Because some of you asked me to share a few nuggets I gleaned from the writing conference I attended recently, here goes (and remember, back to “regular programming” next time!):
- Figure out why you want to be published, who your audience is, and how you can reach them.
- Make your book as good as you can before submitting it to an agent or publisher.
- Begin with a character the reader can care about.
- Vary your sentence length.
- Save the prologues for already-published authors, never for a debut novel.
- Go back through your manuscript and eliminate adverbs (they said determinedly!)
- Don’t overwhelm your reader with backstory (do we really need to know what your hero was doing in fifth grade?)
- Set your scene but don’t include too much description.
- Make sure your story goes somewhere via tension, problem to be solved, or conflict (we don’t want to read about people sitting around doing nothing)
- For faith-based fiction, you might get away with drinking or seduction, but not with cursing (Drat!)
- Fiction word count ranges between 70,000 and 100,000; a shorter word count shows a writer who knows how to self-edit.
- There is no longer a RIGHT way to publish; traditional and self-publishing carry pros as well as cons (and generally, they’re opposites).
- Traditional publishing, while slow, incurs no upfront costs to the writer and carries an air of legitimacy.
- Self-publishing, while fast, grants the writer total control — but it’s up to you to make your book known.
- A stigma still exists on self-publishing, though it’s become more mainstream.
- Hybrid authors (who choose both publishing routes) make the most money.
- An agent takes 15 percent of what you the author make.
- An advance is yours to keep, regardless of whether your book sells (nice, huh?)
- There are more branches of libraries in the U.S. than there are McDonald’s restaurants (wow!)
- The worst thing about being a writer is that so much is outside your control; focus on what you can control (I’m not sure I’d agree this is the “worst,” but anyway. . . .)
- Keep moving forward; rejection is part of the game.
- Breakout success stories do happen, but for each one, many more languish in anonymity.
- It’s okay whether you write for love or write for money.
- Show, don’t tell. As Anton Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
- If you self-publish book one of a series, you can’t switch to traditional for the rest of the series.
- A good voice trumps a lot of things for an agent.
- When building your platform (visibility), realize you can’t do everything. Nor do you need to.
- Don’t believe everything you hear.
I hope I’ve helped those of you interested in writing and not bored those who aren’t!
You gleaned quite a bit from your experience! I think beginning your book with a character you care about is important.
I do, too, Suzi. That way, you feel you have a vested interest in turning pages and finding out what happens. Thanks for stopping by — much appreciate your support!
•Show, don’t tell. As Anton Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass**
My favorite! Thanks, Debbie. x
Checkhov really makes the “show, don’t tell” rule come alive, doesn’t he? Thanks for your encouragement, my dear Kim! xoxo from brr-cold Illinois
Not bored at all, Debbie. I found this series of posts fascinating and very informative!
“Vary your sentence length.” That’s one of the things I enjoy about your writing here on your blog. I like how you write your thoughts in short sentences/paragraphs with spaces between them because not only is it very easy to visually read, but it also sounds as if you’re actually speaking and very naturally.
“Don’t overwhelm your reader with backstory (do we really need to know what your hero was doing in fifth grade?)”
OMG…yes. One thing that bores me to tears in a book or reading a blog post is when the author explains every single detail of single moment. It’s like, “Just get on with it!” I have no patience for long-winded stories.
I think a key to good writing is using as little words as possible to tell your story.
“Show, don’t tell. As Anton Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Loved that one!
Thanks for sharing, my friend. Again, I really enjoyed this!
Bless you, Ron, for these kind sentiments! I guess, as a journalist, I learned that most folks just want “the facts, ma’am,” not a long-winded description. Thus, I have to watch when I’m writing fiction not to be so bare-bones that I leave people scratching their heads, ha!
Thank you for your compliments, too. Yep, what you see on the “page” is pretty much the way I am (and that’s why I so love blogging — you really get a feel for the personality behind the posts — and that’s why I enjoy yours, too, for your enthusiasm and spirit!!)
I’m grateful I didn’t bore you with what I learned. It helps me to impress my mind by writing it all down — thanks for indulging me!
Happy third week in February — Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and Thursday is Chinese New Year. We’re getting closer every day to Spring!!
Oh, geez. This stresses me out. Maybe I’m not a writer. Just a fantasizer. I’m glad you walked away with such great advice, Debbie.
I didn’t mean to stress anybody out, Audrey, and I’m genuinely sorry. It’s not easy being a writer — besides all the rules of grammar and such, “they” come up with these others, like “show, don’t tell” and “eliminate adverbs.”
‘Tis hard to keep them all in mind when one has a story that’s screaming to be told! I just wanted to share what I learned, for those who weren’t there yet want to know more about their craft. If I helped anybody, I’m ecstatic!
You’re fine, Debbie. My reaction was probably more of a bad attempt at humor. However, I do see your list as daunting, but any writer would, I think. I’m actually quite glad you shared this. Sorry to have worried you.
That’s okay — worrying comes natural for me! I’m a mom, ‘member?! Seriously, I’m glad if anything I shared is helpful to anybody. It’s a pretty daunting list, I agree, but nowhere near as rough as hearing an entire day’s worth of advice (and wondering if you’ll ever learn everything, ha!)
They’re awesome points, I say. Oh dear. I hate rules!!!
Not rules so much as suggestions. Guidelines, if one wants to be published today. And, like they said, Don’t believe everything you hear!!
I think I probably believe about 10% of what I hear. But I have heard that about prologues! I really hate that suggestion.
Hate not being able to include a prologue? Yeah, I know. Actually, I’d started this novel with one, then incorporated it later, then moved it back to the beginning. In short, I was tired of copying-and-pasting, so I asked somebody, and that’s what they told me. Hurts a bit, but better a tiny hurt now than a cause for rejection later!
*laughs* Very true. You should just call the prologue “chapter negative one.”
Thank you for taking the time to give us these gems.
“Figure out why you want to be published, who your audience is, and how you can reach them.”
I think this is a very important beginning point. It calls into focus ones whole motivation for writing. This point gave me clarity and direction.
Tanya, I’m glad to be of help. This wasn’t a huge conference, so not everybody could attend. If I can summarize it and help just one person, I’ll consider this post a success. Thanks for saying so!!
Great list, Debbie! Thanks so much for sharing this ❤ The point about a good voice trumping other qualities for an agent made me smile.
I was terribly glad to hear that one, too, Christy! It’s nice to think that, if an agent likes your voice, they’ll give more consideration to representing you. After all, platforms can be built later, ha!
Thanks for sharing all those good tips. My spirit has been lifted just knowing that there are more branches of libraries in the US than there are McDonalds. Gives me hope for mankind.
Isn’t that the truth, Pat?! I was amazed to hear that, too! We must be doing something right, huh?!!