Saturday, September 22, 2012

So You Want to Be A Writer

Hello folks,

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time. I'm out and about in the world in so many different and dizzying capacities, and there's a topic that comes up all the time.

For those who don't know me, I'm a multi-published, award winning and bestselling author, an actress (proud Member of Actor Unions AEA and SAG-AFTRA), I am a playwright currently adapting my debut novel for the musical theatre stage with Broadway-based talent as my production team, I am involved with Harry Potter fandom in several different capacities, I have several freelance writing and television gigs, I sing in choir, I travel a lot on the Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Steampunk, Historical and Harry Potter convention circuits. I am more busy than I care to acknowlede on looming deadlines. And as you can imagine, being out and about and all over the place, I get asked all the time: "So... I want to be writer. How do I do that?"

So for all you wonderful folks who want to be writers, I want you to be a writer too. I will cheerlead you with the best of them.

Disclaimer or my agent and editors will kill me: While I will be your cheerleader I am limited in my capacity to help. I cannot read and/or critique your novel as I barely have the energy to read my own, I'm actually a very slow reader. I can't give you a free copy of my books, authors are not rich unless they are one of the few I can count on my hands, we make our living selling books but we don't have stores of them in our homes, they're in bookstores. You'd be surprised at how many times that's the first thing out of people's mouths when I say I write. It'd be like me asking someone for a part of their paycheck when first introduced to them. No, I cannot introduce you to my agent as he is not taking clients. No, I cannot set your book on my editor's desk because there is a process for that and it does not go through me. The books I give cover blurbs to come from my agent, editor or because I've been asked by someone I already respect in the industry. Do not insult any genre of fiction, all fiction and non-fiction has its place. I can't advise anyone on Literary Fiction or Non-fiction because I only know genre fiction, being a genre writer. (Gothic Victorian Fantasy, to be very specific). Please note: This is not a resource for self-publishing. That hasn't been my route so I'll not be helfpul there. Whew. All that being said, on to the good stuff!

I'm going to share a bit of my story as an example and then offer up some genre resources.

It took me years to get my first contract. Nearly 9 years from inception to publication. My stack of rejection letters from both agents and editors is huge. No, the sting of rejection never goes away, especially when you've published and you still get rejection letters. It is not easy. Nothing worth doing is easy. You have to want your work out in the world more than you fear rejection. I can't stress that point enough. If you do not try to pursue your writing, your characters will die and that is tragic. You have to want them to live more than you fear them being rejected.

The life of a writer is a marathon not a sprint. When you get your first contract is is not "over" and you are not "set", the race continues. My first publisher folded leaving my successful first series, The Strangely Beautiful saga, currently out of print. I thought my career was over two years after it had just begun. But the Magic Most Foul saga helped pick me up from the ruins and now I'm working with a house I've always dreamed of working with, a house at the top of their game (Tor/Macmillan), so you have to put on your armor and trust you can fight the good fight no matter the battle. Rise from the ashes, like the phoenix that factors into my Strangely Beautiful saga. Perseverence. You have to want to keep writing more than the pain that surrounds all of it.

How I started: I started learning about the publishing industry by perusing the Writer's Market, scouring it really, and by talking to a few writer friends I met while touring the country doing theatre. The Writer's Market is like a phone book for the publishing industry and contains useful structural advice on how to craft query letters and proposal packages. The most important skills in the next step towards publishing. Finish your full manuscript before you begin to query. This does not apply for non-fiction but for all fiction. Once you've published a few novels you might be able to sell just on synopsis or sample chapters but it is not recommmended for debut authors. Have the best first three chapters you can possibly write, because you cannot resubmit after rejection unless you are asked to.

Preditors and Editors: A great resource for pros and cons of certain publishers and agents, there is a comprehensive industry listing: http://pred-ed.com/ 

For agent listings, check out http://agentquery.com and Publisher's Marketplace listings: http://publishersmarketplace.com/. The Writer's Market also has agent sections. Some New York publishing houses will accept unagented submissions, most will not. Independent and smaller presses often accept unagented submissions. Do your homework. Don't just send mass letters. Personalize them with the proper names to the proper attention. Another thing I can't stress enough. Query and submit how each house and agent prefers. Do not submit to agents/houses not looking for your work or not accepting submissions, it just wastes everyone's time and energy. Many people get rejected outright because they didn't follow simple submission instructions and so their manuscripts get rejected without even a glance. Submission instructions are found on publisher and agent sites, they vary from house to house and by individual.

Genre organizations:

If you are writing Childrens' Fiction / Kid Lit / Middle Grade / Young Adult: www.scbwi.org
I have many YA author friends who swear by SCBWI group, have credited it with their work getting better, finding critique groups, getting agents, contracts, etc. Join the local chapter, go to meetings, go to their conference, etc. Networking is key. Local chapters around the country.

Science Fiction / Fantasy: At some point once you've either short story or novel sales under your belt, you'll want to join http://sfwa.org - one of my favourite resources of all. Even before you qualitfy to join, make yourself familiar with the resources on that site. Peruse the list of "qualifying publishers" - a lot of Fantasy authors get their start by writing short stories in the market and then moving on to novels. The "qualifying publishers" list means these are publishers known for paying their clients industry standard prices, abiding by proper copyright laws, decent contracts, etc. I may be a little biased but one of the best Sci-Fi/Fantasy houses also has one of the best online presences: http://tor.com You can really get a sense of what's trending and going on in the industry by following them. Short vs. Novel: Personally, I published novels first and then began publishing short stories. there's no right way or silver bullet, other than continuing to hone your craft, take constructive criticism and keep submitting.

