On Getting Published

So here it is. You write your first draft. It’s pretty awful, the ghost of your novel. You go back and revise it, and your second draft has more meat. It still has lots of holes here and unnecessary filler there, so you revise. You polish. You cut and trim and polish some more. Your novel begins to shine, so you send it out. Rejection. Lots of rejection. Was it your query? Your opening pages? You don’t know, so you go back and revise. You polish.

By now you know your characters so well, you have conversations with them. You obese over details. You read about agents and what kind of novels they are looking for. You alternate between despair and obstinate hope. You keep polishing.

Because you’re a writer, you are a natural introvert, but you force yourself to go to workshops and writers groups where you learn you aren’t alone. You feel marginally better about polishing. Then you start going to conferences. You work on pitching. You become slightly more confident.

Lightening strikes. You find an agent. She likes your book. You celebrate for a moment then obsess about whether she’ll find a publisher. When she does find a publisher you almost pass out before you do a happy dance. Congratulations! You have a two-book deal!

You have something to show for your years of hard work; though, now you obsess about whether anyone will like your book. 

Wait. A two-book deal means compressing seven years of work into one. Oh well, sleep isn’t that important. 

Keeping at it is.

P.S. My debut novel The Eighth Circle, a noir thriller, will be published in January 2016 by Crooked Lane Books. 

You Too Can Be A Published Author (Or Maybe Not)

The 66th Philadelphia Writers Conference, the oldest writers’ conference in the country concluded on Sunday. This was my second year attending, and overall had a very satisfying experience. I gained some insight from the workshops, met some new people, and learned (to paraphrase Dickens) that this is both the best and worst of times to be a writer.

Sound confusing? Not really. It’s the best of times because writers have options, meaning there are many pathways to getting our words into print: self publishing, indie publishing, e-publishing. The problem with this method is, the writer will be on the hook for a large chunk (or all) of the costs and the publicity. And please get your work professionally edited because most self-published books need it.

So the writer still has the option of traditional publishing, but of course, one needs to find an agent. The writer doesn’t have any hope of finding an agent unless his/her work is totally polished, professionally edited, and perfect; however, if the writer does all this, there is a small chance the writer will get picked up.

By the way 95% of published books don’t make back their advances.

Am I discouraged? Hell, no. I’m a writer. That’s what I do. If I wanted predictable, I’d have picked another profession (though I’m not sure any profession is predictable today).

Writers conferences are good to attend if only to remind us that we do not labor alone in our bat caves. It’s important to see that others struggle with the same issues. We may not all reach The New York Times best seller list, but we are all part of a larger community.


November is the worst time of the year to have to try to write a novel in a month. Although you don’t have to deal with the insanity of Christmas present buying (unless you’re organized and shop early), you usually end up planning or participating in the holiday feast which can put a severe crimp into your word count for the day.

I did do the Story A Day, May Short Story Challenge, and that was great fun, but a short story can be as short (or long) as you wish it to be. A novel takes a wee bit more planning.

I try to write 2,000 to 3,000 words per day (not necessarily on the same project), and have a novel started. I’m not sure if it’s insanity or stubbornness that is the driving force here. It is a good incentive. I’ll let you know if I finish because that will only be the beginning. I’ll have to revise because all first drafts are really shit.

Meanwhile, back in my other world . . .

Thinking Differently


How many times have you been told that to get published today, you need to think outside the box? Being creative will get you noticed. Oh yes, it’s nice if you can write a lovely sentence too. I hear this refrain in writing classes, critique groups, and at writing conferences. One agent at a recent conference said that by making her vampires sparkle, Stephanie Meyer made her series unique. Excuse me? Twilight succeeded despite its dreadful writing because it used the classic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl plot. The author was ahead of he curve by using vampires and werewolves as her teenage protagonists, but let’s be honest, vampire stories have been around for quite some time. As for the dreadful Fifty Shades of Gray (or as my children call it (“Mommy Porn”), anal beads and nipple clamps a best seller do make as long as romance is involved.

These two books are neither amazing nor well written. They’re awful, but stirred enough prurient interest to make them into best sellers, and lets face it folks, that’s what the publishing industry is really looking for.

