Monday, November 10, 2008

The Buddy System

I spent last Saturday teaching a two-hour writing workshop in Tampa, Florida, and have a three-hour one scheduled next Saturday in Fort Myers, Florida. This takes my mind out of the creating process—which is where it usually resides (or tries to) when I’m working on my next book—and puts it into the crafting process. The Q&A process. The “okay-how-do-I-get-published” process. Or as has also been stated, “If Author X can get published by Big NY House, why can’t I?”

Some very good answers to these questions can be found on my agent’s blog, PUBRANTS. Kristin Nelson is, after all, in the daily business of pitching manuscripts, turning them into published books. She blogs daily about what works and what doesn’t, what’s trend and what isn’t, why a writer should follow or ditch trend and most critically, what’s voice and why it works. Quite honestly, if you want to be published, reading Agent Kristin daily should be required.

But even Kristin notes—several times—good writing isn’t enough.

So what else does a writer need besides good writing?

A buddy. A mentor. A damned good crit partner.

And I don’t mean your mother (unless she’s Nora Roberts) or your cousin (unless he’s Stephen King) or your neighbor (unless she’s Robin D. Owens). The problem many writers who are yet-to-be authors have is they choose a crit partner or writing buddy who is at the same place they are in the literary process. That then becomes the proverbial blind leading the blind.

So if you’re looking for a mentor or crit partner, here are my suggestions. And as with any of my suggestions, if they don’t work for you, if they don’t resonate with you, remember the delete key is your friend:

1 – Choose someone higher up the literary ladder than you are. Preferably someone published with a NY house or one of the respectable small presses (ie: not a vanity press). Why? Because this person is “in the system” and knows how to work the system. This person is working to deadlines, dealing with professional critiques and copy edits. On a deadline. This means working under pressure and learning to push aside “personal” feelings about characters and prose because You Are A Professional.

2 – Choose someone who writes in the same genre and style that you do, who reads what you read, who likes what you like, book-wise, plot-wise, character-wise. This will make the crit process go so much more smoothly and insure the advice you get will work for you. As a case in point, I get asked to read lots of soon-to-be-published manuscripts for blurbs or quotes. You’ve probably seen my quotes on books by Ann Aguirre and Lisa Shearin. The feel and flavor and style of their books are similar to mine so I have no problem heartily recommending them. Their writing resonates with me.

Then on occasion I get a manuscript from a NY editor for the purpose of garnering a quote and the book Just Does Not Work For Me. “For Me” are the operative words. Obviously, this book has been purchased by a major publisher. But the writing style and/or the plot just leave me cold. I find it difficult to care for the characters. I find it difficult to finish the book. So I pass on offering a quote.

Now—point is—this book SOLD. But had that writer—whose style is so opposite mine—come to me for mentoring or critting, I’d likely have told them to chuck the story and start something new and, while you’re at it, please don’t let me ever see you refer to the male protagonist’s mouth as “his chiseled lips” or his hair as “flowing locks” again.

But THAT BOOK SOLD. There are agents and editors and readers who love flowing raven locks and manly chiseled lips on their characters. I’m just not one of them and, hence, I’m not the author to mentor or crit that kind of writer. So it’s hugely important that you match your writing to your mentor’s writing. Or else you’ll be a serious cross-purposes and it’ll be frustrating for you both.

3 – Consider taking a class—online or in person—with the possible mentor-author of your choice. A classroom setting provides a great, “under no obligation” opportunity for a published author to get a glimpse of your work and, if sufficiently intrigued, offer to crit some chapters. Keep in mind published authors also take these same classes. So even if the teacher doesn’t offer, another author might.

4 – Do not send an author your sample chapters or, Heaven forefend, your entire manuscript and ask them to read it UNLESS they’ve specifically offered to do so. About three times a year I get chapters or—Heaven forefend—an entire manuscript in my email inbox from someone I do not know. These things get deleted. Sorry, but they do. I try to mentor two to three writers a year but when I hit that two to three limit, I’m out of time. I write full-time for a living. I have deadlines. On occasion, I even like to see my husband. Unless I or any other author has very specifically said: “Send”…do not send. Same goes for an email request of “will you read my manuscript?” Unless I’ve met you at a signing or a conference and told you to send stuff to me, I likely don’t have time. What you’ll get from me is a polite note telling you that I don’t have time and telling you to read Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer and Jack Bickham’s The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes and then read everything on The Essence of Story in the WorldCrafter's Writing Guild on Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s Sime~Gen site. Because honestly, until you’ve done those things, I can’t work with you. And honestly, if you do those things, there’s probably little you could learn from me. Dwight, Jack and Jacqueline are just totally brilliant.

