As strange as it seems, the hardest part of writing a guest blog is trying to figure out how to begin it. What keeps coming to mind is to first thank Stephanie for the opportunity to introduce myself to all of you.
I thought I would use this time to answer the question that comes up most often at every event I’ve had the opportunity to speak at, “How and why did you become an author?” Unlike Stephanie, I did not start writing at a young age. My writing was born out of a void that was produced in my life after I had bilateral hip replacements in 1997 and then again in 2003. I spent a lot of my younger years as an adrenaline junkie and unfortunately those activities caught up to me. After I had both hips replaced the first time, I felt so great, I went right back to what had gotten me in trouble in the first place. During a five day survival race in April of 2003, I broke both of the prostheses loose and had to repeat the surgery.
After realizing that I needed a new outlet for all the pent-up adrenaline, I began to write. Not with the idea of publishing or even with the idea of writing a novel, just with the ambition of channeling some of the energy that was now displaced. My writing, like a blob of clay started to take shape the more I worked on it. That shape changed many times until it finally evolved into adrenaline induced fiction that fit into the thriller genre.
Today I have the honor to introduce Arlee Bird. Arlee Bird is a juggler and musician who spent many years with touring stage productions. He has mostly held positions of management with occasional forays as a limousine driver, market researcher, and construction grunt. Currently Arlee is a blogger, unpublished writer, and stay-at-home unemployed guy looking for his next big break. He lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife. He is the father of five grown children.
Currently his other blogs are:
14 Comments on Guest Blogger Arlee Bird, last added: 10/17/2011
Today I would like to welcome Sheila Deeth, a wonderful author and woman, to my blog. She's sharing her publishing story with us today, as well as telling us about her new novel.
One of the questions I always ask published writers is, “How did you get there?” I used to ask, “How did you get there from here?” but then I got published. It’s kind of weird thinking I’m maybe halfway, well, a quarter, an eight of the way “there.” But it’s probably time to answer my own question.
I started telling stories as soon as I learned to talk (or earlier—no-one’s really sure what those first strange noises meant), and I started writing them down as soon as I could write. Once I realized I was never going to make it as a trapeze artist I decided I’d have to be a writer and be satisfied with imagining gymnasts and space-men and all those other wonderful people I could never be.
By the time I grew up I’d somehow morphed into a mathematician—I think it was something to do with the way math questions have right and wrong answers and essays are always up for debate. I got a job and wrote stories on the back of reams of computer paper—the sort that had green stripes and little holes in the edges with perforated page limits. I had kids and wrote stories in a little note-book that got taken to school and lost. I taught Sunday school—more stories—and chess club—yes, even chess club has its stories—have you heard about the girl who wanted to stop falling for fool’s mate?
Somewhere in this process I tried sending stories to agents and publishers, with no success. My Sunday school tales were either too religious or not Biblical enough. My picture books had too many words or too few. My novels were returned with pre-printed letters that said, “If you enclosed a stamped addressed envelope we are returning…”
I always said I’d never self-publish—I wouldn’t dare since I’d need the security of somebody telling me what I’d written was “good enough.” Perhaps I wanted some kind of mathematical score. But my Mum paid for me to go to my one and only writers’ conference. One thing I heard over and over was that “You have to have a platform—an internet presence.” So eventually I decided to make my Sunday school stories into my platform—I self-published them on Lulu, created three blogs, and began to set up a website…
Self-published books are kind of hard to sell. The stores won’t take them because there’s so many self-published authors out there. The library won’t take them either—same reason—though I think if I’d bought an ISBN it might’ve been different. But strangers passing by my stall at our local Christmas bazaar buy them once in a while. I’ll never get rich, but I’ve gained experience. I also gained the confidence to send more stories to magazines—after all, I had books in print (sort of)—and soon I had two (it sounded a lot to me) stories in print as well, and several more in online magazines.
When I entered a Gypsy Shadow Publishing competition, I was at least able to say I have a platform; when I won, I started trying to sell my ebook through that platform. I followed other writers, read lots of other blogs, left comments that gradually progressed from “Nice post” to saying what I liked about the post. Eventually I plucked up courage to send my novels out again, picking publishers of authors I’d met online.
Email submissions are much less stressful than those old days of stamped addressed envelopes, and much kinder. Email rejections usually start with “Thank you for…” so when I got the email from Stonegarden that started “Thank you for…” I knew at once it was just another rejection—except it wasn’t!
So here I am, with my third ebook, Flower Child, just released by Gypsy Shadow, and a full-length novel under contract. How did I get here from there? Slowly. Step by step.
