There’s lots of advice for writers in my book, Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way), and I also share my own journey from traditional to self-published author, so if you haven’t read it yet, I hope you will.
Whether you’re just trying to break in or you’re a seasoned pro, there has never been a more exciting or scarier time to be a writer. The learning curve is steep and things are changing at lightning speed—so quickly, in fact, that my own head is spinning.
Knowledge is power, so educate yourself and then make the best choices for you and your career. Read this page—keep scrolling and scrolling down. There’s lots of info, including questions and answers. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, feel free to Tweet me your writing questions, post them on my Facebook author page or send me an email.
Should You Self-Publish? 5 Questions to Ask Before Taking the Plunge
A quote from one of my books, which is always popping up somewhere on the Internet, turned out to be great advice for my own career: “If Plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters (204 if you’re in Japan!).”
I wrote my first novel in my minivan in the parking lot outside my daughter’s swim practice when I was 45. At 50, I walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the movie adaptation of my most well-known novel, Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack.
For a long time, Plan A worked for me. I was one of the lucky authors. I was published by a series of big New York publishers that believed in my books, helped me make them better, and put serious marketing muscle behind them. I had multi-book contracts. I was sent on a book tour and published in both hardcover and paperback.
And then my career stalled out. The traditional publishing world, which had nurtured me so well, didn’t seem to be able to get it moving again. So long story short, I eventually decided that rather than hang around and whine about it, I’d move on to Plan B: self-publishing.
So far it’s been empowering and occasionally terrifying, and sometimes both at once. But is it the right choice for you? Here are a few questions you might want to consider before making your decision:
Do you have a better option?
I now think of my years as a traditionally published author as the best internship ever. I kept my ears open and learned from the pros. I internalized the voices of several fabulous editors and had time to figure out who I am as a writer. If you’re just starting out and you can get in the traditional door, it will enhance your skills as well as give you street cred, so my advice would be to go for it. If those doors don’t open for you, shake it off and move on to Plan B. As I meet more and more self-published authors who have built their careers from scratch, I’m both humbled and inspired by them, but also really grateful that I didn’t have to do it myself.
Have you done your homework?
I spent at least a year and a half researching the self-publishing world before I jumped in, and because things change so quickly, I continue to invest lots of time keeping up. (It helps that I’m fascinated by all the twists and turns!) So Google everything you can find. Join indie author groups like the Writers Café at KBoards and the self-publishing loops on Yahoo. Read this blog. Sign up for updates at JaneFriedman.com and The Passive Voice. The more you know, the better your chances for success.
What do you bring to the table?
At this writing, I own twelve of my books — seven backlist novels and five new releases. I have 23,000 followers on Twitter, 17,000 on my Facebook author page, and a mailing list of 25,000. I share these numbers not to discourage you, but to make the point that while writing is first and foremost a quality game, it’s also a quantity game. Every time I release a new book, the sales of the other books I own start to increase, too. And my loyal, wonderful readers, the ones I’ve been collecting, reader by reader, since my swim mom days, essentially give me the gift of my career. If you have one book and no following, it’s important to recognize that, while it can absolutely be done, you’ll have a steeper climb ahead of you.
Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit?
I love all the new tech skills I’ve learned, everything from formatting to the ins and outs of uploading books at various vendors. I’m crazy excited that I can now control price and promotion—even apply for my own BookBub ads! At every phase of the self-publishing journey, you have to choose whether to spend the time learning the skills you need to do it yourself or to spend the money to hire someone who already has those skills. But even if you hire out, the buck stops with you. I’m tenacious. When I make a mistake, I learn from it and see it as an opportunity to do it right the next time, and best of all, as a self-publisher I have the power to fix it myself. I put on my blinders and rise above all the negativity that’s out there, which can sometimes be the biggest challenge of all.
Is it all about the writing for you?
Several books ago, a surprised new editor said to me, “Wow, it’s still all about the writing for you, isn’t it?” Absolutely. And the day it isn’t, the day I’ve lost that passion, I hope I have the good sense to go find something else I can love just as much as I’ve loved writing books. I put my heart and soul into every book I write, and I try to become a better writer with each one. My readers know that, to the best of my ability, I will never let them down.
Wherever you are in your writing journey, I wish you much joy and success. And if you come up with a Plan C that I haven’t thought of, I’d love to hear about it!
4 Ways Self-Publishing Has Changed My Writing Career
I don’t think self-publishing is for every author. But after 14 years with traditional publishers, I feel really good about my own publishing reinvention, and I think much of that has to do with the ways I spend my days now.
1. I spend less time waiting and wondering
I hope this doesn’t sound completely pathetic, but when I was traditionally published, I spent way too much time trying to figure out what was going on in my own career. For instance, I’d finish writing my daily pages on my next book, and I’d email my agent to find out if she’d heard anything from my editor. Would my edits arrive soon? Or I’d email my editor to find out if she’d heard anything from publicity. Had they assigned a publicist to my book? Did they know where they were sending me on book tour? Did they have any major media hits yet?
