“A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever” wrote 19th century writer Martin Tupper, a sentiment almost universally shared.
But what about the author? Whenever I’ve had a new book published, along with some congratulations, you’d be surprised at some of the comments. “You’re so lucky” from a fellow-writer, meaning that talent had little to do with it. Several readers have told me that they have thought about writing a book “but I just don’t have time” as though that’s the only thing needed, and they are far too busy to waste it, as I have obviously been doing. I had one phone call from a lady who gushed: “I was delighted to read that you have a new book out, as I thought you’d died years ago!”
Such is fame! But what about if you seriously want to write your first book. What are the chances of having it published? Think positively and remember no-one was a famous author before writing that first novel. There is always the fear of “will I be good enough?” because writing a book demands an enormous commitment in time and energy, with no guarantee that it will be successful. You do need an almost demonic compulsiveness to invest perhaps years in such a project. You should choose a theme which reflects a way of life with which readers can identify. If a book doesn’t move you, if its characters don’t arouse your compassion and the emotional progress of the story isn’t fascinating, then the writer has failed.
This applies to every genre, even to children’s books, where a lack of sincerity is immediately spotted. Each book, like each life, is unique – the rites of passage of courtship and marriage; the birth of offspring; the onset of old age; personal tragedies and triumphs; the painful losses we accrue, and the people we meet and learn to love. This doesn’t mean that every book we write is an autobiography, yet in a way it is for every work of creation is a self-portrait. To be a writer, you must autograph it with excellence.
How do you get a book published? In practical terms, you write it – or a large part of it – and then send it out in the market-place. If you can’t do it alone, you try to find a literary agent to represent you, although for unknown writers, this can sometimes be more difficult than finding a publisher. Study successful books of the same genre you are writing, and see who publishes them. Then you might write to the publishing house, asking for permission to send them a synopsis and three sample chapters (never the whole ms. unless they ask for it). Don’t send anything without a query letter first – if it just comes across the transom, it will be consigned to the dreaded slush pile.
If your letter, which should be very creative, triggers their interest, you may get a reply – especially if you send a stamped-addressed return envelope, or the equivalent postage in International Reply Coupons (obtainable at main post offices).
With non-fiction, such as popular “How to….” Titles, send a Book Proposal consisting of a cover letter outlining your idea and your personal expertise in the area, plus clippings of anything you’ve had published on the subject. You should also include a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, with the title of each chapter, plus a brief summary of what it will contain. Make the Book Proposal as attractive as possible, even using some computer graphics.
The bottom line for all publishers is how many copies they anticipate it will sell, for publishing is, after all, a business. There are publishers, the so-called vanity press, who will publish your book for a price and you must decide if you want to follow this route, which may be the only possibility for a first novel if you are unknown. However, there are some publishers who will take a risk if they see great potential and talent, or if they believe the author will enhance their prestige (it helps if you are a famous politician, military general or rock star).
With fiction, whether in the realm of novel or short story, to be effective you need a compelling plot, a hook opening, a successful and satisfying ending, and a middle that keeps the reader hoping, guessing and involved. Don’t overlook short stories as a break from your novel. In American and British magazines they pay very well and are a good way to give yourself short term rewards while you’re working on that full-length novel.
Very few authors become rich from writing books, unless you’re another John Grisham or can invent a Harry Potter, who is a phenomenon. Usually after your initial triumph, your book will only have a short shelf-life – some of mine disappeared a few months after I finished a book tour across America. Remember, there are thousands of new books coming out every year that you will have to compete with.
That said, being a writer is an exciting life. You don’t need capital to begin; you can write at your own speed; you can work from home and, as a male colleague once informed me, “you don’t even need to shave every day!”
The one quality you need to develop as a writer is the ability to accept rejection, because no writer can escape it. Insults are also par for the course. William Faulkner once wrote of Ernest Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary”; while Hemingway replied: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” But the greatest put-down I’ve ever heard came from someone called Moses Hadas: “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it!”
Happy writing! Several of my books, including my latest novel “Searching for Sarah” are available at discount from me . Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
I am always happy to hear your comments and to help you with any writing problems.
The first step when you begin a new writing project, is background research. This is the process of mapping out a particular subject area to gain an overview and understanding of the subject. It helps you become familiar with the vocabulary relating to the topic and narrow the focus.
Begin by studying materials that are introductory by nature. Different kinds of reference works and textbooks, both in print and online. Textbooks should probably be your first port of call. They have an educational agenda and help you learn new things. Different types of reference works can also be helpful. Encyclopaedias are a good source, and many can be accessed today on-line.
If you are doing historical research, use chronicles and chronologies. They present timelines of events, people and places in specific contexts. Atlases help you understand your area’s geographical contexts. As well as maps, some include information of the climate, economy, population and even statistics. You will find textbooks and reference works either in libraries or on the internet. Wikipedia is very helpful or Infoplease (www.infoplease.com), and there are many others.
As you immerse yourself in research, keep a record of the texts you’ve read and any useful facts you discover. When I began writing my bestseller “The Pomegranate Pendant” (now a movie “The Golden Pomegranate”) I was completely ignorant of my subject matter which was the first immigration of Yemenite Jews to Israel in the 19th century. As well as extensive reading, I visited the Israel Museum’s Ethnography Department to study how the Yemenite silversmiths made their beautiful filigree jewellery. I ate in a Yemenite restaurant called “The Yemenite Step” to study their food, and copied down all the menus; I listened to records of Yemenite singers; and finally asked friends to introduce me to any Yemenites whom they knew. I did 6 months’ research until I felt I knew my subject intimately before I wrote my first word. Of my 14 novels, this was the first and is still selling well today all over the world, in different languages. After 6 months of intense research, I felt completely sure of my facts and my characters came alive on the page with no effort. This was really the only time I undertook a subject I knew almost nothing about, at the request of the publisher, who gave me a generous advance to write it, as it was of special interest to him. But whenever you write, even if it’s fiction, make sure all your facts are true, your settings authentic, your dialogue the way people spoke at the time. It is a bonus when your work is not only enjoyable, but also educational. Happy writing!
