Tag: writing life

Ten Things to Know about Being an Author – Part One

Since shortly after I was old enough to read and imagine my own stories, I wanted to be an author. My first story was penned in a spiral notebook when I was in third grade. The past four years that I’ve been living the dream doing this author thing have been amazing.

And instructive. And painful at times. Filled with discouragement and despair at other times. Even wrought with excitement to the point I soared above the clouds.

The higher you go, the further you have to fall.

And falling from such heights hurts. It might even kill you(r dream).

Traditional publishing is the slow track to being published.

By slow I mean, it takes years if you pursue one of the large publishing houses (which means you have to find an agent first). After you spend months writing, revising, editing and polishing your manuscript, the journey of ten thousand miles begins.

It starts with research. Which agents are looking for your style and genre? Which publishers would contract it?

Then the rounds of submission begin. Most of this is done electronically. This speeds the process of notification to three months instead of six to twelve. Many agencies won’t respond unless they’re requesting pages.

Talk about disheartening. It feels like tossing my life’s work into a black hole.

I wanted this for myself. I needed the validation. I wanted a publishing professional to confirm that my work was of a quality to be read and circulated.

Publishing with a small press is the fast track to getting work in front of readers.

Even though it was a small publisher who gave me my first fiction contract (and all my subsequent contracts until I began writing for Kindle Worlds), it didn’t feel like traditional publishing to me.

First of all, the submission hoops are simpler to understand and jump through. The turnaround time for notifying you of acceptance is shorter.

I started with short stories in answer to specific submission calls. This is the only way I’ve managed to publish in my dream genre (young adult fantasy).

The contracts are long but straightforward, and most of the small houses don’t offer advances. They split the royalties half and half, though, which I understand is a substantial raise over big houses.

You still get the benefit of several editing passes (story development, line edits and proofing) and a professional cover. On my stand alone titles, I’ve been consulted about the title and my thoughts and opinions were considered and employed.

Traditional publishing success is ninety percent about who you know.

Slush pile. I’m not sure the few manuscripts I’ve sent, although requested, actually met up with the agent or editor. Getting a query past this point is something I’ve only managed with small houses.

Could be my queries are weak. Or the agent wasn’t looking for the kind of story I was telling.

All I know is that hearing nothing is more depressing than a rejection. It’s like all your effort is meaningless to the agent or editor. Sure, they have a ton of work, but does it really take so long to send a four line email saying you aren’t interested?

If you can get an author to recommend you, I understand the odds increase exponentially in favor of a contract.

Small press publishing is fifty percent finding the right publisher and fifty percent telling a good story.

It will still take effort to locate the right press for your story. More small houses appear every month. Many of them will disappear within a year or two. I don’t send anything to a publisher that’s been around for less than a year. And I always check out their current and past titles.

I’ve started reading some stories from a small press that weren’t all that great. Then I see that the author is also the editor-in-chief. This looks like a new form of vanity publishing to me.

They started up the press so they could publish their own books.

I’ve also read a few fantastic stories that come from the same situation. The difference? I didn’t take a poll, but I think it involves professional editing and more skilled writing.

I don’t want a bad story to be published. This is what kept me from subbing manuscripts for years. I wasn’t good enough. Even reading the first fiction short that Roane accepted makes me cringe a little.

Indie publishing requires both entrepreneurial finesse and cash reserves.

Independent publishing makes you the boss of it all. You’re the captain of the publishing ship.

If you want, you can churn out a story and upload it to Amazon with a thrown-together cover. Maybe you’ll sell a few copies.

But if you want to be a professional author, act like one. Make a business plan. Plan a production schedule. Give yourself deadlines and then meet them.

To succeed, you need to learn the business. Locate professional editors and hire them. Listen to their comments and improve your stories.

If you don’t know design, hire a cover designer. You can hire someone to format the interior of the book. You can even hire a publicity representative to plan your marketing campaign.

All of that costs money. Plan on investing anywhere from $500 to $1500 from your savings per book. Then do the math and find out how many copies you have to sell to break even and make a profit.

I still haven’t broke even on my indie novella Reflections from a Pondering Heart.

This is only FIVE things you need to know about being an author. I’m guessing 900 words is more than long enough for most of my blog readers.

Come back on Thursday to learn the other five things.

Which of these seems most obvious? Most important? Most discouraging?

First Draft Finish Line

In this journey toward becoming a published author, I’ve learned to celebrate the small things. Otherwise, a road that can stretch for five years AFTER the manuscript is complete gets to feel somewhat like the Sahara at noon.

Dry. Dismal. Another hill to climb that looked just like the last five dozen hills climbed. No end in sight.

You get the idea.first-draft-oconner1

Thus, when I recently completed two first drafts within two weeks of each other, I did a serious happy dance. I posted my exultation on Facebook. Tweets exist to document my joy.

