f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, March 31, 2006

Establishing Your Career as a Writer: Part X

Almost certainly, your publisher isn’t going to spend enough money marketing your book. Why? Because they could always spend more. There’s always one more magazine they could put an ad in. One more website they could’ve sent your ARC to. The natural state of an author is to be slightly dissatisfied with their marketing budget.

Slight dissatisfaction we can live with. Total raging frustration is going to cause friction that will make publishing very unpleasant.

A few things to keep in mind:

1. It is in your publisher’s interest to market and promote your book to the best of their ability. If your book sells, we profit too.

2. Your publisher has determined at acquisition some general budgetary guidelines. They have determined roughly how many copies of your book they think they can sell—and based on that how much they’ll spend on marketing and promotion. Usually based on first-year-sales in trade publishing. If they think your book will sell 10,000 copies you’re not getting a $150,000 marketing budget. They numbers don’t add up.

3. You should get a rough idea based on advance, royalties, etc. of how well your publisher expects a book to perform. If you’re not okay with that—if you think your book will sell 150,000 copies and you’re being offered $7500—don’t accept their offer. Seriously. It’ll only end in strife.

4. In the end, it’s best to work as partners with your publisher’s promotion and marketing team. Fill in what cracks they may have left. Make the most of the opportunities they afford. If, in the end, you feel slighted, seek greener pastures after your contract is over.

5. A lot of your publisher’s money may be spent in unsexy ways. Likely, they’re not going to buy a billboard and put your book cover on it. Likely, they’re not going to buy a full-page ad in Time magazine for $246,000. Hopefully though they’re spending money in places that will place your book (as an ad, or a sample copy, or in a bookstore) in front of people most likely to be interested in it. That’s your goal, too. Succeed in that and the numbers for the marketing budget will be higher next time. And higher the time after that.

But convincing a publisher that your book is the next Grisham, having a marketing campaign to boot, and failing to leave the red may have been a fun ride, but it’s unlikely to lead you to a career.


Continue to Part XI of Establishing Your Career as a Writer

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Work for BHP?

Our internet marketing manager is stepping aside to work at a school for underpriviledged kids in Minneapolis. If your skill set, talents, and passion match the job description here, let us know. Or if you know someone, feel free to pass the link on.

Also, we're still accepting applications for our summer internship position.

NYTimes on Joel Osteen

I wasn't going to post this, but in the end I found this sentence too amusing...

"There's breadth but not too much depth, but the breadth is quite spangly, exciting to look at — that's his power." Dr James Twitchell, University of Florida, and author of Shopping for God talking about either Joel Osteen or a fishing lure, I'm not sure.

Self-Centered Novelists.

There seem to be two kinds of authors in the world.

The second kind turn every opportunity into a chance to mention their book. “Hey, sorry, your grandma died. Guess she’s going to rot away to nothing but bones now. By the way, did you know I wrote a book called Ezekiel’s Shadow that uses bones as a symbolic image of our dead life before Jesus?”

I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

CBA Clarifies "Language List" and Adds New Words

The line in the sand is a line no more. CBA has finally approved a list of forbidden words...and it's longer than you might expect. PW Religion's Jana Riess breaks the story... a little earlier than expected.

I for one am glad. This nebulous gray area has gone too long. Personally, I don't think the list is stern enough. "Episcopalian," for instance? Still on there. You can still mention the restaurant "Hooters" and all subsidiary corporations including "Hooters Air" and "Hooters Casino." And after Brokeback Mountain should we really be using, "cowboy," "flannel," and "cattle drive?"

Just one man's opinion.

Book Cover as Advertisement

Your book cover is an advertisement for the book inside. That's true. Rarely, though, do you see designers actually take that notion totally to heart. Until now.

Some Fun by Antonya Nelson.

What's the saying: "If you got it, flaunt it." The credentials are obviously impeccable and I'm impressed. I end up torn on the cover, though. Part of me thinks it makes perfect sense. Still it some how seems...too callous? Too showy? Too something. Maybe it's just that there are so many awards. Three squares would've been enough. (I wonder what the author thinks.)

