It goes without saying that, first, you have to write the book. But if you are at that glorious stage where the book is actually written (and edited, and redrafted) then you might be asking – now what?
So, here is some handy info to help you answer that question:
Stage 1: Submission
- Read the subs guidelines! I know they’re annoying and it’s a pain to have to format (I submit too, so I have a lot of sympathy for the never-ending task of re-formatting things) but it really does make reading easier.
- And on the same note, please send the amount asked. If the guidelines wants 10,000 words, a little under or over is fine…but don’t send your entire manuscript.
- Having a synopsis is nice; it gives the reader some idea of how the story unfolds. They often won’t have time to read the entire thing, so the first 30 pages and a synopsis is excellent.
- Tell them something about you; you don’t have to seem quirky, but just some insight into who you are is nice. However, your work will speak for itself, so if (like me) you’re fairly self-conscious when it comes to showing off, you won’t miss out by not giving a huge bio.
- And lastly (again) – read the guidelines! You want to make the publisher’s job as easy as possible – and that means sending what they’ve asked for. Yes, it sucks when every single submission wants a different style and set of information, but them’s the breaks. Just do it.
Stage 2: Waiting. And waiting. And more waiting.
However, there is quite a lot going on behind the scenes…
- Slush-pile read; this is simply someone working through the submissions. At this stage, if you get rejected then you’re likely to get a form rejection. It sucks, but take it as a learning opportunity. Was there anything you could have done better? Did you submit to a publisher who might not want your genre or type of story? Are there better forums for your work? Or, put bluntly, does your work stink? (Most awful writers seem to believe they’re amazing, so if you’ve got a healthy dose of self-doubt then you’re probably fine.)
- The deafening silence. If you don’t get an immediate rejection, take heart; they’re considering your work. Most publishers will have guidelines for when you can bug them; please do remember that reading takes time, and the publisher might have 50 or 100 things to read!
- Request for a full manuscript. Yay! They liked it!
- Acceptance or rejection! You may get more feedback at this stage; most publishers are too busy to go into much detail, but they won’t lie – so if they say they liked it, then they liked it. Usually the choice simply comes down to tone or style. Again, treat it as a learning opportunity; was there anything you could have done better? What could you improve?
Stage 3: Editor’s read
Your story will get read by The People Who Matter – usually the editor(s). The manuscript may come back to you with comments; you might need to change a lot or a little, and then it goes back to the editor. This could be repeated multiple times, and you might find that it’s a repeat of your alpha- and beta- process…but this is up to the individual editors, and up to you how much you want to change your story. Again; you are the author, and you have the final decisions on changes. Take their comments into consideration, and weigh up how much you want to be published against how much your story is changing. Hopefully, your story is good enough that the edits will be minor!
Stage 4: Book creation
This involves quite a lot of administration, usually involving external services. The big publishing houses will have in-house copy-editors and cover-artists, and it’s rare that the author is involved here. With a smaller indie press, more of this work is done externally, and there’s more chance for the author to be involved.
- Copyedit & proofread (again!).
- Typeset – and you’ll usually get a PDF proof at this point to check on the typesetting.
- Cover produced.
- Manuscript sent to printers, and – if you’re doing hard copy – a proof is produced.
Stage 5: Publication!
Hard copies get distributed to shops, and records get created in electronic stores. You’ll be given a release date and whatever copies you’re entitled to; you may get paid at this stage if it’s a flat fee, or if you’re getting royalties then they will trickle in. And you get the wonderful satisfaction of seeing your book in print or on the screen; it’s out there for everyone to read.
And if you’ve got this far, congratulations! You’ve got a piece of your writing published.
“There is no such thing as an ‘aspiring writer.’ You are a writer. Period.” – Matthew Reilly
The term ‘aspiring author’/’aspiring writer’ is thrown about in literary circles without anyone giving it so much as a second thought.
It certainly seems like a harmless enough phrase. You’ve no doubt used it yourself, I certainly have. But harmless as it may seem, the term ‘aspiring writer’ is actually quite problematic, and could even be holding you back in your writing career. So the sooner you quit employing the phrase, the better.
Here’s five reasons why you should never refer to yourself as an ‘aspiring author’ ever again:
1. ‘Aspiring’ is an abstract term
Aspirations exist only in thought, not in actuality. To ‘aspire’ is to think, not to do. In this way, the term ‘aspiring writer’ allows for a state of inactivity. Or, as author Chuck Wendig puts it,
“Aspiring is a meaningless, null state that romanticises Not Writing.”