And lastly,

5 – Keep running with the Big Dogs. Go to writer conferences offered by professional organizations, hang out on loops run by professional writing organizations and populated by published authors. You will learn oodles.

Above all, BIC HOK! (Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard!)

and now for a word from our sponsor:

~Linnea

www.linneasinclair.com
// Interstellar Adventure Infused with Romance//
Available Now from Bantam: Shades of Dark
2009: Hope's Folly

19 comments:

  1. Thanks, Linnea. I am working on two friend's ms. right now and was put on the spot by a friend at a conference to do the first chapter of a third. Please do not do that to an author friend in public.

    Every year for Brenda Novak's auction for diabetes, I offer a proposal critique. So if you want my input (and I can slash and burn -- I do it just like I do my own), remember the auction.

    I think I just wrote sculpted chin myself, though. I really get tired of "strong" features, emotional strength, etc. in MY OWN writing, so look for something else.

    Take care,

    Robin

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  2. So...exactly how are we supposed to acquire this ideal mentor you describe when we're not supposed to ask? Develop telepathic ability? Jedi mind trick? Borg nanoprobes?

    I think until I win the lottery and all my children grow up, I'll just have to keep winging it.

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  3. Kimber An,

    (Grin)... It's a Catch 22, isn't it?

    :-)
    Rowena Cherry

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  4. Hey Kimber An and Rowena,

    Well, I think one of the wonderful benefits of speed reading is that you get to learn a lot in a short period of time but you might actually miss some of the substantive issues. If you read what I wrote, your question(s) are answered.

    1) take a class. Get to know the teacher in a classroom setting where it's not a one-shot deal of READ ME PLEASE. Rather, you develop a relationship and the teacher is more familiar with you, and you are with her/him.

    2) develop relationships at conferences or conventions. Same principle as above.

    No, these things may not result in Instant Three Minute Bonding I Love Your Work! There is no instant three minute bonding that I've found--other than me and a bottle of Tanqueray gin. I don't know if I want that in writing, though. If you're bemoaning that kind of relationahip Takes Time, well, yeah, it does. And it's not 100% and you will still get some brush-offs. I did. And me--fat, Polish, blond and myopic--survived and went on to run with the Big Dogs.

    And can get knocked out tomorrow. Ditched and may never return.

    There Are No Guarantees.

    If you want guarantees, fiction writing isn't the field for you.

    Rowena, no, it's NOT at all Catch-22. I'm not the only fat, Polish, blond myopic to make it to the Big Dogs. So, no, it's not at all that. What it is is concerted effort, a huge dose of reality and lots of contingency plans. It's a recognition that fiction writing is not only hugely competitive, it's hugely subjective. It's risky business, as the title says. If you want guarantees, there are other fields to work toward. Commercial genre fiction isn't one of them.

    I've been a news reporter. I've been a private detective. Each takes certain skills and certain contacts and certain balls-y-ness. I started my PI agency when women didn't routinely do so. I've pounded doors and pavements to get clients for my PI agency. It was not remotely easy and there were no doors at all, ever, opened for me.

    There is no Catch-22. You want something bad enough, you work toward it BUT YOU REALIZE it will not necessarily happen tomorrow.

    Frankly, the Internet and online groups have made the Get Published process hugely easier than it was thirty years ago. I was writing thirty years ago, alone, solo, in a vacuum with only an out-of-date Writer's Digest to keep me company. Today the burgeoining fiction writer has enormously more resources. Or not. Those too take time to work. But it's up to you to work them.

    There is no guarantee. Not in writing. Not in life. Not in nothing.

    But if you want it bad enough, you will find ways To Get Closer.

    No Jedi mind tricks required. No lottery wins required.

    I had no special dispensations, no one in particular liked me or bestowed favors on me, and no one took the bumps out of my personal road. No one gave me winning lottery numbers.

    End rant. ~Linnea

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  5. Continuing on Robin's post...there are also critiques you can bid on--Brenda Novak's is one wonderful venue but there are others. There are contests to enter where you get read, and sometimes critted, by authors and agents and editors. There are organizations like RWA, MWA, SFWA and many state writer groups that offer these opportunities.