I am always glad to hear your comments, and to help you with any writing problems. You can contact me at email@example.com Some of my books are available direct from me at discount prices, including my latest novel “Searching for Sarah”.
I’ve had a lot of queries from readers of my Blog lately, and would like to share some of them which might be helpful to you also.
“How important is the submission letter?” It is important to be clear and concise, giving a clear outline of what your work is about. Clarity, perfect English, brevity and an engaging style are all required. Don’t be cute with emojos .
“What do you think of publishers that ask you to pay some of the costs?” Look at the publisher’s website and have a look at one of their books. Publishing is a very expensive business, and if books are professionally edited and proof-read, you may have to pay for this, also if they supply the cover design. It can be money well spent if the end product fills you with pride.
“I get writer’s block and it makes me very depressed.” It’s like any job. If you’re given targets , it’s a case of getting on with it. You would lose any kind of job if you said you couldn’t do it because you had a “block”. However, when you work in isolation, you have to cope with lack of company, lack of stimulus – factors which decrease energy. Try a break for a few days – do something you enjoy, and then get back to work.
“If I attend a cookery course abroad, with the intention of writing a feature about it, should I tell them first? Would they give me the course free or at a discount, for the publicity?” It’s unlikely a cookery school would turn down the publicity. It depends if you are writing for a definite, assigned market. I think you should advise the school of it, since other students will be taking the course. They may be uneasy, knowing there’s a journalist among them. They may offer you the course free or subsidized, or may not. I’d start by trying to get a magazine interested, and go from there. But you can’t write about the course, or the other students, without their agreement.
I hope some of the above queries might be helpful to you too. You can send queries of your own to me at firstname.lastname@example.org; or buy my books at discount direct from me. My latest novel (no. 14) is: “Searching for Sarah.” Happy writing.
A follower of my Blog recently wrote to me that she was having trouble ending her articles in an interesting way. I hope I helped her with these tips:
YOU CAN ASK A QUESTION. This helps readers to continue thinking about the topic. e.g. Ending a travel article: Now that you know what’s waiting for you on this lovely Greek Isle, isn’t it time for you to start packing?
STATE A LITTLE KNOWN FACT. An article about a World-War II sinking of an American Navy’s smallest aircraft carrier by the giant Japanese fleet.e.g. speculation by both U.S. and Japanese naval experts has been indefinite and confused. When Japanese admiral Kurita was asked why the Japanese fleet withdrew Kurita remained silent and merely smiled a wry smile.”
USE A QUOTATION: In an article about how to use your word processor, William Zinsser =- a former editor of the Book-of-the Month Club, wrote: “The word processor will help you to achieve 3 cardinal goals – good writing, clarity, simplicity and humanity, if you make it your servant and not your master.”
LOOK TO THE FUTURE: This is an effective way to tie up a topic. Something like “The future of (your topic) is looking very bright indeed.”
MOTIVATION: You want readers to take some kind of action, after reading your piece. It might be to join an organization, make a donation, mail a letter, or simply think more seriously about a topic. So tell them what you’d like them to do.
SUMMARIZE YOUR ARTICLE: If it might be difficult to understand at first reading, give a brief summary of all the points you want to make.
Don’t change the tone of your article at the end – be consistent. It should stimulate readers, and leave them with a positive attitude towards whatever subject you covered. Opening paragraphs get more attention (especially from editors) but the writer of Ecclesiastes knew the way to satisfy readers: “Whatsoever thou takest in hand, remember the end, and thou shall never do amiss.”
If I can help you with a writing problem, contact me at email@example.com At the same e-mail address, you can purchase copies of my latest novel at discount: “Searching for Sarah.” I always enjoy your comments.
Lots of new writers start out by attending a Writers’ Workshop. I gave workshops for about 30 years, and I always enjoyed them and learnt as much from my students as they learned from me. Their enthusiasm sparked mine; their ideas gave birth to new ones for me; and many of them went on to become published writers and lifelong friends.
To get the most out of your workshop, and really feel you’ve had your money’s worth, here are a few tips:
Have something short prepared before you arrive. You can read it, as others will, as you are introduced to the group. Practise reading it aloud before you arrive.
Once students start talking, try to say something in the first 5 minutes. If you keep putting off contributing, you may never say anything.
If invited to read your work aloud, bite the bullet and go for it.
Don’t get too friendly with your neighbor too soon – it may distract you from the workshop content.
If you don’t understand something, ask the tutor to clarify it.
Collect all the handouts you are given – take a folder ready for them.
Join in the exercises, even if they’re not ideal for you.
Stay focused, and be the one to thank the tutor for the session.
Arrange a treat for yourself that evening. If it went well, you’ll feel on a high.
Before you attend, make sure you’ve got the following, and have them packed ready to take the day before: Pens and a notebook; any work you want to take with you; directions for getting there; a small bottle of water; a banana or lunch you’ll enjoy (if no refreshments are provided); your personal cards for networking; reading glasses and tissues. Make sure you’re dressed warmly enough.
Check out what the tutor has published before you choose whose workshop to attend. Have a lovely time!
My latest novel, “Searching for Sarah” and several more of my 14 published books, are available direct from me at discount prices, including “The Pomegranate Pendant” (now a film titled “The Golden Pomegranate”). You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org I am always happy to hear your comments and to help you with any writing problems.