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The REAL steps to getting published

Okay, let me preface this by saying I am NOT traditionally published, yet, but I do have some experience in breaking into a difficult field. That is what this blog post is all about. What I am about to share with you are the required steps to be successful at anything, but particularly, the writing field.

Ask Yourself Questions
The first thing you need to do is an honest assessment of your motivation. Why do I want to be a published author? Nope, that’s not the question. Rather ask yourself these:

1. Do I like to write? – I don’t mean the creative part, I mean WRITE, like for hours on end just typing words. If you don’t, this may not be for you.

2. Do I love words, sentences, phrase-turns? – This is important because answering this in the affirmative will make doing #1 much easier.

3. Do I like to read? – Well this is obviously necessary because after all, you will have to read your own work over and over. But you also have to like reading other people’s work, either off the shelf, or in a critique group (more on those later).

4. Do I have talent? – Okay this one is relative to some people, but if you are a good storyteller and can write a coherent sentence, you might be in the right field. However, if you hated English class, are not a good speller, or get your homophones confused, again #1 will be very frustrating. Remember, an editor’s job is not to do these things for your manuscript. That is YOUR job.

Whew. Now that we are passed that, let’s move on to the requirements needed to succeed. Most of you probably have a job. You may even have a profession. If so, what did it take to get into that profession? You certainly didn’t just walk in the door and say ‘here I am!’. You had to perform some preliminary steps. These same steps can be applied to getting published if the above questions were answered in the affirmative.

1. Investigate the business. – When I was a sandblaster in a local factory, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. Well, actually I decided that in high school, but I got sidetracked. But once I finally made the concrete decision to pursue my goal, the first thing I did was enroll in college. Sure not all of us can just go to college, but I had a job, and some time, and needed to see what others who had already reached my goal, had learned. Going to college was not just an academic exercise for me. I did not hang out on the quad drinking beer and pledging sororities; rather, I spent my weekend working as a clerk at the Dayton Daily News for $25 a day. I didn’t need the money, I needed the exposure to the business. In addition to learning how a paper runs, I also took a freelance gig writing articles for the Dayton Black Press. They were desperate for writers and I was desperate for experience. It was a match made in heaven, so to speak. By the way, I occasionally wrote a column for the college paper, too. Yes, I was busy. But I was determined, and that is what you need to be. As a writer, you may be able to intern or even get a part time job at a publishing company. I hear a lot of agents / writers say they started that way.

2. Meet and talk to people in the business. While working at the DDN, I met a few reporters who told me about an organization that helped black media folks get in the business. So I joined the National Association of Black Journalists as student member. Best decision I could make at that stage in my quest. I attended my first convention in Atlanta and met reporters from small papers to major television networks. And I did NOT waste my time eating, drinking and partying – although all of that was available. Instead, I got in front of as many pros as I could who were doing what I wanted to do and came home with 100 business cards. When I got home I followed up with some of them and got some great advice. I am still very close to many I met that first year. In your case, attending writer’s conventions can be just as beneficial.

3. Research your craft. I continued to learn the craft of writing and reporting and read lots of books by folks like Sam Donaldson (ABC) and Dan Rather (CBS) so that I could learn what they had to go through to get into the business. I find that I learn more from others mistakes and triumphs than anything else. As you know from reading my blogs, there are tons of resources for learning about the business, so find them and study them.

4. Do YOU. I never tried to be anyone other than me. I saw other reporters but I had my own style and I focused on that. For you, this simply means don’t follow every trend. Decide the genre that feels best for you and write it. Agents’ tastes change all the time. That’s because readers’ tastes change all the time. Eventually there will be a market for what you do if you do it well.

5. Practice your craft. After leaving the paper but before graduation, I decided to choose TV over print. And right after that I had the ability to meet a local reporter in my political science class. The first thing I did was ask him to lunch so I could pick his brain. As a result, he got me an internship at his station. That internship was my foot in the door, and I made sure I didn’t leave there without a tape of my abilities. That station had NEVER let an intern on the air. EVER. But guess who recorded 10 stories during that internship? Yours truly. A White House reporter I once met said that I was ‘tenacious.’ That is a necessary quality to succeed. For you this means, write, write, write.

