Monday, August 30, 2010

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams…for Writers

Portrait of Ivan Pavlov--1935--Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov One thing that I noticed during my book tour was how many people would like to be writers or authors.

A couple of times, writers approached our table at signings. They wanted to know our secrets for getting an agent or getting a publisher. And, yes, the word “secret” was actually used by one of the people.

My mind boggled a little at the thought of boiling all the publishing advice down into the quick sound bite they seemed to be looking for. Avery Aames, who was with me, was very good to point to helpful reference guides for writers— Literary Marketplace (which you can also get an online subscription to) and Writers Market, and the need to direct queries to the right agent instead of doing a blanket search.

I was glad Avery jumped in because honestly, I’m not sure how I would have answered that question in less than twenty minutes (which was time I didn’t have.)

Thinking on it now, I’d also recommend that people read books in the genre they’re writing to make sure they’re in line with the market expectations for the genre, read industry-related blogs—written by agents and editors as well as writers, that they find an objective person to help critique their work, and that they learn how to write a query letter from sites like Query Shark, The Rejector, Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent, and Pub Rants. This is all assuming they’ve really got their manuscript in excellent, submission-ready shape.

Avery also mentioned the need to develop a thick skin and persevere, which I thought was a very good point. She and I both got our share of rejections before landing our agents and publishers (I was actually rejected at least once by the agent I currently have.)

Avery might disagree, but I thought the writers looked a little disappointed with her on-target advice…and maybe were hoping for a magic bullet. Sad to say, there really isn’t one—it’s just a combination of luck, perseverance, research, and practicing the craft.

Then there were people I’ve spoken to recently who’ve looked at me sadly and said they always wanted to be a writer.

For those folks, I’m quick to respond, but I think I need to develop a more sympathetic approach. Actually, my approach is more reproach. If you’ve always wanted to write, you should write! It may not be the luxury of hours of writing (it’s not for me), but you can fit in ten to fifteen minutes a day if you really want to. That’s exactly what I did seven years ago with Sesame Street playing in the background as I scratched together a first draft. If you write a page a day, you can have a first draft in less than a year.

And these people clearly wanted to write. They really looked like they were on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams when they were talking to me about their hope of writing.

Plus—they spoke in the past tense as if it was too late to try to write. It’s never too late. I’ve not seen a single agent or editor who wants to know how old we are in our query letter. All they care about is a good story. It is too late, though, if we’re dead before we try to pen something. And then that is a shame.

What advice do you have for people looking for an agent or publisher? And what do you tell people who say they always wanted to write (because I think I need some sensitivity training for that second question.) :)