Today, the WordServe Water Cooler, is hosting a blog parade. Twenty WordServe authors will share our personal “How We Did It” stories in hopes of encouraging YOU to follow your dreams.
We are represented by WordServe Literary Agency and encourage you to check out their website.
So, as we were discussing this parade, one of my writer friends teased me that I should tell readers how I went from being a nobody to a “New York Times and USA TODAY Bestselling Author” overnight. (Insert blinking marquis lights. Imagine me in Hollywood. And, while you’re at it, please make me skinny….and, what the heck, add Johnny Depp.)
Well, after reminding my sweet friend that I’m still a nobody, (and that “my Johnny” has no idea I exist), I assured her the bestseller status didn’t exactly happen overnight. And secondly, if you ask me who I am, I won’t throw a crass title at you.
So let’s talk about TODAY, and how YOU will put aside every excuse and sit down to write the next bestselling novel. Here’s how.
- Read to Learn. Avid readers make the best writers, so whip out that dusty old library card and immerse yourself in literature. Make reading a big part of your life, and learn from the masters. I’m always reading about seven books at a time. I leave them all around the house, in my car, in my purse, etc. Minute to spare? Story to snare.
- Develop a Goal. I suggest you keep it simple: write a novel. Don’t worry about a specific market, agent, publisher, word count, genre, etc. Just tap into your creative energy, finish that first draft, and then worry about the details. At least that’s what worked for me.
- Set a Timeline. What’s a realistic timeline for you to finish your manuscript? Set daily goals, weekly goals, and monthly goals. Some people write outlines, others wing it. Some aim for a certain number of words a day until they reach the end, others edit as they go. (Tip: Most adult novels range from 80,000 – 100,000 words.) I gave myself three months to write a novel (first draft). It can be done.
- Keep a Steady Pace. The only way I was going to meet my three-month deadline was by forcing myself to put writing first. For three months, I wrote between 3 AM and 5 AM, sometimes pushing it to 6 if I was on a roll. Then, we started our busy day. Short on sleep? Yes. But it was the most beautiful personal experience I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. There’s something sacred about those silent still hours pre-dawn. Find your “sweet spot” and commit those hours to putting ink to page.
- Snip and Clip. There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. In fact, there’s no such thing as a perfect draft at all, even after extensive edits, so take your time and edit your manuscript until it’s at least as close to perfect as it can be. Ask trusted peers to trade critiques, or join a critique group within ACFW or RWA. Study the craft until you understand the ins and outs of plot structure, pacing, character development, voice, etc. You don’t have to follow all the rules…but you should at least understand them. You may even want to hire a professional editor, just be sure to check references and don’t pay a fortune.
So now you’ve written that book. Congratulations! You are a true literary artist, and your creativity is a tremendous accomplishment. You’ve already met your goal!!! Don’t forget that…too many people get caught up with needing to reach the next milestone, and the next, and the next, never really celebrating the process. Find your joy.
Now for Part Two…the business side of the journey. (The part we don’t like.)
- Share the Story. Once you have a strong, well-edited manuscript, begin researching literary agents. Look at your favorite books and find out who represents those authors/titles. Research Publishers Weekly for action in the publishing world, and keep an eye on agents who represent key titles within your genre/market. Also subscribe to Chuck Sambuchino’s blog with Writer’s Digest.
- Query Agents. Make a wish list with your dream agent entered as Number One. Start at the top and query three agents at a time, following each of their specific guidelines (varies for every agency). Keep track of responses using a spreadsheet, and if you cross one off your list, move on to another until an agent takes the bait. Here’s a free downloadable spreadsheet from Michael Seese.
- Plan a Proper Proposal. If agents become interested in your idea, they will ask for your manuscript. Be ready to send them a polished draft. No excuses. Many will then request a proposal (some have specific templates they will provide). Be sure to take your time with the proposal and make it SHINE. Insider’s Tip: Don’t overlook the marketing segment…many agents say this is the most important part of the proposal. Here’s what Rachelle Gardner has to say about writing the perfect proposal.
- Sign that Contract. Once you sign an agent to represent your work, sit back and let your agent pitch the book to editors. An experienced agent has built relationships with editors and will keep you updated on the progress of your manuscript as it moves through the various channels. Soon, you’ll be signing a publishing contract and that’s where the REAL WORK begins. (Steve Laube’s blog is an excellent resource for contract questions.)
- Hold on Tight! The publishing journey is a unique adventure, one that some folks enjoy more than others. I’m reminded of the roller coaster rides at our favorite theme park, warning riders of all the reasons they should get out of line now before it’s too late. If you watch the exit gate, you’ll see riders with a full range of reactions to the experience. There will always be an excuse, a person questioning your choices, a reason to do anything BUT what you dare to do. But I stood in that line and I took that ride. Like a teenager running from the cart, I’m here to say – “That was awesome! I’m getting in line again!” This time I hope you’ll come with me.
Comment on this post for a chance to win a signed copy of my debut novel, Into the Free. And while you’re at it…you might as well skadoodle on over to my facebook page for updates, fun contests, and behind-the-scenes confessions about my life as a bestselling author (aka overworked, sleep-deprived, mother/teacher/farmer/literacy advocate/spaz).