Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Writing Doctor on The ABCs of Writing Fiction

You've met The Neurotic Writer, now welcome The Writing Doctor, from the (mostly) serious side of the mixed up brain of mystery/suspense writer, Tina LaVon. The Writing Doctor will share her take on writing fiction. Hopefully, you will learn from her research, experience, and yes, even her mistakes.

Lesson One: The ABCs of Writing Fiction
A – Always be professional. The writing community is small and word gets around fast. Bad behavior can cost you an editor or agent. Also, remember other writers are readers as well. You'll lose sales if you act like the writing gods worship the table you write on.

B – Buy books in your target market and read, read, read. You need to know what publishers are buying. The guidelines on their websites will help, but you need to read the books to understand the style and voice they like as well. There are many publishers who buy suspense, but they vary in how dark they are willing to go. Reading their books will tell you this. Also, if you’re targeting Harlequin, their category lines all have common threads. Read at least 10-15 books in a category before writing a manuscript for them.

C – Craft books and tapes are your friend. You need to know what editors will be expecting from you as a writer. Know your craft. I like to listen to conference tapes/CDs while I’m driving, cleaning, or doing busy work. (Yes, I do clean when the stars are in the proper alignment.)

D – Develop a thick skin. This business is tough. I have seen great writers receive rejection after rejection. It isn’t personal. In the beginning of your career, it could be because you have a lot to learn. I know my first manuscripts weren’t ready to publish. Unfortunately, even after you’ve written a great story, you can be rejected because the publisher doesn’t have room for a new author or they just published a book similar to yours. A common rejection is the book “didn’t grab” them. I believe that means you wrote a good book technically, but it isn’t different enough from what’s out there to warrant the publisher taking a risk on you. The readers aren’t going to spread the word that you are awesome if you don’t stand out. Word of mouth sells books. (More on this when we get to T.)

E – Enter contests. You’ll start developing that thick skin after you start entering contests. Contests give you feedback and if you final you become an “award winning author.” Finaling in a contest will also build your confidence and validate that you are getting closer to your goal of publication.

Contests don’t usually get you published, (unless it’s the Dorchester Contest) but the editor judging the final round might request to read the full manuscript. I only enter contests if the final round editor is someone I’m targeting.

It is very important to remember that all contest judges are looking for what they think might be wrong with your manuscript. Comments reflect their beliefs and preferences. Read their feedback carefully, but only make changes to your story if it rings true to you. It is your book. On the other hand, if more than a few judges say the same thing, they might be on to something. Pay attention.

Writers write because they love it. Remind yourself of that when you have those depressing moments. There’s nothing like reading a wonderful paragraph that inspires or makes you laugh and then remembering you wrote it.

The ABCs of Writing Fiction will continue next Sunday. Can you guess what F stands for?
(Don’t go there :)


Anonymous said...

Very Interesting! The differences between the 2 types of writers in intriguing.

Anonymous said...

Another wonderful and infomrative post Tina.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Tina. Good tips, all!I'm currently a judge for the Orange Rose Contest put on by OCC/RWA, and it is true that we are looking for what might be wrong as well as what we like. I entered many contests before I sold my first book, and the comments and suggestions are extremely helpful. You do have to put on that thick skin, though! (:

Carol Webb said...

What a great post, Tina. Thanks!

Tina LaVon said...

Thanks, ladies.
Switching back and forth between The Neurotic Writer and The Writing Doctor will probably give me a split personality and a major headache. LOL