Monday, 31 January 2011
TEN ESSENTIAL TOOLS FOR PUBLICATION
Happy Monday, everyone! Today, I thought it was time to look at some essential writing tools - or, actually, I should say PUBLICATION tools. Of course, all anyone needs in order to write is a pencil and a scrap of paper. That's how shopping lists are made. But if you want to write something good and get published, you need to make an effort to aquire all of the following items. I really, honestly think that they are essential, and I will now tell you why.
1) A notebook which you carry with you at all times
Why this is important: Because your brain, like the brains of all humans, is a sponge. Just as the liquid of inspiration can flood it at any moment, it can equally easily drain out again, leaving your mind dry and slightly crunchy with the bitterness of lost opportunity. Trust me. Unless you intend to take up muttering your ideas to yourself over and over again until you reach home and your computer (which I have done on occasion, and trust me, it doesn't win you any friends) you need a notebook.
2) Pens and pencils. Lots of 'em
Why this is important: Your notebook is just a hunk of dried out tree pulp without them, and they are surprisingly easy to forget. And even if you remember your one favourite pen that you carry everywhere - it's bound to run out or get lost at the crucial moment. Fill your bag and pocket with the little suckers. I prefer propelling pencils because they're not going to leak and ruin my trousers/bag, but whatever your perferred writing tool, stock up and keep them handy.
3) A computer
Why this is important: I know I was just banging on about notebooks and pens, but publishers will not accept handwritten manuscripts. Ever. And they're pretty dubious about typed ones too - not to mention that revising a typed manuscript means re-typing the entire thing every single time. You need access to a computer. Enough access to be able to type up and format your book - eg. a LOT of access. Save up for your own, bargain for extra time on your family model, whatever. This is not optional.
4) A laser printer
Why this is important: Have you ever tried to print out a four hundred page manuscript on an old fashioned ink-jet printer? Have you ever tried to print out a four hundred page manuscript at the library with people standing in line, muttering and tapping their feet, behind you? If so, I need say no more. If not, count yourself lucky. Back when I first got my first laser printer (a secondhand model which my father had liberated from an office, and which was given to me for my twentieth birthday) they and their toner cartridges were ridiculously expensive. Nowadays they're cheap, reliable and readily available from eBay. Get one You can thank me later.
5) A copy of The Writer's and Artist's Yearbook (or your country's equivalent)
Why this is important: Because if you read it carefully it will answer around 80% of your questions on how to get published, and if you follow its instructions your chances of getting published go up by about 75%. Yes, I'm seriously. About half of the emails I get ask me to answer basic questions, the answers to which are found in this book, along with the addresses of all UK publishers and agents (or US, or whichever country you come from - and believe me, there is a version of this book in pretty much every country with a publishing industry). You won't understand how vital this book is until you have your own copy.
6) A library card
Why this is important: I'm astonished by the number of people who don't have them! Chances are if you want to write you're going to have to do various kinds of research and because non-fiction and reference books are generally the most expensive, you can spend hundreds on books which will often only have one chapter or even one page which is helpful. But your library will supply you with these books FOR FREE. Plus, it is everyone's duty to support their local library, especially writers.
7) Internet access
Why this is important: Most of my younger readers are now asking themselves - isn't that too obvious to be mentioned? But bear in mind that up until a few years ago most people didn't have internet access at home. Agents and publishers only accepted manuscripts via post. Editors and agents were mysterious and shadowy people that you only got to learn about once you'd actually broken through and found one. This is no longer true. Nowadays you can follow an agent or editor's blog and learn incredibly valuable information on their personality, tastes and preferences which hugely increases your chance of making successful submissions. You can save substantially on postage costs by sending queries and manuscripts via email. You can develop personal relationships with agents and editors and benefit from their insights online. You can also - and this is really important - find groups of like-minded writers who are at the same stage of the writing/publishing process as you, and make friends who will not only keep you sane, but maybe even become beta-readers or critique partners. The internet has lifted much of the painful solitude of the writing profession. Take advantage of that.
8) The ability to accept criticism
Why this is important: Because you'll get criticism whether you want it or not. When you write anything - a book, a book review, fanfic, a blog post - and send it out into the world, you will soon find that eeeeveryone's a critic. A lot of writers don't read reviews and try to shield themselves from this, and I applaud their self control. But personally I think that giving into the temptation to read bad as well as good reviews can help you to understand other people's perceptions of your work, and eventually improve your skills as a writer. Plus, you WILL have to take criticism from agents and editors - you might as well get used to winnowing the helpful comments from the not-so-helpful comments, and to taking both with a smile.
9) The ability to reject criticism
Why this is important: Because otherwise you'll go (even more) nuts. You can't please all the people all the time. You're lucky if you can please some of them some of the time. If you get published, people you've never met will say inevitably outrageous things, make unfair assumptions, and come to incorrect conclusions about you and your work, whether that's in a respected review journal or on Amazon or Goodreads. Even before you get published, you will on occasion need to argue your point with an agent or editor who has their own opinion on what you have written. Without being aggressive or defensive, make sure that you have a core of self belief in your writing and do not let anyone impinge upon this. That way lies madness (the unproductive kind).
10) An enduring passion for books and stories
Why this is important: I have never met or heard of a published author who didn't love books. Simple as that. I have recently been noticing a surge in unpublished authors on various writing sites who state that since they want to be a writer and not a librarian, they see no need to read. They say that if they read the work of other authors, their unique voice could be compromised. They say they don't like reading. They say they are dedicated to their writing and have no time to read. They say that they don't want to absorb cliches. They say, frankly, all kinds of cr*p. To which I say: Hahahahahahahahahah. Ha. Haha. Ha. Ha. Those guys are never, ever going to get published. They're never even going to write anything that remotely resembles a book. I mean, maybe once every three or four generations a genius is born who can master an artform simply through sheer talent, like Mozart picking up a violin for the first time and playing a concerto. But guess what? YOU ARE NOT THAT PERSON. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read some more. If you don't like it, keep on doing it until you do. And if you can't fall in love with other people's words and stories and characters and worlds, no matter how much you read? Then just take up stamp collecting or something. Writers are readers. The end.
What other essential tools do you guys think a would-be published writer needs? Or do you disagree with me on any of these? Let me know in the comments!