NYTimes Book Covers posted this at their site and had a similarly put-off reaction.

What do you think. Does it cross the line into advertisement for you? Would you tout your awards this way?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Establishing Your Career as a Writer: Part IX

Reasons to NOT spend your money on your own website:

1. Your publisher has decided to set aside a sizable chunk for an impressive web presence for your book. There will be a talented programmer involved and what they come up with will match or exceed your expectations.

2. Your publisher is offering to set up a very nice, usable web presence for you. You don't plan on interacting greatly over-the-web, don't plan on blogging, don't plan on regular updating. All you need is a nice, usable web presence.

Either of these is totally legit (although even in case #1, I'd look at owning my own personal domain if I could). Case #1 is rare. Especially in genres where the majority of readers aren't going to be gathering online. Case #2 is nothing of which to be ashamed. Don't overlook it. A quiet, nicely designed site, frankly, is better than a poorly-designed "homemade" site with scattered updates and broken links.

It all depends on what you want to get out of your web presence.

If you're looking for flexibility, the ability to interact, the ability to control your website, then my suggestion is you put some capital there. Server space is quite inexpensive. Most of the online tools are free or quite inexpensive. Having someone design your site will cost money, but something simple and flexible shouldn't break the bank.

I guess I'd offer a few caveats to this:

1. How devoted are you to being interactive and online? If you're unsure, don't make your site a place that needs to be updated daily. There's something sad about a site who stresses updates and yet the last post or change was in October.

2. There are currently a lot of authors writing about writing. I just want to point this out.

3. The web is a drop in the bucket. It's a closed system and so the voices of praise you hear may sound loud. But you really are reaching such a small percentage of readers, take everything with a grain of salt. F*i*F has done nicely over the years and has grown. We're still tiny. Think of the web as a nice add-on. A place to convene with your most loyal readers. It can't be the end-all of your efforts, however.


Continue to Part X of Establishing Your Career as a Writer

Monday, March 27, 2006

Establishing Your Career as a Writer: Part VIII

There seem to be two kinds of authors in the world.

The first kind is mildly embarrassed that they actually wrote a book and therefore couldn’t imagine ever imposing themselves on someone else to actually buy the book.

The second kind turn every opportunity into a chance to mention their book. “Hey, sorry, your grandma died. Guess she’s going to rot away to nothing but bones now. By the way, did you know I wrote a book called Ezekiel’s Shadow that uses bones as a symbolic image of our dead life before Jesus?”

Your goal, as an author, is to fall somewhere in between. And, to be quite frank, the closer you are to #2, the more books you’re likely to sell.

I’ve heard various statistics about how many book sales can be attributed to the author and in most cases it’s a pretty significant portion. You can choose to look at this two ways: 1) How annoying, it should be up to my publisher to sell my book. Or 2) Okay, it’s part of the business. I want to write books and part of that means helping to promote and sell the books.

That said, I’m going to say something that some authors may not like. I don’t know. But I’ll say it.

You need to invest in your career. No business simply takes income and buries it the backyard. The best businesses know how to take that income and reinvest it into their company for growth. I can’t suggest how much that amount should be. But it’s probably going to be more than a cup of coffee.

The next question of course is where do you spend your money.

From my viewpoint (and I welcome differing opinions) you spend it two places:

1. Your website

2. Places your publisher won’t be spending money.

We’ll pick up here tomorrow.


Continue to Part IX of Establishing Your Career as a Writer

One of My Wishes For You

That you have a little neighborhood restaurant close by as good and affordable as Broder's Pasta Bar is in South Minneapolis. All the pasta is handmade and after 8:00pm (Su-Th) they have the best special in the city: two entrees, two salads, bread, olives, and a half-carafe of wine for $25.