    There. Are. Ways. Hundreds more so than thirty years ago when I started.

    I remember what one therapist told me when, at 34, I was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live:

    If one person has survived it, you can survive it.

    One person.

    If one person has gotten published with your kind of story or even somewhat your kind of story, then you have a chance.

    Certainly better than beating cancer, eh?

    I was 34. I just passed my 54th birthday.

    If ONE person can...
    ~Linnea

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  6. Excellent post! My critique partner, however, is at the same level I am, and I've could hardly get along without her. (Actually, in a sense I could claim to be at a "higher" level, because in the years since we started reading each other's work, I've had books published. But I don't think of myself as "higher," because I admire her writing and I think her plot creativity definitely surpasses mine.) Because she does like (and write) the same kind of fiction I like, she understands what I'm trying to accomplish -- and she can give me the very important reader's perspective. With wide experience reading in the genre, she can readily spot problems. If she, who likes my work and is disposed to be friendly, mentions inconsistencies and weaknesses, I KNOW they need fixing.

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  7. BIC HOK! Damn, I didn't know there was a handy acronym for it. And hey, it sounds like a totally cool alien name. Maybe a Vulcan, eh?

    I wrote it on a sticker. BIC HOK. Right beside "If one person can...".

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  8. Kimber An and Rowena, I have a fantastic author mentor. She is NY house published and influences every aspect of my drive to become published, right down to the fashion I wear when I present myself to agents. I'm not sure how I got along without her before.

    But it was a year and a half-long process to get to this point in our relationship which, I feel, has become a genuine friendship.

    First, I wrote her a fan letter. In that letter, I complimented varying points about her work and questioned how she had achieved certain things in her writing. I expressed that I was a pre-published author and was looking to improve my work. I gave a little background about myself and I made sure my letter was well-written and free of grammatical errors (minus the occasional typo.)

    Six months passed. The author was coming to my area for a book signing and a writing lecture. I emailed again. I didn't expect her to remember me, but, SHE DID. I expressed my interest in attending her signing and the lecture. She encouraged me to do so. I DID. At the signing, I made sure to ask the most intelligent questions about writing that I could think of. And she was happy to answer them. At her lecture, I made sure to raise my hand and participate.

    More months passed. She taught an online writing course. I took it. She got to see some of my actual writing and made helpful comments. She got to decide whether my style was to her liking or not. It apparently was. She suggested some books on writing for me to read. I READ THEM.

    More time passed. She came back to my area for another signing. I attended. This time she asked why I had not yet sent her any chapters to look at. My response? "I didn't want to assume. I was hoping you would offer."

    I'm sure there are some other steps in there, other lectures and signings with her that I attended, but that pretty much sums it up. I love her work. She likes mine. We are compatible. She is priceless. I was lucky. The timing was right. She had the time to help me. She offered.

    Since then, we have gone through query letters, synopsis, and are working through the manuscript chapter by chapter. I also made a point of going to a conference where her agent was speaking and introducing myself and attending that agent's lectures as well.

    As I said, part of it was luck/timing. A tremendous part was compatibility. But a lot was perseverance and a drive on my part to PLEASE HAVE HER NOTICE ME.

    It can be done, but it takes luck, timing, and effort.

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  9. By the way, BIC HOK sounds like Klingon for something I would not want to eat.

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  10. "1) take a class. Get to know the teacher in a classroom setting where it's not a one-shot deal of READ ME PLEASE. Rather, you develop a relationship and the teacher is more familiar with you, and you are with her/him.

    2) develop relationships at conferences or conventions. Same principle as above."

    Last time I checked, classes and conventions, as well as RWA membership and conferences, all cost money and require time. This means anyone with small children and/or on a budget is out of luck.

    Jedi Mind Tricks would be great too, because good manners forbids an aspiring author from approaching a published author. We're told all over cyberspace and the real world how much authors just hate it when those whiny, pestering, nit-wit aspiring authors flock after them like rock star groupies begging and pleading for all the secrets of the trade which will empower them to be published *now.*

    I was just at another blog in which the author was talking about picking and choosing the right agent. Hello? Does he really believe any unpublished author has a choice? Maybe 0.001% do, but what about the rest of us? I was just at Pub Rants, in fact, and Kristin mentioned how difficult it is to sell a debut right now.

