Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Oh Look! A Hummingbird! Please welcome Natasha Bacchus, Senior Editor of the Hummbird Dept, The Wild Rose Press
From an Editor’s Perspective
“Don’t die with your dreams crumpled in your back pocket.” I don’t know who said that, but he was right. If you want to be a writer, then start now, and start writing...
When it comes to being an author, there are two steps, “Write the book and get it published.” Of course, it’s not that simple. Consider 85% of the people who begin writing a novel never finish. Add to that, the statistic which says only 20% of the people who try to get a contract are successful. It means of 100 who start writing, only 15 finish their story, and of that 15 only 3 of those people will get a contract, and that sounds damn depressing...but is it, really?
It’s hard to get published, but not impossible. To that end, here are five tips from me. Take and leave them as you will, bearing in mind these are just my observations from working in the industry. The tone of these tips is blunt. I’d rather tell it to you straight, than try to be politically correct. I don’t think PC behaviour helps people, and I for one, would rather hear the unvarnished truth than not.
Tip #1: You don’t need mega talent to be published.
It helps, don’t get me wrong, and certainly, your readers will thank you if you have some skill. In truth, however, talent is the smallest piece you need. What you really need in order to be published is perseverance and persistence.
So what if you get rejected? Do you get every job you apply for? Do you win every race you enter? Do you find love every time with every partner or date? Of course not. So if you get rejected, (and let me say this with love) suck it up.
Dean Koontz was rejected 75 times, Stephen King 96. Janet Evanovich wrote for 10 years before getting her first contract and her Stephanie Plum series didn’t even make it to the big time until the 5th book. John Grisham had to self-publish A Time to Kill, and Dr. Seuss knocked on over 30 doors before finding someone who offer him a contract.
What does this mean? It means that while talent plays a role in getting published, what really matters is perseverance and the willingness to keep trying.
Reading about authors who hit it big with their first story, get the multi-million dollar contract with the first book can inspire at the same time it leaves you depressed. But bear in mind that we each have our own journey and our path is not the same as another’s. Andrew Davidson, made news with his 1.2 million dollar advance for his first book, Gargoyle. His first book. Sounds like magic until you realize he tried for over 15 years to get his work published. Overnight success? Nope. But he IS a success, not because of the huge advance, but because he kept trying. He believed in his story and that was what mattered.
Tip #2: It’s not about you.
Yes, folks, despite what your mother and children’s programming taught you, your existence does not create any obligation in anyone. Too often, I meet writers who feel that somehow, because they’ve written a book, the rest of us should bow down in awe and wonder. And while we may be on bended knee, I assure you, it’s because the air is cleaner down here on the ground. I’m not saying this to be rude or obnoxious. Rather, I’d like to see some of you take a look at yourselves and put your life into perspective.
Is writing a book hard, thankless, and soul-searing? Yes. Is it more of a challenge than someone else’s pursuit of their dream? No. You’re pursuing your dream. It’s no better or worse than the person who’s chasing after that law degree or who wants to be a veterinarian.
Do the work necessary to keep yourself in the game, and keep your attitude in check.
I met a multi-published author at a conference. She was furious at an agent she’d met. Here’s the background. She pitched her story to the agent, who said, “I like your story, I like the idea of someone killing off wildlife, but I’m not sure about using the scientific name. If you’re willing to change the book, so the animal is called by its generic name, I’d like to take a look.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what set this writer off. Never mind that no one would have known what animal she was talking about because no one really speaks Latin anymore, never mind that the change the agent asked for was minor and did nothing to change the organic structure of the story, she was mortally offended by the request.
“It’s my art,” she said, with a sniff, “And I won’t change it for anyone.”
Then she wonders why her readership is low. Gee, let me think. Could it be because you’re writing for yourself and not for the average reader? Hey, we’re all impressed that you know Latin, we’re all thrilled you can wield four-syllable words, but give me a break, lady. This isn’t about you. It’s about the readers. If you’re writing to show them how smart you are, they’ll return the favour, put down your book, and go to an author who knows how to treat them with respect and dignity.
