Great Nuggets of Writing Advice

Maria Schneider of Editor Unleashed celebrates the one-year anniversary of her blog by sharing some great nuggets of writing wisdom collected from authors, agents, and editors.

What writing advice do you have?

“Never give up, no never means no. Keep writing. As my mentor Howard Fast (author of Spartacus and 80 other novels) used to tell me when I’d say I had writer’s block: “‘Plumbers don’t get plumbers block. A page a day is a book a year.’” –Susan Sharpiro

“In many cases, authors understand the market for their book better than the publisher and can do a better job of reaching that audience. But they first need to understand that it’s now part of their job to do that, and they need to embrace it. Marketing can be fun!” –Michael Bourret

“Be generous. Spread ideas. Give things away. Write, share and repeat.” –Seth Godin

“I love real life. I love finding and telling stories, with the deep hope that it will somehow change the reader. Fiction can do that too, of course, but I have always wanted to find real stories and draw people to them, reveal something of life to them that they might not otherwise have a chance to see.” -Susan Orlean

“If you are clever, you’ll share the information that’s important to the audience, and not necessarily the contents of your book.” –Chris Brogan

“When it’s time to think of a new book idea, sitting in front of my computer and trying to squeeze something out just doesn’t work for me. But, when I’m running or on the bus or supposed to be writing something else, that’s when the characters come to me and the plots form. I try to just let myself be open to the flow and carry a pen with me.”-Julie Kraut

“If you’re a writer, then blogging should be a no-brainer for you. Read all the available resources on how to have a successful blog, then get going. Target your blog toward the exact audience you’re writing your books for.” –Rachelle Gardner

Continue

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Using the Internet to Write a Novel

Here’s a very fine how-to from Mashable for using the Web to write your novel – or nonfiction book, article, essay, etc.  It covers organization, research, writing, connecting with other writers, and publishing.

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Five Questions to Ask about Your Fiction

Great advice here from novelist Charles Baxter on what you should ask yourself about your story.

There are about five questions you can ask yourself about stories, and they’re not foolproof, but they’re useful. One is, what do these characters want? Second is, what are they afraid of? Third is, what’s at stake in this story? Fourth is, what are the consequences of these scenes or these actions? And the last one is, how does the language of this story reflect the world of the story itself?

Now, if a writer is writing a story and looks at you and says, “I don’t know what my characters want; I don’t think they want much of anything,” then the story is in trouble. If you don’t know what’s at stake in the story, it means that nothing stands to be gained or lost in the course of it. Something has to be risked. The characters have to want something or to wish for something. They have to be allowed to stay up past eleven o’clock and to make mistakes. If there’s a flaw that many beginning writers have, it is that their characters don’t risk enough. They are just sitting in chairs having ideas. I had a student a few months ago, when I was in residency at a university, who said, I don’t want my characters to do anything, I just want them to think through the problem of nature vs. culture.

That’s not exactly a story, is it?

That’s what I tried to tell her. But she was determined to write a story about issues. I mean, this is an old thing to say, but if you want to write something about issues, write an essay. That’s what essays are for. If you want to see the consequences of ideas, write a story. If you want to see the consequences of belief, write a story in which somebody is acting on the ideas or beliefs that she has. But that’s why it’s important to have a sense of what your characters want.

(Via Jane Friedman)

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Understanding Royalties and Advances in Publishing

Here’s a nice, short write-up from Writer’s Digest on how the advance and royalty system works in publishing.  Good to know if you’re planning to write and publish.

If you’re going to wheel and deal with agents and editors, you’ll end up spending more time than you’d like discussing rights, contracts, advances, royalties and a whole lot of other boring important stuff. That said, I want to address a recent question that came in over e-mail regarding how advances and royalties work. In other words, how does the payment process work when you sell a book?