By dropping the term ‘aspiring’ and stating instead ‘I am a writer,’ you confirm to yourself, and to the world, that yes, you are actively working on a writing career. You are writing. You are a writer.
2. ‘Aspiring’ takes the pressure off
By describing yourself as an ‘aspiring writer’, you are essentially stating ‘I am not a writer now, but I would like to be one at some vague point in the future’. In doing this, you are reinforcing the notion in your head that all your writing efforts – all your physical, and actual hard work in pursuing your dreams – all lie beyond the present moment.
The pressure is taken off to write right now. In other words, what you are doing is permitting a ‘diet-starts-tomorrow’ mentality for your writing. But as a little, redheaded orphan once reminded us, ‘Tomorrow’ is always a day away.
Thus, ‘tomorrow’ never comes. So, if you truly want to be a writer, don’t wait until tomorrow, start today.
3. ‘Aspiring’ undermines self-esteem
Think of all the times you have described yourself as an ‘aspiring writer’. How often have you employed the term out of a lack of confidence or self-belief? Because you didn’t feel ‘qualified’ to call yourself a writer. But even if this is not the case, the term itself could be eating away at your self-esteem, without you even realising it.
As we have already established, ‘aspiring’ implies that the state of actually being is a thing of the future. In other words, stating you are an aspiring writer implies that you will not actually be a writer until some, unknown, future date.
In this way, when you use this term to describe yourself, you nurture the subconscious belief that your goal of becoming a writer will always lie just beyond your grasp – just out of reach. Such a belief is extremely demotivating, and can thus undermine your self-esteem.
So the next time you describe yourself, try using a more reaffirming phrase. Don’t say ‘I’m an aspiring writer.’ Say ‘I’m a writer.’
4. ‘Aspiring’ is a term to hide behind
Writing is a very difficult profession. Unfortunately, not all who turn their attentions to the written word succeed. For this reason, those of us who do feel the yearning to construct worlds out of words carry a great deal of anxiety.
We fear failure. We fear others seeing us as failures. And if we admit that we are writers, we must then own up to how much or how little success we have actually found.
Therefore, when we are faced with the judgemental eyes of a long lost acquaintance, probing us with the question, ‘And what do you do these days?’, we feel the need to apologise for the fact that we are not J.K. Rowling. We fear being labelled a failure or pretender, simply because we haven’t sold a million copies of that novel we’re drafting.
So we hide. We hide behind the term ‘aspiring.’ Because if we are merely aspiring, it’s okay if we haven’t found success yet. Because ‘aspiring’ means we aren’t necessarily trying. We are thinking, not doing.
But here lies the problem: if we never accept our title, if we do not stop hiding from our passions and begin at last to pursue them wholeheartedly, we will never find the success we so long for. It’s time we admit what we are. We are writers. No more aspiring. No more hiding.
5. Take yourself seriously
The moment you stop calling yourself an ‘aspiring writer’ and start calling yourself a writer, is the moment you begin taking yourself seriously. This is extremely important, as writers are constantly required to make others believe in them.
We must convince agents, editors, publishers, and readers that our writing is worth their time – that they should take us seriously. But this, of course, is impossible to do unless we take ourselves seriously, first.
So the next time you need to explain to anyone ‘what you do’, don’t shy away and hide. Have confidence in your abilities, and never refer to yourself as an ‘aspiring writer’ ever again. You are a writer. Period.
Author Nick Kolakowski loves crime fiction. From his work with ThugLit, Crime Syndicate Magazine, and his latest novel A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, it’s easy to tell that the author truly values the hardboiled crime-fiction genre and knows how to write it well.
Kolakowski sat down with Sean Tuohy of Writer’s Bone recently to talk about his love for the genre, the seed that created the storyline for his new novel, and “gonzo noir”:
Sean Tuohy: What authors did you worship growing up?
Nick Kolakowski: I always had an affinity for old-school noir authors, particularly Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. What I think a lot of crime-fiction aficionados tend to forget is that a lot of the pulp of bygone eras really wasn’t very good: it was all blowsy dames and big guns and writing so rough it made Mickey Spillane look like Shakespeare. But writers like Chandler and Thompson emerged from that overheated milieu like diamonds; even at their worst, they offered some hard truth and clean writing.
ST: What attracts you to crime fiction, both as a reader and a writer?
NK: I feel that crime fiction is a real exploration of the human animal. You want to explore relationships, pick up whatever literary tome is topping the best-seller lists at the moment. You want a peek at the beast that lives in us, crack open a crime novel. As a reader, it’s exciting to get in touch with that beast through the relatively safe confines of paper and ink. As a writer, it’s good to let that beast run for a bit; I always sleep better after I’ve churned out a lot of good pages.
