Writing Wisdom

A Dan Piraro cartoon in Parade showed a medium sitting across a table from a customer with a netbook computer in front of her, and she’s saying: “We don’t use a crystal ball anymore. We just Google you.”

An editor interested in buying your book will Google you to get a sense of your presence online. Instead of a crystal ball, they’ll use a computer-generated profit-and-loss statement, along with feedback from colleagues, to help justify buying your book.

What wisdom about writing can I offer that will help you convince editors to say yes to your book? One or a series of books could be written about the wisdom you can gain from doing a job or practicing an art or skill. Some examples:

Biking

  • Riding uphill is harder, downhill more dangerous.
  • You have to know your bike, yourself, and the territory.
  • You have to expect the unexpected at any second.

Photography

  • You have to be the right distance from your subject.
  • You have to balance color, foreground and background, tension and harmony, and the elements in a composition to create unity.
  • Knowing how to use your camera will help increase your creativity.

Driving a Taxi

  • You have to look at what’s around you but also in the distance both for traffic and for passengers.
  • You will have slow and busy periods.
  • You will have good and bad luck; you hope that they will balance each other.

Writing

  • Reading is the doorway to writing.
  • The best reason to write is that you must.
  • You have to capture readers’ interest immediately and keep it as long as it takes them to finish your book.
  • If you have a problem with your writing, focus on something else, and your subconscious usually provides the solution.
  • Your proposal or manuscript is finished only when the people you share it with can’t figure out how to help you improve it.
  • You need mentors to supplement your learning about writing, agents, promotion, technology, and publishing.
  • The models for your books and career will light the way until you’re ready to find your unique path.
  • You have to maximize the value of your book before you seek and agent or publisher by test-marketing it, building your platform and communities of fans, and developing a promotion plan.
  • Promotion is more challenging than writing.
  • The writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself (Katharine Sands).
  • Publishers and literary agents are eager to find new writers as new writers are to be discovered.
  • Your passion for writing and sharing your work will see you through the challenges of being an author.
  • You will meet those challenges more easily if you’re clear about your short-  and long-term personal and professional goals.
  • You will succeed if you persevere, and the harder it is to achieve success, the more satisfying it will be.
  • And as I mentioned in the previous post, luck has a lot to do with a book’s success.

I found one of my favorite pieces of wisdom on a cloth bag that Workman Publishing gave away one year at BEA: “The more you garden, the more you grow.” You can grow by acquiring wisdom from any endeavor and you can apply it to writing. The more conscientious you are, the more you’ll learn. May you have all the luck you want, and may the wisdom above speed you on your way.

Writing Like a Reader

A Dave Coverly cartoon in Parade showed an editor holding a manuscript, sitting across a desk from a writer and saying: “We love all the words in your manuscript, but we were wondering if you could maybe put them in a completely different order.”

Isn’t arranging the right words in the right order the essence of writing? The craving to create beauty, meaning, and order is part of what makes us human. But one person’s order is another person’s chaos.

Dick Cavett once had the surrealist painter Salvador Dali on his prime-time interview show. Dali answered Cavett’s questions with simple words. But they were strung together in a way that made them incomprehensible. He talked like a man from another planet with an English vocabulary. To get your words in the right order, follow these three steps:

  • Read like writer.

Be a devoted fan of the kind of book you’re writing by reading as many of them as you can. Your favorite books inspire you to write and enable you to establish criteria for your books. But you also need to read like a writer: to read between the lines. Analyze what combination of content, structure, and writing makes them effective. Look for what they don’t contain that might present opportunities for you.

  • Write like a reader.

Write with a book buyer’s mindset. Balance what you want to write with what book buyers want to read. As a fan of books like yours, would you be excited enough about your book to buy it, despite all of the past, present, and future competition it will face?

  • Let your early readers assure you your work is ready to submit.

As the proud parent of a bouncing new proposal or manuscript, you’re going to be too close to your work to judge it objectively. You need a community of early readers to tell you it’s ready to submit. Being in a critique group to get feedback as you write is helpful, but you also need feedback on the finished document before you submit it.

When your book is published, you want to be confident that, with the help of your readers, you and your book are primed for prime time.

The S Theory of Compelling Storytelling

  Forcing Fiction and Narrative Nonfiction Readers to Turn the Page

 The first page sells the book.   –Mickey Spillane

 Agents, editors and book buyers only read far enough to make a decision. If they don’t like what they read on page one, they won’t turn the page. Book buyers may not read the second sentence of a book in a bookstore. This leads to “The S Theory of Storytelling” for fiction and narrative nonfiction that writers want to read like novels:

 Style

Story

Setting

Someone

Something

Something Said

or Something Else

on page one must be compelling enough

to make agents, editors, and book buyers turn the page.

Your book will compete with the growing number of ways consumers can use their free time and discretionary income. So every word you write is an audition to get your readers to read the next word. Every line you write must convince your readers to read the next line. Assume you have only one sentence to convince browsers to keep reading. Every page you write must arouse enough interest to keep readers turning the pages. And you face that challenge on every page you write except the last one.

The last page sells the next book. –Mickey Spillane