In every endeavor where you step foot in a new arena, you will be a babe in the woods, at least in the beginning. You’ll make mistakes, and you will do dumb things, until the naivety wears off. Yes, that even includes a 270-pound old dude. Writing is no exception. The other day a friend that follows my writing career asked, “Think you’ve learned anything about writing yet?”
Now, as a guy bud, he had a tone of jest in his voice, yet his attempt to pull my chain set me to considering how much I did NOT know about writing four years ago. I often get the related question at signings, “What would you advise newbies trying to enter the field of writing fiction?” Although my experiences and enlightenment will be different then other authors, many of the topics will have a common theme to most wantabee’s so here goes my take on not “All you ever needed to know”, but rather, “Boy was I surprised to learn this stuff.” I post the detailed lessons learned about what works and what doesn’t with 24 other authors at TheWritersVineyard.com, but this should get you started.
1. Make sure your manuscript is all it can be. I don’t just mean good, I mean that when you reread chapter after chapter you find yourself espousing, “Did I write that? No, I couldn’t possible have done this.” I’m not implying it has to be perfect, or that no improvement is possible, but I do mean you are comfortable that the reader will be enveloped into the story. Frankly, I will rewrite, alter, and mess with every story from twenty to thirty rewrites before I advance to the next stage. I will tune the characters until I love ‘em or hate the villains, and until the image I carry in my head is the one that flashes in the readers' mind when they are exposed to the characters. I also want the reader to smell, hear, feel and see the surroundings that are playing through my mind until they experience my fictional world like it is reality.
2. Find someone, hopefully two or three, that will read your scripts and be brutally honest, I mean brutal. Then listen to their comments with an open mind, and don't make excuses why they aren't reading it right. Be prepared to learn and grow with each story. Listen to all pre-reviewers, editors, and the publisher. You'll learn a lot.
3. The big eight publishers and agents are interested in established commodities where their risk is minimal. A newbie doesn't fit that category, unless you're a politician, actor, or have major connections. The small publishing houses are more open and can provide a higher probability entrance into the field, but it is still hard. I suggest you focus there first and Predators& Editors is a great source to check out for viable candidates.
4. The query letter and synopsis really means the difference between success and failure. One small house said they received 23,000 submissions a year. Now how the heck are you going to float to the surface of that queue if you don't grab them on the query letter before they even get to the manuscript?
5. Get accustom to rejection. I received over one hundred rejection letters before I got my first contract. And from what I’ve read at the writer’s forums, I was lucky.
6. So let’s assume you got through the door, into their screeners' pile, and a contract is offered. What now? Well, with one of the big eight, they can afford 100K to promote a new book. An indie cannot. Oh, they will promote, but so must you. After being contracted for my debut novel TAINTED HERO, I was authorized to join the publishers author loop. It quickly became clear that I was a babe in the world when it comes to self-promotion, so I began doing research. My problem was finding the time between writing and all the possible avenues for promotion. There was also much conflict on the web about what worked and what did not. I decided to conduct data driven experiments to evaluate the effectiveness of each promotion activity. Once I had the data, I could continue with those that worked and drop those that did not, and that’s what I did. For six months, I posted an article on my website that quantifies the effectiveness of two dozen different promoting activities. I eventually took it down to make space for some awards I received. If you’d like an email copy, then go to my website Davisstories.com, click the “Contact” button and send me an email. If I get a ton of enquiries, I’ll go back and redesign my site with new space for the article again.
I will relate here the best and worst promo avenues based on actual site hit data. For the amount of effort expended (if you don’t count the time required to complete the script), I received more deep hits to my website from the exposure provided by reviews and rewards associated with each novel. Surprisingly, my worst performer (considering what I spent) was the money I wasted on advertisement. That’s not to say that some site ads were not worth the cost, just that most were not. This was a major shock to me and many authors confirmed this result via emails. Funny thing was, the more the ad cost me, the fewer promotion hits I received per dollar spent. Go figure.
Hope this has been helpful. Till next time:
Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the year (2008 and 2009)