If there is one thing that I hate more than difficult than a query letter, it is the plot synopsis. It is a basic bio of your written work that is between 2-5 pages long. Usually, the shorter the better, because agents and editors don't have much time and would like to get through it quickly. They know what kind of books that they represent or publish, and once they get through the synopsis, they are usually aware of how good of a "fit" your novel is for them.
There are some general rules for the plot synopsis:
Always do it in third person, regardless of whether the book itself is in that format.
Introduce the main character first.
Only include major plot line information and characters.
Leave out large segments of dialogue.
Try to make it as engaging as possible.
Always reveal the ending.
The basic format of your synopsis:
The first page should include your name, address, and phone number. Usually an email address helps too.
After that, headers are important. Have you ever dropped a manuscript on the floor with two hundred pages flying around that have no numbers? It is not pretty. Just make sure not to number the first page. The header, not on the first page, should include your name, the books name, and the page number in the right hand corner.
Here are some good examples of a plot synopsis:
RAVEN'S HEART takes place on a future Earth, transformed by an alien asteroid that melted the polar ice caps and saturated the air with microscopic crystals which react to life forces.
Born with the ability to see and manipulate the energy fields (or auras) around living things, Raven Armistead lives in constant fear of discovery. She has devoted her life to the Auric Rights League founded by her father, which works to prove "Aurics" like them are not inherently evil or agents of the devil. They have as little success convincing the morally rigid Inter-Continental Police (ICP) of Auric virtues as she has convincing her father of her competence. But with her father trying to marry her off to his overbearing second-in-command, and the ICP about to embark on a program of Auric genocide, she's got to do something, and fast.
ICP agent Val Tarrant was convinced at an early age by his preacher father that his adventurous spirit would doom not only him, but any of his friends who were foolish enough to follow his lead. No longer trusting his own judgment of right and wrong, Val confines himself to the strict moral dictates of the ICP's Oath of Agency. His success at tracking down both normal and Auric criminals, as well as his inability to work with other agents, made him the perfect person to lead the development of a computerized Auric Tracking System. He believes that when the system is activated, enforcing the ICP's moralistic laws, it will allow him to atone for his youthful misdeeds.
The story begins with Raven running away from the deserted ICP computer center, which contains explosives set to go off in less than two minutes. When Tarrant enters the building, she fears the worst and races back to the computer center, hoping to catch him before the explosives go off. She arrives just in time to tackle Tarrant, knocking him to the floor and stunning him, then using her Auric powers to shield them both from the blast. With her shield about to collapse, she reluctantly augments her energy with his, linking their auras together. She succeeds in saving them, but is too weakened by her efforts to flee before the fire control systems seal the room, trapping them together.
Once their immediate safety is ensured, Tarrant questions Raven about her presence in the computer center. He grows suspicious at her evasions. Afraid that he will discover she is part of the Auric Rights League, she uses her powers to enhance his natural attraction to her, further binding her aura to his. She is unaware
You've got your book done, and you've shined it up to complete perfection. You have also targeted your audience. Even if you are skipping the literary agent approach and are attacking small publishers, you have to know how to write a proper query letter. It will be your primary tool to catching attention. The problem is, summing up a three hundred page book in a few paragraphs can be tough.
Before we begin, here are some rules:
1) Don't make it longer than a page. As amazing as you think that your manuscript is, an agent receives a ton of queries per day. (As do publishers.) Respect their time.
2) Don't stalk them. That's just scary. They will read it when they're ready.
3) Don't begin your letter with "Dear agent," "Dear editor," or "To whom it may concern." Already, they've tossed out your query letter. After all, you didn't even bother to know their name. Why should they care about your book?
4) Don't call them or barge into their office. That's scary, too.
What you should do:
1) Do your research. Also, don't be afraid to comment on an agent's blog. There is a line between being friendly and professional and stalking people.
2) Bother to know who the agent or editor is interested in, what they have represented in the past, and how it relates to your work.
3) Do submit it to be mauled--ahem--I mean "cleaned" by a group of critiquers in forums. Query Tracker, one of the biggest listings of agents and book editors, has a great forum, as does Absolute Write.
4) Do use your resources. I've made tons of friends through networking.
Now, to begin the fun. A basic formula for a query letter is a one sentence tagline, a plot bio, and a self bio. Deviating from the basic plan isn't exactly a great idea. Try to sell your book by writing well, not by looking like a novice. Don't forget to include your email address, phone number, address, and name.
Do thank them for their time.
I'm going to enclose some samples and help you break it down. Don't be afraid to have more than one draft. Query writing isn't necessarily the most pleasant of jobs.