If you live in the TC or ever pass through, give it a try. Or support your own little nook. Small independent restaurants are vital to avoiding the Applebying of America.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Race, Ethnicity in Books Discussion on the Board

If you've never visited the discussion board, I think you're missing out and this is one time I think that may be particularly true. There's a discussion about race and ethnicity and the part they play in publishing going on. It's an important topic and I welcome you to have a say.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Establishing Your Career as a Writer: Part VII

I was asked to elucidate on how better to pitch your proposal to the “supposed” needs of your publisher. So I will.

1. Visit the bookstore and visit the website.

See what’s come out recently and what’s coming out soon. Most publishers are getting info about their upcoming seasons of books out to the public sooner and sooner. Our Fall 06 catalog just published and info. about those books will soon be at our website, Amazon, etc. So you can see new books coming down the pipe. See if certain genres are emerging or declining.

2. Listen to publishers where you can.

Find interviews, try an attend a conference, visit websites. I think it works to our advantage if people have a decent idea of what they should be sending us. (And make sure our words should be matching what you see coming from the company.)

3. Get a Feel for the Publisher

Each has a different “brand.” Some are at the forefront of genres, throwing things against the wall to see if they stick. Others are making do with smaller, unknown authors trying to build a list. Brands may shift. Companies may try and reposition themselves a little.

4. The Next Big Thing

If you think you’re the next John Grisham, do you go to Grisham’s publisher (who’ll likely make you #2, at best) or go to a different house who, theoretically, could be burning to take a swipe at Sir John? But if Grisham’s publisher has the expertise perhaps #2 is okay. Or perhaps you can see a different slot where you can stand next to Grisham. Just realize you might pitch yourself differently to different houses.

5. Devotion to the Line?

Fiction is “hot” right now. More and more publishers are trying their hand at it. Does your novel make sense in that scheme or would it be better at a house with an established reputation for fiction? There’s little you can do if they shut down their line.

6. Be Knowledgeable and Complimentary

If you read and hate every book a company publishes in your genre, likely that’s not the place you should be. I’d hope that you can find some titles that you like that correlate to your book somehow. That’s the bit of the publishing house you’d like to join and be associated with so let them know that.

7. Bribes

I have an off-shore account. We’ll talk.


I don’t think a publisher is going to expect you to know their vision statement for the next five years. Honestly, some of it is going to be pure timing. TL Hines would probably not be at BHP if he submitted his book in 2000. He might not be in CBA with the way the industry has changed.

So, things morph. Things change.

Remember, too, that in the end this is a small thing. It mostly helps seal the deal, not get you in the door. It’s the book that matters. Always the book.


Continue to Part VIII of Establishing Your Career as a Writer

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Establishing Your Career as a Writer: Part VI

Yes, the roman numerals continue and I worry I may soon start getting some wrong if this series continues on much longer. But it’s classy, isn’t it?

At this stage of the series you’ve now sold your first work. And let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you signed a two book contract for an as-yet-unspecified second title. You just today signed the contract and your publisher has said your book is going to come out in August 2007—seventeen months from now. Book two is due to release in August 2008. (A date you agree to.)

At this point you have three major tasks before you.

1. Getting book 1 into the best shape it can be.
2. Preparing your part in the marketing/promotion of book 1.
3. Working with your publisher on an idea for book 2 and then writing it.

Life gets more complicated when you sign on the dotted line. There’s a lot of fun still to be had, a lot of exciting moments, but, I’ll be frank, it’s hard work, too. I can’t name one successful author today who coasts by. And I can name lots of hard working authors who flame out. It isn’t all peaches and puppy tongues.

If you are a fairly fast writer with a solid second idea and you know your due date for manuscript 2, you may be able to hold off on that for a bit. But for a lot of authors book 2 is harder than book 1. (Especially if you honed book 1 for two-three years while waiting for it to get published.) As well, you need to avoid the trap of whipping out a very rough draft and calling that good enough…hoping your editors work it into shape. This is your work, your career, and if book 2 is significantly worse than book 1…that’s a mis-step.

Anyway, we’ll talk about points one and two today and tomorrow. I have a number of thoughts especially on marketing/promotion. Eventually we’ll talk about #3, too, and the question of whether we’re rushing books to market.


