Misconception #1. Write what you know
Writing what you know is important for your first book. There are so many things a new writer has to learn about writing. If he/she is at least an expert on the book's topic it can help things along considerably. For a lot of writers this works as a career plan as well. We all know best-selling authors of medical novels who are doctors, best-selling authors of legal thrillers who are lawyers. For my own writing, however, I find it more useful to pick a topic I am interested in then research it thoroughly. If you are planning on writing category romance and hope to be prolific, varying your topics and learning how to research them is an important aspect of success. Writing only what you're an expert in would be extremely limiting for most romance writers. So write what you're excited about (your enthusiasm will come through in the book and grab hold of the reader), and make sure you do your research.
Misconception #2. Write the book of your heart
Writing the book of your heart is wonderful advice for a literary author, but not necessarily a career romance novelist. Romance, and other popular fiction, authors are expected to write a good number of books regularly throughout their career. I'm not saying you should write books you hate. But I do think you should write books that sell. How to figure out what sells? Go to the bookstore.
Before you go, look at your bookshelves at home. (If you don't have bookshelves, if you don't like to read, if you're not absolutely passionate about the written word, do everyone in the publishing industry a favor and don't write. Becoming a published author is not a qet-rich-quick scheme. A lot of writers I know, including myself, have been writing for more than ten years and written a half-dozen to dozen full manuscripts before getting published. No writer I personally know sold her first manuscript.) Look at your favorite books. What genre are they in? What sub genre? Historical romance, mainstream women's fiction, chick lit, inspirational, category romance, etc.? Are they fast-paced, full of action, or flow slowly allowing the reader to savor each and every word, appreciating its richness on the tongue? Where are they set? What is the level of sensuality of these books? Who publishes them?
Once you have this information, go to the bookstore and find similar books to see the nuances of what is being bought by publishers today in those areas. I would recommend picking a specific publisher to target, especially if you want to be a career novelist. Different publishing houses have different expectations. The temptation, especially for first-time writers, is to write a book that is generic enough so that it could be placed with a number of publishers in case the first (or first few) rejects the manuscript. You run the risk, however, that the book is too generic and therefore won't be picked up by anyone. I think editors like to see that you did your homework, know what they're looking for, and can write to their needs.
Misconception #3. You can't write to trend
Yes you can, and I would recommend it for first-time authors most heartily. Trends do last. Romantic suspense has been popular for a couple of years now, chick lit is going strong, I'd be surprised if Young Adult romance petered out anytime soon. The fact is, publishers want to buy books the most number of readers want to read?and that is trend. Lines that are currently ?trendy? expand, putting out more books per month, which means editors of those lines are looking for new authors to fill those slots.
I'VE WRITTEN A BOOK. SHOULD I SUBMIT IT? [TOC]
Not yet. Not until you've edited it and you are sure it shines. I would recommend not submitting anything that hasn't been read by at least one other writer. I've never submitted a manuscript that hasn't been checked for me by multiple critique partners. I find that when I write a book, I'm too close to it to see it objectively. What I wanted to write is all wonderfully there in my head, and as I read through the manuscript my eyes skip over mistakes/problems with the plot. I tend to see the book as I had planned it and not as I wrote it. It helps if you set the manuscript aside for a month or so and then do your editing, but even so I'd recommend a second pair of eyes.
What if you don't know any other writers? Find them! Having a support system is critical to a successful writing career. Romance Writers of America (http://www.rwanational.org) has chapters throughout the country. If there isn't one within driving distance to you, join an online chapter. Working with knowledgeable critique partners will considerably cut down the time it will take you to get your book published. For a great guide on effective critique groups, check out Linda Griffin's book: The Writer's Guide to Critique Groups.
DO I NEED AN AGENT? [TOC]
That will depend on what type of books you write and which publishers you are targeting. Some publishers accept unagented manuscripts, some don't. Even if your publisher accepts unagented manuscripts, I would recommend getting a good agent as soon as you can. Think of your book as a project. It's easier to make a project successful with a strong team behind it, than with a single person toiling away. A good agent knows the needs and wants of publishers inside out, can negotiate you a better contract, and is an invaluable member of your team throughout your career. He/she will free up your time to do more of what writers like/should be doing: writing.
