Advice to Writers

Mondays can happen even when you’re retired. They are the days when your coffee boils up and over your Bialetti and spatters all over the now 30% functional cheap electric stove that came with your house. Yep. But the big picture is that (so far) 30% of the stove works and your coffee is hot and tasty as always.

My job as a reader is great training for coaching people who hope to self-publish. So many things are instant turn offs and, sadly, fewer things are instant turn-ons. LOOOOOOONNNNNNGGGGG self-justifying introductions are advertisements to the reader that the book can’t stand on its own, and/or the writer isn’t sure of his/her message. Audience awareness — a writer might have a twelve year old in mind, but writes something that the average 12 year old won’t sit still for. Grammar may or may not be a big deal, but persistently poor grammar (not just a few awkward sentences) can come across as a lack of respect for both the reader and the book’s message. The purpose of grammar is to help a reader understand someone else’s writing/thinking. In one contest I read a book with a VERY important message, but it was such a mess grammatically that some of the people who needed it would be lost in the morass. I felt so bad for the writer! Inconsistent voice is another way to (literally) lose a reader. Sources! I have read (paper) books where the author offers — for sources — a catalog of long URL addresses. What’s the reader of a paper book going to do with that? Audience…

Hiring an editor — and listening to that person — would help a writer resolve most of these problems.

It’s not about a contest, either. It’s about the life of the book. Yesterday I read a textbook. In the introduction the author said, “This isn’t a textbook. It’s something else. It’s indefinable.” I was sort of cool with that though I wondered how that would work. Still, I’ve used and reviewed thousands of textbooks in my life, and if this is something else? Well, I’m all ears, uh, eyes. As I read — or tried to read — I found myself lost in a book that was a lot like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The irony is the book was a communication textbook. With that book, and some others, I wonder if the writers have let their work sit in a cupboard for a year or so. Then, with a clear head, brought it out and read it. Writing can be intoxicating and writers fall in love with their work. I’ve been in love with everything I’ve written at the time I wrote it — and I still am. I love my books, but they aren’t the same books for me they are for anyone who reads them. For me they represent not just themselves, but the experience of writing them, all-consuming emotional commitments to an idea against which most other relationships can’t hold a candle. But — as I learned the hard way — if you love something THAT MUCH it deserves the best possible chance to live and breathe on its own.

Still, I feel privileged to have this opportunity. I have found some beautiful books in this go-around, and I’ll let you know when the whole thing is finished.

13 thoughts on “Advice to Writers

  1. Great advice. It was 50 years ago that I watched The Cabinet of Dr Caligari in a film history class. (At least I’m pretty sure that was where I saw it.) Thanks for the flashback.

    • Me too. It was disturbing and clearly unforgettable. 😀 I may take a day off today. I still can’t ride the bike to nowhere but I really really really want to…

  2. As a non-writer, why would a writer not want an editor? It seems like that would be a smart thing to do, especially if you want your book to do well.
    I thought that was Theda Bara in the movie. It was not. I needed to Google it. See? I needed Google, they might need an editor. Same, same, right? 😉

    • I think a lot of writers don’t hire editors because they don’t know about that possibility (I didn’t) and then when they learn there are editors the writers might not want to spend the money ($300+) or the writers think they’re god’s gift to writing (I thought that because I was a writing teacher). Writing a book is a very humbling experience. 😀

  3. It is indeed humbling. Putting anything out there for others to read is both humbling and nerve wracking since your sharing large pieces of your soul, yourself, feeling vulnerable and exposed.

    • There is definitely that. But I figure if I’m going to write it, I want it to have its full existence. I’ve self-published some things for a really limited audience (me + 1 or just me). Those things are just no one’s business. 🙂

  4. Good advice! Of course I’m still in the planning stages but google was listening to me and now I’ve got adds for BookBaby and Amazon publishing popping up everywhere!

    • Amazon is free to publish. Another free platform is Lulu. They both put out nice books. Amazon has the advantage of three different platforms — Kindle, paperback and now hardcover. They WANT you to hire them to do your book so they have some fusty kinds of things in there that can intimidate a newbie, but they’re maneuverable with patience. They are also very helpful via email.

      AND it’s easy for people to find your books on Amazon AND you can choose expanded distribution so the books will be catalogued in Barnes and Noble and others. Other self-publishing platforms will put your book on Amazon, too, but you will make less from the sale of the book.

      The big challenge with any self-publishing platform is marketing. You can pay a lot of money for that with no results at all. SO…

      It’s a good idea to think of why you are publishing — do you want to share your book with friends or are you hoping to make money? If you’re hoping to make money, then you need to find an agent who can sell it to a conventional publishing company. This is extraordinarily difficult. It involves finding agents who are interested in what you publish. This is still the pre-eminent resource for that;

      It’s also possible to find agents online pretty easily.

      Then you send query letters to the agents who might be interested in your work.

      Another strategy for starting out is by getting your poetry published in small literary magazines — easiest to start locally. Then when you have some publication credits on your resume you approach bigger, nationally known literary magazines (who actually pay). Once you’ve done this, agents will be more interested in you.

      Of course, you can find a publisher but that might not mean much. I had two lined up for one of my books contract signed, publisher went out of business and the other changed their mind. I think there are more stories like that than there are books actually published. 😀

      Self-publishing on Amazon is very easy but there’s a learning curve. They WANT it to be easy because they make more that way. It offers a writer some nice benefits like a page on Amazon dedicated to that writer and his/her work. You put the material on the page but it’s an Amazon page. Here’s mine:

      They also offer marketing deals which I’ve never used because I don’t have the $$, but I hear there are good.

      I wanted my books to do well commercially, but then I learned that 1) my historical fiction isn’t in the mainstream, 2) I learned what IS in the mainstream and I’ll never write that, 3) my audience is probably not in the US, 4) my memoirs are also not the kind of memoirs people usually look for. They don’t involve love, increased self-awareness, overcoming adversity or anything like that. I know this now because of the contest and how it’s made me investigate what’s published in these different areas. My point in mentioning this is that there is a MARKET out there that determines what sells.

      Anyway, after putting my books together and assisting friends in designing their books, I learned how much I enjoy that process. For me it’s really fun to design a book.

  5. It’s not the same genre at all, but I know of a few MFA professors who, when approached by grad students with manuscripts, take the manuscript from them and tell them to start over knowing what they know now after getting it written the first time.

Comments are closed.