    I'm not saying all us aspiring authors ought to shut up and go home and get into chicken farming instead, but an already difficult business has just gotten a lot more difficult for us. We're going to have to brainstorm new ways of doing things if we're going to hold onto the dream.

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  11. Hmm, well yes, Kimber An. Most things do cost money and/or time. Everyone has their individual budgets and if something you want to do is out of your reach, then that's certainly a consideration.

    The application FEE for my private investigator's license--way back when--cost around $400. That was before I had an office. One client. A phone line. But I had to cough up $400 for my license application. Once I had my agency, I had to get insurance. Did you know PIs are required to carry more insurance than attorneys? The basic COST of operating a PI agency is substantial--and that's before I had one client.

    Being an author is no different than being a PI. Or an airline pilot. Or a seventh-grade teacher. Or the owner of a doggie-day care center. There are time and monetary considerations in all of those.

    So I'm not sure I get your specific point in:

    **Last time I checked, classes and conventions, as well as RWA membership and conferences, all cost money and require time. This means anyone with small children and/or on a budget is out of luck.
    **

    That would also put someone out of luck being an airline pilot. A PI. A seventh-grade teacher. (A friend of mine recently got his teaching degree and is going for his certification. He has two small boys and yeah, it's taking a lot of his time and even with his military benefits, it's taking money. He's working as a substitute in the mean time but it's a struggle. But it's something he wants to do badly. And he's really good at it.)

    Just as a point of reference, RWA isn't the only venue that offers classes with published authors and/or industry professionals. When they do, most of their courses are $10 - $20 for a month's worth of instruction. That's relatively reasonable, IMHO. And most of those chapters offering courses don't require RWA membership to take the class. The non-RWA classes also run around $10-$20 for a month long class.

    But time, totally they take time. And each person is the only one who can decide is he or she wants to budget for that time. That's an individual decision.

    BTW, SFWA has a nice list of opportunities here:
    http://www.sfwa.org/links/workshops.htm
    No SFWA membership required for 90% of them.

    **Jedi Mind Tricks would be great too, because good manners forbids an aspiring author from approaching a published author. We're told all over cyberspace and the real world how much authors just hate it when those whiny, pestering, nit-wit aspiring authors flock after them like rock star groupies begging and pleading for all the secrets of the trade which will empower them to be published *now.*
    **

    Gee, I think *authors* would love to know the secrets that would empower them to be published *now*. A present book contract doesn't guarantee the next one. At the end of every contract, an author has to prove himself or herself anew. In the middle of each contract, if you're not pulling the numbers, you're gone. No job security there. No 401K. No health insurance.

    When the Bombshell lined closed--and IMHO that was a great line--a number of authors had no contacts and nothing immediate on the horizon.

    So IMHO, the key here is there is no guaranteed *now* for anyone. Not aspiring authors. Not published authors. Not former authors. Maybe what you're hearing is not any author's reluctance to share "The Secret" but the very real fact that there is no guaranteed Secret.

    What I do see all over the Net and the blogosphere are flocks of published authors who take time from their deadlines and their families to blog about ways to write better, about ways to improve plotting and pacing and characterization. Holly Lisle. Orson Scott Card. Jacqueline Lichtenberg--here and on her Sime~Gen site. Robin Owens has craft of writing hints and tips on her site. Tami Cowden has a book out on archetypes but her site contains a bunch of workable info. Free.

    Other authors share their list of favorite craft of writing books. I have a list on my site (and the books are available through libraries, for the most part). Sure, it takes time to read those books and if time is a premium, than that's something you have to consider.

    But the information IS there and there are many authors who weekly--some daily--take time to post something they believe will be of help to other writers on the path.

    Free.

    Other than, yes, your time to read it and apply it.

    But no, we're not handing out any secrets to the trade that will empower you to be published *now.* We don't have any to hand out. All any of us can tell you is what worked for us.

    Just remember your mileage may vary.

    Namaste, ~Linnea

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  12. Agreed.

    The online course I took cost me somewhere between $20-$25 dollars. A tiny investment to have a professional author teach me about several aspects of the craft AND read an excerpt of my work.

    Budget issues? Absolutely. My husband and I are both teachers. We haven't gotten a raise this year and don't expect one. We took a pay cut in the form of more expensive health insurance. Yes, plenty of people are in much worse financial state than we are. But book signings are FREE. And many conferences (the smaller, local ones, often run by public libraries) are FREE too. You just have to find a way to get there. And for some of the larger conferences, if you volunteer to work for them, you can get FREE admission to the whole conference and often a FREE pitch session with an agent.