Tip #3: Explanation will kill you.
You’ve written your book, you’ve polished it until it gleams—the very shine of it is causing eye damage and the sun is complaining that “it’s just too bright.” And now, having printed off every precious page, you hand it over to a trustworthy friend. They sit down and begin to read. You sit beside them, watching their every breath, tracking every movement of their eye. Their brow furrows and your heart stops, your breath ceases.
“Wait a second,” says your friend. “This hero is coming across like a jerk. He’s totally rude to the heroine when he doesn’t need to be.”
“Well, yes,” you answer, “but there’s a reason. See men in his generation weren’t touchy-feely.”
“Yes,” says your friend, “but he’s really coming off like an ass.”
“You just don’t understand.”
No, sweetheart, YOU are the one who doesn’t understand. Heroes are heroes because THEY ARE HEROIC. Can you have an unsympathetic hero? Of course, but here’s the catch, HE STILL HAS TO BE A CHARACTER READERS CAN IDENTIFY WITH.
Look at television shows: House, Stargate Atlantis. Both feature protagonists that aren’t stereotypically heroic (House= Dr. House, Stargate Atlantis = Dr. Rodney McKay). If you watch these shows, then you know these guys won’t win any congeniality awards, never be the Boy Scout of the group, but, BUT, people LOVE these characters. Why? Because, despite their arrogance, brittle personalities, superficial nature, they are heroic. They show their humanity, they are capable of being vulnerable, caring, and that speaks to readers.
They are honest about who and what they are, and when push comes to shove, these are guys who will do the right thing/stay true to their driving desire. Viewers know this within 5 minutes of watching the show.
If your reader can’t pinpoint that your hero will be the hero, you need to rewrite. Or else, what are you going to do? Put a note in your book explaining your character’s background? Sit down with every person who reads your book and justify why this guy is being such a jerk when there’s no need to be?
I know that sounds so rude, but it’s the truth. If your character is inconsistent or faulty, dear heart, the problem isn’t the reader, it’s the way the character’s been written. Being a writer means being able to go back to the page over and again, and making your characters multi-dimensional and ensuring they come across they way they need to.
Tip #4: Be Strong in Yourself
Tip #3 said to listen to your readers’ comments. Tip #4 seems conflicting: stay strong in yourself, but as crazy as it sounds, you need both to be a successful writer.
If your character really IS a jerk and his redemption is what the story is about, then yes, stick with it. But if he’s supposed to be swoon-worthy and your readers seem to be suffering from nausea rather than fluttering hearts, then go back to the drawing board.
Successful writers know how to evoke the right emotion in their reader. It takes time, patience, writing and re-writing, but it’s what you need to do if you want to make it in this industry.
Tip #4 means knowing your story inside and out, knowing every nuance and twist. If it take your 3 years to write it, then so be it. Don’t rush, don’t force it.
Tip#5: Educate Yourself
Know how to do more than turn on your computer; know what grammar is, and the difference between effect and affect.
I wouldn’t trust a carpenter who only knew how to use his hammer, and I don’t trust an author who doesn’t take the time to educate and continually educate him/herself in their industry.
Part of this tip is knowing what works for you as a writer. Don’t force a story voice. Readers can sense it. So, even though you’ve heard erotica is all the rage, if it doesn’t feel right when you’re writing it, and a sweet sensuality is more your style, stick with that.
Integrity always sells.
Ladies, gentlemen, writing is hard work. This isn’t for the faint of heart, and this isn’t a job for wusses. When you encounter a setback, whether it’s a blank page, a rejection or a bad review, pull yourself up and keep going. Like the man said, “Don’t die with your dreams crumpled in your back pocket.”
Senior Editor, Hummingbirds
The Wild Rose Press