Yesterday I used the word “normal” to describe the ideal author and that euphemism seems to have caused a bit of consternation or puzzlement or amusement. It really has nothing to do with not being quirky or not being yourself. That’s really the last thing I wanted to imply. The authors I work with have been a joy not because they’re boring—far from it. Yet I consider each of them “normal” in the sense that we have a two-way relationship that feels like we’re mostly on the same page, we’re mostly striving for the same things, and we are not adversaries. Sure there are hiccups. We might argue over a plot point. We might not like your working title. But we work through things and keep heading forward.

That is “normal.” That’s healthy. I think. Am I wrong? It just seems common sense.

Anyway, the first test of this for you and for your editor will be as you work with them to shape your manuscript for publication. I can’t tell you how to act. Some authors feel very strongly about the words they write. Others value lots of input and are willing to go with changes.

Both are great. But the stern author needs to know when to listen to his publisher’s recommendations and the easy-going author needs to know when to stand up for himself. It all is a matter of balance and perspective and communication.

I can’t tell you how your experience will be working with an editor on your novel. Every publisher is different. Every editor is different. I can only hope you have one of mutual respect and one that challenges you to become a better writer and that leads to a better book. Otherwise, what’s the point?


If you’re a published author and have suggestions for what editors/publishing houses need to know on this topic, I’d be interested. We’ve certainly got our own issues to deal with and I don’t want to insinuate that this issue only rests on a writer’s shoulders.


Continue to Part VII of Establishing Your Career as a Writer

Monday, March 20, 2006

Establishing Your Career as a Writer: Part V

Now that you have everything in place, go out and get a publisher to buy your manuscript.

Got that done? Good. Let’s move on.

Wait, what? You’d like me to spend a little more time here? Huh, imagine that.

There’s actually very little I can say. Trust me, if I had magic answers for guaranteeing you to get published I’d be selling my wares at every writer’s conference in the country. There’s one enormous problem, though, standing in between you and your published book.


Well, not just me, but me and all my colleagues in similar positions at publishing houses everywhere. Because I still have to read your manuscript and want to pursue it. Some hints for facilitating this, ranked in order of important of importance to me, personally as I look at projects.

1a. Catch me with your idea.
1b. Make your book good. A small point, but important.
2. Show me where it sits in the market.
3. Explain to me why it fits the vision of my publishing house.
4. Somehow prove you’re a normal human being who isn’t going to be a titanic pain and therefore not worth the trouble of publishing.

Obviously most authors get hung up on points 1a and 1b. Many folks either can’t express their ideas in a concise, exciting way (or are offering easy-to-understand but boring ideas) or can’t write the interesting ideas they propose.

Point 2 trips up some authors who want to publish in genres that aren’t working so well. I always feel guilty for rejecting these folks so at least you’ll have my pity.

Point 3 is a slippery one because you’re making educated guesses based on our recent releases and what you might hear from us at conferences. When a project gets tripped up here, it’s likely at least being discussed a lot. Maybe idealistic acquisitions editors are making impassioned speeches in hot conference rooms on its behalf. Small consolation, sure, when it gets the red light, but you’re getting close.

Point 4, well, just be normal and everything will be fine. Normal doesn’t mean a pushover or a pansy. It just means be “normal.”

On your end, you need to gauge whether a publishing house is going to get you closer to your “career” goal. In most circumstances, that’s going to be a no-brainer. Published is published. But especially if there’s a choice of publishers at your hand you’ll want to try and link with the publisher who seems most likely to help you succeed. Oh, to have such problems, right?


Continue to Part VI of Establishing Your Career as a Writer

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Establishing Your Career as a Writer: Part IV

You have a novel. You have a sense of where you’d like to go following your novel. You have a sense of where your novel fits into the marketplace.

Write your proposal.

Whether you’re seeking an agent or a publisher, you’re going to need your proposal so it’s something you’re going to need to develop regardless of what path you take. Plus it’s a phenomenal skill because it’s the first real opportunity to stop looking at your novel as art and start looking at from the other side, as a product to sell. (If that’s too capitalistic for you, then view it as an idea you need to convince others to accept.)

There’s lots of resources out there (be it at websites, in books, or at conferences) about what to put in a great proposal. I don’t really want to get into the specifics…it’ll just be repetition. Plus, despite what anyone says, there’s no single magic bullet.

A few general thoughts:

1. Make it look professional. Make it clean, organized, and coherent.
2. Don’t oversell.
3. Keep it a reasonable length. Your plot synopsis, in my opinion, should be a page, two at most.
4. Focus the proposal on what works with the book. If it’s a first-person novel with a really strong voice, give us a snippet. If it’s humor, make us get what will make the book funny. (A boring proposal for a funny book doesn’t make sense to me. It makes me skeptical.) If it’s a “can’t miss” idea (Dracula meets DaVinci Code—for The Historian. Jurassic Park meets Jaws for Meg.) lead with the idea and then back it up with your short plot synopsis.
5. With mysteries…don’t give away the ending. Even in your longer plot synopsis. If I’m reading a manuscript, I want to read it unspoiled. To see if it holds together.

Finally, my only specific, I think you should spend the majority of your time in breaking your novel down into three different sized summaries. One is a one/two sentence description. One is closer to back cover copy. The final summary is a page or two. Those are three important lengths to publishers and if we understand the story at all three levels where a long way down the path.

If you have cold-hearted marketing/sales friends let them critique your pitches. Basically, the idea is to entice someone to want to read the book. And if it doesn’t come naturally you’ll need to work on it.


Continue to Part V of Establishing Your Career as a Writer

Interview with Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Gina at Novel Journey has the first of a two-part interview with Walt Wangerin.

rss feed

Okay...I've updated my rss feed and switched it to a new location. If you're subscribing through a reader you'll want to update the link.


Thanks to those who helped. I think this will work. Let me know if I'm wrong.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Stone Reader

I'd like to announce the Official Documentary of faith*in*fiction:

The Stone Reader by Mark Moskowitz

Why it is I've not seen this movie before now is beyond my comprehension. I deeply encourage you to check it out. No clue if your Blockbuster will have it. Netflix should.

It's the story of a filmmaker who falls in love with a book, years after its publication, and then discovers the author never wrote another and, essentially, vanished. There's a few holes in the search to discover the author but that's besides the point. (Also beside the point is whether you've read the book being discussed, The Stones of Summer.) The point is its celebration of reading; its exploration of the puzzling "astrology" of what makes a book successful; and its thorny question of how an author follows up a successful book.

Well, well, well worth your time.


Halfway through, Moskowitz, stymied in his search for the elusive Dow Mossman (and unable to find any info onthe publisher of the book who was bought and vanished) turned to another author who attended the same Iowa Writer's Workshop and who also published with this now defunct publisher.

Robert C. S. Downs.

This is of interest to literally nobody but me but Professor Bob Downs was my favorite creative writing instructor at Penn State. I've mentioned him in passing a few times before (here and here--he's Charles.) It was just, well, flabbergasting to see him pop up in this movie. Looked great. Reminded me, even in his little moment, of all the things I'd liked about him. I was lucky to have studied with him.

Monday, March 13, 2006

My New Favorite Book Review Ever


I have so, so many questions. Many of them likely to get me turned into a newt.

Establishing a Career as a Writer: Part III

You have now:

1. Written your novel.
2. Given some thought to what kind of writer this makes you.

Now I think is the time to study the market—your market.

Many writers with an eye to the business of publishing would likely say this should be your first step. I’m not convinced. Of course, you’re also taking advice from a guy whose C.I.P data from his second book says, “Historic Buildings—Conservation and Restoration—Fiction” so nobody will ever confuse me with Donald Maas. All I know is that, as with nearly every complex market, trying to “read” it and “predict” from the outside is, often, a fool’s game. What’s hot now (unless you can write a very good book in three or four months) is unlikely to be seen as anything but bandwagon jumping (or worse, passe) by the time your book would emerge…likely 18-30 months later.