For this example, I’ll keep it real simple (for my own sake and well as yours). Let’s say you acquire an agent and sell a novel. The publishing house offers you royalties of $3 per book sold.
It’s probable that you’ll be given money in advance – more specifically: an advance against royalties. What this means is that they give you a lump sum of money before the book comes out as payment that’s yours to keep – say, $60,000. However, the money is not in addition to royalties, but rather part of royalties – meaning they’ve given you royalties for the first 20,000 books (times $3/book) upfront. Since they’ve already paid you the royalties of the first 20,000 books, you will not starting actually making $3/book until you sell the copy 20,001.

Think of it like this. When you get hired at a new job, you ask for several months pay upfront and the boss agrees. It’s not a separate signing bonus you’re getting – it’s your hard-earned money paid to you early. You get the lump sum quickly, but then you don’t get paid again till the regular checks start months later.

Many things to consider:

  • Royalties per book vary greatly. If you get $3/book, that’s pretty darn good. If you write a typical nonfiction book, you may just get $1/book.
  • Advances against royalties are a pretty sweet deal. You get a lump sum upfront, which you get to keep even if the book fairs poorly.  (Repeat: The advance is yours. Period.) But if the book takes off, you will start getting royalties down the road.
  • Reality check: Be aware that the money amount promised will hit your bank account as a lot less than expected, as Uncle Sam will take a big cut and your agent takes 15%.
  • You may run into a “flat fee” situation, where a publishing company pays you one sum of money upfront with no talk of royalties. This is legitimate – just make sure it’s what you want.
  • It’s common for a house to break up the advance. They may give you $30,000 when you sign the contract and then $30,000 upon completion of an acceptable manuscript. On this note, make sure you turn in an “acceptable manuscript,” so that you get to not only receive the second payment, but also keep the first one, and not have a publisher demand it back.
  • Read your contract thoroughly. It’s all spelled out.
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Before Writing a Book, 6 Points to Consider

White Books
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Tony Morgan shares 6 points to consider before writing a book.  Good advice. (HT Michael Hyatt)

Since I’ve been involved in several book projects, I’m frequently approached by aspiring writers who are interested in the process. I’m certainly not the expert on getting a book published, but I have learned some things over the last number of years that might be helpful for you.

With that in mind, here are a few thoughts for you to consider…

Don’t write a book. Begin by writing in your journal. Write blog posts. Get your article published in a magazine or on someone else’s website. If your idea and your writing aren’t strong enough to be published in a magazine or on a website, it’s not strong enough to be published in a book.

Don’t assume if you have a book, someone will publish it. People who get published rarely go looking for a publisher. Typically, the publishers go looking for the authors. Or, the authors have literary agents who handle those conversations. If a publisher isn’t approaching you about writing a book, that’s a pretty good sign that you probably don’t have a book to publish.

Don’t start out to write a book. Start out with something to say. For lots of people, the goal is to get a book published. That shouldn’t be your goal. Your goal should be to spread good stories or ideas. If you don’t have a good story or idea to spread, you need to start there.

Don’t write a book if you’re not a writer. At the end of the day, if you can’t write you can’t get published. And, just because you can get up in front of people and talk, doesn’t necessarily mean you can get behind a keyboard and write. There’s an art to writing. Some people have it. Most people don’t. (If you have a strong idea or a good story, you may need to find a writer to help you get it published.)

Don’t try to write a book if you’re not willing to get disciplined with your time. Manuscripts just don’t drop out of the sky. You have to outline. You have to draft. You have to rewrite. You have to edit. You have to promote. You have to sell. It takes time. If you’re unwilling to prioritize your time, you shouldn’t write a book.

Don’t plan on making money. Unless your name is Rick Warren or Joel Osteen, you’re not going to make money writing a book. At best, you may get a platform from writing a book. Of course, the challenge there is that you have to have a platform before a publisher will even consider your book.

I know. You’re skeptical. So, for those of you who write books or publish books, I’ll let you chime in and tell me where I’m wrong.

Until then, don’t write a book.