Then I’d check my email approximately every three seconds for a reply. If I didn’t hear back immediately, I’d obsess about exactly what this might mean. Were they all talking about me? Were big decisions being made at this very moment? Or had they just not read the email yet?
Now that I’m on my own, I simply figure out how to do what needs to be done, and I do it myself. In some ways it’s harder, but emotionally it’s almost always easier.
2. I’m involved with all brainstorming
A lovely editorial assistant who worked on one of my books once said to me, “[Editor] and I had so much fun brainstorming about your novel!” I can still feel how left out that comment made me feel. Oh, how I would have loved to brainstorm with them! Since they wanted me to be a happy camper, I’m sure if I asked to participate, another “brainstorming” session would have been arranged. But before it happened, they would have already put their heads together to decide where to try to nudge me editorially.
Looking back, when I was at each of my traditional publishers, I was always trying to be a part of the team in a way that simply wasn’t possible. As an author, even if you have a great relationship with your publisher, even if you’re the hardest working author they’ve ever come across, you’re not a colleague. This either works for you or it doesn’t. For me, it never really worked, and I spent way too much time banging my head against a brick wall, trying to get in.
Now I’m the center of my own career and any brainstorming that happens involves my brain.
3. My brand can expand
Reinvention is the overarching theme of my novels as well as the story of my life. It’s my passion. Over the years I pitched a nonfiction book about reinvention to my agent several times and to at least two of my editors. My agent told me self-help wasn’t her thing. “But everybody loves your novels,” one of the editors said. “Maybe someday,” the other editor said.
When I went out on my own, I just wrote it. Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way) is a little bit self-help and a little bit memoir. It’s filled with strategies for writing and platform building. It reads like a novel, because that’s how I write. In the old days, this might have meant booksellers wouldn’t know where to shelve it. But these days, there’s always shelf space online.
Never Too Late has been a #1 Amazon bestseller in several writing and creativity categories, as well as in Women’s Personal Growth. I’ve picked up lots of new readers, and having a nonfiction book about reinvention has opened up some fabulous new doors for me as a speaker.
4. Everything old is new again
Traditional publishing is all about the front list. You plan for a launch often a year ahead, and you put everything you’ve got behind it. Then you let the book go, even when you just know it has so much more potential, and you move on to the next one.
When I left traditional publishing, I went after the rights to my formerly ignored backlist. I now own 12 of my 15 books, seven backlist books, which I’ve re-released, and five new releases. I’ve turned my most well-known book, Must Love Dogs, into a series (four books and counting), something my readers had been asking me to do for years.
Along the way I’ve discovered that if a reader hasn’t read one of my books yet, I’m new to that reader, which is the best kind of new. With the help of my friends at BookBub, one of these books, Life’s a Beach, recently hit the New York Times bestsellers list, making me a NYT bestselling author for the very first time in my career. It really is never, EVER too late.
Helpful Links for Writers:
BookBub on Book Marketing: http://bit.ly/1Hb49TJ
Q&A with Claire
(Don’t see what you’re looking for? Post your writing questions on my Facebook author page, Tweet them to me, or send me an email.)
How do you stay so upbeat and positive? Where does your sense of humor come from?
Sometimes I have to work at it, but I really believe thinking positively can make a difference in your life and your writing career, so my rule is to whine sparingly, get over it, then focus on the good things!
As for humor, I think it’s just the way I look at the world. Even if someone says or does something awful, it really helps to look at it as material! I get some of my best minor characters that way….
I was wondering what software you use to write. Do you use Microsoft Word? What font and letter type do you use when you are writing a working draft?
Microsoft Word, 12 point Times New Roman. Double spaced. I think that’s pretty much standard—save your originality for the content, not the form!
I can’t stand to have anyone read my writing because it makes me feel so vulnerable. How do you get past that?
I’m not sure you ever do. I think the sensitivity that makes someone a good writer is a double-edged sword. And when you’ve put your heart and soul into something, it’s hard to open yourself up to potential criticism. So essentially you have to decide why you’re writing. If it’s to please yourself, then maybe you don’t have to share it. But if you want your writing to make its way into the world, you just have to face those feelings and push past them. For me, it feels that my work never fully comes alive until I share it with my readers and hear what they have to say, and there is no cooler thing in the world than seeing one of my books on the shelf in a bookstore. It might help, too, to remind yourself, as I often do, that if it were easy, everyone would have a book.
I have attached the first two chapters of my book for you to read and provide a quote. I sincerely hope your name on it will help get it published.
It’s my pleasure and privilege to share what I’ve learned, but I’m sorry to say I don’t have the time to read other writers’ work these days. I’d simply never get my own writing done if I did. Also, to protect myself, I delete all links to material I haven’t requested without reading it. Think about it—what if I happened to be working on a novel about a similar subject—I could open myself up to a writer thinking I’d taken her idea. I do wish you all the best with your writing though, and I hope you’ll read the rest of this page, since there’s quite a bit of info on it that might help you out.