6. Be professional. When you’ve done all the above and you are ready to show folks what you’ve got, approach it professionally. I asked teachers as well as professional reporters how to write my introduction letter. I even asked a local TV news director if I could come to his station and do an ‘informational interview’ to find out how he got into the business. He helped me narrow down my locations to ensure I went to a station where I could learn and grow. Again, there are resources you can tap to learn the right way to approach an agent or editor.

7. Do not get discouraged. I know, I know. EVERYONE says this, but it’s true. Before I got my first reporting job offer, I received 60 rejection letters from TV stations. But it was #61 that gave me the job. It reminds me of a line from the 1939 movie A Star is Born when Vicky Lester goes to the casting office and the secretary says, “Do you know what your chances are? One in 100 million.” Then Vicky replies, “But maybe, I’m that ‘one’.” For this to work, you need to learn to take criticism and use it to your advantage. You have to accept change and embrace it. This is a must or you will never, ever grow as a writer. Not everyone who criticizes will be right, but you are smart enough to know what you can use and what you should lose.

8. Believe in yourself and your work. This is the most important thing I can tell you. Again, I do not have an agent or a contract, but I know I can do this, and if I believe in myself and I have the above items covered, it’s just a matter of time.

You can do this too, so go to your corner and come out fighting.

Happy hunting!


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The JSB Effect

I know many of you have heard me talk about  James Scott Bell (JSB); either on my other blog ItsKidlitKnight, or on my blogtalk radio show, SelfPublishIt!

But I can’t really help it. The day I went into the Barnes and Noble looking for books on becoming a better writer, his was the first one I bought. Plot & Structure is not his only book, though. You can find all of them on writersdigestshop.com. But this particular book has so many good lessons, I consider it my go-to text. Granted, I am a new fiction writer and still have not incorporated all the things he espouses, but I will in time. This particular post; however, is about one thing I do try hard to incorporate: the notion of knowing where you are going in your story.

I often reference Mr. Bell’s approach, which uses ‘doorways of no return’ to indicate when a character is moving further into his conflict and that has helped me to shape my story before I even write it. Bell says the protagonist must be shaken out of her routine and forced into action, and this needs to happen fairly early in the book; about 1/3 of the way in. Some say 1/4 and others don’t indicate when, but I like the idea of the third because it gives me time to introduce the character, set the stage for her issue, and show her normal world. Once that is accomplished I am ready to push her out of her comfort zone! She has to act — usually due to some external force since she is reluctant to move forward, for whatever reason. Then the fun begins! I have time in the middle to create a more detailed world and all its complications that can prevent the protagonist from reaching her goal. She has to have obstacles, the stakes have to increase, and these can be either internal or external things to overcome. The last third begins when she goes through the last door. At this stage there is no turning back. We are headed to the final showdown and the resolution (or not).

Of course, I won’t go into all the details here, but Mr. Bell’s book explains in detail all the things she needs to face before she can reach her goal. It’s an excellent guide with examples so that you can actually see how it’s done.

Well, I’d say more but I have to run to my novel-in-progress class. But don’t hesitate! If you need writing resources, JSB’s book is the first place I’d look.

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Turkey and Dressing

My brother came over for dinner yesterday and instead of having a cookout, as I originally planned, I decided to cook this turkey I got for 5 bucks after the holiday rush. It was taking up too much room in the freezer anyway so this was as good a time as any to drag it out of its hibernation.

But as I was preparing the brine to do its magical osmosis trick on the white meat, I got to thinking about the fixings that usually go along with the bird. Everyone has their favorite, but hands down most people want stuffing. And believe it or not they want it even more than the meat. Others yell, ‘pour on the cranberry sauce’, or, ‘fill up my plate with mac and cheese.’ Does that not push the bird into second class status? Nothing is supposed to upstage the turkey bird! The same is true about your protagonist.

