Following are articles and blogs I’ve written over the past few years that bear repeating. I’m going to post a new article every week or so until I have a sizable archive. The most recently posted will be first.
Here’s the most recent:
Lessons from 20 Years in the Trenches
My first published book, a Silhouette Romance, came out in May of 1989. In the past twenty years, the publishing industry has changed–and I’ve changed, too. I’m not the same bright-eyed, breathless innocent (barely 30 years old) I was when I first sold.
Back then, I’d have done anything, including give up vital organs, to get a book contract. I was sure that being published was the answer to all my prayers, that seeing my name on a book cover was tantamount to nirvana, and that my life would be happy happy joy joy forever more. I also ate, drank, breathed and dreamed about romance novels pretty much 24/7. I wrote voraciously, sometimes late into the night, sometimes early, early in the morning. I made tons of submissions.
So, what have I learned, and how have I changed?
I’ve learned that a career in publishing is a great thing, but not without its challenges. I’m eternally grateful that I was lucky enough to sell books and sell them consistently enough to actually MAKE a career out of it. But while selling a book did produce some short-lived euphoria, it didn’t really change my life. No book contract can “make me happy.” That’s up to me and me alone.
I learned moderation. If you think about writing every waking moment, you can easily burn out–especially when writing becomes your full-time job. I learned to walk away from the computer after a few pages and call it good, and not be so impatient to finish, finish, finish so I can send something out.
I learned that writing something saleable is a good thing, but writing something just because you think it will sell, even if you don’t really like it, is not so good. On the other hand, continuing to write “the book of your heart” over and over, then getting frustrated over and over because it’s not marketable, is no fun either. The best approach (for me, anyway) is a compromise between your passion and the market. If you’re not enjoying the process, find something else to do, because a writing career is mostly made up of you and your computer, alone in a room.
Finally, I learned to roll with the punches. Bad publishing luck this year will turn around by next year. Discouragement will pass, creativity will spark anew, passion will rekindle. Probably half a dozen times over the years I’ve sworn I was quitting, but then my love for writing would drag me back to the computer. No matter what the publishing world throws at me, I still have stories to tell, words to play with and characters I create and fall in love with. No one can take that away.
Five Ways to Ensure You Never Get an Agent
1. Don’t bother going through proper channels. Querying is for losers. Just send the manuscript. Hire a private detective to find the agent’s home address, and mail it there so it doesn’t get placed in the slush pile by mistake. Be sure to bind your manuscript every which way–you want it to be secure! In fact, you might even have it professionally printed, including a cover. Your twelve-year-old can do the artwork. In your package, include a crisp hundred-dollar bill. Just a little incentive! Agents appreciate that. If your novel isn’t finished, send it anyway. It’s the editor’s job to polish it up, right? And if you have several manuscripts, send them all.
2. Make sure the agent knows that your novel does not fit into any particular genre, that it transcends genre. Even better, tell him that it is experimental fiction and it has taken you fifteen years to write it. Emphasize in your cover letter that your novel is better than anything else on the market today, and especially make sure she knows it is better than the work of Suzy Q Author, who is the agent’s client (and a hack). You want your prospective agent to know that your work is destined to be a #1 New York Times Best Seller that will be adapted into an Oscar-winning film.
3. Send your manuscript to at least ten publishers before you send it to an agent. After all, you don’t want to pay the agent’s commission if you can sell it yourself, right? Send your collection of rejection letters with your manuscript, so the agent will know not to waste his time on those loser publishers.
4. State up front the conditions under which you will allow the agent to represent your novel. Make sure she knows which publishers you want to review the manuscript, and provide a deadline for them to respond. Make it clear you will expect daily progress reports and full-page ads in People Magazine. Oh, and negotiate that commission. Fifteen percent? Come on. Your book is going to make millions, and they’ll hardly have to work at all. Three percent should be plenty.
5. If you meet a literary agent at a writer’s conference, monopolize all of his free time. Sit in the front row of his workshop, then interrupt his talk with long, complex questions that pertain to your novel, only. Corner him at the hotel bar and keep other writers away from him. (He’ll appreciate your protecting him from the riff-raff.) If anyone else horns in on your conversation, don’t let them get a word in edgewise. After all, the agent is sure to find every detail about your book endlessly fascinating.