Seems like lately I've been getting a lot of requests for advice from young and/or aspiring authors on the topic of getting published. So I thought it might not be a bad thing to write an article on the subject. I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer on how to get published, and I certainly don't claim to be the ultimate authority on the subject. But for whatever it's worth, here's my advice:
(Begin Large Parenthetical Lament: Oh, and by the way, my clock is on the blink lately. Silly thing. No matter what I do--oil the gears, install fresh batteries--it still only gives me 24 hours in a day! Sheesh. Can't get anything for your money these days. All that to say, I won't write the whole article in one sitting. I'll probably post and then edit and add to this same post as time allows. ;-) So check back often if the topic interests you. End Large Parenthetical Lament)
#1 Work on your novel's opening chapter relentlessly. It is the critical chapter of your book. You must intrigue, captivate, and hook your reader there, or you will likely never be published. Editors receive hundreds if not thousands of manuscripts each week, so they have very little time for dull exposition in the opening. Go after your reader. Create suspense that won't quit.
#2 Work on your language. I don't mean punctuation and spelling--though those things better be sparkling in any manuscript you send out. But I mean the words from your palette--what you will use to paint the picture in the reader's mind. Take a contemporary poetry class--seriously. You will never learn more about making every word count.
#3 Read widely in the genre you want to publish. But read like a scientist rather than a spectator. Remember the parts you like and scrutinize them. What made them interesting? How did the author craft the plot? What made the twists and turned work? Every well written book is a treasure or resources that we can all learn from.
#4 Don't just write about what you know. I know, I know...you've heard other author's say it; you've heard your teachers preach it: write what you know. And the theory behind the advice is good. Write about what you know because you have the inside info, the details, and the experience to write about that topic or field. You play county soccer? Good, now go write a story about a character who plays county soccer. You have piano practice every Thursday? Wonderful, now go write about a character who plays piano. Now that's fine advice if you're writing for an audience of one or two. Will it work to get you published? Uh...not so much.
Writing what you know will not get you published unless, of course, your day job is: CIA Code Breaker, Supernatural Phenomenon Investigatory, CSI Agent, or Tour Guide for the Amazon Jungle. What I'm saying is, the average, day to day life is not interesting enough to be the plot of a book. Now, if something interrupts that normal life: a tragedy, a phenomenon, a mystery--well, now we're talking. Most readers want a story to grab them, to move them, to take them places they've never been to before. Most publishers want the same thing.
So, how do you write about stuff you don't know? 1. Research: watch the Discovery Channel, read National Geographic, surf the World Wide Web--there's a novel plot, character, or setting just waiting for you. 2. Make it up: Now, this especially applies to the whacked lot of writers who want to write fantasy or scifi. You get to open your mind and just create. Make things the human eye has never seen before. Tweak reality. Have fun. Chances are, if you have fun, your readers will too.
(More to come...)