    Small children? Yep, got 'em. Adopted special needs identical twins. Ten years old (mentally about eight). My husband and I trade off babysitting (he's also an aspiring writer) or Grandpa helps us. Now, if you are a single mom, that becomes a whole lot harder. I do understand that. Hopefully, there is a friend with kids that you can trade babysitting time with. I know professional, trustworthy sitters can be very expensive.

    "We're told all over cyberspace and the real world how much authors just hate it when those whiny, pestering, nit-wit aspiring authors flock after them like rock star groupies." So, don't be that kind of fan/writer. Be polite, calm, professional, and sensitive to the author's time. If you are at a signing, don't block the signing table once you've had your turn. Wait until the author is free. (There is often a lot of down time at those events.) And understand they may NOT have time for you, or may not want to answer questions about writing that day. Pick a different author or try another time. If it's a lecture, don't ask all the questions, just a few that you are particularly interested in. Stick around after the lecture has ended. Offer to help the author pack/carry his/her materials. They may say "no thanks" but if they say "yes" there is a wonderful opportunity to keep the conversation going on a more one-to-one basis.

    I have arranged to meet many different major authors who write in my genre in the past two years, many in the past six months--Elizabeth Moon, Elizabeth Bear, Tanya Huff, Linnea Sinclair, Debra Doyle, James MacDonald, Ann Aguirre, and more. Of those, three were very busy and only had very generalized advice to offer, but were very nice, and one of them offered to let me drop her name in my query letter. Two (a writing couple)took me and my husband up to their hotel room for beer and cookies during the convention. We spent two hours talking about writing and continued the conversation at breakfast the next morning. One took me and my husband out for lunch, and paid, and eventually introduced me to her agent. And one has become a good friend. I've learned something from each and every one of them and learned a LOT from some of them.

    I'm not trying to lecture or argue. I'm honestly trying to help. Maybe some of these suggestions will work.

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  13. I have to say I'm a little taken aback by the comments to this post that sum up bascially to "but it's hard!". And we were expecting?

    I am not a published author. I have been writing and polishing and struggling to finish something - and researching the industry - for over six years. Emphasis on that last one.

    There is a world of difference between being the kind of annoying nitwit fan or fawning author-wannabe that one of the previous comments described, and presenting yourself as an equal in character, if not in resume. Professionalism goes a long way, even - especially - if you are not a professional.

    It's been my experience that the people who sit around picking holes in all the advice they're given, how but there's THIS problem, and THIS factor to be considered... are the ones who'll never go anywhere.

    If you look at the odds, realize they're high and not particularly stacked in your favor, that it's an uphill and probably years-long journey, and smile and get to it anyway? That's the kind of person who will come out on top.

    Talent only counts for so much.

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  14. I remember back a few years during Ad Astra in Toronto (yearly SFF/Comics convention). A piece of advice Jim Gardner gave me was that writers need: skill, determination and luck, and that any two of these would do.

    It stuck with me all these years.

    I guess he was my "buddy" in the sense that he answered my questions, let me ride his coattails during that convention, presented me to all his buddies (I was star-struck and grinning like a loon for days afterward), and just let me soak in the good vibes, you know. He didn’t tell me I ought to do this or that, nor did I want to be *told* what to do, just shown a way that worked so I could devise my own. He let me hang around while he did his own thing. I learned more watching then I had doing anything else. I was already member of several online writing workshops (OWW, Critters.org, the old Del Rey's workshop when one of the prizes was getting critiqued by one of their editors, and other, smaller ones). I downloaded Jim's (free! Woot!) workshop on speculative fiction writing and still have it on my desk. It's grimy from use, missing a couple of corners and has been generally abused in every way. And even if I’ve read that thing (and countless other workshops/list of tips), I find a new gem every time I rifle through it. Combined with Vonda McIntyre’s Pitfalls of Writing SFF and Stephen King’s On Writing, I’m all set.

    Because I’m a tiny potato on the side of the writing plate, no one has ever asked advice of me and that’s perfect this way. But I’ve seen those people at conventions (SFF and romance) who’ll hog all the airtime talking about their stories. They’ll give you each and every detail while you’re waiting in line somewhere. And even if they say they want to write for a living, even I, a newbie who still smells like plastic and new car, could tell they weren’t serious. Every time the recipient of their questions would give an answer, the reply would almost always start with a “Yeah, but...” To me, that’s the swan song.

