

More here: http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/29/opinion/dweck-simmons-girls-confidence-failure/index.html?sr=sharebar_twitter

Guest post: What Happened After I Reported


Guest post: What Happened After I Reported

Last year, I hosted a guest post from Elise Matthesen about how to report harassment at a convention. It was useful and touched on an incident she had experienced by way of example.

This is a follow up, which I think provides a representative example of why so many women who experience harassment don’t report it. This happened to Elise at the “world’s leading feminist science fiction convention.”…

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This is important stuff. I wasn’t harassed by the editor involved, but spent an hour in his company and was sufficiently creeped out that despite his offer to read anything I wanted to send to him, I decided to stay far away. But the problem here is that we don’t yet have as a society a way to deal with this problem.

"George Bernard Shaw said, “You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” Yikes. Soul revelation. That’s a big job, probably more than most artists signed up for. But maybe if we get more comfortable with how similar all kids are in heart and soul, we’ll get more courageous about revealing – and reflecting – their differences, the things that make them not just unique, but interesting. Art-worthy, even. And then maybe, finally, we’ll end up with a little piece of glass for each and everyone to see themselves in. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask."

Liz Garton Scanlon, “Soul Reflecting 101.”

Representation matters.

(via tubooks)

(via stacylwhitman)


"Back in the day, Walter would, every once in a while, forget how to draw. Remember?" Louise said.

“Oh yeah,” Walter agreed. “That still happens occasionally. It’s like, ‘Oh my god, nothing I’m drawing looks any good anymore. My life is over as an artist.’ And what I realized, because I was an editor at the time, and had seen a lot of work go past me, was that when you hit this phase where suddenly your stuff, which looks just like it did yesterday, doesn’t look good to you anymore, it’s because your mind has made a leap. Your brain has gotten farther than your hand has learned to do it yet. But eventually, give it a few weeks, keep it up and you’ve made a leap in your own craft. That was a big help because it was so depressing when you realize you couldn’t draw anymore.”


— From an interview with Walt and Louise Simonson. (via twiststreet)

(via seananmcguire)

The Stages of Publishing and Time:

1. The author writes a book. This may take anywhere from a month to many years.
2. Agent sends book to editors who might be interested in it. This may take anywhere from a couple of weeks to years.
3. Editors make offers on the book. Can happen in a day. Can take years. May never happen. I have many books that have never made it past this stage. For whatever reason, no offer was ever made.
4. Contract negotations occur. If you have a good agent, this will take a couple of weeks at least, and can drag out for several months.
5. Editorial letters are written and sent to the author. Author has a chance to decide whether to agree with editor about making changes or to refuse to make changes or to make other changes the editor has not necessarily suggested. This usually takes about a year, but can go more quickly. It can also end in a book that never comes out because agreement is never come to between editor/publisher and author.
6. Book covers take months to create, even if they are done with photography. The publisher’s art director will have input, as will the editor, and other people from the publisher. The author is sometimes given a chance to say something about the cover (though not always). This will often happen in tandem with the editorial process, but not always. Problems with cover art can occur, and then the art department has to start all over again. Takes months.
7. Often ARCs are created at this stage, when an editor feels confident enough about the manuscript to think it is ready to be sent to reviewers. ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) are paperback, cheaper versions of the book, sometimes even without the final cover on them. They are free (even though you sometimes see them for sale on ebay) and they will have errors in them.
8. Manuscript goes to copyediting. Usually takes a couple of months for copy editor to go through manuscript with fine-toothed comb. Authors often are given a deadline at this point to get manuscript back to publisher. Sometimes the author has only a week to make final changes, sometimes several weeks.
9. Copyedited manuscript is turned into a “galley” which is typeset the way the final book will look. Authors often get a chance to make final changes, though contract will limit exactly how many changes are allowed. This isn’t the time for major alterations. Takes a couple of months.
10. ARCs are sent out to major reviewers and publicity for the book begins. Reviewers needs at least a few weeks to read the books and write reviews, though they will usually get a couple of months. Also, ad copy for ads needs to be written, and ad campaigns have to be managed. (Some books have virtually no publicity, but for others, it may feel like the book is being talked about long before it will be available in stores. This is to make people aware of the book so they rush out to buy it soon after it arrives, so bookstores will bring in even more books to sell in subsequent weeks.)
11. Books are printed, often in China because it’s cheaper, and the slow boat wait begins. Can take months.

Hopefully, this explains why it takes about two years for a book to move from an acquired manuscript to a finished product, and why it may take much longer than that.

Mental Illness and Creative Genius

"Creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see."

"Common stereotypes about “right brained” versus “left brained” people notwithstanding, this parallel makes sense. Many creative people are polymaths, people with broad interests in many fields—a common trait among my study subjects."

"One possible contributory factor is a personality style shared by many of my creative subjects. These subjects are adventuresome and exploratory. They take risks. Particularly in science, the best work tends to occur in new frontiers. (As a popular saying among scientists goes: “When you work at the cutting edge, you are likely to bleed.”) They have to confront doubt and rejection. And yet they have to persist in spite of that, because they believe strongly in the value of what they do. This can lead to psychic pain, which may manifest itself as depression or anxiety, or lead people to attempt to reduce their discomfort by turning to pain relievers such as alcohol."

Fascinating scientific study about creative people and mental illness.


"Don’t wait for permission to make something that’s interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don’t wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who’ll give you notes to make it better. Don’t wait till you’re older, or in some better job than you have now. Don’t wait for anything. Don’t wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That’s not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it’ll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough."

— Ira Glass to Lifehacker. I’m Ira Glass, Host of This American Life, and This Is How I Work.

(Source: futurejournalismproject, via tamorapierce)

What I Love About Writing

So, we writers complain a lot that writing is hard. And it is. It can be really, really hard. It can be so hard we think about quitting. Maybe more than sometimes. Our dearest companions sometimes may suggest to us that we do something other than writing, temporarily or permanently because of our bad moods about writing.

But when writing goes right, and by that I don’t mean being easy, but by that feeling of satisfaction you get when by God—you captured something in words that no one else has been able to write before—writing is such a joy.

There is a time to commiserate with writers about the terrible pay, the lack of control of creative people over our own work, the grind of writing to deadline, the pressure to do more than write by having a “presence” on the internet, the emails, the cover art issues, the business end even when you are getting paid, and of course, the

I’m not going to write anymore about that now, though. I am going to write about the sheer, unadulterated pleasure that is writing on a good day, on the right day when it turns right because you got that sentence right or you figured out who the murderer is or because you know now why your main character does that thing she does.

Why I love being a writer:

1. Writing in my pajamas, whenever the notion strikes me.

2. Eating food while writing.

3. Sitting down and rocking the world.

4. Reading a note from someone who “got” your book in just the way that I one day hoped someone would.

5. Finding out a truth about myself that I would never have known if I hadn’t been writing that character that day.

6. The light that goes off in the middle of the night and you know how you’re going to do that revision and fix EVERYTHING!

7. When I’m cooking dinner and my characters talk to me about what they would be eating instead.

8. Cutting out the weight that was holding my book down and now it feels so free, so clean, and so pure.

9. Surprising my editor and making her say, “Woah! That is awesome!”

10. When people tell me the part they loved about the book, and that they wanted more and were sad when they reached “THE END.”

11. Figuring out what the next chapter is going to be about.

12. Writing dialog that makes you want to read it out loud.

13. Taking out a notebook when your brain is on fire and writing words down with an actual pen.

"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader - not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon."

— E. L. Doctorow (via maxkirin)

(via deservingporcupine)