Monday, May 5, 2008

Secrets To Getting Published

By D.L. Wilson

Getting published in today’s competitive fiction market is as easy, or difficult, as learning the 3Rs—Reading, wRiting, and Research. But it also involves three words that are key to the process—persistence, persistence, persistence. Just as a budding musician doesn’t get to play at Carnegie Hall without tremendous dedication and practice, a writer doesn’t get into print without similar commitments.

Master the Craft Creating a marketable novel requires learning and mastering the craft of writing. Many budding authors have studied English and writing in high school, or even college, and assume that’s a sufficient platform for writing a blockbuster novel. To reach the level of quality required to be published in today’s competitive market, writers must re-visit the basics of grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, prose, and dialogue.

Interviews with three top fiction editors provided a sneak peak at why mastering the craft of writing is much more important than it may have been ten or twenty years ago. Back then, editors were responsible for publishing 12 to 15 novels a year. That gave them almost a month per novel to review submissions, select manuscripts for publication, line edit, copy edit, work with graphic designers to create cover designs, work with interior text designers, and work with marketing teams and publicists. If editors detected potential in the creative work of manuscripts that didn’t meet their craft standards, they could work with new writers to hone their craft over a few novels. In today’s high pressure publishing empires, editors are often responsible for 30 to 60 novels a year. That can leave less than a week for editors to perform all of the functions necessary to bring a novel to bookstores. Increased focus by publishers on higher earnings for novels has also put a crimp on editors being able to guide new authors into developing a large enough readership to get out of the mid-list. Editors no longer have the luxury of sufficient time to develop the blockbuster novelists their publishers crave. They need high quality, well-written, nearly craft-perfect manuscripts from the first submission. This requires manuscripts to be highly edited and close to publishable when editors receive them.

A key factor in mastering the craft is READING. Read successful novels in your genre to determine what makes them "must reads." Analyze their structure, writing style, plotting, and basic concepts to get a feel for what makes a successful novel in today’s ever changing marketplace. Reading should be an important element in the work habits of writers. In order to analyze the structure of a novel, an analysis form that identifies: chapter and scene including the number of pages per scene, time frame, basic story line in the scene, point of view character, characters on stage, tension/conflict, setting, and general comments can be very helpful. Such an analysis form allows a writer to get a feel for the structure and content of a novel. As a thriller writer it is important that I include powerful tension/conflict in each scene and that each scene ends with a hook to keep the reader engaged. Joining writing groups or critique groups that include writers in your genre is an excellent means of getting valuable input for improving your craft as well as evaluating your creative skills. It is important to remember that writing is a subjective art form. There can be dramatic variations in reviews of a writer’s work. That’s why it’s important for writers to be open to all forms of constructive criticism. Criticism can be painful, but it is vital in fine tuning a writer’s efforts to become a successful author. The bottom line is in the hands of the writer, the author of a work of fiction. The end result which will make or break a work of fiction was well expressed by a highly successful agent, "it boils down to the words on the page." Every word is a creative expression by the author. A writer must evaluate any critical comments and should compare comments by as broad a segment of readers as possible. This allows placing appropriate weight on any constructive criticism allowing the writer to make an informed decision on what he/she determines to be in the best interest of making the novel a great read.

Develop a Writing Technique Different authors have different techniques in the way they approach creating their masterpieces. Some authors develop detailed scene-by-scene outlines while others work from a basic concept and let their muse guide them. Writers must find the writing format that works best for them. There is no "best technique." But it is important to develop a technique that has a structure that results in the best possible novel. The only way to do that is by WRITING. Very few authors I have met have had their first work of fiction published. Just like a surgeon works on many cadavers before making the transition to a live human patient, writers must practice, practice, practice before turning out the gem that transforms them into a published author. Once they have learned the craft, they must merge it with a successful creative concept. This may require a few efforts to fine tune the entire process. Before starting down the road to writing the blockbuster novel, a writer should create a short, one page, concept sheet for the proposed work of fiction. This could turn out to be the hardest aspect of writing a novel, but it is the most critical in today’s market. Most readers have been conditioned by our current sound-byte mentality. Just like TV or radio ads, authors must get their point across in a fifteen or thirty second sound-byte. This involves a tightly structured one-half to one page easy to understand synopsis. This short synopsis will be the key to capturing the attention of an agent, and later, an editor. For a thriller, the concept should be simple, yet dynamic. It must capture the fascination of anyone who reads it, drawing them into wanting to read the entire novel.

Once the concept has been fine tuned, it’s time to put into practice the writing technique that works best for the author. If it’s the scene-by-scene outline, it may take a lot of work to develop and fine-tune the material before the actual writing process begins. But the end result may minimize the countless hours spent in editing and re-writing. For the writer who works from a basic concept, the writing may begin immediately after the concept sheet is finished or from an expanded five to ten page synopsis.

No matter which method is used, when the initial manuscript is finished it is critical for the writer to put on the editing cap and carefully analyze the manuscript for content, consistency, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, prose, and dialogue. Since today’s market is so competitive and the focus on perfection by agents and editors so great, it is well worth the investment to hire a freelance editor with good credentials to edit your work before going to the next phase in the publishing process, finding an agent.

Find an Agent In today’s fiction market, you need a good agent. Almost all editors with the best publishing houses DO NOT accept unagented submissions. To quote a top editor, "Writers absolutely need to find an agent, and they need their agent to help them address the basic protocols. It’s because a writer’s manuscript is going to get a very limited number of opportunities. Within each house there are many editors, and if you submit a manuscript to the wrong editor, you’ve just blown your chance. It’s the agent’s job to get to know the editors well enough to know exactly who to send each manuscript to."

To find the right agent requires the third R, RESEARCH. You should know some of the clients the agent represents, and particularly those who write in a vein similar to your own. From your reading, you should check the acknowledgments pages of the books in your genre that you enjoy reading. Authors often acknowledge their agents. Another good resource is the Internet and sites like Publishers Marketplace ( that identify the agents and contract information for books that have been sold to publishers.

When you have identified agents who have a respectable reputation for selling novels in your genre, research their submission requirements and follow them to the letter. Be sure your manuscript is as good as it can possibly be. Don’t use any gimmicks when sending out chapters or entire manuscripts. The bottom line is; gimmicks don’t sell novels. An agent must like your work if he or she is going to represent you with a passion that will get you published. When you start soliciting agents don’t forget the other three words—persistence, persistence, persistence.

Author: D.L. Wilson - Wilson worked his way through the ranks of engineering and management to become president, CEO, and Managing Director of US and international companies, consultant to industries and governments, and a university professor. Wilson’s foray into the publishing world started in nonfiction with The Kitchen Casanova – A Gentleman’s Guide to Gourmet Entertaining for Two, which resulted in a national book tour with features on CNN, Regis & Kathy Lee, and Evening Magazine. Wilson is also the coauthor of a university textbook on the fashion/apparel industry, Apparel Merchandising – The Line Starts Here. His first novel, Unholy Grail, (Berkley, April 2007) will be available in all major retailers.
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