Is self-publishing a good idea?
It depends. Do you have the heart of an entrepreneur? Do you love marketing? Are you an insanely hard worker? Self-publishing has certainly become a viable option over the last few years, but it’s also a really hard slog. So, if you go for it, do your research first. My personal feeling is that if you’re new to publishing and don’t have a platform/following, traditional publishing can help you build one as you develop your skills. But, if you can’t get past the gatekeepers and into the game, the good news is that you’ve got an alternative now. But first, make your book as good as it can be. And then try to make it even better with outside help. You can hire freelance editors, join a critique group, take it to a work-in-progress class. When all that is done, you can hire a freelance cover designer and a formatter. You can build a platform via blogging, social networking, your blog. You can do it! Scroll up to the top of this page and read the post I wrote about self-publishing if you haven’t already.
What do you think of “genre jumping?” Given your success in romantic comedy, would it be hard for you to publish a drama, thriller, etc. even if that was your passion?
I’d say it would be harder for thrillers to be my passion, given the books I’ve written! Honestly, I just write the books that I’d want to read and never, ever worry about whether I’m coloring outside the lines. I think I write contemporary fiction that’s character-driven and has plenty of humor and heart, but I don’t at all pigeonhole myself into a genre, romantic comedy or otherwise. I’ve moved in a new direction by writing my first nonfiction books, Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention and Shine On: How To Grow Awesome Instead of Old, but I’ve heard from lots of people who say they read just like novels! So my best advice is to read everything you can get your hands on, and then write the book that’s in your heart.
I have one published novel and have received many emails from readers asking for a sequel. What’s your advice?
First of all, pat yourself on the back that your novel has been so well received! As for a sequel, only you can make that decision. My two cents, which may or may not apply in your particular case, is this: After each of my novels have made their way into the world, I also received email after email after email requesting a sequel. I think it meant that my readers had fallen in love with my characters and they don’t want to let them go. But for my own growth as a writer I needed to see if I could create another set of characters for them to fall in love with. And the irony is that the same readers would ask for a sequel to THAT novel!! Then, after 10 novels, readers were still asking and I felt ready for a new challenge. I decided to turn Must Love Dogs into a series. I learned so much writing Must Love Dogs: New Leash on Life (#2), Must Love Dogs: Fetch You Later (#3), Must Love Dogs: Bark & Roll Forever (#4), and Must Love Dogs: Who Let the Cats In? (#5), that I’m really glad I did it. And it was a good lesson about listening to my readers! So never say never, and my best advice is to do what feels right to you. Personally, I’m glad I waited, because I think writing ten freestanding novels first taught me so much.
Claire, where do your novels begin? With an outline? With the plot? Among your many ideas, how do you decide which one to choose for your next book, and how do you know where to take that idea?
My novels always begin with the characters, and I guess that’s because I love people so my books are character-driven. If your books are plot-driven, maybe you’d start there.
I never outline. Robert Frost said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the writer,” so that’s my excuse! But really, outlining would make it feel like a term paper to me.
As for which idea to choose, I suppose I’d pick the idea I think my readers would most want to read!
What do your revisions generally entail? Does your editor send back a stack of pages with red marks—is it mostly line editing or a complete reworking of whole sections? And, as the writer of the original words, how do you feel about the edits?? I’m sure it’s different for every author, but I’d be interested to hear about your experience.
Revisions are all of those things—and then some! In the first stage, I receive an editorial letter that suggests more general changes. Maybe a certain character isn’t working, or there could be too many characters, or something is boring or just doesn’t work. Sure, it’s hard to hear things like that, but if nobody tells you the truth, then the book won’t get better. So that stage feels like a puzzle, and I mull and mull and try to figure out how I can fix these things, knowing everything I change might impact the entire book. It’s a lot of work, but my editor and associate editor are telling me WHAT to change and not HOW to change it, so I still have all the creative freedom in the world. They might make a specific suggestion, and if it feels like a good idea I’ll use it, but often the suggestion opens the door to another idea that makes more sense to me. It can feel collaborative, but in a good way, and if you have a good editor, it’s not at all suffocating.
I work really hard on this stage, so usually my second set of revisions moves on to line edits. Again, I feel free to deal with each point in my own way, and every single editorial comment helps the book, if only to tell me someone else might not understand what I was trying to do here either, so I’d better roll up my sleeves and do some more work on it.
Then there’s the copyedited manuscript, which involves more fine-tuning. Then the final stage is reading the galley proofs, which is the last time changes can be made, so that’s a little scary, but at the same time, it feels good to know how far the book has come
So it’s all challenging, but if it were easy, who wouldn’t want a book of their own on the shelf!
Do I need to go through every punctuation mark, and every word to make sure it’s correct? What does the editor do then, if I make it perfect as far as grammar goes? Does the editor look solely on the story, and places that are boring, etc?