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Charles Dickens’s Advice to an Aspiring Writer

Charles Dickens
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Jane Friedman shares some words of wisdom here about the process of becoming a writer, illustrated by a letter written by Charles Dickens.  She’s right, you’ll have to be bad for a while before you become good.

Ira Glass has some of the best advice I’ve ever read for writers, at least in relation to great storytelling. He’s said that you have to be willing to be bad at what you do for a long time until you actually can achieve the vision of perfection you have in your head. He even puts himself out on a limb and offers recordings illuminating how bad he was at radio when he first started.

I was reminded of Ira when my writer-friend Teresa Fleming shared with me the following letter from Charles Dickens, where he responds to an aspiring writer.

Tuesday, Feb. 5th, 1867.
DEAR SIR,

I have looked at the larger half of the first volume of your novel, and have pursued the more difficult points of the story through the other two volumes.

You will, of course, receive my opinion as that of an individual writer and student of art, who by no means claims to be infallible.

I think you are too ambitious, and that you have not sufficient knowledge of life or character to venture on so comprehensive an attempt. Evidences of inexperience in every way, and of your power being far below the situations that you imagine, present themselves to me in almost every page I have read. It would greatly surprise me if you found a publisher for this story, on trying your fortune in that line, or derived anything from it but weariness and bitterness of spirit.

On the evidence thus put before me, I cannot even entirely satisfy myself that you have the faculty of authorship latent within you. If you have not, and yet pursue a vocation towards which you have no call, you cannot choose but be a wretched man. Let me counsel you to have the patience to form yourself carefully, and the courage to renounce the endeavour if you cannot establish your case on a very much smaller scale. You see around you every day, how many outlets there are for short pieces of fiction in all kinds. Try if you can achieve any success within these modest limits (I have practised in my time what I preach to you), and in the meantime put your three volumes away.

Faithfully yours.

Yikes, right? (You can read more Dickens letters here.)

Here’s the secret, though: If you’re the writer, do you read this and think: I should just stop trying.

Or do you read this and think: He doesn’t know how wrong he is!


Writers in training know they’re not good, but they know they’re getting better. And they go on to fight another day.

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Stephen King and Jerry Jenkins Give Writing Advice

Great insights here from two very accomplished writers – in very different genres.  King and Jenkins have been friends for a while, and were interviewed together by Writer’s Digest.  Good advice and inspiration for authors and aspiring authors.

Some snippets:

HOW DID THE TWO OF YOU MEET?

JENKINS: We happened to have the same audio reader, a brilliant voice actor named Frank Muller. In November 2001 Frank was in a horrible motorcycle accident that left him brain damaged, incapacitated and barely able to speak. One of Frank’s brothers started a foundation to assist with the obscene expenses, and Stephen became aware that I was helping out.

Stephen was carrying the lion’s share, undoubtedly contributing more than half of the total the foundation raised, but he called me one day to thank me for my part and to suggest other ways we might be able to help Frank. Needless to say, when my assistant told me Stephen King was on the phone, I quickly ran through my list of practical joking friends to decide how to greet whoever was claiming to be him. But, just in case, I said my usual, “This is Jerry.”

I had to squelch a laugh when he said, “Steve King.”

Who calls Stephen King “Steve”? Well, Stephen King does. We learned that we read each other’s stuff and laughed about being strange bedfellows. Then we agreed to [meet to] visit Frank at a rehabilitation facility.

WHAT COMPELS YOU TO WRITE?

JENKINS: I write because I can’t do anything else. I like to say I don’t sing or dance or preach; this is all I do. But I [also] have a passion for my subject matter. I was a sportswriter as a teenager (after being injured playing sports), but felt called to full-time Christian work. I thought that would mean I’d have to give up writing and become a pastor or a missionary. I was thrilled to find out I could use my budding writing gift and accomplish the same thing.

KING: Jerry’s direct and correct: I can’t do anything else. And every day I marvel that I can get money for doing something I enjoy so much.

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