Natalie Miller had a plan. She had a goddamn plan. Top of her class at Dartmouth. Even better at Yale Law. Youngest aide ever to the powerful Senator Claire Dupris. Higher, faster, stronger. This? Was all part of the plan. True, she was so busy ascending the political ladder that she rarely had time to sniff around her mediocre relationship with Ned, who fit the three Bs to the max: basic, blond and boring, and she definitely didn't have time to mourn her mangled relationship with Jake, her budding rock star ex-boyfriend.
The lump in her right breast that Ned discovers during brain-numbingly bland morning sex? That? Was most definitely not part of the plan. And Stage IIIA breast cancer? Never once had Natalie jotted this down on her to-do list for conquering the world. When her (tiny-penised) boyfriend has the audacity to dump her on the day after her diagnosis, Natalie's entire world dissolves into a tornado of upheaval, and she's left with nothing but her diary to her ex-boyfriends, her mornings lingering over the Price is Right, her burnt out stubs of pot which carry her past the chemo pain, and finally, the weight of her life choices - the ones in which she might drown if she doesn't find a buoy.
The Department of Lost and Found is a story of hope, of resolve, of digging deeper than you thought possible until you find the strength not to crumble, and ultimately, of making your own luck, even when you've been dealt an unsteady hand.
I'm a freelance writer and have contributed to, among others, American Baby, American Way, Arthritis Today, Bride's, Cooking Light, Fitness, Glamour, InStyle Weddings, Lifetime Television, Men's Edge, Men's Fitness, Men's Health, Parenting, Parents, Prev
You've finally finished editing. Now, the "fun" really begins. Before the querying process, you must identify your audience. After all, approaching the wrong people is bad, espescially when first impressions make a great deal of difference in the publishing industry. First off, to identify who you want to approach, you should ask yourself some questions and understand basic lingo.
Is your manuscript non-fiction or fiction? What is the genre? How many words is it? Was is the target audience? What do I want for my book's future?
Now, on with the lingo.
Literary agents submit your manuscript to publishers that are closed to unagented submissions. They usually have connections in the industry. An agent makes money when you do. The AAR canon of ethics is a great thing to look for in the querying process, as a good agent won't charge you fees. A down side to this is that the agents are so overrun with submissions that they often times have no room for new clients.
Editors work at publishing houses. There are many different types, most of which don't actually clean up your books. That is why you shouldn't approach them without a decent looking manuscript.
Publishing companies publish your books. (Yes, just in case you didn't know.) There are different types of traditional presses.
Small companies usually deal with specific genres and areas. A book with a small select target audience would most likely go here, because a larger company wouldn't see the profit. They also spend more time working with authors one on one, because they have less clients. Unfortunatly, as they are small, they have less to offer you in the way of advances and money that goes into marketing.
Medium companies are great because they usually have a moderate amount of money to offer an author, and they also have some time to give personalized attention to an author. Some of these companies only take agented submissions, though.
Large companies are good because they have a bigger amount of money to invest in their authors. They will be more likely to offer a sizable advance; furthermore, they carry a certain prestige to being published by them. After all, Scholastic and Harper Collins are expected to produce great books. Because they are large and have so many clients, however, they are less likely to have a lot of time to work with their authors that aren't already big sellers. You will also need an agent--or a handy connection--to get you in the door here.
Vanity publishing companies are self-publishers. You pay them to make your book for you. Usually, if you want to make your book do well, then this adds up to a hefty amount. They can produce a book quickly, and they let you choose what you want.
University presses are companies that sell your books and have you pay for part of the costs. It is a cross between self and traditional publishing.
Now that you know about the industry a bit more, you should be more aware of who you want to approach. Normally, you would search for an agent before a publishing company, but it really depends on your book. In the next section I will discuss proper manuscript formatting and perfecting that query letter.
So you've just finished your great book. First off, congratulations...sort of. While doing the writing is an amazing thing that many people don't have the attention span for, it is also the easiest part. I hate to break it to you, but one quote sums it up: "There is a word for writers that never give up...published." Great writers were turned down time and time again. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter was rejected by nine agents, Dr. Seuss was turned down by many publishers, and John Grisham's first novel was sold to a small company because no larger company or agency would accept him. (Boy, are they sorry now.)
I'm not trying to make you lose hope. You've come this far, so you shouldn't give up. It's just that this is the part of publishing that separates the men from the boys. Before you even begin tackling the scary world of the publishing industry, you must make sure that your book is polished. Now, it really isn't necessary to go to an editor. In fact, my publishing companies have all edited my books for me, but that is after I cleaned my manuscipts four times.
