Someone I know recently asked me if I’d give her some insight on how to go about writing a book. It wasn’t until yesterday when I couldn’t come up with a subject for my scheduled post on Novel Spaces that it dawned on me. This would be a good topic.
Most people who are published authors got there by happenstance. They’ve stumbled upon the notion after some event prompted them, or they saw or heard something that sparked the desire. Then there are those with the unexplained itch that began brewing inside them years earlier coming to fruition when they finally must write “the book.” My motivation came from the latter, “brewing” up to it. I can’t claim to be a career author since I have another full-time career, but I have published a debut novel and several short stories and I’m well on my way with book two.
If asked how to write a book and publish it, I can’t really speak for others, but I can tell you how I pulled it off. Here’s the skinny:
- I bought a book on how to write a book. I followed the directions, made index cards, detailed plot points, drew up story lines.
- I wrote the book with the plot and subplots that had been in my head for years. It took a year. When I read what I’d written, it didn’t sound like any book I’d ever read. It was far from good.
- So, I took a pause, to read more books in my genre, mysteries, and edited my first draft. It was better, but it still didn’t read like a published book.
- I joined a critique group and took pieces of my book to weekly meetings where they ripped it to shreds. It helped. Warning on critique groups, you need to get savvy on what to take away and throw away from a critique meeting.
- I’d take month long breaks from novel writing to write short
- I’d go to the Killer Nashville conference year after year, pen and pad in hand, and go to every session on topics I had not yet grasped.
- I read more self-help books this time on plot, structure, and basic rewriting the novel. My 150,000-word book was now down to 110,000 and I started submitting it to publishers and agents like crazy, which stopped when I could no longer take the onslaught of rejection letters.
- Instead, I started sending segments of my book to contests where the judges gave critiques. There were many, but some were especially helpful: The Sandy Contest, the Colorado Gold Writing Contest, and the PNWA Literary Contest. I never won, but I used every suggestion given by the judges and my manuscript was the better for it.
- I found a different sort of contest that accepted my manuscript in its entirety. The Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest had a winning prize of $10,000 along with publication. The only entry requirement was not to have already published a novel. My first submission did not make the finals, so I went back to the drawing board. My book was getting smaller, now down to 95,000 words. The second year, I did not make the finals again, but my assigned judge sent me an e-mail telling me it had promise. The judge assigned to me the third year, sent my manuscript to the finals, big step, but another author’s book won. I didn’t know how close I might’ve been to beating the winning author until the fourth year when I went to the finals again. This time none of the finalists were good enough for publication, which meant I wasn’t even close to winning author the year before. That did it! I had more work to do and this time I needed to revise it for publication. I didn’t have time to wait another year to re-enter the contest.
- I tore through my book again, taking pieces of it to my critique groups, using my self-help books, my notes from the Killer Nashville conferences, judges comments from various contests. I revised and revised and then began submitting my manuscript, now down to 85,000-words, to publishers and agents again. Bingo! Black Opal Books read my entire book and asked to publish it.
I’m not sure whether my friend will still be interested in writing a book after reading this. It might not be such a hard process for her. It was a ten-year run for me and a lot harder than I’d thought when I first started out. Was it worth all the work and frustration? Absolutely! That would take a whole other post to explain why.
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