17 Important Things I've Learned About Writing and Publishing

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Nov 13, 2017
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That's a great mega-post! (I'm a newbie here, so I'm just discovering it.)

#3 has definitely been a big one for me!
I only started writing out my stories relatively recently, before I would only make lots of notes and fantaszie about telling my stories.

And I can't begin to tell you what a massive pet peeve #13 is for me!
Some really great points to keep in mind! : )
 

Thomas Storm

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Very insightful, quite honestly I'm looking for more critiquing of my work. Not the fluffy 'wow this is so great' you get from friends and family but something raw about my work so I can continue to improve.
 

Ihe

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Very insightful, quite honestly I'm looking for more critiquing of my work. Not the fluffy 'wow this is so great' you get from friends and family but something raw about my work so I can continue to improve.

You're in the right place then. Once you have 30 posts you can put up excerpts in the critiques section and get some good, honest feedback. Welcome to Chrons.
 

The Judge

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Very insightful, quite honestly I'm looking for more critiquing of my work. Not the fluffy 'wow this is so great' you get from friends and family but something raw about my work so I can continue to improve.
As Ihe has said, we have a Critiques section which can be used by members with over 30 posts. However, do note that it's only available for unpublished work, not for anything which is already published. The full set of rules can be found here PLEASE READ BEFORE POSTING: Rules and Guidelines for Posting in the Critiques Forum
 

TimBaril

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I would add: Get Edited. Going through the developmental editing process can be expensive for self-publishing authors, but it's also a huge learning opportunity. It pays off by helping writers become better crafters.

(Full disclosure, I'm also an editor. lol)
 

scififan

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I just find it funny that so many people still think that "wherefore" means "where." It's usually a sign of ignorance or a lack of education. "Wherefore" actually means "why," or "for what reason."
 

Guillermo Stitch

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Jun 4, 2018
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Fabulous opening post to this thread.

One of the biggest steps I have taken along my own journey has been in the way I solicit and handle feedback.

It has to be done and it has to be done with people you have no reason to suppose wish you well. At some point you need to get a glimpse of what your work looks like covered in bootprints. And you need to suck it up, ascend your own learning curve with regard to which input you act upon and which you don't, and get on with it.
 

jbmwriting

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Jul 3, 2020
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This was very helpful. Overcoming my natural self-consciousness to receive less-than-flattering critiques has been hard, but when I look back at the difference between my first draft and the end product, the change obvious. Watching 2D characters shape out is probably the most satisfying part.
 

C.C.

Living large in the multiverse.
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Some of you asked for it; now here it is. Rue the day.




SEVENTEEN IMPORTANT THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING

or: The Distilled Wisdom of 25+ Years Since I First Became Truly Serious About My Own Writing
Before you read this, some words of caution: although I sincerely hope that there are things in this article that will empower you, its purpose is neither to reassure you nor to make you feel better about your own writing. If you are looking for short-cuts or excuses, you will have to find them elsewhere, although I will try to help you avoid some of the wrong turns that so many aspiring writers make, and I will try to explain some things that may seem mysterious to you. And while you can easily find people willing to tell you “keep on going” and “never give up” -- or the reverse, people who will tell you that the whole publishing business is corrupt and you haven’t a chance -- I'm not going to do either of those things. I think that whether or not you continue is an intensely personal decision, and I’m not qualified to make it for you. Nobody is. Only you know how much time and effort you are willing to give to your writing aspirations, what those aspirations are, whether or not you could ever bear to be anything but a writer (some of us can’t, but I won’t be projecting my own feelings about that on to you), or if the time has come for you to move on to other activities which might make you happier and could be more rewarding. But if you are interested in the honest opinions and conclusions of someone who has been writing for publication for a good many years -- having known some successes and some failures, meanwhile making her share of mistakes along the way -- you might want to read on. Then apply your own common sense in deciding how much of this applies to you, and how much of it is likely to prove useful in terms of your own aspirations.

#1
Books should not be written by committee.

It’s not a good practice to be constantly asking other people: Do you like the name of my main character? What do you think of this idea for a plot? How should I end my story?

In fiction, context is everything. Without context, it’s very hard for other people to tell whether your story is good or not, whether your characters are believable or not, whether your ending supplies a satisfying resolution or not. Industry professionals are trained to evaluate books in this way and most of them are very good at it, but even they are not infallible -- how much less competent, then, will your friends or chance-met strangers on the internet be? Aspiring writers frequently complain that editors and agents make snap decisions based on short excerpts, but they will happily accept advice (and praise) under the same sort of conditions from other inexperienced writers. Now, honestly, does this make sense?

