Since I get a lot of questions from aspiring writers, and I don’t always have time to give people more than what may sound like a flippant answer (write a lot and keep sending your stuff to people who can pay you money for it — which may sound flippant, but really is the bottom line), I wanted to have a page on my site I can point people to for more information. This is it. It’s not much right now, but I plan to grow this page over time.
Games Writers Play
Most writers play games. They might use other words for them — challenges, mental tricks, techniques — but the purpose is always the same. The point is to find ways to put the butt in the chair and get the words flowing; to trick the mind so that the critical voice, the one that tells you that you’re no good, that you can’t possibly write even a decent sentence much less a whole story or novel, gets out of the way.
I’m a game player myself. Like a lot of writers, I’ve got more than a few personal demons that would like nothing better than for my keyboard to fall silent. Over the years, I’ve collected a number of these games, some from other writers, some from books, and many simply from my own experience, and I finally decided that other writers might benefit from them too. This is an ongoing series, and one you can follow either on my blog (there will be a new game posted every Tuesday) or on the Games Writers Play Page.
Manuscripts need to be in the proper format or you already have a big strike against you. The font is not as big an issue any more (since all manuscripts, in the end, are received electronically), but make it readable, whatever it is. Beyond that, don’t argue with the format. Just do it. Here’s one example. Here’s another.
My Own Thoughts on Becoming a Professional Fiction Writer (from my Mutterings blog)
- Careful Who You Share Your Dreams With
- Stories vs. Novels
- Thoughts on Self-Promotion
- So What’s a Young Writer, Anyway?
- Production and Process
- Pages Before Play
- Rejection, A Story
- Confessions of a Rank Sentimentalist
- Practice, Practice, Practice
- Words of Wisdom from a Tennis Maestro
- Selling Your Book: Ten Tips on Creating a Sense of Urgency Among Agents and Editors
- How Online Are You? A Writer’s Scale of Internet Engagement
- 10 Reasons There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Fiction Writer
Great Books on Writing and Selling Fiction
There’s dozens of good books on writing fiction out there, so many, in fact, that I recommend paying attention to writers who have walked the path you want to walk. What this means is that if you want to be a bestselling writer, or at least a writer who eventually makes a living from his or her fiction, then you should should read books by writers who have done it. I realize this may eliminate plenty of good how-to books, but time is a finite resource and there are enough how-to-write books out there to fill a small town library. You need a good way to eliminate many of them and this is as good a method as any.
One other thought on how-to-write books: A few years ago, I remember having a spirited discussion with my friend and fellow writer Ray Vukcevich about the value of a particular how-to book. Ray didn’t think much of it (and I gathered he didn’t think much of any of them), and he said to me, “Scott, someday you, too, will be able to make up a story about how you write, and sell it as well.” It also reminds me of the old bookseller I used to work with who said to me, when I was remarking how great a particular nonfiction section was in the store, “Scott, if it’s written by a human being, it’s all fiction.”
That said, here’s a few I’d recommend, all of them written by writers who have walked the path:
- Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block, one of the grandmasters of mystery fiction.
- Spider, Spin Me a Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block
- Writing and Selling Your Novelby Jack M. Bickham, author of over seventy novels.
- Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. (This is a bit older, and not always easy to read, but it’s one of those books that a lot of professional fiction writers mention as being very helpful to them.)
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman, one of the best agents out there.
Researching Agents and Editors
- Publisher’s Marketplace. (http://www.publishersmarketplace.com). You’ll have to subscribe (currently $20 a month) to get access to their Deals section, but it’s more than worth it. You can also join for a month when you need it, drop off, then come back for another month down the road at no penalty. This is a treasure trove of information when it comes to agents and editors — who’s buying, who’s buying what, what’s hot, etc.
- Google. (http://www.google.com) Seriously. Google is your friend. You need to become an expert in how to do Web searches effectively. Don’t just search websites. Narrow it down to searching blogs. You can find tons of information out there on editors and agents — including their emails, if you know where to look. Sometimes I just flat out guessed what I thought their emails were. If I was wrong, what did it matter? Nobody read that email anyway.
- Writer’s Market. (http://www.writersmarket.com/). The oldy but goody, from the folks who bring us Writer’s Digest magazine and all the Writer’s Digest books. Lots of great information on there about publishing houses. Use it as a first stop, though. In my experience, just doing some deep digging with Google will get you much more up to date information than what you’ll find on Writer’s Market.
- Agent Query. (http://www.agentquery.com/default.aspx). Another great first stop when it comes to narrowing down your list of agents.
Selling Short Stories
For the most part, there’s not enough money in short stories for agents to be interested in them, so you’re on your own when it comes to selling them. However, if you enjoy writing them (and to enjoy writing them, you must also enjoy reading them or you’re fooling yourself), they are an excellent way to build your skills, gain confidence, and break into print. I sold over three dozen before I sold a novel. Places to help you look for markets: