f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Establishing a Career as a Writer: Part I

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

Thursday, March 09, 2006

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