Wednesday, January 19, 2011

So you've written a book or two...

I've written two book, why aren't I published yet?!?

In response to yesterday’s post, I figured I would discuss a little more about what is involved with actually getting a book published.

Step One: Write the damn book. New authors are unknowns. I know I’m not, but we’ll assume for a minute that I’m actually a run of the mill 30-something guy who’s trying to break into the fast-paced glamor that is writing.

I’ve written two books so far. A fantasy novel that’ll be part of a trilogy, and a modern day dysfunctional family story. Both are rough drafts, meaning I’ve ignored punctuation, spelling, and grammar, to just get the books written. Both started with a rough outline, but I pretty much winged it each day when I sat down to pump out my 1100 words.

I don’t stop to correct errors and I don’t stop to look up things that I don’t have an instant answer for. This can all be cleaned up during the editing phase, which incidentally, is not the next phase.

Step 2: Wait.

Wait a long time in order to distance yourself from the work. While I’m writing I know too much about the characters, I know what secrets they’re going to reveal in chapter 14, I know who really shot the sheriff, and I know that the cute waitress at the diner really was an alien from the planet Xyblox 4.

When I come back to the book after a while (few months for me) I’ll have a different perspective. If I was completely in love with a specific scene when I wrote it, I might realize that it doesn’t make sense when I edit it, or that it reveals too much too early in the story.

Step 3: Edit, then edit, then edit again. Really I need a good 3-5 passes at the entire work, each one taking quite a few hours each. This helps me make sure the plot works, characters are true to themselves, and pacing is good. I add in sections that need to be added in, and cut whole sections that don’t add to the story.

Step 4: Beta readers. This is when I mobilize my highly skilled band of secret editor friends that wait by their email clients for my call. They instantly rush to their digital reader devices to scour my latest revision and give me their honest feedback (and by honest I mean kiss-ass).

Step 5: Once I think it’s the BEST BOOK EVAR, I need to find an agent, or a publisher, but mostly an agent. You ‘can’ sell things directly to publishers, but unless my next book is better than The Notebook, which it totally is, chances are I’ll fare better by finding an agent. Which means I have to stun them with brightly colored paper and pop-up cut outs on my query letter. Throwing lots of glitter in there always helps. Agents love glitter.

Once I find an agent who thinks I’m the next John Scalzi (which of course I’m not…because my Scalzi clone is a closely guarded secret who’s never been let out of my basement), he/she/it will probably have some edits for me to do to make it more more palatable to the publishers. This is called selling out, and being the poser that I am, I’ll do it in a heartbeat.

Step 6: Said agent to the stars (my Scalzi-clone totally said I could use that phrase) then shops my book around to a publisher. This…could take a while. I have to sell them on my book, and sell them on me, the writer. They’re investing money into my book and they need to turn a profit.

Eventually, if the writing is solid enough, I might get an offer. First time fantasy authors, based on what I’ve seen in some recent polls, make $5K as an average advance for their first book. Not exactly enough to live on considering it took me a year or so to get to this point in the first place.

Step 7: Wait. More waiting. Publishers are booked years in advance and they’ll most likely have me do more edits, they’ll commission artwork to be done for the front cover, they run it through their legal department to make sure I didn’t use the copyrighted Happy Birthday lyrics in my book etc.

Step 8: The book comes out! WOO! I have a party, 20 of my closest relatives buy my book out of sheer pity and since no one else knows my name, I’m lucky to sell out my advance over the next year.

Step 2.5: Write the next damn book. I put it here for emphasis. There should never be a time where I’m not working on my next book. The process described above is a good 2-3 year process from start to finish, assuming I pick up an agent and publisher quickly, some of them have been known to take months to get back to you. They need their rest. Sitting in their hammocks, Mai-Tai in hand, on their private beach can really take a lot out them.

I plan on writing the first draft of three books in their entirety before I begin editing on the first one. I do this for a few reasons, mainly because I’m still new at this and I have a lot to learn about how to write well, how to construct believable characters, pacing, etc.

I’ve seen it written that you need to write about a Million words before you become “good” at writing. After writing 170,000 words, I can believe it. I’m way better than I was 6 months ago, but I read people like Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss or even an indie author like Robert Sullivan I feel like I’m nothing.

So yeah. I have written two books, but they are a long way away from being done.

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