So you wanna be a writer? Drawing on 15 years of assessing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts and helping several authors begin professional careers, this blog gives writers advice on how to create an effective manuscript. I'll be looking at how to chose a genre and format; how to get professional feedback and how to doctor your own book; how to make the best use of feedback and how to get your project published or produced whether it be fiction, non-fiction, a graphic novel or a screenplay.
You wanna be a writer? Why not? Why not you? How hard can it
be right? It's not hard. Or at least no harder than becoming an astronaut or a
brain surgeon and plenty of people do that, right? So, if it's what you want to
do, go for it.
And because I like the look of you, I'm gonna do everything
I can to help you, but only you. Okay.
The first thing you have to do to be a writer is to write
something. If you want to get a novel published you have to write a novel. Not
always. If you are Stephen King or Stephanie Meyers or if your Daddy owns a
publishing company and you're in his good books, you only have to write a
letter talking about the idea for your book and you'll get a contract. But for
the rest of us we have to write the book, and hopefully that will be the fun
part because if you’re doing it for fame and riches, those bits might not come
at all. For most people, even published ones, they don’t.
Once you’ve written your book the next thing you should do
is throw it away, or maybe burn it or use it to write your next book on the
back of. Because the first book is almost certainly going to be awful.I know mine was.
I’m not being pessimistic here or doubting your ability. I’m
just saying, this is how things usually work. Olympic sprinters had to learn
how to walk once. Their first race at kindergarten probably wasn’t all that
spectacular. Your brain surgeon couldn’t use a knife and fork once upon a time.
They might have been pretty bright at high school and even watched enough of ER
to have got a pretty good idea about doctoring, but we don’t really want to let
them lose in our craniums until they’ve finished med school.
Statistics show that it takes, on average, about nine years
to master any complex skill. So be prepared. If you don’t throw out that first
novel, you will rewrite it so many times it will be a different novel by the
time it is publishable. Because that is
how you are going to master your skill, by practicing it. Writing, and
rewriting. Page after page after page. Which is how every skill is mastered,
through practice, making mistakes and learning from them. Now it is a lot
easier to do this if we get some training to help guide our practice. If you
want to play golf you can watch a couple of games on TV and then get on the
course and start making like Happy Gilmore. Or you can get a golf pro to teach
Many budding authors think because they have read books they
know how to write them, and depending on one’s innate ability, one may indeed
achieve a lot in this way, but your chances of achieving anything are much
greater if you get guidance. If you can enrol in a class with a good teacher or
find an established writer or editor to give you some feedback or mentorship,
you will progress much more swiftly and surely than if you are trying to
reinvent the wheel all by yourself.
There is no substitute for being an avid reader. You should
read widely, in your genre and outside it. Read the classics. This stretches
your vocabulary and helps you to think creatively about language. And you
should read as much about the industry as possible. Research the basic
information on how to format your book, how to structure it and prepare it for
submission. That way, your first book might not be quite as terrible as most
first novels and it will definitely be a darn sight better than mine.
I think it is a very wise move for any serious writer to
submit their work for professional assessment at some point. If you are blessed
with any wisdom you will realise that you are a developing writer embarked upon
an ambitious project and you want to get some idea of how close you are to
achieving your goal. A good assessment will tell you that. Have realistic
expectations though when you send your work in and be prepared to be directed
back to the drawing board. Look at how much work you have put in. How far into
your expected nine-year journey are you? Have you read up on the industry? Have
you done classes or workshops? How much have you actually read and how much
have you written? Your assessment should tell you if the work shows promise or
not. It should tell you what the strengths and weaknesses are. Sometimes an
author discovers that the aspects of the work they were most concerned about
are fine but there are other aspects they didn’t even think of that need
attention. The important thing, though, is that when you go back to that
drawing board, you’ll be much better armed to continue with the task, or start
a fresh project on a firmer footing.
The assessment should be part of your training. It will be
like a tutorial via correspondence with someone who has read your ms
thoroughly, analysing and making notes as they go, on everything from your
grasp of grammar to the solidity of your plot and the believability of your
I started assessing manuscripts in 1997 and I’ve assessed
hundreds since then, freelancing for other agencies and running my own. I’ve
had the pleasure of assessing a couple of manuscripts that needed nothing but
my recommendation to publishers that they be published.Such as Scheherazade
by Anthony O’ Neil (published by HarperCollins), and Mishaps by Nansi Kunze (published by Random House). But most needed
some work. Some a lot. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with author’s like
Chris Ride whose The Schumann Frequency
seemed to me to have the promise of being a bestseller although it needed a lot
of work. I worked with Chris for a year after my initial assessment (which was
Chris’s fourth) before the Schumann
Frequency was ready for publication. Chris has just released his third book
The Inca Curse which will, hopefully
also hit the bestseller lists.
What every author I have seen succeed has in common, in
addition to talent, is an incredible work ethic. I know no one who succeeded
with their first novel unless they rewrote it over many years. They also tend
to be humble and willing to learn. They realise how difficult it is to write
well. Their realistic expectations prepare them for the journey ahead and
sustain them through the hard patches. In the following blogs I’m going to be
going into more detail on how the assessment process can help authors refine
their art and gain success. I’ll be going into how to choose an assessor and
how to get the most out of the process.
Down the track we’ll also be looking at many of the skills
of writing, because the best way to get the most out of an assessment it to submit
a promising ms. So I’ll be mentoring you with the basics so that you have all
that covered and the assessor can concentrate on anything that might have somehow
eluded you. Hey, this is exciting. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get
Til next time.
But in the meantime, if you think you may be ready for an assessment
now, check out my website at www.possiblepress.com
And if you want to read one of my novels. Well, here's one I just published on Amazon which is being made into a film for release in 2013. It's a short one so I'm only charging $5.95. Lucky you.