Curious about writing or the publishing industry? Then ask Dara! She can’t answer specific questions about individual projects or career problems, but if you have a general question you’d like her to answer send through her “Contact Dara” page.
How do I get started?
Get some paper or a blank screen and put words on it. You don’t need a great idea, a large vocabulary, a special pen, new software, a loft with a computer or a secluded cabin in the woods. Just your imagination and writing tools (how easy is that?).
Don’t get in the habit of reading lots of how-to books. That only proves you’re a great reader not a writer. Don’t worry about agents, publishers and critics. Just write. (Notice I didn’t say write well. In the beginning that doesn’t matter, it’s the doing that counts.) Be bold; be fearless! Writing is not for wimps. If you can’t stop writing despite the crappy pages, slow days and rejections, congratulations (or in some cases, my sympathies) you’re a writer!
How do I deal with Writer’s Block?
Some authors believe in writer’s block, others don’t. Where do I stand? I believe in stumbling blocks like burnout, depression, exhaustion, fear of failure, envy and other emotions that will affect your writing (if a beloved pet dies or you fight with a loved one it’s okay not to know whether your hero jumps off a bridge or has a ham sandwich).
At times when you can’t write you’ll look at the page or computer screen in despair. Doubts will threaten to crumble your resolve. You’ll search the barren wasteland of your mind scrambling for words, any words. Then you’ll raise your fist to the sky and vow ‘As God as my witness, I’ll never go wordless again…’ Okay not quite, but you get the idea. Relax. If you need a break, take it.
You’ll have good days and bad days. Days you’ll love writing and days you’ll want to scream—it’s called being human. Refuel. Singers rest their voices, dancers their bodies, employees go on holiday, and sometimes you need to do the same. Your mind is your tool. When it runs on empty, fill it up.
Oh, and you don’t have to write every day to be a writer, (heresy I know, but honestly does a surgeon have to cut someone up every day to be considered a surgeon?) just finish what you start. Then send it off or put it away and start something else when you’re ready. Doesn’t that take the load off?
Ah, but here’s the rub. Remember that you are what you continually do. If you don’t write often…
How do I get an editor/agent to look at my work?
First, chocolate scented paper, topless photographs of yourself or your sexy neighbor, five-dollar bills shoved between every fifty pages or threats of suicide, don’t work. Be professional. Learn about the business. Writing is a craft; publishing is a business. Learn the difference or get out now. Run, without looking back, to the nearest exit—preferably a nice cushy job with health benefits and a 401(K).
Still with me? Really? You’ve scoured trade journals like Writer’s Digest and The Writer for information, joined organizations to better understand the industry and network, bought books like Writer’s Market to review publishing guidelines and obtain the names of editors and agents? Fine, then send your manuscript.
What? You don’t have one? Just the thirty pages you have been revising for the past fifteen years or a fabulous idea that you’re certain is a hit? Return to GO. If you are a beginner, have a completed manuscript. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, chances are you’re not that exception. (Most people don’t make it in this business because they think they are the exception).
The point is you have to prove you can write a book. Besides if Stephen King, JK Rowling and Nora Roberts can present full manuscripts as unknowns so can you.
Publishing is a business; your manuscript is your resume. It is the documentation that you’re truly a writer. This proof is essential. Why?
Unfortunately, anyone who can write their name on a postcard believe they can write a book that will make money. This arrogance only happens in the arts, but mainly with publishing. Nobody who can skip would deem themselves a dancer nor would someone who could pronounce gluteus maximus and sew up a chicken call themselves a doctor. However, every literate person is a writer…if they only had the time.
Yes, anyone can write. The trick is to get people to pay for your writing.
Yes, yes I know all that, but how do I get an editor/agent to look at my finished manuscript?
I repeat: Be professional. If you’ve read all the trade journals and books you should know how to approach an editor or agent. Follow proper manuscript formatting and send what they request whether it is a proposal or query.
Okay now what is a query?
Basically an introduction of your work. A simple one-page request to send a proposal. The book Attention Grabbing Query and Cover Letters by John Wood can help you. But I’d skip this point (do your homework and find out why)
Right and what is a proposal?
A proposal consists of a cover letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters of your manuscript.
What is a synopsis?
A summary of your book usually told in the third person, present tense (e.g. Amanda Harlow wakes up one morning and discovers her husband is a frog). The length depends on the publishing house. Think of it this way. You’re a business that wants to convince someone to invest in your recent project. You synopsis is a marketing tool to convince them to do so. Also many editors use it to write the back cover of a book so make it interesting.
Or think of it another way. You’ve just seen a great movie and you want to convince a friend to go see it. How would you tell them?
Still confused? Go to the Writer’s Links for a website on synopsis writing (and a lot more).
Do I need an agent?
If you don’t have a manuscript, please skip this question. If you do, the answer is: Yes and No. A good manuscript sells itself. You don’t need an agent to submit, I know many publishers say they won’t look at unagented manuscripts, but you can get around this (come on be bold!). It’s ideal to get an editor’s interest first (because that’s where the money is) then contact an agent or literary lawyer for negotiations.
Getting an agent after a sale is good because then you won’t be grateful, which is deadly to a business partnership. Make sure you get your 15% worth.
If you decide to look for an agent first then trust your instincts. Do your research. Check the links on this site, if you know other authors ask around. Don’t pay anyone to represent you (i.e. reading fees, editing services) any extra fees should come from your advance.
Sometimes it’s easier to get the attention of an editor than an agent, sometimes the reverse is true. (If you want a surefire formula, you’re in the wrong field. Try mathematics.) The choice is up to you. But remember this: Money in publishing flows in one direction that is to the author.
Update: In this new publishing world hiring a literary lawyer is very beneficial. Read why here.
Should I copyright my manuscript? I don’t want editors stealing my ideas.
Putting a huge copyright symbol on your manuscript will brand you a beginner and annoy editors and agents who have better things to do than work with a paranoid writer. You can’t copyright ideas. However how you write the story is under copyright once you finish it. That’s why developing a unique storytelling voice is essential. Remember to keep a copy of your work.
I want to bypass traditional publishing and go it alone. If I want to do self-publishing, how do I start? Dean Wesley Smith’s “Think Like a Publisher” is a good place to begin.
I have an idea that is a definite bestseller. I’ll give it to you and we’ll split the royalties. What do you say?
Thank you, but I’ll be generous and let you keep the idea and write the book yourself. Congratulations on your millions.
How do I get started?