Advice for Writers
Learn the Craft
How to Learn the Craft
Learning to write is like learning anything else, and can be broken down into three general parts.
First, there are entire books written on this subject, and it’s important to realize that any information provided here will be in greatly abbreviated form. With that in mind, the first step would be to read a variety of books on the craft of writing. On Writing by Stephen King, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White, Creating Fiction edited by Julie Checkoway, and A Dangerous Profession by Frederick Busch, are but a few that I would recommend. I also like Screenplay by Sid Field, which isn’t about...
The Business, Part 1: Introduction
Publishing is a business. Writing may be art, but publishing, when all is said and done, comes down to dollars. Keep that in mind. I say this because of the volume of mail I receive from unpublished writers who believe that “having a good story,” is enough to guarantee success. It’s not. I hate to say it, I wish it wasn’t true, but it’s not. Some of the best novels I’ve ever read never hit the best-seller list, then faded away before sadly going out of print. There are also some poorly written novels that do become best-sellers. Writing a...
The Business, Part 2: Three Steps to Becoming a Successful Author
Success can be defined any number of ways. For the purposes of this section, let success be whatever "your" version of it is, with one caveat: you want to be able to write novels and earn enough to make a living. If you only want to get a book published simply for the sake of finding it in a store for a few months (it won’t stay in the store forever unless it sells), keep your day job and consider publishing the novel yourself. (As for non-fiction, I don't have much experience in that side of publishing, so I can’t...
The Business, Part 3: Finding an Agent
Step 1: Write a Great Novel
Make your novel the best you can make it. Make it original, with an exciting plot, great writing style, and interesting characters and settings. Don’t send it up if it just needs a little work, or if it’s rough, or if it’s not quite finished yet.Edit, edit, edit. With less than a 1% chance of getting an agent (based on the volume of query letters agents typically receive) sending up a book that isn’t your best work is foolish and lazy. (It goes without saying that your novel should have page numbers, correct punctuation, a...
The Business, Part 4: Sample Query Letter
Agency Address Dear Mr. or Ms. Agent, I would like to introduce you to my second book and first novel entitled, The Notebook. My first book, Wokini, in which I collaborated with Billy Mills, was published by Orion Books, a division of Random House in 1994. An inspirational work, it was characterized by Al Neuharth, a founder and former chairman of USA TODAY, as a "powerful picture of the meaning of life," while Peter Ueberroth called it "overwhelming and insightful." A moderate commercial success, by May 1995, it had sold over 56,000 copies. This novel, The Notebook, is a love story inspired by two...
My Experience, Part 1: The Story of How I Found An Agent
In January 1995, after the first draft of The Notebook had been completed, I accepted a job transfer from my home in North Carolina to Greenville, South Carolina. Due to the chaos of that time— selling my old house, buying a new one, the family going back and forth between the two cities, establishing a new sales territory and getting to know new co-workers and the boss, etc.—I continued tinkering with The Notebook until I was finally ready to get an agent. By then it was June. Now, I didn’t know how to get an agent, and that’s one of the most frequently asked...
My Experience, Part 2: The Story of How I Found a Publisher
My agent had me do quite a bit of editing on the manuscript version of The Notebook, and by late October, the book was finally ready to be presented to publishers. I made 25 copies of the manuscript and shipped them up, second day air, and she got them on a Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday, they were going out to publishers. Again, I checked my books on publishing, and they said that I could wait up to six weeks to hear anything, so I decided I wasn't going to be one of those pesky clients who bother their agents all...