It’s a HUGELY competitive market, so you need to make sure your manuscript is as good as it can be before you submit it. If you have grammatical errors, or any other rookie mistakes, it’s just that much more likely that an agent/editor will move on to the next manuscript. But all the perfect punctuation in the world won’t make up for a story that doesn’t have an audience and isn’t fresh and original. As for what an editor does, there are several stages. First, they decide whether or not to buy your book and put their power and reputation behind it. Then they help you find ways to make it better, tell you what is and isn’t working, and guide you through a couple of rewrites. (I write each of my books several times—it really should be called rewriting instead of writing!) The final stage is copyediting, which is done by a separate copyeditor. Here all the pesky little inconsistencies, as well as grammar and consistency of punctuation, and things like that, get cleaned up.
Do you have any good tips for self-editing?
The best one I know is to read your work out loud. You’ll absolutely pick up mistakes you’d otherwise miss. This is particularly helpful with dialog. If it doesn’t sound like something someone would actually say, it won’t come out of your mouth right. But this technique also helps me hear other mistakes and to find the rhythm of my work. Try it—I think you’ll like it!
How hard was it to break into the writing business? I had an idea for a book (I guess) but I wouldn’t want to write as a career. I am just trying to feel it out and see if it is even worth doing my plan. I just don’t even know where to start, AND if something like this has even been done before. I wouldn’t want to mess around with copyright infringement.
I think what you might be saying is that you think it might be cool to have a book on the shelf. It is a very cool thing, but it is brutally hard to get there. You have to want it more than anything you’ve ever wanted, you have to love to write and be willing to put everything you have into becoming the best writer you can be. And it still might not work out—in fact the odds aren’t much better than for winning the lottery. So the point isn’t copyright infringement; ideas are not copyrighted. The point is how much do you want it and how much of your heart and soul are you willing to put into writing? If you decide that you do, read every single word on this page, and then keep reading—you’ve got a lot of learning to do!
I’m writing a novel. How will I know when it’s finished?
Your novel is done when you’ve finished telling your story. Or do you mean, how do you know when it’s ready to submit? If so, my advice is to polish, polish, and polish, then put it aside for a while, take it out and polish it again. When you get to the point that you feel you might be making things worse instead of better, get it out of your house quick!
At what point in your writing do you come up with your book titles? Is it easy to name-then-go, or have you written a book without ever knowing what you’d title it? I’ve actually ‘shopped’ by title, so I know it’s important.
What a great question! First of all, I totally agree that titles are so important when we’re shopping for a book. And I know some authors who can’t really get going until they have a title in place—it seems to crystalize the idea for them and allow them to move forward in their writing
For me, the title just happens when it happens, and I’d never get a novel written if I waited around for a good title before I got started. So I dive right in to the book and brainstorm titles along the way—sometimes hundreds of them! Many of them are awful, but lots of them could work. What it comes down to, in the end, is one question: Which title will make the most readers “shop” for your book? Titles, like covers, are essentially about marketing, and coming up with a good one is like coming up with a good advertising slogan. Some authors are good at it, and some, not so much! So, often a book that is sold with one title attached to it gets another title along the way, thanks to the smart people on the author’s publishing team—and it’s a good thing!
I keep rewriting the first chapter of my work-in-progress and can’t seem to move forward. Help!
What works for me is to start each day by rereading and editing my pages from the day before. It’s a great warm-up and also allows me to reconnect with my novel. Then, I make myself move forward from there. If I allowed myself to go back to the beginning each day, I’d still be stuck on the first chapter of my first novel, instead of writing my twelfth book! Once you’ve finished a draft, you’ll have plenty of time to edit and tweak and rewrite, but I find it’s really helpful to push through that first draft so you know what you’ve got to work with. Hang in there!
Claire, regarding a story loosely based on real people, How far do I have to go to be protected from any legal issues? I have changed, names, settings, occupations, looks. . .
Just write the best story you can write. It’s tough enough to write a good book when you use everything you’ve got. During the writing phase, I think it can really get in the way to worry about these things. If you’re fortunate enough that it sells to a publisher, you’ll have several sets of revisions and lots of expert advice along the way to deal with these issues. So for now, put your worries aside. By the way, the best advice of all time on this subject comes from Anne Lamott’s famous writing book, BIRD BY BIRD. She says that if you’re worried about someone coming after you, just give him a really small [male anatomy that begins with the letter P] and he’ll stay far, far away!
What are your favorite books on writing?
Well, I have to say I’m pretty proud of my own Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention and Shine On: How To Grow Awesome Instead of Old, even though they’re not just writing books! I LOVE books about writing and the writing world, and I read and reread them all the time. In fact, when I’m working on a novel, I call it self-medicating with writing books! There’s just something so soothing about knowing that other authors have survived what I’m going through. There are SO many good ones, but the three I’ve probably reread the most are Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Making a Literary Life, Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers by Carolyn See, and On Writing by Stephen King. Each gives me something different. All give me things that I need to hear repeatedly! If you’re an emerging novelist, Karen McQuestion has written Write That Novel: You Know You Want To, so check that one out, too!
Thank you for your kind advice. Would it be too presumptuous of me or overstepping to say that I feel like I have a mentor in you?
