1. Finish at least one manuscript. It’s important for new writers to know that they can finish a book. It might not be the best book in the world, but you will have proved to yourself that you can tell a story from beginning to end. That knowledge will make finishing the second book much easier. As you write more books, you’ll find that you develop a rhythm to your writing. You’ll begin to notice how long your chapters are, how many scenes are usually in a chapter, how long it takes you to write a scene or chapter, etc. This knowledge will prove invaluable once you start writing to deadline.
2. Make time to read at least one book a month. Most writers start as avid readers. Once readers start to write, they sometimes find their lives so busy that reading is neglected. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t lose your love and appreciation of good stories. In addition to hours of pleasure, reading will keep you up to date on the market.
3. Rejoice in the success of other writers. Every time a new writer sells a book, a struggling writer should be encouraged. That sale is proof that publishers are still buying new writers. Take time to congratulate that writer and be sure to purchase the book when it hits the shelves.
Telling the Tale
In 2000, Berkeley published my writing book, Telling the Tale: The African-American Fiction Writer’s Guide. This book is a good place for new writers to start. Telling the Tale is out-of-print now, but you can find copies at most online stores.
“Benson knows her stuff, and her wonderful reference book for African-American fiction writers would be equally useful to writers of any ethnicity. ” –The Internet Writing Journal
A Word of Encouragement from Angela (excerpted from Telling the Tale)
How did I sell my first book?
I sold the first book that I wrote. I started writing it in 92, sold it in 93 and it was published in 94. That’s not bad for writers.
But a lot happened between the time I started writing and the time I sold my book. The first, and I think the most important, is that I joined Romance Writers of America, the national chapter and the local chapter. The support and information that I received from this group has been invaluable.
Second, I joined a critique group of new writers like myself. We met at the local RWA meeting. When we started meeting we knew next to nothing about writing, but we learned together. Five people participated in the critique group and three of us are now published.
Third, I set goals and kept them. My first goal was to write a synopsis and three chapters so I could enter a contest. I accomplished that goal. My next goal was to finish the book in order to enter another contest. I accomplished that one was well. Using contests as milestones help me set and manage my goals. In addition, the critiques from contest judges helped me hone my writing skills.
Last, I learned to accept rejection. All writers want their work to be loved and adored by all. I do too, but that’s not a realistic expectation. Your writing is not going to resonant with every reader. That’s a fact of life. Think about John Grisham and Danielle Steel. Not everybody thinks their work is wonderful, yet they have magnificent careers-careers that we’d all like to have. As a beginning writer, you have to be prepared for rejection. You can’t let one rejection or ten rejections get you so down that you become discouraged and quit writing. You have to hang in there until you sell. And even after you sell, rejection is still a part of the writer’s life.
What happens after you sell that first book?
This question is asked by many writers still waiting to sell their first book. Though the process varies from publishing house to publishing house, the general steps are:
1. The editor calls and makes an offer to buy your book. After negotiating, you accept.
2. The editor sends a revision letter. Yes, she bought your book, but there are some changes, some clarifications, that you’ll need to make to make your book better. You’re given about 2-3 weeks to make the changes.
3. After you finish the revisions, you send the book back to the editor. Hopefully, she okays your revisions and your manuscript goes to be typeset. Some publishing houses typeset from disk; others typeset from the manuscript page. At this stage errors can actually be introduced into your work. Some of the typos that you see in books were not put there by the authors, but were introduced during the typeset process.
4. The next thing you’ll get will be the galleys. These are the typeset manuscript pages. Your job is to check for typographical errors, missing words, missing paragraphs, duplicate paragraphs, that kind of thing. You have about a week.
5. You return the galley pages that need correcting and, if all goes well, the corrections are made.
6. Your editor sends the galleys to reviewers for advance reviews.
7. Your book is shipped from the warehouse a month before its release date. If a book is an August book, it starts to ship from the warehouse in July. By August 1, it should have arrived in all bookstores across the country. Of course, some stores will get the book in July, usually around the middle of the month.
For my first book, the time from Step 2 to Step 6 was nine months. For my second book it was five months.
Tip for submitting your work
Do your research. The Writer’s Market, Romance Writer’s Sourcebook and Romance Writers Pink Pages are excellent places to start. They list publishing houses and agents according to genre. These books also tell you what to include in your submission: query or synopsis and chapters.
Critique groups: what are they and how do you find one
A critique group is three to four writers who meet on a regular basis to read and critique each other’s work, set goals and provide mutual motivation. They require commitment and compatibility. Sometimes you aren’t lucky enough to get both on the first go round. The best place to find potential critique partners would be at your local writing group. Look for writers who are at the same level as you. Most new writers want to get paired with an established, published author but I don’t think that works very well since the relationship tends to be one of mentor and student rather than partners. Look for partners. Mentors can come later.
Don’t edit yourself as you write your first draft. Allow yourself to write bad prose, but force yourself to get the first draft on paper. In our effort to write our story perfectly the first time, we can discourage ourselves so much that we never finish. So, write that first draft. You’ll have plenty of time to make it perfect AFTER the draft is complete.
BOOKS OF INTEREST
For the beginning writer:
Make Your Words Work, Gary Provost
The Elements of Grammar, Margaret Shertzer
The Weekend Novelist, Robert Ray
Free Within Ourselves: Fiction Lessons for Black Writers, Jewel Parker Rhodes
Polishing that completed manuscript:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
The Writer’s Journey, Chris Vogler
Marketing your work:
The African-American Writer’s Handbook, Robert Fleming
The Writer’s Market, Writer’s Digest Books
Magazines: Writer’s Digest Magazine, Black Issues Book Review
I don’t know Joe Konrath (mystery author) personally, but I do know that his web site and blog provide a lot of information about the publishing business. Take a look at some of his materials. I have bought one of his books since visiting his site and, if you find his information helpful, please show your gratitude by purchasing one of his books. You don’t have to like mysteries in order to support him either. You can always give the book to a friend or donate it to a shelter or library. The key is to give back.
J.A. Konrath’s “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing”
I don’t know Holly Lisle (suspense author) either but she’s taken the time to put together some wonderful resources for writers. I haven’t purchased one of Holly’s books yet, but I will soon. Like with Joe, if you use her materials, show your gratitude by purchasing one of her books.
Holly Lisle’s “Fast Forward for Writers”
Randy Ingermanson (Christian fiction author) has another site with lots of information for writers. Ditto what I said for Joe and Holly.
Randy Ingermanson’s “On Writing”
The following links are to a variety of writer’s resources, including writing organizations. Take some time to browse through.
American Christian Fiction Writers
African American Online Writing Guild
Christian Booksellers Association
Over the past few years, I’ve given a few writing workshops. The following links take you to the materials that I used. Please note that I have not updated the materials since the workshop.
Writing Christian Fiction, Romance Slam Jam 2004
Last updated February 20, 2006.
Copyright (c) 1997-2006 Angela D. Benson.
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