Of course, I know that a first draft is even uglier than a rough draft. It is generally filled with plot holes, clichés and shallow characters.

So, I opened the three-inch binder that held the 320-page manuscript of Doomsday Dragon. As I’ve shared before, after setting the project aside for a week or two, the first step toward perfection is a complete read-through.

Image my surprise when I didn’t have to make tons of circles (more information needed) and question marks (is this scene necessary?) on this first draft. If you recall my initial reaction to the last manuscript I rewrote, my stunned delight was nothing less than a 180.

In the spiral notebook dedicated to this project, I turned to a fresh page and entitled it “Changes needed after first read through.” When I did this with Daughter of Water in February, I filled the front and back of a notebook page.

Even though there were only six problems, they were huge. Things like “add POV for Kale and deepen Ausha.” And “setting incomplete.” These weren’t easy fixes. They screamed that the story had some serious issues.

For Doomsday Dragon, I had three questions, a note to include additional descriptions of the volcano types and a note to cut two scenes. Five things. And none of them could be classified as a “problem” with the manuscript.

In fact, as I was doing the read through, I laughed aloud a few times. I reread lines of description because they were original and captivating. I posted a few of them on Facebook and Tweeted a couple others.

Like this amazing moment inside my character’s head. Her voice comes through loud and clear:

“Zi gritted her back teeth to keep the full-blown smile from breaking the tense moment. Going to climb Everest and awaken a dragon, but he would be careful. Hilarious.”

The biggest problem is that I’m not quite as great getting inside the male protagonist’s head. I need to spend some more time listening to him talk. My initial plan to help with this is to rewrite all the scenes from his point of view first and consecutively.

Yes, the book needs to be rewritten. Of course, there’s some stuff in this first draft I want to keep. Words I believe reveal exactly what I intended. But it’s hardly perfect or ready for any eyes other than mine.

I’m wondering if I’m getting better at writing first drafts. Or if I’ve lowered my expectations. If you know me at all, you know option two is highly unlikely. In fact, there’s more chance of a dragon landing on my front porch. Yeah, I need to work on that one. Still.

Any fellow writers reading this, have you experienced a similar phenomenon with your writing? Those of you whose interest is piqued about the story, submit your questions in the comments. I’ll be happy to post more teasers and sample lines as the writing process continues.

Top Five Blogs for Writers

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I am a writer. I use blogs written by other writers, editors and agents to help me find the information I need to succeed. Here are my top five choices in the category “Top Blogs for Writers.”

Okay, I didn’t take a survey. I don’t have any fancy algorithms in place.  These are the five blogs that have become my “go to” blogs for writing advice and inspiration.

1. Kristen Lamb

If you want to laugh, you need to click on this link and follow this blog. Even if you don’t give a whit about writing, Kristen is hilarious. Besides being great with words, she has sound advice about building an author platform.

WANA is Kristen’s “baby” (literally. This is why she’s affectionately called the “WANA Mama) and she cares about writers. I know this because she critiques a story of mine just because I complained about the difficulty in getting honest feedback in the comments section for one of her blogs.

I tend to have a love/hate relationship with Kristen (but it’s mostly love). After all, she told me to dump my series. I had to start completely over when I was two-thirds done with the rewrite of the first book and about one-quarter of the way into the first draft of the second book.

Sure, she helped me come up with plot ideas for the new series. She even made me laugh when I really wanted to cry (did that after I hung up the phone). The bottom line is that she wants to help every author who is serious about their craft.

2. Jami Gold

Jami’s a goldmine of information on structure, craft and the publishing world. Additionally, she’s a great instructor and believes in the WANA Way – authors helping authors.

I love her beat sheet template and have raved about it in other posts. Check it out here. While you’re there, subscribe to the blog. You won’t be sorry.

3. K.M. Weiland

Aside from loving Weiland’s book, Dreamlander, I first found her through a free download she offered. It’s an excellent booklet about creating realistic and relatable characters.

I don’t read every blog. I do subscribe to her newsletter and return to read the blogs that pique my interest. This is another writer who donates time and effort to helping other writers succeed.

4. Nathan Bransford

If you’re looking for practical advice on how to write query letters and other specific topics, look no further. Just follow Nathan.

Nathan was an author agent in his previous life. Now he writes middle grade fiction. His blog makes me smile. I feel like he’s talking directly to me.

5. Writer’s Digest

Okay, really I check out the whole website more than any particular blog. I do find the information that Brian Klems shares interesting and engaging.

This blog is updated on a daily basis, so I don’t read every post. If it doesn’t sound like something I care about at that moment, I know I can easily find it later with a website search.

Their general blog is probably where you’ll find the widest range of information on craft, publishing, conferences, finding an agent or anything else that comes to mind.

Are there other blogs that help you as a writer? Share the wealth, my friend.