I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with you, which is why I created this page, why I speak and teach around the world, and why I wrote Never Too Late. If that’s what you mean, great! If you mean will I help you decide what to write or to read your work in progress, I simply can’t. It’s all I can do to keep up with my own writing deadlines. Besides that, the first draft is a solitary journey. As tempting as the buddy system is, you have to learn to trust yourself and to turn inward instead of talking the book away to others (such a danger in the early stages!) or relying on outside opinions. Nobody knows for sure what will fly in publishing, so I really don’t have any insider info anyway. So make the decision to jump in—and just do it!
I am interested in writing a screenplay but I do realize how difficult it is to get it in the right hands and all the rest of red tape it takes. To break into the business would you say you should start writing a novel like you did? I don’t have a degree in writing or any previous experience other than I just want to tell a story.
Getting a novel published is just as daunting selling a screenplay! They are both tough, tough worlds and most people’s efforts are rejected. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but you have to make sure it’s GOOD. So figure out which form best suits your skills (you might have to try both) and then learn everything you can about the world you’re trying to break into. Read every single thing on this page. Google up a storm and read every book about the process as you can get your hands on. If you decide you want to write a novel, read as many actual novels as you can. Join a writing group or take a class online or at a community college. You don’t need a degree. What you do need to do is to make sure what you write is as good as it can be.
Although I appreciate that you have a free flow style of writing, can you offer me any sort of guidelines in chapter and book length? How many words? Do you think a chapter can be too short?
You’ve given me a lovely compliment with “free flow style of writing” but the truth is I work HARD to get that easy breezy style!
As for your questions, there are no rules. My best advice is to read and read and read as many books as you can that are somehow connected to the one you want to write and to find your own answer that way. For me, there’s a natural rhythm to the length of my chapters, somewhere around seven pages. I always try to end chapters at a place that makes it hard to put the book down because you just have to know what happens next. As for my nonfiction, the sections are even shorter, which allows readers to take in the info in small bites.
And as for whether a chapter can be too short, sure. It can also be too long and boring. You just have to stop overthinking and find the rhythm that works for your book! If it doesn’t work, you can tweak it later. But all these perfection thoughts can freeze you up and keep you from writing.
Your book is done when you’ve finished telling your story. For me, that’s around 250 to 300 pages, but again, it depends on the story and the writer!
Do I need to get my book edited grammatically by an college English professor or something?
It wouldn’t be a bad idea if you know one who would be willing to do it, though editing goes way beyond grammar, and there are college English professors out there who would love to get published themselves! There are freelance editors you can hire, and also work-in-progress classes with some really great writing teachers who are also authors—just Google around. But I think there’s a bigger issue here. It seems to me that these are skills every writer should have. Maybe you should take the time to fill in your grammar gaps? Also, I think it’s really important to learn everything you can about the writing world and the publishing business early in the process. Knowledge is power!
Is 150 double spaced pages too short of a novel? Do you think it turns readers off if a novel is such length? How many pages does that equal as far as book pages?
150 pages is more of a novella length, which I think would be harder to sell to a publisher than a 250-plus page manuscript of a novel. As for how many pages that would equal in a book, it’s roughly the same. I wouldn’t get too hung up on these details, beyond the fact that too short or too long probably isn’t going to help you sell it. Essentially, your book should be as long as it takes you to tell your story. Also, a lot changes during the editing process, so the number of pages will likely go up or down.
I have a great book in my head. All I need to do is get it down on paper but I keep getting stuck. What do you suggest?
If writing a book were easy, who wouldn’t do it? There is nothing cooler than walking into a bookstore and seeing your book on the shelf. Fifteen books in, it still thrills me! But writing a book is really, really hard, and the truth is you need not just a great idea but the writing skills and tenacity to take it from conception to finished book. My advice is to keep trying, and while you’re at it, to read everything you can get your hands on to see how other writers have done it. Immerse yourself in this new world you want to be a part of. If along the way you find that you don’t love the actual writing enough to keep wrestling with that great idea of yours, maybe it’s time to turn your creativity in another direction.
Is there a correct way to calculate a word count for a novel? I read different sources saying different answers, like you can’t use Microsoft Word.
Well, that’s news to me! I’ve never once had my agent or editors mention word count to me one way or the other, let alone tell me what I can or can’t use to count the words!
So I don’t spend much time worrying about word count, except to check to be sure I’m making progress, and to do that I scroll down in Tools in Microsoft Word. Your novel is essentially done when the story you’re trying to tell is finished. My novels tend to be somewhere around 70K to 75K words, my books around 250-270 or so double-spaced pages, and my chapters seem to want to end at around 7 pages. But I never think about any of that—I just feel my way through the story.
Thank you for all your suggestions on your website. It is very generous of you to encourage and help other aspiring writers. I have a question for you regarding copyriting my manuscript. I have gone through my manuscript three times now, and I have changed a lot since my first draft, and I’m sure I will make more changes. So my question is when is the best time to copyright your work? Do you wait until you are completely done before you seek representation, or do you copyright as soon as possible before you show it to anyone?
I’ve never copyrighted any of my novels myself. Once they’re sold, my publisher takes care of that in my name. All of my drafts exist on my computer, so if someone tried to steal one, there would be a dated record on my hard drive. I have also heard of writers emailing themselves drafts as they go along. Agents and editors wouldn’t expect you to have it already copyrighted—and I simply wouldn’t show my work to anyone I thought might steal it. Legitimate agents and publishers have their pick of the best writing, and they’d never steal something. And neither would my writing friends. Plus I think my voice in my writing is very identifiable, and I think it’s important to write books only I can write. As for stealing ideas, I don’t think it’s the idea that’s necessarily valuable—it’s what you do with that idea. You and I could both decide to write a book about the same thing, and the books would turn out to be completely different!
But that’s just my personal opinion, so if you’re reading this and you think I’m crazy not to copyright my work myself, then do what feels best to you. Here’s the link:http://www.copyright.gov/register/literary.html
What is the correct way to contact an agent? What do you submit along with the manuscript?
The correct way to contact an agent is very carefully! And unless you know the agent wants it, never send the manuscript until you’re invited to. Do your research and pay particular attention to each particular agent’s submission requirements.
What is the very first thing an unpublished, unknown writer should do when you finally have a completed work? If you think your work is good, should you blindly submit to publishers or enter writing competitions? Or something else?
Well, I’d have to say the very first thing you should do is pat yourself on the back. Completing a book is an amazing accomplishment, so good for you. After that, you shouldn’t do anything blindly. The world of publishing has lots of rules, and following them won’t make a bit of difference if your book isn’t well-written and doesn’t have an audience, but that being said, there are right ways and wrong ways to do everything. There is also a ton of good info out there, so start by reading everything on this page, then move on to Googling around for other info on getting published, finding an agent, etc. The Internet is your friend, and the more you read up on everything in this strange new world, the better off you’ll be. You might also want to read my Never Too Late and Jane Friedman’s Publishing 101: A First-Time Author’s Guide to Getting Published, Marketing and Promoting Your Book, and Building a Successful Career. Good luck!
I think I have finally reached the place where I am just sick and tired of putting down my writing and making excuses. I do not want to go about this the wrong way. If there is anything you could share with me, or any place you can direct me to I would be so appreciative.
Everything I know about the writing world is somewhere on this page. If you scroll through the questions and answers, and read everything else I’ve written, you’ll know as much (or as little!) as I do. Beyond that, there are no magic tricks!
After you’ve finished here, start Googling – there is a wealth of information out there, all free.
I am a nurse at a major healthcare facility. I also am the mother of a child who passed away 15 years ago at the age of 8 years old…she was the love of my life. With that said I have wanted for years to tell her story, to bring awareness to her diagnosis and how her life affected so many….if you are looking for a new route/story and would like to talk with me I would to tell you my daughter’s story.
First, I’m so very sorry for your loss. I think you should write your daughter’s story.
What about bringing in a writing teacher to teach a memoir class at your healthcare facility, maybe even as part of a grief-counseling program? I’m sure you could contact a writing program at a nearby university for a referral. Or if you’d prefer to keep your two worlds separate, you should look into memoir classes at lifelong learning programs in the area. The important thing is getting your version of her story down on paper. If it gets published, wonderful. If not, she will still live on through your words, and you’ll have a place to store your pain.
We all have our stories to write and mine are very different altogether. I hope you’ll read some of my novels one day, because I think they might give you hope for your own next chapter.
Being newly divorced in my mid 40’s after nearly 27 years of marriage, my friends keep telling me with all that has gone on in my life, I should have a million stories to tell. I wrote my first paragraph, which came to me as I was driving to pick up my friend on a way to a winery. (yes, it came to me before the wine.) I really enjoy your work and the fact that you wrote during swimming practices, our sport was soccer, makes me think for one split second, that the stories that I have had in my head could also come true, and after years of being beaten down by life, may work to my advantage. O.K., on to my question. I’m not sure how I should write, do I write as the person telling the story, or as a person on the outside?? What makes you determine this?? Or should I just keep writing and see how it flows?? With working full time, and being a full time mom, any tips for creating the discipline to write??
People often think it’s just having the stories to tell, and I’m sure you have some really great ones, but the truth is that writing is a craft that has to be learned. So track down every book you can find on writing (see question above), and if you can fit it in, take a writing course at a community center or lifelong learning program. Immerse yourself in this new world and learn the rules of writing as well as getting published. There’s lots of great info online, too, so start googling! If you read through this entire page and watched the videos, you’ll get some tips about creating the discipline – see especially my “Two pages a day” video. As for point of view, a story can be told either from the first person (I) or the third (she). I write from the first person because I like the immediacy of the voice and the way it draws the reader in, and it’s just more comfortable for me. You might want to try both, and see what works better for you.
In today’s society, how do you get a play or book published without it being full of bad language?
