We've all met newbie writers who say stuff like: "Why should I have to study writing? I read all the time and I edit our One Direction fan club newsletter. I'm a great speller. So I can write a novel, no prob."
They don't understand that writing narrative is an intricate, specialized craft that needs to be learned though lots of study, trial and error. Very few people can "just write" and produce a readable manuscript without feedback.
Don't be embarrassed if you recognize yourself here. I had this delusion, big time. I worked on a novel for years without showing a word to anybody. I thought I should finish it first, so I just kept going. I knew
I could write fiction because I spent all my spare time reading it.
What I didn't realize is that simply reading a lot of novels doesn't teach you to write them any more than eating a lot of sandwiches teaches you to bake bread.
I didn't expect to be able to crochet a scarf or play the piano without some kind of instruction. So why did I think I could write a novel in a total vacuum?
At least I wised up after a few years. Some people spend decades flailing around writing badly rather than pay a few bucks for a workshop or a book on plotting or structure or joining a critique group.
Then there are the newbie writers who think they can hire an editor to magically turn a bunch of random pages into a coherent novel. Anybody who's worked as a freelance editor has had to deal with a few of these. It's amazing when you see the horror on their faces when it dawns on them that learning to write a novel or memoir involves more than just spilling your thoughts on a page.
Take a writing class or workshop and buy a few books on writing. Nathan Bransford has a good one called How to Write a Novel
for only $4.99 and James Scott Bell's popular SuperStructure
is only $2.99. Or try Dr. John Yeoman's How Did the Author Do That
, also $4.99, which takes a novel and analyzes how all the parts work. (It's a fun novel to read, too!) Or try classics like Save the Cat
by Blake Snyder or How to Write a Damn Good Novel
by James N. Frey.
8) Living in the Last Millennium
Some writers' minds are so filled with images of Jacqueline Susann-style book-signing tours that they don't learn to do the things that successful authors do in the Internet age.
I know writers who treat online marketing as a fad to be ignored, so every year they launch a new paper book with a signing party at a local bookstore, announced by an ad in the hometown newspaper, or postcards sent to a local mailing list.
The same ten people come. Every year. Ten people who would have bought the book anyway. Nobody else has heard of these authors, because they don't have websites and consider themselves "above" social media.
You Google them and nothing comes up but the picture from the local paper when they helped raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
If they're with a traditional small or midsized press, they may have an ebook, but they don't know how to get online reviews or set up an Amazon author page, so their ebook ranks at about #7,891,000 in the Kindle store.
Or they self-publish with a vanity press and put tons of money into a hardcover novel that nobody can afford, "because that's how you get reviewed." (That was true 20 years ago. Not so now.)
Join the 21st century. It may seem scary, but if I can do it, anybody can. Take baby steps. Get a friend or relative to help you set up a simple website, fill out your Amazon author page and start commenting on blogs.
You've made a start by reading this. Frances Caballo
, Molly Greene
, Chris Syme
, and Kristen Lamb
also give top-notch info on how to use social media on their blogs. Pick up Chis Syme's Smart Social Media For Authors
, Molly's Blog it!
, Kristen Lamb's Rise of the Machines
or, um, How to be a Writer in the E-Age
by yours truly and Amazon #1 author Catherine Ryan Hyde.
9) Insisting that Literature "Shouldn't" be a Business
I meet a lot of writers who seem to think the writing life is a perpetual high school English class where there are gold stars for everybody. They are offended when publishers and agents are "mercenary" or "only out for money" or won't work with them just because they're belligerent and unpleasant. ("What about free speech?!")
Newsflash: people don't run businesses in order to lose money. Not everybody can live off the Bank of Dad forever.
And the right to "free speech" says you won't be arrested for saying nasty things in public (unless of course it can be proved to be libelous.) What it doesn't say there will be absolutely no consequences for saying those things.
A business partnership is like a marriage. The parties have to be compatible. Nobody has a "right" to an agent or publisher anymore than anybody has a "right" to a spouse.
Do note: I don't want to put down people with private incomes who prefer to write as amateurs. Some of our greatest writers and poets did not write for money (Emily Dickinson comes to mind). Writing can be a fantastic, fulfilling hobby.
But if you want to make a living as a writer, you have to learn how the business works. And act like a grown-up.
You wouldn't try to open a restaurant if you'd never worked in one, but most new writers are as naive as I was about learning about the business they're trying to enter.
Give up the magical fairy god-agent fantasy. If you want to go the agent route, read the archives of Jane Friedman's blog
, or Nathan Bransford's
, subscribe to (free) Publisher's Lunch
and follow a few agents on Twitter. BookEnds Literary Agency
has revived their blog recently, and Janet Reid
still dispenses great information on her blog.
If you'd rather work with a small press, check out Poets and Writers
or Authors Publish
Magazine, which has a FREE newsletter that lists small presses that don't require agents.
Or pick up a solid book on self-publishing like Jessica Bell's Self-Publish Your Book
and go indie. Lots of very successful writers have.
This is a biggie. I'm amazed at people who claim to want to be writers, but when you ask them what they're reading they go totally blank.
Or they’ll mention a bestseller of a decade ago as the last book they read. Or they say they read nothing but classics—which you strongly suspect they haven't read since college. Or they say they don't read because "there's nothing good out there."
