Welcome, folk, to the first installment of Kari's Queries!
Working with my beta-reader, Chie, I will be using my Fridays to answer questions posed to me by her high school English classes. I'm excited about this, and I'm hoping the kids are too.
(Taking into account that the internet is full of weirdos, I of course don't identify Chie by her real name, nor will I identify her school. It's just safer that way.)
((No, you are not one of the weirdos in question. You either. YOU are. Yes, you. In the fez.))
How had your high school English classes helped you develop as a writer?
See, you're just looking to me to prove that you need to pay attention in Miss Chie's class, aren't you? I'm wise to that game...
No, seriously... All that stuff they keep hammering into your head about grammar and spelling, and sentence structure? All of that is IMPORTANT. If you think you have a story to tell, you must first tell it in a manner that other people can read easily. Spelling and grammar. Folks tell you that "Oh, don't worry about that, an editor will take care of that if you get published." But if your work isn't stellar to begin with? No editor will look at it.
They also taught me to read. And you're thinking "Hey, I learned to read in like kindergarten, you must have come from a crappy school!" No, I didn't mean like that. I mean, they taught me how to read analytically. How to dissect a paragraph, a chapter, a story, to see the flow, to see how the words combined together to make a coherent whole. If you want to write, you must learn to read. You have to recognize those elements in other stories if you're going to use them in your own.
But aside from the basic mechanics, I have to say that my high school English teachers always encouraged me to write. I had one teacher who let me spend the entire year in the computer lab, working on a book. (now trunked, never to be seen, and only barely removed from fanfic) None of them ever told me "well, maybe you should think about preparing for a REAL job" or that I wasn't being realistic. I wish I knew where they were right now, so I could say "Hey, look what I did!"
If you could give one person one piece of advice to help them get a book published, what would it be?
Just one piece? Just one person? Oi.
Geez, there’s so much to say about the various stages of this mad mad mad mad mad mad process.
Um… Well for the writing aspect of it, I would say “Allow yourself to write utter poo.” You can always go back and fix crappy writing to be amazing writing later, but you can’t fix the stuff you never write at all. So it doesn’t matter if the first draft stinks to high heaven, ‘cause the last draft won’t. Nobody ever has to see that first, horrendous draft unless you want them to. There’s no law that says you have to let anyone read it before you’re happy with it.
For the publishing part… Don’t give up too quickly. Getting four or five rejections is nothing. N-O-T-H-I-N-G. I have friends, published authors, whose rejections numbered in the multiple hundreds before they finally got an agent, before they finally got that book deal. For some of them, it was the third or fourth (or seventh) book they’d tried to get published. They didn’t give up, and every book they wrote just made them better writers.
Ooh, can I give one more piece of advice? Please? Well it’s my blog, so I’m gonna anyway. So there. Neener.
Develop thick skin. Like…adamantite-plated T-Rex thick skin.
For every part of the process - from finding an agent to getting reviews on a published book - there are going to be people who flat out don’t like your writing. Some of them are professional about it, and some of them are bugnut crazy and equate your writing ability with your right to continue to exist on this planet. You just have to remember that your book is not YOU. Just because Person XYZ didn’t like your book doesn’t mean they’re saying horrible things about YOU as a person. (Unless they are, and then you file them under the bugnut crazy category as mentioned above)
Those truly professional criticisms, whether they come from an agent, an editor, a book reviewer or one of your own beta readers, can truly help make you a better writer. Look at what didn’t work for these people. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of taste, and you chalk it up to just that and move on. Other times, there really is a fundamental flaw, and you can correct it, making your next work that much greater.
How many times do you submit your story before it is finally perfected enough to be published?
Oh god, you’re gonna make me count, aren’t you? Don’t you know English majors don’t like math?* Lessee. I do a first draft. (1) Then I go through that draft and rework it with all the notes I made while I was doing the first draft. (2) Then I send it out to my beta readers. Once I get their notes back, I sit down and revise to take those into account. (3) Then, if I’m still not happy with something (the length, the flow, a hinky plot point), I may let it sit a week or two then go back and do yet another revision. (4)
So I think it’s usually the fourth or fifth draft that I send on to my agent and/or editor, depending on how close I am to my deadline.
It should be noted, though, that this is my process after finishing oh…nine novels? A DEVIL IN THE DETAILS, taking place way earlier in my learning curve, had WAY more drafts than this. I know, because I keep finding hard copies of various versions stashed in places around my house. Not sure if I should throw them away…hmm… Point being, it took me quite a while to whittle the process down to this concise version you see here. Mostly, it takes as long as it takes.
Also, remember that just because I turned it in doesn’t mean I’m done revising. Right now, I’m waiting on my edit letter for A SHOT IN THE DARK (Jesse Dawson Book 2), wherein The Editor will tell me what works, what doesn’t, and then I’ll be revising yet again. After that, there will be copy edits, then page proofs, and THEN it will be in the version you will eventually see on shelves.
*a blatantly false generalization
So, there we are, the first batch of questions! This was fun, and I hope we all came out of this better people. Or...something.
Stay tuned next week for more Q&A, and hopefully, I'll even manage to post some other things in the meantime, bad blogger that I am.