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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Advice for Newbie Authors

1. Take Your Time

I know, you've got the next Great American Classic ready to roll. All you need to do is put down about 200,000 words and hit the publish button. Within a month, okay - maybe six weeks, you'll be lauded as the next Hemingway.

Here's my advice - slow down buster!

Many will tell you the same tale; it takes a year from start to finish - first words down to publication. And that's if you're lucky. For my smaller novels (60K to 75K words), it's been an average of nine months each. I have two larger works in rewrites (both more than 120K words), and they were started more than 18 months ago. This task takes time...if you want to do it right.

That worst part is when you are all done: betas say yes, you've fixed those pesky rewrites your editor insisted upon, and you've read your darling one last time, cover to cover, to be sure that everything is perfect. And now you're ready to hit the publish button.

Ah, the publish button, yes. However, before striking that key, you need to be sure your manuscript is properly formatted and will come out the other end looking like a novel - not something you produced in third grade. Formatting will take time, more time than you plan. Because even when properly formatted, sometimes your output looks - well, trashy.

I've had chapter titles slide down the page with each successive chapter. I've had pages that went beyond the printable area. I had three pages of back matter magically condense into one and in tiny little font.

There's going to be issues in every step of this process. So relax, enjoy it, and do your best. That novel you are starting tomorrow will not be ready for Christmas. And that's okay.

2. Read, A LOT!

Read every day if you can. And read outside your genre of choice. If you do this, something amazing could happen. You may become a better writer.

On average, I read a book a week. Now some of these are mere novellas, short works of fiction. But others are actual large epic classics. The point is this, I read a lot. Probably two hours per day is my average. And you should too.

I know, I know - you have a busy life. Maybe you have kids at home; I'm an empty nester. Perhaps you are going to school; not me. Maybe you work two jobs; don't we all? Whatever your excuse, is just that - an excuse. I too work a full-time job. I too spend two hours plus a day work on my books. I too have family and the commitments a family brings. But I still make time to read.

When I read the first Jack Reacher novel, I was in the midst of creating my first manuscript (Golden 5 - not yet released). I found something unique about Lee Child's first novel; it had a lot of short sentences. Three, four, and five-word sentences covered the pages. At first I didn't get it, I found the writing simple, too simple perhaps. But the further I read, the more I discovered that it matched his character perfectly.

Ever read The Great Gatsby? No? You should. It is a literary masterpiece in my mind. The flow sweeps the reader into the 1920s and the lives of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald's use of language, and all its elements, amazes me to this day. Give it a read, or a reread. You will learn what the masters have, and how they use it.

3. Don't Take Yourself, or your writing, Too Seriously

This is an important bit of advice. Because creating a manuscript, having it beta read, muscling through rewrites, having it edited, and fussing over the last few fixes has a tendency to create a monster. And that monster is your baby - your novel.

By this time everyone you know will have told you how great it is that you wrote a book; whether they read the beast or not. "I could never do that," is a common phrase you will hear. You mother will tell all she meets what a wonderful writer her baby has become. The praise will be never-ending, head swelling, and lethal.

Lethal? you ask. Yes, LETHAL!

Here comes your first review; they loved your book. Okay, they liked your book. To the reviewer it's obvious this is your first novel, and they give reasons. Your blood pressure rises. Then they mention the book could use a good edit; your fists clench. What the devil do they think my relatives were doing? you ask yourself. It shows promise, but the author shouldn't quit his/her day job...just yet at least. Here it comes; are you ready?

They give it two stars. Not a literary masterpiece, but worth reading...perhaps.

Let me bring you in on a little secret. You see a lot of books on Amazon, a whole bunch. And you can find many books languishing mid-range (say 1.5 to 1.8 million on the Amazon scale). And a lot of these books have a dozen or more five-star ratings. Perhaps your work will as well. That's what friends and family can do for you. They give you a nice boost, but it never actually helps sales.

At the end of the day, most authors will be lucky to sell 500 copies of any book - in their lifetime.

This is a tough business, people. It helps to have a good sense of worth, and tough thick skin. And a decent sense of humor doesn't hurt either.

Two weeks to Christmas; enjoy the holiday season, however you celebrate. And consider buying a small child their first book.