You can’t blame them really. Publishers are running scared with so many distractions on the internet, they want sure bets when they put a book to press. But let’s stop the pretense that if you write like James Joyce or F. Scott Fitzgerald and come up with the newest and most outrageous plot in the world, you’re a sure bet to get either an agent or publishing contract. Who knows if either of those literary giants could get published today? After all, they had fabulous editors who recognized their considerable talents and helped form their books.

That aside, with few exceptions (and I’m talking the top literary writers here), we mortals need to line up and prepare to grind it out.

Lest you think, I’m just a grumpy old coot, I do wish every single writer out there the best of luck. It’s a slog, my friends, but you learn a lot in the process. You may not get the six figure advance, but you will learn so much the more you keep at it. Network, go to conferences, talk to people, join writers groups. Don’t sit in front of your computers and contemplate how you can write the great American novel. Think about how you can write the best novel you can, then write. Once you’re done. Revise. Write some more. Have people read your stuff. Most of you know this, but I’m always surprised by how many writers are so intimidated by showing their work.

Start with your family because they’ll always give you uncritical praise (unless your family happens to be a writing family like mine in which case you’ll find out fast what isn’t working). Then move out to a small critique group. Trust me everyone’s nervous. If one group doesn’t work, you can always change to another.

Most importantly don’t give up. If you feel you have to write, then do it. Writing is a calling. You either follow it or you don’t. When you feel like your plot is a little mundane or ordinary, remember there are only five plots. (I’m not naming them because if you’re writers, you should know them.) They’ve all been used. You don’t need sparkly vampires or anal beads. But well honed words and a few plot twists couldn’t hurt.

One last thing, as writers, we all need to support each other. Author Jonathan Maberry has made it a mantra that “Writers should support writers.” He’s a best selling author who still makes time to talk to working authors, give advice, and is a genuine good guy. We should all keep that in mind.



The World of Self Promotion

I have just returned from another writers’ conference where I was reminded once again that writing a novel today is only a part of the writer’s job. After an agent is procured, contracts are signed and a somewhat diminished bonus is agreed upon, said writer must then switch hats and turn into a publicity machine unless he or she has the means to hire a publicist.

Today you must create a platform so that you have a built in audience once you go to press. Then be prepared for the dog and pony show to follow–clown suit and red nose optional.

Look we all know the publishing industry took a hit in the recession, just like everything else in this country, and the industry wants to protect its top producer, but really. We all know the authors ho dominate the Times best seller list aren’t going to fade to obscurity if publishers spend a little more on new talent, especially if new authors prove their willingness to participate in the publicity process.

Who knows? It could end up being a win-win for everybody.

Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Work . . . and Write


It occurred to me that I spend spend much of my time in front of a computer, and that I can measure my life, not in coffee spoons, but in keystrokes.

It isn’t a bad thing. I love writing. I have thousands of characters in my head waiting to escape, but the attendant social media and other demands of my life often interfere.

How much time should one devote to social media? Authors have disclosed they spend as little as ten minutes to hours on line, depending on their popularity. Most top-selling authors have flacks to take care their author pages.

But for someone just getting started, the process can seem overwhelming. Yes, you need to establish a presence in the social media, but it takes away from writing time, and that is a very precious commodity.

Every minute I spend online is time I could be writing or rewriting. So I’ve put myself on a time budget. I don’t do anything until I have reached my page quota for the day.

I just don’t have the time.

The Dreaded Revision

I’ve been doing a bit of editing while working on my usual fiction (writers have to eat), and it struck me that a large problem with a lot of writing today is a severe lack of editing. I’m not talking about the occasional typo. I’m talking about serious grammar and structural mistakes. I realize we aren’t all literary writers, but that isn’t an excuse for sloppy writing either.

Look, I’m making no claim to literary greatness, but I do know my first draft is never my best. I’ve also spent enough years editing other people’s work to know that no one gets it right the first time. You really need to polish your work. It gets tiresome to hear over and over, but the harder you work at it, the more it will shine.

That’s not to say dreadful writing doesn’t get published. You might get lucky, but chances are, you’ll be the one doing the publishing.

