In the many years I’ve been blogging here at As The Eraser Burns, we’ve posted lots of Coffee & Conversation Interviews with editors, agents, art directors, authors, and illustrators. Within each are brilliant nuggets of advice that deserve a revisiting. So today, I’m starting a Flashback Friday series of posts with answers for various questions from those who have taken a turn in the C&C cyber chair.
What advice for beginners do you wish you would have followed?
From author Carol Larese Millward:
Wow, good question—and there are so many things I wish I had done. First, the SCBWI is a wonderful organization, so I’d advise any serious writer to take advantage of all they have to offer. I signed up for a manuscript critique at a SCBWI conference, and the author I met that day passed along information about the publisher who published my book! Too often over the years I didn’t make enough time to attend conferences.
Second, I wish I had taken more writing courses. I find that just being in a learning environment with other writers is not only inspirational but motivational as well. There’s so much to learn, and I feel like I’m always playing “catch up”!
Third, believe in yourself and work hard to make it happen.
From author/illustrator Pam Smallcomb:
I would tell that beginner to ignore the market and any and all trends. Write the story you would have loved to have discovered on a bookshelf. Write the book that you would have picked up to read, not what an editor says she is looking for. Don’t be afraid to write outside of what you see in the market. Be brave and please yourself.
From author Sarah Sullivan
Actually, I wish I had NOT followed one piece of advice because I wasted a lot of time respecting the rule of not contacting a publishing company when they keep your manuscript for a long time. A company which shall remain unnamed kept my first novel for 14 months. After 7 months, they sent me a postcard saying my manuscript “was being passed around for a second/third read.” I waited another 7 months before I contacted them and finally received a very complimentary rejection. In hindsight, I wish I had gone ahead and sent the manuscript to other publishers.
From author Mary Quattlebaum
Do some creative writing every day, even if it is but a small poem or a paragraph. That way you keep the ideas flowing and the momentum going even if you have other professional and/or family that take precedence that day (or week).
From illustrator Lauren Stringer
Believe in yourself. If you want to write, start writing and set aside all of the contingencies you set up for yourself. The dishes can wait, recycle the mailers, grab a cup of coffee or tea and begin filling the page.
From author/illustrator David LaRochelle
After my first book was published I thought I was beyond taking writing classes. I had a book published; what more did I need to learn? That misguided superior attitude greatly slowed my career. Once I wised up years later and started taking writing classes, attending workshops and conferences, and joining a critique group, the quality and quantity of my writing made dramatic leaps forward.
I would also advise anyone to have a literary lawyer review your first book contract, something I did not do but wished I had.
From author John Coy
From Catherine Reef
I don’t have such a regret, but my advice is: never stop believing in yourself, learn as much as you can about using the English language, and keep on trying.
From author Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen
Don’t wait for a response longer than six months. And really, this advice is moot in this time of email. But back when it was all done by snail mail, nothing happened very quickly.
From non-fiction author Ed Sullivan
Never throw away anything you write no matter how trivial or awful it seems to be at the time.
From author Ann McCallum
I wish I had taken more courses on craft. I wish I had gotten involved in the writer’s community earlier.
From author Cindy Callaghan
I see the recipe for success in these areas. Each one has countless books written about it.
- A well-written story: By well-written I mean all of the basics: spelling, grammar, punctuation, lay-out. You can have the most genius idea in the world, but if you aren’t adhering to the traditional grammar rules and you’re buried in typos, no one will take you seriously. This took me a very long time to learn. I am a terrible typist and an awful proof-reader, and even though I was an English major, I make LOTS of spelling and grammatical errors. I really try not to, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort.
- A well-told story: By well-told story I mean a unique story idea with rich, colorful characters involved in an interesting or intriguing plot. These three things are huge so I want to say them again:
- A unique story idea (“concept”)
o With rich, colorful characters
o Involved in an interesting and intriguing plot
- A unique story idea (“concept”)
I think a safe critique group or feedback from multiple places is crucial to creating a well-written and well-told story.
- A well-pitched query: A strong query letter and synopsis are needed. These two documents can be short, but can take an eternity to write. And it is important that they are very tight and polished. I had my query and synopsis critiqued several times before it was ready to send out. Many articles about writing query letters are available on the internet.
- An advocate: If you are unfamiliar with the publishing industry, you probably need someone who can represent you, an agent. Once you have a solid project to shop around, consider attending conferences. It’s a great way to get the lay of the land and to familiarize yourself with literary agents. This is the route I went. Of course, authors can query publishers directly.