So You Want to Be a Writer
Richard A Lovett, Amber D. Sistla, Karen Azinger, Ken Scholes
Orycon 34 — 2012
o My writing time is so precious that when I drop my kid off at daycare, I don’t even leave the building: I sit down outside the door, and start writing.
o The most important thing I can do is write.
o At a book signing, I can sell maybe 3 or 4 books
o At a con, I can sell maybe 4 books
o So the most important thing I can do is write.
o When a book comes out, people will read it, and they’ll publicize it.
o If it’s sunny, I’m looking for things to do during the day. And then I’ll write at night.
o C.S. Lewis always wrote in the morning, and then went for a walk in the afternoon.
o 6 hours of writing in a day is a hard drive.
§ KS: I consider 3 to be good.
· Q: Do you have agents? How important are they?
§ For my NY stuff, I have an agent. They have boilerplate contracts with all the publishing houses. I reap the benefits of what Jim Butcher has been able to get, because we have the same agent.
§ For my short stories and small press stuff, I do it myself.
§ Don’t get tangled up in writers. You have to practice your craft until you have a publisher ready material.
§ For my non-fiction work, I don’t have agents. Usually publishers approach me. Would they get me a better deal? Maybe. Would it be 15% better? Maybe not.
· Q: How much time do you spend writing vs. rewriting
o KS: Much more writing, but I’m notorious for really good first drafts, perhaps from so much time spent on short stories.
o KA: I tend to take about nine months to write the manuscript. Then I give it to my alpha readers (about nine people). I wait to hear from them. Then I take their comments into consideration, and doing a global edit. I tighten it up, increase the tension, kick everything up a notch. “they passed the building”, goes to “they passed the thatched-roof cottage”. Then it goes to my editor, and identifies copyediting, but also, for example, asked me to focus on three chapters that needed rework.
o AS: With novels, because they are so long, if I am a third of the way through, and I see a problem, e.g. that something needs foreshadowing, I don’t make the change then. I just make a note. Then later, I can go through and do all the notes in one pass.
· Q: What do you like most?
§ Holding the book in my hand
§ Having people read it
§ I won an award in France last year, and this year they’re asking to fly me out there. That’s exciting.
§ Whether I get a letter from a fan or win an award, it’s feels good.
§ Being able to do what I like to do. I can pick the assignments I want to do. If its fun, it’s worth writing about.
· Q: What’s your least favorite thing?
§ I don’t like flying.
§ I get tired of seeing the same thing over and over ahead. Like having to read galley proofs.
§ Colleagues can get snarky.
§ When I am doing the global edit, I get tired of working on it.
§ When I get feedback, and someone says “this doesn’t work”. Sometimes I know how to fix, and that feels good. Other times, I don’t know, and I hate that.
§ Lede panic.
· Q: What if it’s not the right length?
o RL: I write it to the length it needs to be, and then I edit it to the length required.
o KA: Even more than word length, it’s got to be really good. If it is really good, they’ll help you get it to the right length.
o RL: Don’t pad. It really sucks.
o KS: My first novel was 130,000 words, and they bought it and wanted four more novels too.
o KS: I start with the end in mind. I imagine a 130,000 word book, in a 3 act structure, and allocate out the word count. And I know early on whether I’m running hot or cold. It’s less wasteful than writing 200,000 words and then editing down to 130,000.
· Q: Is there anything you wish you had known before choosing writing
o AS: I just wish I had more time to do it. I wish I had started before I had kids.
§ Just do it now with whatever time you have.
§ In non-fiction, I would have learned what PAC journalism is like. It’s not fun, and I didn’t know. Publishers are sheep, and it’s really frustrating. They are trying to follow the trend. If you buck the trend, they don’t want it. If you follow the trend, it’s not the trend by the time you’re done.
§ Pitching. In the beginning you send your query letter out, and get a ton of rejections. Instead, go to a writing conference, and sign up for face to face pitches.
· Write a pitch that focused on the main character, a different one that pitches the main problem, etc… Come up with five different pitches. Try them all. Watch their faces… you can tell when they are turned off. Switch to the second pitch. If necessary, the third pitch. What I found was that my fourth pitch was the most effective. I started with the fourth pitch for all of the successive pitch sessions, and I used it with my query letters.
§ If I did anything differently, I wouldn’t be who I am now and where I am now.
§ In the last five years, I got a five book contract, and gone full time as a writer, and lost eight members of my family, and gained two members.
§ What’s important in writing? There’s no secret handshakes, no magic bullets. You can go to cons, and you can meet people, but unless you have a novel, and a good novel, nothing else matters. Producing work doesn’t just yield you a finished work, it makes you a better writer.
· Q: Choosing indie publishing?
o AS: You’ve got all the jobs. Even if you farm it out to other people, you are in charge of it. There’s no money coming in during the very beginning. (as opposed to getting an advance.)
o Annie Bellet: Don’t choose. Do both.
o KS: I haven’t done indie publishing yet, but I will. And I’ll use my contacts from traditional publishing (editors, cover designers) to get it done.
o RL: I did my first work, and it was a collection of pieces previously vetted through Analog. Collections don’t usually make a lot of money, so there wasn’t much risk,
o KA: I had a five book deal with a publisher. And they were awful. But I finally escaped. I would recommend doing it yourself.