Check the acknowledgement page of books you like. Many authors thank their agents. Look in the latest Writers Market (http://www.writersmarket.com). This publication lists agents by genre. Romantic Times Book Club (http://www.romantictimes.com) lists agents who represent romance. The Association of Authors' Representatives (http://www.aar-online.org) has strict guidelines for its members. Make sure the agent you're considering is a member. Another useful source for agent information is Writer Beware (http://www.sfwa. org/beware) a web site that lists problematic agents.
But beware, you should never have to pay reading fees to an agent. That's the nuts and bolts of their business, to find the next great talent. Good agents make their living from earning commissions.
Both agents and publishers have their own rules about what they want to see in a submission. Submission Guidelines can be found on most publishers' web sites. If not, you can write them (make sure you include an SASE--self-addressed, stamped envelope) and request this information. Very rarely does anyone want to see a full manuscript as a first step. Do not send one unless specifically requested. Most agents/publishers will want either a query or a partial.
Query: An introductory letter that tells the agent/editor who you are and what your book is about.
Partial: Query letter + synopsis (outline of your book, about 1 page for every 10,000 words of manuscript) + first three chapters of the book.
Always include an SASE with enough postage to have everything mailed back to you!
Some publishers (e.g. Avon) now accept email queries. If your email doesn't have spell check, write your query letter in Word/Word Perfect then copy and paste. This is the fist impression the publisher will have of you. Make it as flawless as you can.
For more information about submitting a query/partial see the following article: How to Write a Partial that will have the Editor Asking for More.
Two things, really:
Read as much as you can in your chosen genre, but don't limit your reading to that only. Read everything. Know what's out in the marketplace, what books are successful. Reading is part of your research. That is how you'll notice emerging trends, how you'll get to know your competition, and how you'll recognize what is becoming trite.
Write every day. This is what separates writers who keep on talking and dreaming about getting published, from writers who make it. Becoming a writer takes a tremendous amount of dedication. If you look at interviews with best-selling authors, the one constant is that they all write at least six hours a day, at least 5 days a week, although some of them write a lot more than that. Realistically, not everyone can keep to such rigorous schedule. But try to at least take an hour a day to write. Infrequent writing spurts make for a choppy manuscript. If I'm away from my writing for a few days, I 'fall out' of the rhythm of the book and it takes forever to get back in.
Don't strive for perfection. You can fix mistakes when the book is done and you're editing it. Your first step should be to get the story down onto paper. This will give you a feeling of accomplishment that will energize you and help you get through the tedious editing process. Plus in the course of the book you might change direction, end up cutting scenes or even chapters. It hurts a lot less to cut 'draft' than perfectly polished prose.
A lot of aspiring writers believe that reading how to books and going to conferences will smother their originality and they'll end up writing formulaic books just like everyone else. I could not disagree more. I can't imagine any professional who thought he/she could do a better job untrained than trained. If your doctor told you she skipped medical school so the textbooks wouldn't taint his original approach to medicine, would you let her treat you?
When I first started writing, I didn't know about RWA (Romance Writers of America, http://www.rwanational.org), didn't know there was a local chapter near me, didn't go to conferences, didn't have critique partners. I learned everything by the extremely slow process of trial and error. When I went to my first conference I was amazed at the workshops. I learned as much in three days as in the previous five years, trying to go it alone! At a writers' conference you will meet friends you'll keep for life, hook up with critique partners, chat with editors/agents (if you have an appointment), listen to best-selling authors telling you how they made it. The information to be gained is priceless.
Don't despair. There are at least three ways to get around this obstacle.
Even if they say they don't take unagented manuscripts, you CAN send a query. A query is not a manuscript. DO NOT send a partial. Send a query and a 1 or 2 page excerpt from the book in proper manuscript format. Make sure those few pages are the best you can make them.
Go to a writers' conference where an editor from that publisher will be attending. Their names will be listed in the brochure under the agent/editor appointments. Make an appointment. If you can't get an appointment, go to the panel discussion, after it's over walk up to them and say, I couldn't get an appointment with you but may I query you' They will give you a business card.