    One particular author during RT this year was endlessly gracious and patient in her answers. Yet the other person kept coming back with a list of things that precluded her from putting into motion the advice the author was giving. I tell you, patience incarnate. Me, I wanted to turn around and tell her, Woman, you don’t want it bad enough!

    But then gain, what do I know.

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  15. Thanks for your comment, Rick. Yes, there is a ton of advice and venues to get advice out there, and maybe that's why the "quick gratification factor" occurs, or the "but I did what your blog said and I'm not published factor" occurs. We live in a very immediate society of emails and microwave ovens. But life itself still progresses at its own, time-honored pace. (See Jacqueline's blog subsequent to this one and her tale of getting published.) It may be that the particular writer's work isn't yet ready for publication. It may be that the literary world isn't yet ready for that particular writer's work.

    There's also a tendency it seems for blog readers to infer that a published author is the ONLY mentor. Yes, I mention that as an ideal but I also clearly mention "someone farther along than you are." That means someone's work you've read (could be in a crit circle, for example) and admired.

    Crit groups abound online, for free. No, I can't point anyone to The Perfect One. That's something you're going to have to do and yep, it may take time to find the right crit group. But if one person can do it...

    I started writing fan fic years before I thought of writing commercial genre fiction seriously. Fan fic is another great venue in which to find other aspiring writers--if that kind of venue interests you. More than a few noted SF authors started out in fan fic.

    Does an author you like have an online Yahoo (or whatever) fan group? Join it. Chances are you'll meet other aspiring writers who write that genre. That's happened on my fan loop. I also from time to time TEACH WRITING--free--on my Yahoo fan loop.

    And I always answer questions about my writing on my fan loop. Hell, I wish more people would ASK writing questions.

    Keep in mind that when I started writing professionally back in the early 1990s, 90% of this was not available. The Internet was in it infancy. Oh, did I mention the fan fic I wrote was sent to othen fan fic-ers BY SNAIL MAIL? Talk about NON-instant gratification!

    So from where I sit, poolside at the Home for The Perpetually Confused, the venues for aspiring writers today are TRIPLE if not more than what they were in 1994.

    So yes, it boggles my mind a tad when aspriring writers today say it's hard to learn this stuff.

    ~Linnea

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  16. Rick:

    Actually, no, it's not "hard" to learn to write commercially. The trick is to figure out WHAT it is that you have to learn. Once you have it straight in your mind what precisely you're learning, it goes VERY fast.

    Marion Zimmer Bradley always said to her writing students that anyone who can write a literate English sentence can make a living from writing. And she did it -- she wrote articles, anything she could get on assignment -- and that non-fiction experience made her a better fiction writer.

    I could go on for hours about that - and have.

    What I need to point out here is that if you find yourself struggling for 6 years, (even part time writing after work) you're doing something wrong.

    You're obviously a smart guy and you write well. You understand professionalism -- i.e. the difference between "creative writing" and "commercial writing."

    It's very possible you fall into the huge classification of those who are too smart for their own good.

    You are trying to LEARN to write. Very likely you already know how.

    What you need is to stop trying to learn.

    Then re-approach the problem as a CRAFT - like plumber, carpenter, mechanic, welder, electrician.

    The ART is already inside you. Getting it out in commercial form is a craft. Like driving a car, you can't LEARN it.

    But you can TRAIN FOR IT.

    As Linnea points out, simegen.com/school/ has a lot of material up with exercises that shortcut this training.

    It's not something you do randomly. You do it systematically, one skill at a time. And believe me, it's really REALLY easy. Anyone can do this.

    But as Linnea said, read my post on GIFTS on Tuesday Nov 18, 2008 because that is about the other dimensions of the commercial artist's life where achieving a goal (or even goal-directed behavior) is counter-productive.

    Read especially Linnea's comment post to my post that illuminates some additional points.

    Also check out http://www.simegen.com/school/ (it's free) sign up and work through all the lessons in the course titled ESSENCE OF STORY.

    Trust me, this is really EASY stuff to do.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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  17. Nathalie:

    Yes, "skill" is what I was referring to with my comment to Rick. It isn't something you can learn. Reading "how to" doesn't help. You must DO IT, then re-do-it. It's craft.

    Determination we mostly have innately.