Now, you may be saying to yourself: "I know nothing about grammer." Well, if you want to be a writer, it's a good thing to learn. Don't despair. There are some great resources. I personally love Prentice-Hall Handbook for Writers. It has great facts about grammatical errors and other such thing. Here is also a good sight: http://www.cws.illinois.edu/workshop/writers/
Now, don't get fruhstrated...Just edit that book until you feel like you're about to bang your head against the wall. If you don't understand something, then look it up.
After that, you may even consider a Beta Reader, which is a person that will swap manuscripts with you for free and edit it. Places like Absolute Write Water Cooler offer this in their forums. It's a great place to begin.
Also, one great tip is to read your book out loud!
Best of luck!
Now, a great deal of people have an idea for a story, but for a first time writer getting it down on paper can be a difficult task. Whether you plan on sharing the story with the world or you are merely writing to get it down, there are some great ways to begin. I find that having a "general writing time" is important, even if you have a very hectic schedule. If you truly want to write a novel, then getting started and keeping going is important; otherwise, the story is choppy and hectic.
Remember, ten minutes a night can be the difference between a finished novel and a book inside of your head. It doesn't matter whether you have to write at 2 AM with your spouse's snoring in the background--just get to it.
One general writing tip: Show don't tell. Every writing conference will tell you this.
Now, for those of you that have sat down and have stared blankly into space, there are some creative games that may help you get into a writing rythmn. You can find them at places like this:
This forum has great, fun games to begin the writing process. I must warn you about the potential addiction, however. I spend far too much time in the Office Party section, an area dedicated to slacking off.
This place is great for posting a free portfolio:
These sights also offer great, wonderful things called Beta Readers. Never heard of them? Well, they might help you. A Beta Reader is a writer like yourself that will read and edit your book for free. After all, writing the book is 15% of the journey. You have to polish the manuscript, usually at least three or four times, before even thinking about approaching agents and publishers. Beta Readers can help you by offering you advice as you go along.
Also, joining a writing community may help you get a story going.
Happy writing, everyone! And yes, for those other people who are saying, "But I already know how to write!" I will get to the business side of the process soon. Stick with me.
Just for fun:
There are many different theories around regarding whether a writer is born or made. I think that it can be taken both ways. Either way, the most talented writer in the world would have to crack the business lingo first. Remember that publishers and agents are business people. They live to sell your books, but they also need an idea that pays off. That's why it's always good to understand the basics first.
For example, the genre types. It's always a good idea to know who you plan to write for. Is it Fiction or Non-Fiction? (Simple enough.) Is it a fantasy, science fiction, mystery, or romance? (There are much more.) Is it written for adults, children, or young adults?
How long do you plan to make it? Regardless of the "brilliant idea," if you make a novel that is 200,000 words long, it won't sell. A 70,000 word novel usually is about 250 pages. Now, I don't think that it's necessary to plan that out before writing, but it never hurts to know what the acceptable range is. Most agents and publishers aim for books that are 70,000-120,000 words. (Of course, children's literature is a different story.)
What is your target audience? Is it big or small? Depending on who you write for, you may have to change your idea of who you approach to sell the manuscript. For example, a three-hundred-page novel based on the history of mushroom picking isn't going to sell at Scholastic.
Do you have a plot plan? Some of the best writers in the world don't plan their plot, but many more do. It always helps to have at least the general idea down. After all, a twist or two is good, but you don't want your readers to get "sick."
What is your goal as a writer? Do you want to write something that will sell well, or is it something more family based?
These are all good questions to ask yourself before and after a manuscript is finished. If you want your book to sell, then knowing what the business people want is always a good key.
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Welcome to the techonological era. A great deal of human interaction is via the written word: texting, emailing...blogging. It really is no wonder that so many people are interested in publication. The problem is, many writers don't know what they're in for--and some don't even know where to begin.
If you are one of these writers that doesn't quite know where to start, then you are in the right place. Over the next few months, I plan on writing about subjects that I wish I had known myself in the beginning. For example, how do I get started? What is the proper way to format a manuscript?
After the manuscript is done, how does the publication happen? Who do I contact? How do I make myself more presentable? Is my work REALLY done?
I plan on addressing the following issuses:
A) Getting started--an introduction to the writing process and the psychological mindset.
B) Am I really done? Welcome to the wonderful world of the Writer's Editing Handbook.
C) Deciding a publication game plan. Do I want a literary agent? Vanity verus traditional press? What are the differences and why do they matter?
D) I signed my contract!...Now what?
E) The best methods for marketing.
I have made some pretty big "Oh, no. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to do that!" errors along the way. I don't regret a single one of them, though. "Failure teaches success," after all. Now, I hope to share my "Oops!" moments and "That agent probably hates me now!" memories so that you, as a writer, won't make the same errors.
Until next time! Happy writing and reading!