You can ‘dress’ your story with all the trappings — a lengthy setting description, or some detailed back story — but the main focus must be your star player. So why not begin with him or her doing something that immediately cements the relationship between reader and writer? Before I wrote my first adult novel (the test book) I read the following:

1. Plot & Structure – James Scott Bell

2. Dialogue – Gloria Kempton

3. Characters and Viewpoint – Orson Scott Card

4. Write Tight – William Brohaugh

5. Story Engineering – Larry Brooks

I wrote and rewrote until my first scene had my protagonist right where I wanted her. She’s puffing on an after-you-know-what cigarette and recalling the last hour’s events with the unnamed man lying next to her. Here is the last sentence of the scene: “Then for some strange reason, she wondered what her husband was doing.” That was all my readers needed to tell them just what kind of woman they were going to be seeing from then on. This scene put my protagonist in the middle of things right away. Though it was not action-packed, it got the point across.

Some writers suggest you start with the character’s name in order to form a bond. Others say dialogue at the start is best. No two writers will agree on what is the golden rule for starting a story because a variety of these things has worked in the past.  The main objective is to get your reader bought in to your protagonist, and his or her plight, ASAP.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am working on a chapter book series and since I am on vacation this week, I intend to really get to know the four would-be sleuths who will carry out the story line. I intend to take Stephen King’s advice and write at least 1,000 words a day, no matter what shape they come in. I am also reviewing the yellow highlights I put in the above texts to get me in the right frame of mind.

Suffice it to say I am going to put my turkey ahead of any ‘dressing’ that comes with this story and know my young readers will thank me for it.

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Gordon’s Gift

There comes a time in every author’s life when they must decide who they are as a writer. Back in 2008 when I self-published my first book, I didn’t consider myself a ‘self-help’ or even ‘relationship’ author. I was just a journalist acting on a pressing need to get a message to women like me. The goal was merely to save them from my fate as a desperate dater. I was not trying to be an expert. I was not trying to build a platform. I was writing from my heart. Ever since then I have written books on several different subjects; still considered ‘self-help’ but not relationship focused. Up until now  it has been easy to ‘do me’ because I never tried to get a traditional house to publish my books, and thus I have enjoyed writing for writing’s sake rather than trying to corner myself into one genre vs another. But I had a talk with an agent yesterday that made me reconsider my loosey goosey, ambiguous approach to publishing. He basically told me to ‘pick a lane,’ sort of what I always tell drivers to do on the way to work. They drift over to my lane without a turn signal, as if they don’t know what lane they want to be in.  To tell the truth, I had been considering my dilemma for sometime but was not wiling to give myself the kick in the pants I needed to take the next step.

So in light of this impetus, I have come to a decision: I will release my last non-fiction book next year (the sequel to Desperate Dating), then proceed to focus exclusively on my other love, children’s — I am working on a MG novel and a picture book.  I do not have to ‘pick a lane’ in the world of children’s literature, which is refreshing.

So, I am writing this post to say thank you to Gordon for his gift: forcing me to examine my intentions and putting me on a clear path to publication. Gee. I guess agents are good for something, aren’t they?

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By Any Means Necessary?

Recently I read a FB post from an author friend of mine. I was shocked to see he was promoting another book — he just released the last of a popular series only a month ago. Aside from my awe in how fast he was rolling these puppies out, I was also concerned because this new book is highly controversial. I didn’t even have to read the elevator pitch because the cover told the whole story. He is writing about a celebrated media case that took place in the city where he now lives. This case is a sore subject to many, particularly those to whom it most closely effected. It is this group my friend has chosen to expose.

Granted, I have not spoken to him yet about this new direction —  he has never written about real people; at least not any who could be readily identifiable — and I fear he may have gotten in over his head. As I read the post, the disclaimer that includes  ‘purely coincidental’  and ‘living or dead’ immediately came to mind. I sure hope he took advantage of it on the copyright page.

So here is my opinion regarding this new book:  Since he has a large following with a penchant for the titillating  he is sure to sell lots of copies, and due to the subject matter, he could be banking on this book being the capitulation that finally gets him the promotional time on national radio and TV he has long been seeking.

The point of this rant is novelists do not have as many avenues to promote their books in the media as do non-fiction writers so if this is a ploy, then by golly he has more gumption than I’ve given him credit for these past 15 years.

Interestingly enough, he has chosen to only release this as an ebook and he is not publishing it under his ‘house’ — the publisher with which all his other works reside. So we will see how this goes over. Who knows, he may be on to something here. When it is finally released I have no doubt it will be as over the top as the publicity it is guaranteed to receive.