What the @*%$ do you mean by that? Kidding. I don’t think bad language ups your chances for publication at all. If it did, every aspiring writer I know would be swearing all over the place. I think it’s really tempting to look for somewhere to place the blame when your work isn’t being well-received, but it’s so important to put your energy into trying to improve your writing instead. But you do make a point about audience—who will want to read what you’re writing? Why would a publisher buy your book if they won’t be able to sell it? That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write what you want to write, or that beautiful, swear-free work isn’t published every day, but just be aware that publishing is a business.
In the way certain things seem to be fated (or so one hopes) I moved to your town to begin a new life as a writer and learned you live there. I tracked down your address and I was wondering if I could impose on you, in the most neighborly of ways, and ask if you would read the enclosed short story I wrote. I have enjoyed reading your postings on your blog and the advice you freely give. You seem to not only have a gift of writing but a way of encouraging as well. I know my writing is quite different than yours and that you would encourage my own style. Is it effective? Is it intriguing? Thank you very much for your time. I enclose an envelope for you to mail back your comments.
First of all, my home address is private and not something I share. For future reference, the best place to approach an author is at her book events. (Tip: You’ll get extra points if you buy a book before you ask for a favor!) I do admit that I glanced at the first sentence of your story and the fact that the first line is “What people don’t realize is that stalking takes stamina” does not encourage me to change this policy. Other acceptable options for contacting me are listed on the contact page of this website.
Secondly, I don’t read the work of aspiring writers for several reasons, including the sheer volume of requests, potential legal issues, and the fact that I can barely meet my own writing deadlines these days. Instead, I share everything I know on this website and also teach writing workshops whenever possible. Watch my events page and make sure you’re signed up for my newsletter. And good luck with your writing!
Where do you get your ideas from? And when do they come? When you are at the computer or out in the world?
For me, the ideas are the easy part. The world is such a fascinating place, and ideas are everywhere. I get the best ones when I’m on the eliptical machine at the gym or in the shower. Who knows why. Probably because I’m more relaxed and not trying so hard!!
The biggest challenge is to pick one idea, and stick to it until you finish the book. Every day something happens that will keep you from finishing your pages if you let it. So don’t let it.
How many characters are too many? Including main characters…
I love to write about big families, so not having too many can be a challenge, and I’ve had to delete a few characters in my writing. I think the important thing is that you don’t want so many that you confuse your readers, or they might stop reading the book. My advice would be to not worry too much when you’re writing your first draft, but in subsequent drafts ask yourself about each character: Do I really need her/him? Is she/he furthering the story? Less can be more, and sometimes two characters can morph into one.
As for main characters, I think it depends on the structure of the novel. I tend to write in the first person, from the point of view of one character, but I also love novels where the point of view changes. So, again, there are no rules. Just try not to confuse your readers, and ask yourself if you need all these characters
I was wondering, I know the lipsticks in Summer Blowout are fictitious, but when you use a name brand, do you have to contact them and ask permission? I find it fascinating that so many people use name brands and we assume (you know what they say about assume) the brand would want some type of ‘cut’.
Actually, most of the lipsticks, and other products, in Summer Blowout are real—so maybe I’m the one who should be asking for a cut!! I find it fascinating how many readers—and journalists—have asked me about product placement. I guess I think like a writer and not a business person, because I never took a cent! (Though I welcome all the good karma those companies want to send my way!)
For me, these products are authentic details, part of what makes a novel believable. If they don’t ring true, just like if the characters and dialog aren’t believable, you find yourself doubting the whole novel. So they might seem like superficial details, but I think they’re really important, and I spent a lot of time shadowing some very knowledgeable stylists to make sure they were accurate.
Of course, I could certainly have made up the lipstick names in Summer Blowout without affecting the book’s authenticity. Originally I planned to, because I’ve always thought naming paint or nail polish colors would be a dream job, but early on I realized that people wanted real names, real beauty advice. So it felt like an extra little gift to my readers to make it real, but it still cracks me up when people tell me they got some great beauty advice from Summer Blowout. I really just wanted the characters to feel real!
Should you let other people—relatives or friends—read your writing and react to it while you’re writing? Would that help you?
It depends. First of all, everybody’s an expert, but what do they really know? To tell you the truth, when I first started writing, I probably showed too many people early drafts, and then I’d rewrite to please them, instead of listening to myself. I’ve gotten better at trusting myself with each book, I think.
But, then again, there’s nothing like a good reader in your corner, which I think is a skill that can be unrelated to being a good writer. I’m not a great reader — I just want to tell the writer how I’d write his or her book, which is so not the point — it’s not my book! But maybe that friend of yours who reads like crazy and is kind and generous and honest might be able to put his or her finger on what isn’t working, and really help you out.
It’s definitely a challenge in the beginning. Now I’m lucky enough to have a fabulous professionals who are my support team, and I can count on them for brilliant suggestions and total honesty, but in the beginning you have to cobble that together.
