Monday, January 29, 2018

So, you want to write a novel, eh?

Writing is a labor of love. It must be. Otherwise, I wouldn't do it.

 F. Paul Wilson. Author of: The Keep and Repairman Jack Series
Although I have not achieved the audience of writers like F. Paul Wilson or recently passed and respected Jack Ketchum, I still receive many queries from people who are considering entering the world of writing. This tells me that for all my labors, I have achieved a place in the writing community. Of course, this comes without the benefit of movie deals and F.U. cash. I can live with that, although I could use some of that F.U. money.  Regardless, I keep writing because I know someone somewhere is reading my stuff.

And that is why I do this.

The late Jack Ketchum. Author of Right to Life
For me, writing a book usually takes about two years. This is balanced against a day job, writing and selling short stories and spending time with my family. To date, I’ve written three full-length novels, two published and one in the pre-publication stage. I also have another manuscript that is about 1/3 of the way into its first draft.

The process of writing a book is a disciplined labor-intensive exercise. For me, the fun part is always the first draft and certainly the best part of the process. This is where you as a writer are an audience to the story you are creating. It is shiny and new, like a movie unfolding before you, and there are so many avenues you can take. After the first draft is complete, that’s where the real work starts, and, for lack of a better phrase, it is where you start fine tuning your story. From plot holes, character development, grammar, timeline, flow, and on and on…

John Farris. Author of The Fury.
John Farris the author of THE FURY and WHEN MICHAEL CALLS said, “I don’t like rewrites, and I don’t do drafts.” Farris is an extremely successful writer, one who never does book tours and who has had his work adapted not only to screen but has also stepped behind the camera as a film director. The thing is, we can’t all be John Farris or Stephen King or Robert R. McCammon. 

Every writer goes about their work a different way. So, when I’m asked questions like, “Where do I start?” or “How hard is it to find a publisher?” And “How do I promote my work?”, the answer is almost always the same. I get asked a bunch of other questions, but I’ll leave it to these three because they seem to be the most repetitive. 

Where do I start? If you want to write, the best place is to start at the beginning. I know that sounds like a cop out, but that’s it. If you have an idea for a story or a novel, you really have two ways to approach it. Write an outline or write the story. 

Me personally, I’m not an outline guy. Writing is already an enormous job, so the idea of outlining a project before writing it is foreign to me. That is not to say drafting is a bad thing, many writers are very successful when it comes to this approach. An outline can be a useful tool when you are writing a story with a shifting timeline. I just like to fly by the seat of my pants, or maybe I’m too lazy to add that to the laundry list of things to do. 

You’ve gotta figure that out for yourself and what works best for you. 

How hard is it to find a publisher? 

Well, if you’re looking to sign on with one of the big ones, that’s a very tall order when you’re an unknown. The big ones, like, Viking, Penguin, and Random House won’t even look at your work without an agent to represent you, and that leads you to the next issue. Finding an agent. Finding an agent is as tricky as finding a publisher. An agent is your salesman, so you’ve gotta find someone that has credentials in the publishing world, who not only supports in your work but has the ear of the publishing companies. 

So, the answer to that question, “It’s hard.” 

Discouraged? Welcome to the club. 

The problem is, people try to put the horse before the cart. They want the international bestseller, the F.U. money, the movie deals, but they are naïve to the fact that writers like Stephen King faced a world of rejection before they got that big break. All writers go through this. King tossed his breakout novel, CARRIE, in the
Stephen King started out just like everyone else. His success was not overnight.
garbage, which was later retrieved by his wife, Tabitha. Before this, King wrote scores of short stories to put a little money in his pocket while he worked two jobs. One as a substitute teacher, the other at an industrial laundry. 

He was discouraged, but he didn’t give up. 

So, if you want to write a book, perhaps you need to first try your hand at writing some short works and attempt publishing with smaller publishers. There are small web-based magazines who pay for shorts and small press publishers who publish anthologies that will review submissions from newcomers to the craft. This is also an excellent way to hone your skills and build a reputation. Heck, you can even make a few bucks. With every story you publish, your portfolio will grow, and along the way, you’ll learn something. 

Promoting yourself. Again, I go back to the horse before the buggy.

Whatever your project, short story, novella, or novel, write the bloody thing first. If there was a sure-fire plan to make someone an international sensation, I’d already been sitting on a beach with a cold drink in one hand and a book in the other. 

So, if you really want to write, get on with it.

And good luck. 

M.J. Preston is the author of 
Soon to be published