(For the moment, we’re going to assume your market is CBA. I think some of this advice can hold true for ABA, too, but that’s a world I know in less detail so I won’t claim to speak for it.)

There are four particular things I think you should become familiar with:

1. The books arriving on the shelves and their authors.
2. The publishers who put them there.
3. The readers who are buying them.
4. Insider information

It’s baffling to me, in talking with writers at conferences, how few are able to converse at all about other books/authors in the CBA market. Now, you don’t need to have read every book that comes out, but at least a handful that seem to be in the same general ballpark as your title.

Likewise, now that authors are more and more accessible on the web, I encourage you to visit their blogs and websites. Not to pander or hit up for their help, but just to listen, especially when they talk about the market. Deeanne Gist, Brandilyn Collins, TL Hines, Angie Hunt…I can think of a ton of authors with vibrant web presences.

Next, you need to get to know the logos on the spines. There’s, what, a dozen or so sizable CBA fiction publishers. Maybe more now. It’s not that much homework to do. See if you can detect trends in their releases. Get at least a little bit of an idea about where your book would fit for each of them.

Finally, it’s good to get a sense of what readers are doing. You can do this online. You can do it by talking with friends. You can do it by visiting your local Christian bookstore and simply watching people shop the fiction section.

In fact, your Christian bookstore (especially if you have a vibrant one) is probably your best resource. If you can find an employee willing to chat with you during some downtime (and if you buy something as thanks) you’ll likely pick up some sense of what’s going on in the world of CBA fiction.

The last resource I’d point you to is the “trades.” If you can get your hands on Publishers Weekly (often in libraries) or sign up for the newsletters there or Christian Retailing you’ll get some first-hand, advance access to what the publishing world—especially the editors—is doing now.


Hang around here or many of the other CBA blogs and you’ll pick much of this information up. But it’s never a bad idea to do some grunt work on your own. Everybody (me especially) has their biases and information gaps. But it’s really not that complex a market so finding your place in it shouldn’t be that strenuous a task.

(Feel free to click here to see a little tour I once wrote up. Half of these publishers were sold last week, I think.)


Continue on to Part IV of Estalibishing Your Career as a Writer.

The Master's Artist Has Moved!

You can find them here. Update your links!

The Making of a Bestseller

An interesting Washington Post article looking behind the scenes of Putnam's attempt to cross the pond and turn Kate Mosse's historical-thriller, Labyrinth, into a DaVinci Code-size bestseller.

A.) It's not going to happen.
B.) It's still going to get Kate Mosse's book more attention than it might otherwise get.

Summer Internship at BHP

BHP is again running its summer internship program. I'm one of the coordinators along with another editorial colleague. If you're in college or know somebody in college for whom the position might be a good fit feel free to pass along this link:


Friday, March 10, 2006

Establishing a Career as a Writer: Part II

Yesterday we talked about the need to complete your first book.

Today we’re going to talk about the kind of book you need to write. Like I said, those two things probably seem like they should be switched. I don’t think so, however.

My gut feeling is that your first book should be the one “unplanned” part of this journey. First, there’s no guarantee that you will be published. Odds, frankly, are against it. Second, I’m not sure you really even know what kind of writer you are until you actually bring a story to a close. Stephen King could try his hardest to write a romance but chances are, halfway through, somebody’s going to bleed.

So, you need to sit down when you’re finished and ask yourself, “What kind of book did I just write?” Probably you should get some honest people whom you trust and ask them, “What kind of book did I just write?”

Then I think you need to ask yourself two pretty important questions:

1. What did I like about writing this book? How can I repeat that?
2. If I could write any book 2, what would it be?

Your career as a writer is launched with your first book, but established with your second. And I think it’s best to be as clear as you can about your intentions with what you want to do with your writing.

