1. First and foremost you must decide and understand the commitment to bringing a book to fruition. Do you really want to do this? Is being a writer, novelist, author or whatever you title yourself the end result of the work you wish to undertake? If yes, proceed. If not, then carry on with what you were doing, the rest of this is going to be useless to you.
2. Finish school. I don’t mean just graduate high school or secondary or whatever it’s called these days. I mean, go to college for a four year degree. The craft of writing is never more perfected than by writing under the required non-fiction papers you will be forced to hatch by the 100’s. Not to mention the very informative reading you will be required to undertake. Here you will develop your voice. So, select coursework applicable to the field – English as a major and the topic on which you wish to write (such as history or biology) as your minor. You can always double major if you see fit. Why? Because, reading on your topic makes you an expert and gets you hearing the various voices in current and past writing. It’s a spring board to the writer you’re seeking inside you. In addition, I suggest continuing into graduate work, because this kind of work, especially at a writing intensive college is going to hone your skills.
3. While you finish school, be sure to live and learn — Experience. Anything and everything within limits, of course. The more you experience, the more you can write about with authority. You’ve been there. Watch a lot of films too, ultimately they start as writing. Someone, somewhere penned the ungainly things and then cried tears of sorrow at being forgotten behind the director and actor who just showed up after the big idea work was done. 🙁
4. Write the thing. Sit and write. No excuses. You wanted to do this, so you will find the time. Saying you have no time, you might need to return to step one and review your course. If that offends you, then you’re not going to like what else I have to say on this and other matter. Writing takes time. Words don’t end up on paper by psychic will. How long will it take? Depends on you and how fleshed out in your head the story is.
5. Prepare your skin. No one is going to praise you. They’re going to shred your work like cheese for their pizza. If they do praise you, all well and good, but you’ll never grow beyond the abilities you display in your first attempt and you must want to do better. Criticism of your writing is good for you. It shows where you are weak, and this is no time to imagine that you’re a Pulitzer Prize writer. Ego must be set aside. You want to be a writer, then criticism is part of writing and what makes the good writers good. Anyone of them will tell you how invaluable this is. So, with your head on right, forge ahead. Good feedback on your work will show weak spots and that is where you concentrate.
6. Get and editor, before you seek criticism from professional sources. So you finally finished that monster book project that’s been wrestling out of you since high school. Awesome job! Now you need to find an editor. Not your Aunt Sally or Uncle Steve who is into art criticism. You must go out and find someone who makes a living doing this work. It’s going to cost you, so be prepared. When engaging an editor, be sure you review their credentials (Predators and Editors is a good source to show the scam artists). Someone who charges you per word, might be scamming. Someone who charges according to page is more like it and the charge should be reasonable to the skill that is being employed. Don’t expect to pay around a $100, unless this is a very short piece. I see reasonable charges as between $1k and 3.
So why do you need an editor? You need an editor because no one will look at your typo laden, grammar monster after the first three pages of faux pas send them packing. An editor is a professional of the field. They understand the format and grammar acceptable and can help you perfect your work so that when you go out into the world seeking an agent, you will land one. It’s quite refreshing to open a book with all its ‘to’s’ in order (to, too, and two). However, you will never catch all typos, so take heart, this is what 2nd and 3rd editions are for. 😀
Oh, and there are a couple different kinds of editors: Content editor and line editor. Know the difference. Content editors critique your work and build the story with you. It can be pretty costly. Line editors are those who work on a finished product making sure the grammar is in order. If your budget is tight, save your pennies for the latter because that is what is going to matter a lot when you’re shopping that manuscript around. Some publishers will want to alter your stories a bit even though they are signing you on, and that is because they want to make sure it’s the best book it can be for their bottom line. These are content edits and they could make or break your contract (see step #10).
7. Traditional publishing or Indie? Yep. It’s time for another deep introspection. For those who decide to go Indie, such as myself, you just simply need find a press that meets your requirements. For those who want to be traditionally published, you have a much longer road paved with the tears of writers long dead and unpublished ahead of you. Best of luck to you, but keep in mind that the gatekeepers at the publishing houses are hard-hearted. They talk money, not art. So get your business cap on. As for Indie publishing…you may have issues with it being called vanity publishing and the screwballs all over the internet calling people self-indulgent and egotistical for doing this, but what are traditionally published authors doing? Is it not still the same drives that push them to publish, and what is vain about wanting to tell a story? Those voices are the voices of “don’t do it, cause I couldn’t and I will be crushed if I have to watch another person succeed where I failed cause I gave up on me.” Don’t give up on you for their sake. It is not vain. You’re a writer. This is what you do. Self-indulgence is the point of producing art. You indulge your self to produce with your hands and mind as in any other labor.
From here on this post pertains to the traditional publishing path writer…
8. Agent. There is no way in the order of things that your book will get off the slush pile into the hands of a real editor at a big name (or even small name) publishing house without this artisan of the schmooze. They’re magicians and just as money oriented as the people they’re going to take your work to. They however, are not so hard lined. They like art. They like reading. They love books and writers and artists. They like to get authors situated to one side of them and a publishing house on the other to live their labor of love and win a 15% commission (don’t pay out for copies and mailings, that is supposed to come from their commission – which if you sign a good deal will be plenty, because they do this for several authors all year long).
9. Patience. So you’ve landed an agent who loves your work and is willing to try and place it with a house. Being here is very exciting. You’re on the precipice. However, you must be prepared to wait and, in some cases, even fail. Some books, though well written and fantastic, cannot make it to the market because publishers are niche oriented. You’ll hear, “We’re not sure how to place it–romance or historical or literature…” “Wish this got to me sooner, I already signed a book which will require a lot of work.” And so you wait. You might wait weeks, you might wait months, you might wait years and you might wait until hell freezes over. (Remember that you don’t have to wait until your golden years, you still have the Indie option which, point of fact, is overtaking the publishing industry with great results).
10. You’re offered a contract. Lawyer up. You know why, my smart cookie. Lawyer up. Congratulations.
Now you get to move onto the next lesson. Oh, yeah, by the way you’re not done with the hard work yet. Does marketing mean anything to you? To be continued…