Saturday, September 22, 2012

So You Want to Be A Writer

Hello folks,

(With updates 10/2019)
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 of the STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL saga and the ETERNA FILES series for Tor Books, and the Magic Most Foul YA series beginning with DARKER STILL as well as lots of novellas and short stories and the new Spectral City saga with Kensington, beginning with THE SPECTRAL CITY and continuing with A SANCTUARY OF SPIRITS. I am an actress (proud Member of Actor Unions AEA and SAG-AFTRA), a playwright, a floor director at a Manhattan TV studio, a licensed New York City tour guide working for Boroughs of the Dead, I travel constantly on the Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Steampunk and Historical convention circuits and I create unique Gothic, Neo-Victorian and Steampunk accessories on Etsy. I am more busy than I can begin to describe, all on looming deadlines and rotating 5 freelance jobs in the most hectic of cities. 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. And I can't give out free copies of my books, I don't have stock of them to give away. Please note: This is not a resource for self-publishing. That hasn't been my preferred route so I'll not be helpful there. 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 for life, the race continues. My first publisher folded leaving my successful first series, The Strangely Beautiful saga, in the dust, along with all the money (royalties) owed it. 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 work with a house I've always dreamed of working with Tor Books, (a division of Macmillan) who have worked to reissue STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL in a revised, author-preferred edition as well as launch my latest ETERNA FILES. There is always another place to turn, always another chance provided you don't get discouraged and quit. Kensington came to me, asking if I had a series to place with a new line, and I had the Spectral City proposal package at the ready to offer.

Publishing is full of ups and downs and uncertainties. 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. Perseverance. You have to want to keep writing more than the pain and uncertainty, financial and emotional, 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 recommended 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: (Currently under revision) 

Check WRITER BEWARE: - for tips and advice! Great site, highly recommended.

For agent listings, check out and Publisher's Marketplace listings: The Writer's Market also has agent sections. Some New York publishing houses will accept un-agented submissions, most will not. Independent and smaller presses often accept un-agented 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. Following agents on Twitter has created some great pitching and querying opportunities. Keep an eye out for scams. Anyone asking you to pay them up front is not legitimate. Agents get a cut after they sell your work and negotiate your deals and contracts. Twitter has some drawbacks but it is very connected in terms of authors, editors, agents, publishers and publicity departments.

Genre organizations:

If you are writing Childrens' Fiction / Kid Lit / Middle Grade / Young Adult:
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 - one of my favorite resources and I've been a member from the moment I could join. Even before you qualify 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: 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: - 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. I recommend the Futuristic / Fantasy / Paranormal chapter: FF and P, runs the national Prism Awards,, there's a YA chapter 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: They have chapters all around the country, joining MWA was one of the best things I've done! Tons of opportunities and networking!

Historical Writers: (Fiction, non, Historical Fantasy too) Join the Historical Novel Society! (I'm a member of this too!)
Horror writers: (Horror, in addition to Sci-Fi/Fantasy also has a good deal of short story markets)
Thriller writers: - Also keep track of as a fantastic resource!

Events: 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. That first Writer's Market I started with also had great query letter tips and examples.

The most important aspect of course is to dream big, respect your craft and just be persistent. Perseverance 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 never ever 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: Perseverance, 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 and happy haunting!
Leanna Renee
Please visit my website for more about my books, enjoy free reads and stories, goodies and such. And I'm usually around on social media one way or another, so feel free to give a greeting!

Cheers and happy haunting!
Leanna on Twitter:


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!