Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What does it take to get published?

I think this is my hard questions page, and because of that I'm going to pinpoint some things that I think prevent people from getting published. (Disclaimer: I'm not published yet, so I include myself in the not-there-yets. Also, you are free to disagree with me, especially if you are a published author, an editor, or an agent. But after hanging out with writers and being one for the past many years, these are things I see as barriers.) And yes, I know there are a lot of variables that writers simply can't control, and sometimes timing and taste have more to do with it than the writing. But the variables are only part of it. So these are common problems I've seen and/or experienced:

1.
Not willing to stick with a project and revise deep enough before sending it out. If you only lightly revise, you can send out your book before it's truly ready, and get rejected everywhere. Then if you decide to go back and do that revision after all, there's nowhere left to send it. Put the brakes on! Revise, take a break and work on something else, then come back and see if it's still as glorious as you thought it was the day you wrote "the end." It's hard to tell when it's time to truly pack away a ms. But there are some that get packed away that are almost there, and with a little more polish, might be somebody's favorite book. This is heartbreaking.

2.
Revising one book for years at the expense of new, better books you could write. It's hard to find the line sometimes, but if you've really revised and gotten nowhere, maybe it's good to take a break and write something new. You can always come back to that first book once you've grown a bit and learned from other books.

3.
Assuming you know all you need to already. Learn all you can. Read recent books. Take notes on books you read. Why did this one succeed? Read agent and editor blogs. Go to conferences. Hang out on boards like Verla Kay's. Read books on craft. Don't wait for information to magically drop into your head. It's your writing future; you are responsible for how much you choose to learn.

4.
Discounting the value of critiques, especially the ones you do. It's not all about you. I've said this before, but you can learn more from critiquing others' works than you can from just getting crits of your own stuff.

5. Staying where it's too easy. Swim deep. Seek out opportunities to interact with writers whose skills are slightly above yours. Read books that editors use. If everyone who reads your stuff is only saying good things, maybe you need to find someone to critique your book who will be a little more...critical.

6. Lack of attention to craft. Work on these two things: nouns and verbs, and overall plot structure. The attention to word choice will help with voice, and the large-scale plot structure will make sure your book is a cohesive story.

6 comments:

Sarah said...

Rose, I hope you don't mind if I add to your list. Here are two more barriers that writers create for themselves.

Fear. The writer is too scared to show her work to anyone or attend a conference or join a critique group. She is so frightened of failure that she will not sub her manuscript. She writes in a dark closet and arranges for her computer files to disappear the moment she dies--so no one can ever read them. (This fear also happens to established writers and artists. Did you know that Sibelius burned his last symphony before anyone but his wife saw it, because he was afraid it wasn’t good enough?) A writer will overcome her fears, real and imaginary.

Giving up. This is the writer who stops writing too soon. How many authors publish their first book? Most first books written by published authors are in a drawer or under a bed. It is common to write three or four books before being published. But the writer is allowed the hope that the first book will find a home while writing their second book and their third and....

Rose Green said...

Yes. The more I write the more I realize that writing is a community event. Writers who are afraid to let anyone to see their work will never be published. Even with a contract, you will have to come under the scrutiny of an editor, and you will have to revise. Writers who can't handle gentle suggestions from people who care about them will not stand up to ten pages of editorial suggestion!

And regarding people who keep writing until a book sticks, Jennifer Lyn Barnes and Mette Ivie Harrison are some of my heroes. 10-20 books before one of them crossed the publishing line. That's dedication!

Danette Haworth said...

Yes, good observations, Rose. Sarah, you're right on, too!

Natalie said...

These are great, Rose and Sarah. I'd also add just one more--read, read, read. Not just the good stuff, but the not-so-good stuff, too. It's a great opportunity to analyze why certain aspects worked for you and what didn't work. And I know Rose is one of the most avid readers of YA out there, and it shows in her writing and words of wisdom here and on Verla's.

Great post, Rose!

Rose Green said...

Thanks, Natalie! I only wish reading was easier in German...sigh.

Barrie said...

Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting on my author photo. Now I've found you too!!