It's awfully hard to write a novel today's readers are going to like if you haven't read anything published since On the Road
. And it's impossible to write something contemporary Romance/Mystery/Thriller readers will enjoy if you don't read (and love) those genres.
Stephen King said, "Read, read, read. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write."
Make time for reading every day. Especially new books in your genre. Consider it part of your writing routine. If you'd rather watch "Dancing with the Stars" or play a videogame, ask yourself why you want to be a writer. Are you following some delusion? Or your Mom's? Would you rather be designing videogames or fabulous dance costumes?
Guess what? There's nothing wrong with that.
And it probably pays better.
Writing is the most wonderful profession in the world if it's what you love. But there are no shortcuts and the pay is pretty lousy for all but a handful of superstars. If you'd rather be doing something else, let go of the delusions.
Life's too short to be doing something you don't love. Follow your bliss, wherever it takes you.
What about you, scriveners? Can you think of any more delusions we should warn people about? What delusions held you back when you were starting out?
BOOK OF THE WEEK
9 Months on Amazon's Humor Bestseller list!
Now only $3.99
The first three books in the hilarious Camilla series for 99c each!
GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY #1 in the series: Camilla meets a bogus agent, a hot cop and a ghostly killer at a California Writer's Conference. SHERWOOD LTD #2 Camilla runs into a gang of outlaws at an unorthodox UK publishing house near the real Sherwood Forest. and THE BEST REVENGE #3, the prequel, which takes Camilla and Plantagenet back to the "greed is good" 1980s, when Camilla is accused of killing a pastel-wearing, coked-up TV star.
If you've been thinking of taking a look at my loopy, but oh-so-polite sleuth's misadventures with murder, mayhem and Mr.Wrong, here's a chance to read the first three cheap.
The Best Revenge, Ghost Writers in the Sky and
Sherwood Limited are hysterical. Anne Allen will keep you laughing throughout, but in the meantime she dabbles her fingers in some topics worth some serious thought: sexism, weightism, lechery, murder, duplicity, homelessness & poverty to name a few. If you love to laugh, you'll like these three books. If you love to think, ponder AND laugh, be ready to fall in love"... C.S. Perryess
aka the Wordmonger
Amazon's Little A Poetry Contest.
A Biggie. This is a brand new thing. The contest will be judged by poets Cornelius Eady, Jericho Brown and Kimiko Hahn. The winner will receive $5,000 in prize money and a publishing contract featuring a $2,000 advance with Little A, Amazon Publishing’s literary imprint. Poets who have published no more than one book of poetry can submit their full-length collections for consideration to LittleAPoetry@amazon.com
. Deadline Dec 20th 2015
The Poisoned Pencil: New YA publisher open to submissions!
The well-known mystery publisher The Poisoned Pen now has a YA imprint. They accept unagented manuscripts and offer an advance of $1000. Submit through their website submissions manager. Response time is 4-6 weeks.
Open call for the Independent Women Anthology:
short stories (flash fiction included), poetry, essays, artwork, or any other woman and/or feminist-centered creative work. 10,000 word max. All genres but explicit erotica. $100 per short story, $50 for flash, poetry, and photography/artwork. All profits will be donated to the Pixel Project Charity to end Violence Against Women. Deadline January 31, 2016
with a goal of publication on International Women's Day, March 8, 2016.
Win $$$ and BEER!! SCHLAFLY BEER MICRO-BREW MICRO-FICTION CONTEST $10-$20 ENTRY FEE.
Fee includes a subscription to River Styx
literary magazine or one issue depending on amount of entry fee paid. Submit up to three stories of 500 words or less each. All stories will be considered for publication. $1,500 first prize plus one case of micro-brewed Schlafly Beer. Deadline January 1, 2016.
The Writer Short Story Contest judged by Literary star Colum McCann
. You can have your work read by the acclaimed author of Let the Great World Spin
. $25 entry fee.
Write a 2,000-word short story responding to one or both of the quotes below by Mr. McCann: "There is always room for at least two truths." or "With all respects to heaven, I like it here." Deadline December 6th 2015
TETHERED BY LETTERS' FALL 2015 LITERARY CONTEST ENTRY FEES: $7-$15
Currently accepting submissions for short stories (1,000 to 7,500 words, open genre), flash fiction (55, 250, or 500 words), and poetry (maximum of three pages per poem). All winners will be published in F(r)iction. All finalists will receive free professional edits
and be considered for later publication. The prizes are $500 short story $150 flash fiction, and $150 for poetry. Multiple entries accepted. International submissions welcome. Deadline December 1.
HAMLIN GARLAND AWARD FOR THE SHORT STORY $20 ENTRY FEE.
$2,000 and publication to the top unpublished story on any theme. One story per entry, multiple entries acceptable. Maximum 7,000 words. All entrants will be considered for publication. Deadline December 1, 2015.
The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee
Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st
Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2015
. Cash prizes totaling $3200.Ten further Highly Commended entrants will have their stories acknowledged at the site and gain a free entry in the next round. Entry fee $24 INCLUDES A PROFESSIONAL CRITIQUE
. Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except plays and poetry. Entries are welcomed worldwide. Multiple entries are permitted. Deadline: November 30th.
The 16th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. $20 Fee.
1500 words. $3,000 prize, plus publication in Writer’s Digest and a paid trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference. Deadline: November 16, 2015