As many of you know, a week or two ago I opened up the comments section of
this post to anyone who wanted to ask questions regarding writing or
As I was sorting through and answering the questions, I noticed many, many
trends, the biggest of which was this:
Everyone is in a hurry.
I want to be a writer, but I don’t
know how to get published.
Wait. Take your time. That sentence is like saying “I want to be a runner but I don’t know how to get on the Olympic team.”
First, you have to earn your spot on the team. You do that by practicing and studying and spending hour upon hour upon hour learning your sport and honing your skills.
You do that by not skipping the step where you learn how to do that.
I have a book I want to write but I
don’t know how to introduce a character.
Or start the chapters. Or make
the characters different from each other.
Wait. Take your time. Read a whole bunch of books.
Now, I’m sure many of you will probably say but I read all the time, and I’m sure you do. But if you’re still asking that question then
you haven’t yet learned to read as a writer.
Reading as a writer means reading and noticing not just what the characters are doing,
but also what the writer is doing.
How did she transition from one scene to the next? How did he introduce that character and then reveal a big plot twist 100 pages later that totally changes the way you see that character? How. How. How.
Read one hundred books that way and you’ll have the answers to a lot of those questions.
I want to write a series, but I don’t
know how much to put in book one. Or
whether I should plot all six books at once.
Or how many the publishers will buy at first. Or…
Wait. Take your time. It’s great to have writing a series someday
as a GOAL, but learning to write takes time.
Writing a book takes time.
Writing a series of books is a massive undertaking that few people ever
complete. And they do it one book at a
I want to write a book but I don’t
know how to get it published.
Wait. Take your time. Write your book. Nothing else can or will happen without
it. And I mean nothing.
You can’t sell your idea. You can’t
sell your intentions. You can’t sell
your dream or your goal either. What you
can sell is your book. And until you
have it, any question about agents or editors or publishers or publicists or
anything else is entirely premature.
I’ve been working on a book but every
time I write something it sounds really bad.
Wait. Take your time. A finished book doesn’t happen over night. A good book takes even more time than that.
I just finished Uncommon Criminals (Heist Society 2), and before I sent it
to my editor for the final time, I did some quick calculations. The best I can tell, I’ve spent about 900
hours plotting, researching, writing and rewriting that book. Nine hundred hours.
This takes time. It takes WORK. It takes putting in the hours—sometimes more
than a thousand of them—to get the story and the characters and the words just
I’ve written a book but I don’t have time to find an agent. Or don’t know how to get an editor. Or don’t know anyone in publishing. Or…
Wait. Take your time. Learning this business is hard work. And yes, it is work. And yes, it’s work you have to do yourself.
There are no shortcuts or tricks or trade secrets. There are simply publishable books and non-publishable books. Period. And if you have a book that you genuinely believe might be publishable, then spending an hour or two and let Google teach you enough to start the process of finding an agent and a publisher and all that.
But you have to spend those hours. You. And then, once you know the basics, you have to dig deeper. You have to do the legwork and the grunt work. Why? Because it’s your career. I know this because I did it. And my friends did it. And every other working writer out there did it too.
We know it because that’s the way this works–work being the operative word.
Nine hundred hours, folks. And that was for just one book–my eighth, in fact. It doesn’t include the one novel and three screenplays that I wrote before going pro.
You can’t skip over the learning how to write phase. Please believe me when I say you need to go through the learn how this business works phase. You have to wade through bad drafts to get to good drafts; bad books to get to good books.
You have to put in the time, is what I’m trying to say.
And that time, believe it or not, is up to you. To find it. To do it. To make the most of it because–and here’s the kicker–this thing…this writing thing…it’s optional.
It’s something you do because you WANT to do it. It’s something you do because you LIKE to do it. It’s something that YOU do.
I’m not going to do your work for you. Neither are your parents or your teachers or your friends. You have to want it and you have to want it badly, because–just as an example–my agent Kristin Nelson just did her 2010 year-end blog post and reported that her agency received 36,000 queries from potential clients this year. (Yes, thirty-six thousand.)
Of those 36,000, the agency signed 9 new clients. (Yes, nine.)
So no one’s going to hand you a publishable book. No one is going to give you an agent or a contract or even tell you how to get an agent or a contract.
You have to work for those things. You have to earn them.
And that starts by putting yourself in a chair and not getting up.
For approximately 900 hours.