“You know, I should write a book about this.” --- phrase said every minute of every day.
There are a few things that separate the person who says they want to write a book from those who actually publish a book. They may sound simple but each actually requires passion, dedication and discipline – and maybe a little dash of insanity. How many other endeavors require you to lock yourself away for hundreds, maybe thousands of hours, with no guarantee of success after all that time missed with friends and family?
A friend of mine, who is also a writer, wrapped the mind of the writer up in one word : compulsion. Writers are compelled to tell stories. That compulsion is the driving force that keeps our butts in the chair, tapping away at our keyboard or scratching on legal pads.
So, what do you have to do to channel that compulsion and push through to publication? Be warned, this isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Read. If you don’t read, you can’t write. Do not pass Go. I don’t know a single successful writer that isn’t a voracious reader. Saying you want to be a writer without reading is like saying you want to be a mechanic but you never drive or tinker around with cars. If you’re a genre reader, gather up everything you can in your genre, but don’t forget to read other genres as well. You’ll pick up something from every book you read. Reading teaches you the craft, the cadence of writing. I’ve been reading 50-100 books a year since I was a teen. Reading is where it all starts.
Write. This one seems self-explanatory, but it’s not always easy to do. Life is crazy and busy and demanding. It’s hard to establish a writing routine. (quick tip – turn off the TV. You’ll be amazed by how much time you have to write if you steer clear of the boob tube) You have to make a conscious effort to follow the AIS rule. That means Ass In Seat. While you’re there, get to writing. Fill those blank pages. Keep going until you type The End. Start something new. Then go back and revise. Odds are, your early efforts will be clunky, but don’t despair. When it comes to writing, practice does make perfect. When I look at the stories and books I wrote at the start of this 18-year journey, I cringe so hard, I’m afraid my face will freeze. You will get better if you stick to it and always, always finish what you start. When you finish, polish it like a diamond.
Study. Writing is more than an art. Writing to be published is a business. You have to learn the publishing business. What are the acceptable formats? What companies publish the kind of books you want to write? Who are the editors? The agents? What are the submission rules? How do you build a brand? Market your work? There are more books and websites and blogs out there to help the beginner writer than I can name. You can start with The Writer’s Marketplace – an invaluable tool for every writer. Subscribe to the Writer’s Digest. Look at the dedications in books, see which agents are representing the authors you hope to one day stand beside. Writing your book is just half the battle.
Submit. No one will know about the new light under the bushel if you don’t send your work out. I know, it’s scary. It’s kind of like walking naked down a busy street. Here you are, offering up your soul’s hard work to be evaluated by perfect strangers. Grit your teeth and send your work out. You studied your market, so you know exactly who to send it to in a professional manner.
Patience. The pace of publishing can be, well, glacial at best. Editors and agents aren’t always quick to get back to you. My first horror novel, Forest of Shadows, spent almost 4 years with an editor before it was accepted. Now, that’s an extreme example, but not unheard of. Patience pays off in the end. At least that’s what I tell my kids. I’ve published half a dozen books with that many more to come and this is still the most difficult part of the entire process for me.
Grow a thick skin. Rejection will be your constant companion. All published writers have drawers full of rejection letters. Most of them are form letters, some encouraging and helpful, and others downright mean. You can’t let it get you down. In fact, those rejection letters can be helpful. They may be telling you what you need to work on to improve. I once had a story that was soundly rejected by everyone because of the precarious situation I put a character in. They were very explicit about why it would never sell. What did I do? I changed the character, kept the situation, and sold that story half a dozen times over ten years.
Keep on truckin’. If you truly have the writer’s compulsion, keep working, keep learning, keep growing. It took me almost 15 years to get to where I wanted to be as a writer. Now that I’m here, I’m working even harder to improve and most of all, get the voices in my head onto the page. See, I told you there was some insanity in here.
Hunter Shea is the author of the novels Sinister Entity, Swamp Monster Massacre, Evil Eternal and Forest of Shadows. His first short story collection, Asylum Scrawls, recently terrorized the locals during its Halloween season release. He has three novels scheduled for publication in 2014.
When he’s not lamenting the state of the Mets, he’s working on his all horror podcast, Monster Men, a light hearted take on dark topics. He lives in New York with his family and rescue cat that won’t stop peeing in his tub.
You can follow Hunter's latest travails at www.huntershea.com. You can find the Monster Men at www.themonstermen.net