Enter contests that editors from your chosen publisher judge. Usually the top 5 or so goes to the editor for final judging. Your book should be good enough to be in the top 5. Even if it's not the winner, don't wait for the editor to ask to see the full. Write them a thank you note, say you addressed their concerns on the score sheet, and ask if you could submit a partial or full. Most of the time they will say yes.
That depends on at what stage you are with your writing, what your strength/weaknesses are. These are some of the books I found most helpful and continue to refer to:
Ansen Dibell: Plot
I found this book immensely helpful and would recommend it to every aspiring author.
Christopher Vogler: The Writer's Journey
Based on Joseph Campbell's work, written in a more digestible format.
Debra Dixon: Goal, Motivation & Conflict
A must read.
Donald Maass: Writing the Breakout Novel
Solid advice from a knowledgeable industry professional. Every writer should read this book.
Dwight V. Swain: Techniques of a Selling Writer
This is one of my favorites. Solid advice.
Eve Paludan: Romance Writer's Pink Pages
A wonderful reference book that includes publishers' guidelines and tons of other industry information.
J. Canfield, M.V. Hansen, B. Gardner: Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul
Joseph Campbell: The Hero with a Thousand Faces
A super book, but not an easy read. Would recommend to advanced writers.
Julie Checkoway: Creating Fiction
A collection of essays from writers' workshop. Angled toward literary fiction.
Kathryn Falk: How to Write a Romance and Get it Published
Leonard J Rosen: The Everyday English Handbook
A concise guide to grammar.
Linda Griffin: The Writer's Guide to Critique Groups
Excellent source, written by an editor.
Linda Seger: Creating Unforgettable Characters
The title says it all. One of my favorites.
Linda Seger: Making a Good Script Great
Whether you're writing scripts or novels, I think you'll find this practical guide useful. Full of illustrations from well-known motion pictures.
Marc McCutcheon: Building Believable Characters
A great guide for beginning writers.
Excellent advice! Take it to heart.
Noah Lukeman: The Plot Thickens
Lots of exercises to sharpen your fiction.
R. Browne & D. King: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
A must for every writer. It will help you make that all-important good first impression on editors.
Robert McKee: Story
A super book, but not an easy read. I'd recommend it to the advanced writer.
Sol Stein: Stein on Writing
Would recommend to advanced writers.
Stephen King: On Writing
A wonderful insight into the life of a mega-author. He has a lot to teach, and it's all in easily digestible, no-nonsense prose.
Sue Crafton: Writing Mysteries
A collection of essays by top writers of the genre.
Syd Field: Screenplay
Great for plotting. A classic.
Valerie Parv: The Art of Romance Writing
A great book for beginning romance writers.
W. I. Strunk & E.B. White: The Elements of Style
A classic for good reason.
PREPARE A PARTIAL THAT WILL HAVE EDITORS ASKING FOR MORE
(This is a partial outline of a workshop I give. If you'd like me to present this workshop for your local writers' group, email me at DanaMarton@danamarton.com).
Telling about yourself is the query letter's most important role if you also have synopsis and first 3 chapters attached, as they'll tell the agent/editor about your book.
This is the place to convince the agent/editor that he/she is not wasting his/her time reading your manuscript.
It helps if you have some writing credits. Good news is you can build your query letter actively, just like you would build a resume. A couple of ways to build your query letter are:
Editors want serious, prolific writers. They'll put money into advertising your name, and building name recognition for you, they'll want more than one book out of you. If you're prolific, mention this in your query letter.
The synopsis is the summary of your story.
Don't leave the agent/editor in suspense. Do reveal the end of the story, the resolution. A synopsis is not the same as a cover blurb.
This is the most important piece of the partial!!!!!!!!!!!
Everything that comes before just shows them you're a professional. The partial shows them whether you have any talent.
(Ideally your partial would start with the inciting incident and end with the first turning point, a cliff-hanger.)
Your writing is what seals the deal. If the query and synopsis is so so but your writing shines they'll still ask for the full. If the query and synopsis shines but your writing is not up to par, they won't.
In the first three chapters you have to:
I've heard editors say that it's easier to fix plot then voice. Let your unique voice shine!
Recommended reading: Noah Lukeman, THE FIRST FIVE PAGES