On Rejection

I’ve just received my 57th form rejection email for my novel. I like to print them out and keep them in a file. It hasn’t slowed me too much because there are a lot of agents out there.

In the mean time I keep writing short stories and flash fiction and have started another novel, so I stay busy. If you’re going to write, you need a thick skin.

The only thing that bugs me are the agents that ask you to send pages and don’t read them. I understand agents are busy people and all that, but if they’re so busy don’t ask for pages in the first place. (By the way, I’m not just talking queries with attached pages, I’m talking requested pages here.)

How do I know they don’t bother to read? I’ve started to place a tiny, almost invisible pencil mark under the paper clip holding my pages on snail mail submissions, and the pages have come back pristine, the clip in it’s same position. (On e-mail submissions, who knows?)

I don’t care if an agent reads my stuff and writes back, “This is crap.” At least I know the agent took the time, and I didn’t waste the postage. But don’t ask for pages you don’t intend to read. Writers pay postage. It shows a lack of class to ignore work that you requested. Don’t do it.

It won’t stop me from sending out queries, and you know, it’s not that hard to act like a human being.

Got to go. More queries to mail.

The Lonliness of the Professional Writer

ImageHello, writers. I’m talking to those of you who are struggling with your first novel, short story, article, whatever, and perhaps you’re waiting for inspiration, the muse, or lighting to strike before you write that bestseller or Pulitzer Prize winning piece. I’ve got news. It’s not going to happen. At least not right away.

Writing is a solitary, sometimes horribly lonely profession. It’s also a job. Professionals will tell you that you have to make time to write every day, and you have to do it. SET ASIDE TIME. Don’t use it to go on line. Don’t check Facebook, Twitter, or whatever other sites you use. Write. Set a word goal and keep to it. If you hate it, you can always revise. Not everything you write is going to be good, but if you keep writing, you will get better. The important thing is that you keep at it.

Keep doing it until you get the story finished. Then go back and edit. Your first draft probably won’t be great, but that’s okay. You can edit and polish and edit and polish. Do this. Constantly.

Another thing: hear your writing. Take the time to read it. Out loud. Listen to the rhythms and cadence. Does it sound right? Would you want to listen to it on an audio book or does it make you cringe. If it’s the latter, revise. Again.

Ask people to read what you’ve written. Start with friends and move on to writing groups and people who will be more critical, but thoughtfully critical. Get to know other writers. There are a lot out there, and many of them are going through the same things you are. Get to know them. They are (for the most part) wonderfully supportive and helpful.

Finally, read. I don’t mean just best sellers. Read everyone. Learn different styles and genres. If you appreciate good writing, your writing will get better. Don’t get discouraged. It will happen if you keep at it. Read short stories, novels, graphic novels, whatever. Just read.

Carry a notebook and make notes about what you see in the world. If you’re really sneaky, you can jot down a good turn of phrase. It works. I’ve stolen a bunch from my kids.

Writers’ conferences are also a great resource, if you can afford them. You’ll discover a world of people who, like you, are trying to figure this writing business out. The speakers and even the agents who come are extremely pleasant, helpful and full of good information.

Finally never stop learning. There’s never a point where you can’t discover something new.

You can’t sit around waiting for inspiration to hit like a lightening bolt from the sky because it probably won’t. But remember, you aren’t alone.


31 and Still Going

I just finished the Story a Day Challenge, which was to write one story every day in May. I am not a short story writer by nature, but thought why not? I have to say it was terrific to have to come with a story every day. Sometimes I followed the prompts; sometimes I didn’t. The important thing, however, was every day I was writing.

That’s the key to it. Writers have to write. No excuses. I’ve stopped wandering around the internet when an idea doesn’t come right away and switched over to something else. A scene that’s not working in a longer piece often makes a good short story. Not saying I’ve solved the mystery of writing by any means, but this has been an eye-opening experience.

I’ve also started to take trips around other blog sites to read other writers and am so amazed by the quality of your writing. I’m learning to appreciate genres I never liked before.

I’m still churning out stories, some of which I’ll post, but not every day. Just wanted to say to all the writers out there–published, unpublished, pros and beginners–best of luck and keep on writing.