Write the story. Write a large chunk of the story before you show it to anyone and ask for their advice. That way, they will be able to see how it all fits together. They will be able to spot your strengths and weaknesses. They will be able to get the big picture and comment on that, instead of little niggling details like the spelling and punctuation (which, by the way, you should learn to fix for yourself.)

A quick synopis will not tell them what they need to know in order to give you the most constructive advice. The first few chapters will not tell them either, not unless there are a great many more chapters already written and polished. And it is seldom a good idea to show your first drafts to anyone. Why? Because early in the writing process most of the context is still in your mind, and very little of it has found its way into the actual writing. Allow your vision of the story to solidify before you allow other people to put their hands on it. If it’s still too malleable they’re likely to distort it -- or worse, try to fit it into their own mold. You need to develop your own individual style, your own unique voice, you need to learn how to tell the story that only you can tell, and how can you do any of this if you are relying on other people to tell you what to say and how to say it every single step of the way?

And there is a thing that often happens when you ask others to critique something that is still in the early stages of creation. They pick up on any ideas that they like and start imagining the story they would write from that point on. They wax enthusiastic; they tell you that you have the beginnings of a great story; but it is not your story they are talking about, it is the story playing out in their own minds. And/or the opposite happens: they pick up on the ideas they don’t like, decide they know exactly where your story is going -- and it isn’t anywhere good -- and they try to fix it accordingly. Soon, you are getting so much conflicting advice you don’t know who or what to believe. Little wonder if you are confused: the people doing the critiquing are all talking about different (imaginary) books.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t keep your eventual readers in mind as you write. If you mean your story to be read by other people -- and certainly if you hope to be published -- you do need to give some thought to the reactions of your readers, and one of the best ways to find out what those reactions will be is to show it to other people and ask for their comments. But first you need to put every effort into communicating your own vision as completely, as compellingly, and as confidently as possible. Then when other people read it and give their advice, it will at least be based on your story, not what they think your story is going to be, or ought to be, or the story they would write in your place.


#2
Agents and the editors at publishing houses are not in the business of giving all and sundry free writing lessons. Do not depend on them to tell you what needs fixing or how to fix it. (Although if they do give you advice, consider it very carefully.)

Agents and editors at established agencies and publishing houses receive an enormous number of submissions. They do not have the time to read all of these submissions AND comment on them AND still do the other work for which they get paid. Look at this way: if an editor or an agent sits down and writes detailed comments on one rejected manuscript, other manuscripts are languishing unread. Response times are long enough as it is. And if every manuscript read received a detailed critique, there wouldn’t be enough time to give even a cursory glance to a large portion of the manuscripts received. Your manuscript might be one of those that was never even glanced at because the agent or the editor took the time to give writing lessons to somebody else.

“But,” I hear you protesting, “I only want a few words on why my manuscript was rejected. A few suggestions on how to make it better. How long would that take?” Well, quite a long time, actually, if you multiply it by several hundred manuscripts. Particularly if the agent/editor took additional time to frame those comments in the most tactful and constructive way possible.

I can tell you for a fact that on many occasions when an editor does give specific comments the aspiring author is far from grateful. Either the author is confused (the editor seems to be saying just the opposite of what previous readers have said), or offended, or convinced that the editor is a complete idiot who doesn’t know his or her business. The sort of terse criticism, baldly stated, that you would probably receive under the “how long would it take” principle is unlikely to be tactful, or encouraging, or specific and detailed enough to be particularly helpful. Without a layer of sugar-coating, even the mildest criticism can be hard to take -- many aspiring writers won’t take it. Editors soon learn this through bitter experience (yes, irate writers do sometimes write back to tell them what they can do with their ^&%$# advice ) and after that they are far less willing to offer comments.

So if and when you receive any kind of comment from an agent or editor, don’t be put off by its brevity or lack of tact. It may be inadequately explained, but someone has noticed an area where your story could stand to be improved, and they have taken the trouble to tell you about it. You have two choices: You can interpret what has been said in such a way as to make the agent or editor look a fool (soothing to your injured pride, but of little use constructively). Or you can try to figure out what they really saw and what they really meant. After you’ve done that, you may still wish to reject their advice, but you’ve used it to take a good hard look at your writing from another perspective -- and that is rarely a bad thing.

...But some agents are very collaborative. They may help their clients in shaping their stories and offer loads of free advice ... but this is only with the authors they represent or writers in whom they are very interested and say they might represent the book after a few revisions. This is another reason why they can't afford the time to offer writing advice to all the world.