Folks talk a lot about author “branding.” I know for a while it was popular to create tag-lines or phrases that repeat your brand the way that companies do. I’m somewhat skeptical about the efficacy of such approaches, but I don’t disagree that there is branding among authors. And usually that brand equals a name.

Stephen King
John Grisham
Chaim Potok
Richard Russo

Shall I go on?

It seems like you have two choices in approaching a writing career. The first is that you can write stories that echo each other in their genre/setting/etc. Or you can write stories that echo each other in less easily described or tangible ways. But, pretty much, you’ve got to write stories that echo each other somehow or you’ll never gain any traction with readers. Each book will seem like the first.

As I said, there needs to be logical intention as you move forward in your career. And it’s got to be a logic that you can explain and sell to a publisher. Again…managing risk. Publishers are eager for authors whose career trajectory makes sense. The easiest are “genre” authors. I wrote a bestselling romance; I’m going to write another bestselling romance. Not everybody is going to be that kind of writer, however. What you need to find is that thread that’s going to link your books in the mind of your readers.

From painful experience, I can tell you the downside to not having a logical echo to sell to your publisher. Basically ES and QE are linked foremost in that they’re both stories I really wanted to write. Which is great as an “artiste” but did little to help ground my career as a novelist. Should I find myself with a second chance, I’ll approach things differently.

So that’s it. The book that you should write is the book that, somehow, you want to write again. It’s in the “somehow” that you remain sane as an author. It’s in the “again” that you find the path to your career.


Continue on to Part III of Establishing Your Career as a Writer.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Things to Read

Bill Simmons (whom I've mentioned before) chatted with Malcolm Gladwell (whom I've mentioned before) and the result is worth your time.

Mary Demuth and Mark Bertand and others had some good discussion again on the state of CBA fiction.

And reknowned horror novelist Peter Straub has gotten the acting bug.

Establishing a Career as a Writer: Part I

I am back. Hopefully you are, too.

Over the next couple of days I wanted to examine how to approach being a novelist with intention, planning, and forethought. I’m going to offer some pieces of advice, though my suggestions are not, by any means, the only path. Also, I’m an editor so I’ll be thinking, somewhat, with the mind of a publisher. I’ll try to sort out some of the tensions that arise between authors and publishers and hopefully help you see multiple sides of this issue.

Also, when I talk about a career as a writer, I’m talking about giving yourself the opportunity to successfully publish books. I am not necessarily talking about becoming Tom Clancy or even reaching success that means you will only write novels. Most authors have a secondary source of income—teaching, writing articles, or (gasp!) an actual day job. (CBA, I’d guess, is quite different in that more authors are trying to earn a living from their books. At the same time we have a higher title-per-author volume than the general market. I’m not sure which is the cause and which the effect.)

My first piece of advice today is: Complete your first novel.

You might hear otherwise. You might hear folks suggesting that you work on early chapters and a proposal and then try and sell that. Why work hours upon hours on something that might not sell?

A.) Starting a novel and finishing it are two incredibly different things.
B.) Writing needs to be about more than just getting published.
C.) A completed manuscript gives your publisher the most to work with.

A lot of getting published is managing risk. You, the first-time novelist, are a risk for a publisher. To get them to buy your book you need to somehow convince them the rewards of publishing your book outweigh the risk

Finishing a novel takes two risks out of the equation. First, it shows you can actually finish a book, not a small skill. Second, it allows your publisher to think of your book in total. There won’t be any unexpected surprises in what you promise and what you deliver.

If you sell an idea and turn in a book that can’t deliver on that idea you may end up with a published book, but you’re jeopardizing getting book 2 published. Again, this is long-term thinking. Doing the work on Book 1 is the strongest footing for starting an author/publisher relationship.

Finally, it gives you the strongest leg to stand on as an author in terms of the work you want to do in the future. If you cede creative control to a publisher, you’re unlikely to gain it back easily.

So, that’s Part I. Tomorrow we’ll look at what kind of novel you should write. Which may seem backwards, but trust me it isn’t.

Continue onto Part II