And making it even more complicated, sometimes sending some pages to somebody to read is a great excuse not to get any writing done — because you’re waiting to hear what they have to say first. Books don’t get written if you’re not actively writing — I hate that!
So, I’d say maybe keep it to yourself while you write the first draft, and then do what Stephen King suggests in On Writing: send copies of your manuscript to six of your friends and family members. If they all say the same thing about something, listen. If only one says it, ignore it and move on.
After having dinner with some colleagues tonight and telling the story once again on how my husband and I met, I have been told, for the umpteenth time – “You have got to turn that into a screenplay – it’s the stuff that movies are made of! It’s like the Sleepless in Seattle kind of stuff!” My husband has started to try and write our story down, but we have no idea where to start (how to write it, how to maybe pitch it, etc). I was hoping that – given that you are a successful author and screenplay writer – you may be able to point us in the right direction.
I’m a novelist, not a screenplay writer. Gary David Goldberg gets full credit for the Must Love Dogs movie, which he based on my second novel. You and your husband should probably take a screenplay writing workshop together, or get your hands on some books about screenplay writing. There are lots of websites out there – here’s one I just found for you that might help get you started: http://www.writersstore.com/
It’s also a good idea to read some novels that have been made into movies, to see how the stories were translated to the screen. This will help you figure out how to shape your own story.
Movies are all about structure, and the format is very formulaic and specific. Once you figure out how to write it, there’s even a software program called Final Draft that will help you format it. Focus on finishing and polishing a script first – you can worry about pitching it down the road.
Good luck! I hope you’ll come see me next summer if I’m on book tour for my new novel in your neck of the woods, and give me an update!
I attended your seminar at the Pennsylvania Governor’s Conference for Women. You were great and I really enjoyed your insights from the panel. I was wondering if you had any advice for someone who would like to write a memoir. I am a new writer but have always enjoyed writing and I feel I have a book burning in me. But, I don’t even know where to begin because I haven’t been an avid writer in the past. Is this a negative? Do you have any advice for a neophyte? I know this is a somewhat vague question but I wanted to keep the email short. Any insights you could provide would be most appreciated.
Thanks for your kind words. I really enjoyed being a part of the panel and I met so many great women there! As for writing a memoir, first read as many memoirs as you can get your hands on. This will help give you a sense of possible structures. I have a vague theory that if you read enough, a template will form in some mysterious part of your brain. Then just dive right in and start writing. Two pages a day works for me. Join a writing group (ask around at local libraries and bookstores) or sign up for a memoir class at a local college or adult ed program.
Who knows if you can do, or if you’ll enjoy doing it, until you try. Either way, you’ll learn a lot about writing, and about yourself. Good luck!
I think my writing is exactly like yours, maybe even better, and yet I’ve been rejected by over 35 agents. What am I doing wrong?
Well, first of all, your writing shouldn’t be just like mine (!), it should be just like yours. Try to find your own unique, authentic voice. And go back over those rejection letters — maybe some of them contain some words of wisdom about your writing that you should listen to, even if they’re difficult to hear. Also, you might want to consider taking your manuscript to a class or workshop for some specific feedback.
I saw you on the news last night and once again felt that familiar jealous pang I feel when I see another writer has made it. I have always dreamt the big dream. I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to get past those feelings of insecurity and inevitable failure. Can you tell me what made you get through that? I feel like I’m in high school and the popular girls won’t ever let me into the club. Thank you.
Well, first of all, I never compare myself to other writers—there’s always somebody out there doing something you can’t or getting something you’re not. I keep my focus on just getting better as a writer. That’s what it’s all about for me—the writing, not the making it.
Everybody is insecure, but it’s a choice what you do from there. I’ve chosen to be tenacious. Whatever comes at me, I just look at as a temporary road block between point A and point B. I can’t control how long it’ll take me to get there, but I can keep on keepin’ on until I get there.
A friend of mine referred me to your website. I love it by the way. My husband and i are new writers. He has written several books and i have just completed my first book.We would like to know if you could help us or advise us. We are fairly new in the ‘writing world’. We have been looking for a publisher, some require an agent, some require author’s compensation and we can’t afford either. My husband did self-publish one of his books. But he is not really selling, though we have done all that we could to advertise the book. But in any case, I hope to hear from you very soon. My friend told me that you like to help out new writers. Please feel free to contact us @ ***-***-****. That’s my husband’s cell. Or you may write me back at your earliest convenience. To learn more about our books please visit our blogs.
Thanks for your kind words about my website. I do love to help out new writers by sharing everything I’ve learned on this website and in my nonfiction books, Never Too Late and Shine On. I also teach writing and reinvention workshops whenever I can, so keep watching for dates on my events page and make sure you’re signed up for my newsletter. I receive dozens of requests for one-on-one mentoring every month, but that is not something I’m able to do at this point. It’s all I can do to meet my own writing deadlines these days!
There are many ways you and your husband can help yourselves. Read this entire page and then just start Googling. There are lots of great message boards and groups out there. Keep looking until you find what you need to get where you’re going!