All right, firstly, if you don't know about the Goodie Giveaway starting on Saturday, clicky clicky on that link on the left.
Now, today's post is a trimmed down and revised version of one I did on someone else's blog last year. I get a lot of emails asking me what people can do to get published. I have one here from the mother of a nine year old who wants to get his book on the Irish Potato Famine published! Still not sure how to answer it. But for those of you who are at a more advanced stage of asking these questions (like, your mum doesn't have to write your email for you), the list below may be useful.
First, a disclaimer: I'm not Stephanie Meyer, J K Rowling, or Meg Cabot. The advice which is about to be imparted comes, not from a legendary, best-selling author before whom Hollywood directors grovel, but a you-might-meet-her-in-the-supermarket- any-day-of-the-week kind of writer. Make no mistake. My advice is good. But if you're looking for the super special awesome secret to becoming an overnight billionaire? So am I. Tell me if you find it. Seriously.
TIP NUMBER FIVE: Please, please, O please, do NOT just write what you know. It’s boring.
Some of you know you're doing it. Some of you honestly don't. Either way, this is the kiss of death when it comes to getting published. What I'm talking about here is the most common (and cringe-worthy) problem that I see with young writers on every writing forum I visit: accidentally writing fan-fiction, when what you really want to write is original fiction.
It doesn't feel like stealing. It just feels like loving that other writer's work so much you're inspired by it. You want to write your own story about a heroine who moves to a strange town and falls in love with a mysterious boy, but in your story the heroine is orphaned and a musician and she moves to the desert – so that's okay, right? Or you want to have a hero just like that one, but yours is way more cheerful and less sparkly and has different hair. That doesn't count, does it? Oh, yes Sunshine, it does. True inspiration comes from within you, your own unique hopes, dreams and fears. Your soul. And if you start a novel using something that you have borrowed, even if you think you've given it a unique twist, you're letting yourself and your future readers down.
Also, even if you don't think anyone could ever possibly figure out where you took your plot/character/setting from...one day, when you least expect it, someone will notice and call you on it. You don't need the guilt and humiliation, guys, trust me. Don't go there.
TIP NUMBER FOUR: Research is your BFF.
The second most common mistake made by young writers is thinking that research is for other people. No, no, young grasshopper. Research is everyone's BFF.
Now, it's not true that you can never do too much research when it comes to writing your story. You can, if it stops you from actually getting your story written. But that's it. Other than writing, research is your number one job. Real horses can't gallop for an hour without stopping. Really. They drop dead if you do that. Real bows don't shoot if you get the string wet. At all. Most guns don't work after they get wet either. Real people who get stabbed or shot are unable to move for days because of the agony – they don't get better after someone digs the bullet out, slaps a bandage on and gives them a hot drink. A hot drink will not cure hypothermia either. Maybe other writers or the people on TV have gotten away with this, but shame on them. You can do better.
The other time that research will be your BFF is when the book is written and you're trying to figure out how to put together a professional looking manuscript, what you write in a submission letter, and where to send everything. There is a Writer's Guide, Writer's Handbook or Writer's and Artists Yearbook in every English speaking country in the world. The rules within apply to everyone, including you, and the addresses for agents and publishers are invaluable. Use your skills to find this book. Read it. Live it. Your chances of getting a publisher go up by about 75%. Yes, really.
TIP NUMBER THREE: Believe in yourself.
In the words of Meg Cabot's grandma – you are not a fifty dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you. The same thing goes for your work.
Strangely, when it comes to writing, the people who you love and trust the most will often be the least supportive. Your friend, who was completely wonderful that incredibly embarrassing time you got sick during your ballet show, for some reason acts like writing is pointless and boring. Your teacher, who seemed really cool up until now, just gave you your precious story back covered in sarcastic red scribbles about how he would have written the story better if it was his. That person on the internet who was helpful before has sent a piece of your story to a bunch of other people and they're all making fun of it. Your mum just sighs and asks you why you can't write something more 'cheerful'.
This is the time when you need to believe in yourself and the story that you want to tell. Just like I cannot understand the urge to sail around the world single-handedly in a yacht, those people in your life do not understand your need to write. That doesn't make your writing any less important, just like my not really wanting to sail the world does not make that achievement any less incredible for the guy or girl who does it. It's your passion. Your dream. Sometimes you'll be the only one who gets it. Be strong and believe in yourself.
TIP NUMBER TWO: But don't be a jerk about Tip Number Three.
Sometimes other people will criticize your work, AND THEY WILL BE RIGHT. Horrible, isn't it? You've written your little heart out, you've suffered, you've shed blood, sweat and tears, all because of that belief that your story is worth writing. And then some jerk comes along and tells you that your main character is a Mary-Sue, that your middle section drags, and that your ending is predictable. Who the heck do they think they are???
Your editor, that's who. Or maybe they're some other person whose opinion you know is good, like a friend who reads and writes just as much as you do and likes all the same authors as you. Or an agent who you submitted your work to, who was kind enough to send you a personal rejection letter. They're someone who deserves to have an opinion.
For a start, even if you think everything they have said is a bunch of gubbins, please don't rip them into teeny tiny shreds with your bare teeth. They were probably trying to be supportive and helpful. That's worth something. Be gracious and polite and thank them for their interest, even if you are completely, utterly, without a doubt, convinced that what you've written should not be changed.
Or...are you? Is there a niggle of doubt? Did you feel a little worried when you re-read that part yourself, but you didn't know how to fix it, so you just ignored it? Maybe a couple of different people have said the same thing now? Then it might be time to learn a really tough lesson.
The road to publication is lined with criticism. You need to learn to take it. Not just ignore it, but actually listen to it, pick it apart, figure out which bits have worth and which don't, and then use it to improve your work. It's painful but true that it might take another person blasting your favourite scene for you to realise - it isn't so great after all. Yes, sometimes you have to ignore everyone and do what you believe is right, but other times you need to take a step back and admit that you can do better. And then do it.
TIP NUMBER ONE: Don't give up. Never. Not ever. I mean it. I'll come to your house and kick your sorry backside, I swear to God I will.
Yeah. Like it says above. Maybe you've read the statistics that say you have something like a 1% chance of getting published or another depressing fact like that. Well, those statistics can kiss my dog's furry face. You have a 100% of never getting published if you don't try.
A caveat here. Despite the news stories, most people who get published do not become overnight successes, make huge pots of money and buy a Lear-Jet. Most writers have to struggle to get success, and that struggle can go on for years. You must write because you love it, otherwise the reality of a normal writer's life will be a serious disappointment to you.
So if you're bored of writing, sick of your story and don't know why you bothered trying to get published in the first place, then fine. Take up some other creative work like painting or maybe join the local choir. If after six weeks you're happy and occupied and you barely think about stories and characters anymore, then writing isn't for you. It's not for everyone.
But if at the end of your six weeks, you still find that no matter how tired, upset, frustrated, sad or furious you get, there's a little voice in the back of your head whispering: make a note of this. You can use it in your next book. Then you're probably someone who's never going to kick the story habit. And in that case, keep trying. Keep writing. Keep researching and submitting. One day, it will happen.
I managed it. You can too.