#3
There is only one good reason to become a fiction writer, and that is if you have stories and characters inside of you clamoring to get out.

If you don’t, wait until you do. Your first stories need not be good, original, or even complete, but they need to be yours. Asking other people for story ideas, or how to come up with interesting characters is pretty much useless. Characters should not originate in some conscious process, they should be born somewhere in the deep recesses of your brain. If you produce them mechanically, they will never be anything more than machines. (Learning about character development is another matter entirely.) As for how to start: you begin with the seed of a story that you, personally, are eager to write, and from that point on it can grow in either or both directions. You need not worry about the hook, or whether or not to include a prologue, or any of that until the story is more developed.

Fiction writers are, first and foremost, storytellers. If you don’t have stories to tell, and you really want to write, consider nonfiction. Also consider that there are people who love the idea of being a writer more than they love the act of writing, and you may be one of them. (And if you are more interested in what you imagine are the worldly rewards of being a writer -- the fame, the fortune, the prestige -- you should know that you are more likely to get them writing nonfiction.)


#4
Most writers give up far too soon.

It’s true that the vast majority of aspiring writers will never see publication (unless they publish themselves).
But:
It is also true that most of these will never finish what they begin, much less send it out to editors and agents.
Of those who do, most of those will give up after a few rejections.
Of those who do submit a book again and again before they give up on it, many will never complete a second book.
If you have leaped all three of these hurdles, you are already in a much more select group. One for whom the chances of publication are considerably higher.

Nevertheless, the truth is that most of the manuscripts that are never published shouldn’t get published. The writing is flat, awkward, unoriginal, poorly plotted. There may be the beginnings of a great story there but it hasn’t been sufficiently thought out. Dialogue fluctuates back and forth between the stiff and the melodramatic. (Sometimes it’s both.) Many writers can’t even spell or punctuate.

Now somewhere I hear someone saying, “But think of all the garbage that does get published. You can’t tell me that my manuscript isn’t far superior to that!” Yes, books of the most mediocre and pedestrian literary quality do get published sometimes, and sometimes they are even successful. But what these books have in common (and what all the bad and -- even some of the good -- books that don’t get published do not have) is a spark, something that ignites the imagination and emotions of a great many readers. But you can’t plan on that spark, you can’t quantify it, and you can’t learn it.

On the other hand, it may actually be that these books -- no matter how stale their premises, or stereotypical their characters -- are more skillfully written than yours. A lot of aspiring writers judge the quality of their own writing by how much work they think they’ve put into it; they feel that after they’ve spent a year writing a first novel it represents their best efforts and is incapable of further improvement. But the truth is, it takes a lot more time and effort to write even a mediocre book than many people think. In most cases, you will need to write somewhere between 500,000 and a million words (including major revisions) before you write something publishable.

Also consider the possibility that the story and characters you think are so wonderfully original aren’t. There are tens of thousands of books published each year; no one person could read even a fraction of them. There might have been five or six books published in the last ten years with plots similar to yours -- how would you know? Besides that, there are certain plots that agents and editors see again and again, but you and I don’t see them because the books are rejected. Even if we do a lot of critiquing, we aren’t looking at proposals for hundreds of unpublished manuscripts every month.

And it doesn’t matter that your family, friends, co-workers, or the chance-met strangers to whom you have shown your work all say they love it. None of them have been asked to spend money on your book; they can afford to be generous in their assessment. Additionally, people who don’t write themselves can be so thrilled at being let in on the process of creation, they can become as proprietary about your work as you are -- and as prejudiced in its favor.

But here is the good news: if your writing is bad, you can always make it better. This is something entirely within your control. It may offer a prickly kind of comfort to think the odds are simply against you, but that’s something you can’t fix. The weak points in your own writing you can. However, it’s entirely up to you whether you want to spend a million words and several years of your life working toward that goal. Only you know whether you want it that much, or whether it’s worth it.

(continued in next message)
I've decided to stop showing my writing to friends and family because they either gush over it, which inflates my ego too much. I start thinking my writing is awesome, but when I start putting it out there for strangers...crickets... The other reason I'm no longer asking friends to read is because their response seems condescending, like they're humoring a child who drew a picture of something undecipherable. Now I'm just writing for myself, although I do post on my website and Twitter, but I'm much happier and accepting of sticking with the day job. :D
 

Ambrose

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Jun 8, 2020
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If memory serves, the Heinlein Rules were: 1. start, 2. finish, 3. submit, 4. submit again elsewhere, 5. do not re-write on the basis of an editor's comment, unless editor has undertaken to publish if change is made.
 

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