The Secret to Writing Success

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Since it seems that this is the number one question asked on writing sites, it appears that there exists a large group of unpublished writers out there clinging to the idea that there's a formula for publication. They ask and wheedle and bribe to find out the "real" steps needed to get published, because it can't be as mundane as:

1. Write a good book.
2. Edit it until you realize the ink in your pen has turned to blood.
3. Get a Beta.
4. Edit again (possibly get a transfusion if this step requires massive edits; see #2)
5. Query
6. (hopefully) secure representation.
7. Edit again (you know your blood type by now, yeah?)
8. Go on sub. (if the edits work out)
9. (hopefully) sell.
10. Get advance; do ridiculous dance of joy in your socks.

No, that can't *possibly* be the secret to getting published. It sounds too much like work, and writing is not work. Writing is life and breath and instinct and all those lovely, flowery, drively (<--my word, and no you can't have it!) things people like to dream about. Secrets are supposed to be spectacular and sneaky, and cut you through most, if not all, of the steps at once.

So, since I have officially read past my limit of whingy annoyances who get defensive with those who have experience, rather than thanking them for their time and insight, I'm going to break the cardinal rule of the wannabe writers' silent agreement with the universe and spill.

The Secret to Writing Success (which will guarantee you epic accolades and best-seller/movie fodder status) is....

Time Travel.

No, I don't mean books about Time Travel, I mean actual, Quantum Leap time travel.

Seriously, folks, it's not that hard. You take a bag, fill it with say a decade's worth of best sellers, run around the planet the opposite way (ala Superman) until it spins backward on its axis, and then (assuming you didn't overdo it and end up back in the Carter Administration) you type out "your" masterpieces and preempt their original authors. (Who probably weren't their original authors, as this is a well known and utilized tactic. There are seriously 3 authors in the world; everyone else just takes their stuff and runs really fast in reverse.)

Now, this may require a bit of sacrifice (Ack -- typewriters!), but you have to persevere. Trying to pass off a bound book with copyright information printed at the beginning will not be conducive you making people think you wrote the book ten years before it was published. And it'll all be worth it when you can march into an agent's office and say: "I have Harry Potter for you!" or "I have Twilight for you!" or "I have The Hunger Games for you!"

This is the point things get tricky.

Whoever you speak to at said agent's office will give you a funny look, and say something akin to: "I'm sorry, but we don't do in person solicitation. Please submit a query and sample to our mailing address."

To which you tearfully reply: "But... it's Harry Potter..."

And then (still not having blinked, and now considering calling security) they say: "I'm sure Mr. Potter has a lovely story, and if you'll have him send a query to our mailing address..." All the while, this person is making a note NOT to read anything with the name Harry Potter attached to it because HP is obviously a whacko stalker who can't follow simple instructions.

You see, before he was "Harry Potter!" or before Twilight was *cue sparkles* "TWILIGHT!" They were manuscripts. By writers. Who had never been heard of before. They meant nothing to anyone in the industry, and neither did their authors' names, which means.... *gasp*.... that they had to:

1. write
2. edit
3. beta
4. edit
5. query

etc... etc... etc...

Do you see where I'm going with this?

If there was some super sekrit formulaic formula to writing success, then the people who already have books out there would be using it. They'd use it every time.

The fact is -- NO ONE knows what will sell or what will click with the reading public. Maybe Joe will get a multi-book deal with a major house that never earns out because people took offense at one of his characters. Maybe Jane will self-publish something that gets Tweeted by a celebrity and becomes an international best seller. Maybe Stan will have an ugly cover that turns people away in droves. Maybe vampires will remain the single biggest draw in literature; maybe the majority will shun them for twenty years.

No. One. Knows.

No one.

All you know is that you have a book in you, one you want to share with the world. So write it! Make it shiny! Then work your tail off to make people realize it's just what they've been looking for.

(Though if any of you figure out how to do that Superman running backward thing, I wouldn't mind hearing about it... it might make a good book.)

6 Chiming In:

Terry Towery said...

Well. THAT sucks. ;)

Angelica R. Jackson said...

The hard part is that as convinced as you are that your book is as good as it ever could be--when you look at it after the waiting period you see it needs to be better. That's what we need time machines for: to meet our chipper, naive selves at the mailbox and yoink that manuscript out of our hands.

"Ah, ah, ah, don't waste that dream agent pick with this drivel, wait several more rewrites if you please."

Nate Wilson said...

No wonder all my books have already been written. Damn you, Superman!

I guess it's back to step 2 for me. No, wait. Step 1. Dang.

Unknown said...

Your blog kicks butt! I'm a new follower and came on the right day because you've finally given us all the answer to an hard question!


Why did it take us so long to figure this out? Luckily I've fought half the battle (okay really more like a spec of the battle, but dammit I can dream) and that's the fact that I've begun networking (yes my blog... since Jan of this year) and I've written two novels (okay, okay, they're just the first draft, but it's progress!)

I love your blog personality and look forward to more of it! Feel free to stop by my blog!

Laura Maylene said...

My current novel-in-progress isn't my first one...or even my second...but even so, I am still amazed by the amount of waiting time it takes for all the problems or plot intricacies to truly come to light. It's a big, long process. The problem, I think, is that so many new writers feel like it should be easier, or faster. But it's not. It's just not.

Anonymous said...

I'm coming to this post a bit late Josin, but thanks for writing it. I'm still in the stage of "revising-rewriting-it's-all-going-to-be-crap" but you've said in far fewer words what I've tried to articulate about the long, hard slog of writing a novel. I am SO grateful to my patient beta readers and the editor I've been working with who, with their honesty and feedback, helped me curb that "send it out NOW" mentality when the MS really wasn't ready yet. Hoping that there are only a round or two left of rewrites before I can polish it & submit. Thanks for this post.

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