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–whether from editors or readers–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 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 The Writer for information, joined organizations to better understand the industry and network,  reviewed publishing guidelines and obtained the names of editors? 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 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. Follow proper manuscript formatting and send what they request whether it is a proposal or query.


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:  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 a literary lawyer for negotiations.

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 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?