January 25, 2009

The Last of the WRITER'S FAQ

Wow. I actually seem to be following through on this FAQ business. It is astonishing.

Assuming I continue on this vague "If I glance up and happen to notice it is Monday or some other day that is NEAR Monday, write some FAQ" plan, then in a few more weeks the whole thing will be done, and then Scott can put the pages up. The fact that while I work on this new section the whole REST of the site is falling out of date is something we are all going to politely pretend not to notice. LOOK! OVER THERE! SOMETHING SHINY!


At midnight on all hallow's eve you drag an unblemished goat to the black altar....okay maybe not. It IS hard, but I think you can do it without summoning the aid of demonic forces. Probably. You look in all the places where writers hang and writing groups tend to meet until you find your kind. Bookstores. Libraries. Schools. Coffee houses. Even wine bars. There will be creative writing classes offered ALL OVER your city or town. Test drive a few, until you find your posse.

If you live rural, then thank The Lord for the internet! Join writers groups online and read the posts carefully. Make friends with the folks who write good emails and who seem to be your kind. One of my best friends and a crit partners is a woman I met online several years before either of us was published.


I do not read unpublished manuscripts or writing samples that do not come to me through a workshop/conference/class I am teaching or that are not already under contract for boring, stupid legal reasons. I have too many of my own ideas to need to steal anyone else's, but we live in litigious times and my agent prefers for me to tell people to query him directly. I am sorry.

If you want a mentor (and I always like to have one) I suggest you look locally for a class taught by a writer whose work you admire. It will probably be fun. If it is NOT, try a different class. You will learn a LOT from reading the work of your peers in a workshop situation. It’s easier to see errors in other’s work, and then when you get used to spotting them, you grow secret eyes (mine are on stalks!) that let you see the same mistakes on your own pages.

To be honest with you, even if I read it and liked it better than any book I had ever seen before, it wouldn't help you get published. Pulitzer prize winning genius and all around excellent human guy Rick Bragg tells how he (as a writing prof at an Alabama college) has tried to help over 100 MS-es find agents or publishers...he has succeeded once. And he has SO much more pull and influence and street cred than someone like me.


Not really. I have sent MS-es that I fell for via writing groups and teaching writing workshops to my own agent probably 15 times --- he has never taken on one of them yet. Other writers are not going to be that useful to you once you are PAST the writing/critting stage....I can’t help you get an agent.

I got mine the old fashioned way: I got a writers market book and did everything it said. It took me 175 + query letters, and gods in Alabama was my THIRD novel, not my first --- gods was just the first one that sold. There is no fast track, if you aren't a celeb already with built in platform and don't live in NYC then in a lot of ways who you know means next to nothing, but breaking into the industry ABSOLUTELY can be done. Sign up for the free version of Publisher's Lunch and see the list of debuts sold by people just like you every week. You need to have a brave heart and the ability to bounce back after every no until you find your yes, and the ability to work on the NEXT book (which will be better----you have learned so much writing this one that the next will SHOCK you, I swear...) to work on the NEXT book while this one is making the rounds of agents.

Write well and query professionally, and hand to god, you can get an agent. People who say you can't and that it is "WHO YOU KNOW" tend to say that because THEY have not yet found an agent, and they stopped. If you want to publish, you cannot stop. You keep submitting, and if you get NO, rewrite, and if you get MORE no, put that book in a drawer and write the next one.

Posted by joshilyn at January 25, 2009 12:50 PM

Okay m'dear - go reread that last sentence in the second to last paragraph. Quick, before anyone else reads this post. (Obviously being the first to comment proves I'm the first and only reader!) And then you can delete me here and no one will be the wiser. I've got your back.

(Oh, and I'm really loving this FAQ stuff!)

Posted by: Laume at January 25, 2009 3:53 PM

Laume is funny.

Posted by: pam at January 25, 2009 4:11 PM

"It took me 175 + query letters..."

Thanks for that. All published authors need to cop to that reality.

Posted by: Sabra at January 25, 2009 4:29 PM

Good, solid advice, Miss J. Even if it might not be what many aspiring authors want to hear.

Keep plugging away!

True, dat!

Posted by: Lulu at January 25, 2009 5:02 PM

175+ query letters sounds daunting, but knowing what it takes is valuable from this side.

I loved this post. Thanks.

Posted by: Lisa Milton at January 25, 2009 6:38 PM

Sometimes I get discouraged because it's freakin' hard. But it's so good to know that sometimes you have to write a book or two before you publish a third or fourth or gagillionith.

Thanks for keeping it real, yo.

Posted by: nik at January 26, 2009 2:17 AM

Good advice! For me pursuing a "writing career" has been quite a ride. When I came to the realization that the word "career" didn't fit in with what I was trying to accomplish, I relaxed and began to write. Doors have been opening ever since, but not without plenty of angst.

I love that you're honest and tell others that you wrote two novels before you got it right! We have to write crap to get to the bone. Not to say your first two books were crap, but my first novel was. I remember the day I put it away in the bottom of a trunk and buried in the back yard. I've learned and I am still learning my art by stringing words into sentences each day. Jennifer Gilmore, author of Golden Country, says a writer should touch his or her book everyday. She doesn't mean physically ;).

I'm glad I stopped in today. Wonderful answers.


Posted by: ann at January 26, 2009 9:39 AM

Thank you for posting this. I know this already - or, well, have heard/read it a bunch of times - but it helps so much to read it again, especially since I'm just about to start submitting.

It sounds like this is the last of the FAQ, but if not, what's your writing schedule like, and what was your path to publication like? You know, beyond the little bit addressed in this post.

Posted by: Caryn Caldwell at January 26, 2009 1:39 PM

I really enjoyed this post and found it very helpful. Thank you for the straightforward information.


Posted by: thedomesticfringe at January 27, 2009 7:40 PM

On your third novel...
Whow and hmmm. Just sent my second to an agent but I hope it doesn't take three to get lucky.
Anyway, nice words of advice

Posted by: alex keto at January 27, 2009 10:01 PM