    "Luck" is what my post on "GIFT" is all about, (Tues Nov 18, 2008).

    It's not something you can do on purpose, but it is something you can do.

    As for the nerd-effect and neo-writers regaling authors with every background detail and 25 years of biography of every character -- yes, that is AMATEUR.

    But not for the reason you assume.

    The professional writer is listening with a professional EAR, and hears something very different from what the neo thinks they are saying.

    Sometimes what you hear is interesting enough to encourage the person -- sometimes not. But in either case, the person labels themselves NEO by that kind of spiel.

    Here's the secret to making that approach sounding professional.

    Do NOT say anything about your novel that you find interesting.

    Delete every detail you find interesting. Really.

    Instead, cast your description of what you're writing in the format of a PITCH.

    Chances are the reason you "are writing" this novel, instead of "have written" this novel is that it can NOT be pitched.

    The flaw is deep in the structure because the story was not founded on a CONCEPT (high or otherwise) and can NOT be reduced to a pitch.

    If that's the case, the novel project is worthless commercially.

    Now we can discuss, on this blog, how to train your subconscious to arrange stories in pitchable form before subconscious tosses up the IDEA for the story, but this is a comment on the business end of writing.

    But this is the area where business and art overlap -- the very pre-conscious process your subconscious goes through before insisting you write about a character.

    That's where the hardest part of the training lies, where you really sweat.

    If you've done that, and the project you "are writing" comes up in conversation with a published author or editor, and you are called upon to present your project verbally (like defending a Ph.D. thesis) then what you SAY is the PITCH.

    For a novel, that is essentially the back cover or flap jacket copy.

    At WorldCon I suggested in a panel where Linnea's Agent was lecturing on how to write cover copy, that writers create their cover copy FIRST before writing the novel.

    Linnea's agent thought that was an eye-opener, mentioned it on her blog,

    http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2008/08/straight-from-reviewers-mouth.html

    and it was picked up by several dozen blogs and discussed everywhere.

    I didn't make that advice up. I learned it when I was about 16 years old and never forgot it.

    When you get a chance to tell someone about the novel you "are writing" -- recite the jacket copy AND NOTHING MORE.

    If you can't, you have some truly horrendous and un-fixable flaw in the underlying concept of your novel. Start a new one. It's much more cost effective to toss bad stuff than rewrite it.

    The sign of the professional is that they do it for the money. Thus they don't do things that are not cost-effective.

    Since you tossed it, you still own it, and you can write it again only this time grow the entire IDEA out of a commercial CONCEPT.

    If you decide to do that, DO NOT EVER LOOK AT THE BAD VERSION YOU TOSSED!!! (yes, Linnea)

    That's imperative to the method of re-training your subconscious to think in commercial terms, professional terms.

    Focus on your market. HOW will this book be marketed? That's the "pitch" -- write it first. It's not an outline, which you can make up as you go along and change constantly. It is the part that can't CHANGE.

    It locks you in. So keep it simple, spare, sparse, and just follow the formula that Kristin Nelson (Linnea's agent) gave.

    I put that formula in a post of mine last August -- copied it down during Kristin's talk.

    For a better bit of training, read Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES. Blake's blog recently gave the formula for creating the pitch based on Blake's book.

    As your conscious mind repeats this thinking exercise, your subconscious will get trained in that behavior and begin to toss up CONCEPTS before crafting them into IDEAS. One day you'll dream the cover copy, not the hottest scene.

    And then you'll know you crossed the line into professionalism. The challenge then becomes to retain the "Art" part of commercial art.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

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  18. I second and third the advice to go to Pubrants and look up the posts tagged "Query." I found them unbelievably helpful.

    (Lisa and I were sitting right across the aisle from you when you said that, btw. :) )

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  19. Wow. Jacqueline Lichtenberg is a hard act to follow, and I don't have her eloquence or experience which makes it even worse, but I was raised by politicians so I'm not afraid to toss my two cents.

    What about writing groups? And, I mean a writing group that does not pull it's punches and will tell you the truth about your work, not a under-published writer's bitching and moaning support group.

    Writing groups are free and only require a commitment of time to go to the group meeting, and read other members work. Sure if you are super busy that is time away from your own writing but if it helps you write better the trade off is worth it.

    I found being in a writing group to have infinitely improved my writing. No only did the more experiences and professional people help with info about the business side of writing but I learned as much critiquing other people's stuff as I did having my stuff critiqued.

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