RWA National: http://www.rwa.org/ - If there's any romance in your stories, even just as a sub-plot you should join RWA. Romance Writers of America, the most comprehensive and up to date resource in all of genre publishing. Romance is a huge market and a great way to network, with opportunities in digital publishing abounding. If you're making the investment, this is all worth it to join ( and a tax write off ).There are local chapters all around America and Romance writer societies in England and Australia as well. The Futuristic / Fantasy / Paranormal chapter I'm involved with and recommend highly: FF and P, runs the national Prism Awards, http://romance-ffp.com and a YA chapter I've been a part of: http://yarwa.com as well as every subgenre. So once you join RWA, join the sub-genre chapter that applies to your books, there's a chapter for everyone, both in your state and online. Find your local chapter and go to meetings in person. It was RWA that helped make everything happen for me out of the gate and remains a critical resource. RWA is an OPEN organization. You do not have to be published to join. Most other writers' organizations have eligibility requirements. But like I said with SFWA, peruse their sites for resources, author information, conferences, networking opportunities. From RWA as a hub, the other resources flow outward like spokes of a wheel.
 
Mystery writers: http://mysterywriters.org/
 
Horror writers: http://horror.org/ (Horror, in addition to Sci-Fi/Fantasy also has a good deal of short story markets)
 
Thriller writers: http://thrillerwriters.org/ - Also keep track of http://criminalelement.com

Sign up for the mailing lists of your local bookstores for their author events. Stores doing programming offer great book talks, signings, and aspiring writers can learn a lot from panels of published authors, as everyone is going to have a different story and their own advice. While you are at the bookstore, take note of what publisher is publishing what kind of book so you can familiarize yourself with the industry. What covers draw your eye? Who publishes them? Follow your favorite publishing houses and your favorite authors and see how they do what they do and learn from those you admire and respect, but always with the sense of your own craft, style and stories.

Go to conferences. Invest in them. I've gotten most things in my life by networking, being in the right place at the right time, responding to opportunities when they come up, being ready and always being seen and active. Be generous to your fellow author, as best you can. Be nice. Be nice. Be nice. Karma is real. Be professional, be willing to learn. Keep learning. Never think your book is "perfect" because then you'll be a holy terror to editors. But get it to the best it can possibly be. And then look to your editor as if they're a director and you're an actor, it's their job to make you look good on the stage that is publishing. I have very vital relationships with my editors and they always make my books better for their input. I still network and do events as much as I did when I began, they remain as vital now as then.

Find local writerly Meetup Groups. Yes, writing is solitary in the act itself, but utterly collaborative in getting anywhere.
 
Hopefully that's a start on some resources, thoughts, general tips, the business side of it is really a lot like auditioning for a show, I learned that from all my years as a professional actress. Having a good query letter and sample chapters is like an audition. Organizations like SCBWI and RWA, because they are open to aspiring authors in particular, will be very helpful in cultivating good query letters, synopses, proposal packages, etc, and allowing you opportunities for workshops in those areas.

The most important aspect of course is to dream big, respect your craft and just be persistent. Perseverence wins the day. You don't have to write every day. But most days. Discipline is key. Find out your process and work with it. There is no "right" way. I do not write in a linear fashion. I am all over the map. I have met every kind of writer. The only kind of writer who ISN'T a writer is one who is not WRITING. Write whatever needs to get out from your head and onto the page, you can fix it later. Don't second-guess yourself to death. Find one or two trusted critique partners and set deadlines for yourself. Take constructive criticism well. Be willing to edit. Make yourself accountable for progress. Give yourself treats when you hit a goal. Be flexible. The industry requires 3 Ps: Perseverence, Patience (publishing houses take forever to get back to you), and Passion. If you don't care about your work and career, no one else will.
 
And then on that blessed day when your book is on that shelf there is nothing like it in all the world. Trust me. But, then of course, steel yourself. Not everyone will love your book. Some people will HATE your book and tell everyone they know to burn it. You just can't let it phase you. No one likes everything, that's why taste is subjective.
 
Don't let anyone tell you NO or belittle your dreams, whether that applies to writing books or any passion, anyone who does that is just jealous they are not pursuing their own dreams. Being a writer is hard. It takes more discipline than I have to give every day, and yet it is what I am called to do. Being a writer may be hard, but it is not stupid or silly. I am shocked by stories of my fellow writers being put down or discouraged by unsupportive people in their lives. Storytelling, in my humble opinion, is one of the most noble professions in the world. Again, nothing that's ever worth doing isn't full of a lot of hard work and suffering in the hope of triumph. Blessings and best wishes to all the aspiring writers of the world, I am cheerleading for you and with you. Cheers,
 
Leanna Renee
 
Please visit my website for more about my books and stories, goodies and things. And I'm always around on these here interwebz one way or another, so feel free to give a greeting (and yes, because I was compelled to write this post recently by those in the Harry Potter fandom, I do answer to the name Narcissa and/or Lady Malfoy).

2 comments:

houndstooth said...

You certainly wrote a very detailed and long list for people! It's always seemed funny to us that people would expect someone to just give away their time and talent. Perhaps they don't see it that way, or are just lazy and greedy. Everyone thinks that they're the exception to the rule, I suppose! We certainly enjoy your tales at our house!

Bunny, your canine fan

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this! It was a pleasure to hear you read and to meet you at OctopodiCon. I hope to bump into you again at other events!

Lacy