Monday, March 07, 2011
If I could Do It All Over Again... Part I
These are my notes from a panel discussion at LTUE in February. I hope you enjoy these notes. I love reviewing the things I learned in these workshops, which I found very helpful.
The title of this panel discussion was officially: What I would Do Differently if I could Do it All Over Again (a bit wordy). On the panel were: Lisa Mangum, editor for Deseret Book; Kathlene Dalton-Woodbury, short story writer and moderator for two Orson Scott Card online writers workshops; Brad R. Torgersen, science fiction writer; and Dave Farland, author, teacher, mentor.
The first question was the same as the title of the panel: what would you do differently if you could do it all over again?
Kathlene said, "Don't quit. Do not give up." She said even when you do start selling your work, don't think you've got it made. you can't call all the shots, even if you've already published a first book. Also, you'll still get rejections. Don't get discouraged. If an editor asks for more, they really do want more.
Lisa said, "We love to see stuff that comes in that's really good, but we don't get a lot in that's really good." She said writers should take requests for more seriously. One thing she said writers can do now is finish that first manuscript. She said that way, at least you'll be finished and you will experience that process of taking a manuscript from start to finish. She said once you've finished a manuscript, you don't feel like you're forever in the middle of it and feeling bad about yourself.
Dave said that there are several areas that authors need to learn about. First is learning how to write, which is one part of the business that authors really need to know. Many authors spend a lot of their time and efforts at learning the business side of publishing, but they're not writing. Other authors spend a lot of time working on publicity. Authors need to realize that there are three prongs that you need to start studying and do it in a balanced manner.
Kathlene said not to stress about formatting your manuscript. She suggested www.sfwa.org, where there are guides. She said not to obsess over it. She added that anything you can do to make the editor's job is great, but the writing itself is more important.
On a similar note, Lisa said, "Make it readable," and Brad said, "Don't edit your manuscript to death. Finish it. Send it out."
Kathlene said if you've written something to death (or edited it to death), don't try fixing it. Throw it away and start with a clean sheet of paper and write it again. You'll be applying everything you've learned and it will be better. It can still have a chance.
Lisa again stressed the importance of finishing and sending it out. The best advice she's heard for getting out of the slush pile is to be in the slush pile in the first place. Even if you're not sure about it, your work has to be in the slush pile for someone to find and read it.
Dave said that the connection between writer and editor is important. He said you have to connect with the right editor at the right time. Most of the time you just keep trying until someone discovers and loves your work.
Brad said you can make your own luck. He recommended being prolific. He said Keven J. Anderson has a theory called the popcorn theory. If you focus all your efforts on one item and then send that out with all your hopes pinned on it, it may or may not be successful, but if you have many things sent out, your chances are greater (he never really explained what that had to do with popcorn). He said you have to put yourself in the right places lots of times and that you probably don't know your own quality.
Lisa said she has never seen a perfect manuscript come in. Your work doesn't have to be perfect when you send it in. She thinks to herself, "Is it fixable?" If your perfectionism is holding you back, don't let it. Get over it. There's no such thing as a perfect manuscript.
Citing J.K. Rowling, Kathlene said that sometimes people complain about some best-selling authors' writing. But, she said, the people who loved her books didn't care about her writing. Good story will cover a multiple of sins. She recommended not starting writing in first person, because it's harder to expose the character. She said a good person wouldn't say that they're a good person. If you can write a good story, the rest is fixable.
Dave agreed. He said that very often, when new authors are starting out, they take literature classes, where they can learn some bad habits. He said don't focus too much on the prose. You need a good story idea. Basically, don't be too literary. On the other hand, there are John Grisham types out there. It's not unusual for someone to write terribly but tell a really good story. He said you can go out and write like James Joyce and nobody will understand or care about you, but people will get PhD's by explaining you. The way to sell a book is to tell a good story.
For next week: Part II, in which the panel discusses things like writing groups and conferences. Have a great week.