ST: What is the status of indie crime fiction now?
NK: I’d like to think that indie crime fiction is having a bit of a moment. A lot of indie presses are doing great work, and highlighting authors who might not have gotten a platform otherwise. Crime fiction remains one of the more popular genres overall, and I’m hopeful that what these indie authors are producing will help fuel its direction for the next several years.
Not a whole lot of authors are getting rich off any of this, but writing isn’t exactly a lucrative profession. There’s a reason why all the novelists I know, even the best-selling ones, keep their day jobs. We’re all in it for the love.
ST: What is your writing process? Do you outline or vomit a first draft?
NK: I keep notebooks. Over the years, those notebooks accumulate fragments: sometimes a line of two I’ve overheard on the subway, but sometimes several pages of story. Usually my novels and short stories start with a kernel of an idea, and I start writing as fast as I can; and as I start building up a serious word count, I begin throwing in those notebook fragments that seem to work best with the scene at the moment. It’s a haphazard way of producing a first draft, and it usually means I’m stuck in rewrite hell for a little while afterward as I try to smooth everything out, but it does result in finished manuscripts.
I simply can’t do outlines. I’ve tried. But outlining has always felt very paint-by-numbers to me; once I have the outline in hand, I’m less enthused about actually writing. But I know a lot of other writers who can’t work without everything outlined in detail beforehand.
ST: Where did the idea for A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps come from?
NK: A long time ago, I was in rural Oklahoma for a magazine story I was writing. It was early February, and the land was gray and stark. Near the Arkansas border, I saw a Biblical pillar of black smoke rising in the distance; as I drove closer, I saw a huge fire burning through a distant forest. This would be a really crappy place for my car to die, I thought. It would suck to be trapped here.
So that real-life scene rattled around in my head for years. Eventually I began depositing other figures in that landscape—Bill, the elegant hustler, based off a couple of actual people I know; an Elvis-loving assassin; crooked cops—to see how they interacted with each other. The result was funny and bleak enough, I thought, to commit to full-time writing.
ST: You referred to A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps as “gonzo noir.” Can you dive into that term?
NK: I love crime fiction, but a lot of it is too serious. That seems like an odd thing to say about a genre concerned with heavy topics like murder and misery, but more than a few novels tend to veer into excessive navel-gazing about the human condition. As if injecting an excessive amount of ponderousness will make the authors feel better about devoting so many pages to chases and gunfire.
But real-life mayhem and misery, as awful as it can be, also comes with a certain degree of hilarity. You can’t believe this dude with a knife in his eye is still prattling on about football! A reality television star might dictate whether we end up in a thermonuclear war! And so on. With gonzo noir, I’m trying to blend as much black humor as appropriate into the plot; otherwise it all becomes too leaden.
ST: Your main character, street-smart hustler Bill, is on the run from an assassin and finds himself in the deadly hands of some crazed town folks. Why do writers, especially in the crime fiction genre, like to torture their characters so much?
NK: Raymond Chandler once said something like: “If your plot is flagging, have a man come in with a gun.” I think a lot of current crime-fiction writers have a variation on that: “If your plot is flagging, have something horrible happen to your main character. Extra credit if it’s potentially disfiguring.” It’s an effective way to move the story forward, if done right, and how your protagonist reacts to adversity can reveal a lot about their character through action.
Done the wrong way, though, it becomes boring really quickly. Take the last few seasons of the TV show “24.” Keifer Sutherland played a great hardboiled character, but subjecting him to the upteenth gunshot wound, torture session, or literally heart-stopping accident got repetitive. When writing, it always pays to recognize the cliché, and figure out how to subvert it as effectively as possible—the audience will appreciate it.
In A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, Bill has done a lifetime of bad stuff. He’s ripped people off, stolen a lot of money, and left more than a few broken hearts. I felt he really needed to really pay for his sins if I wanted his eventual redemption to have any weight. Plus I wanted to see how much comedy I could milk out of a severed finger (readers will see what I mean).
ST: What’s next for you?
NK: I’ve been working on a longer novel (tentatively) titled Boise Longpig Hunting Club. It’s about a bounty hunter in Idaho who finds himself pursued by some very rich people who hunt people for sport. I’ve wanted to do a variation on “The Most Dangerous Game” for years, and the ideas finally came together in the right way. It’s an expansion of my short story, “A Nice Pair of Guns,” which appeared in ThugLit (a great, award-winning magazine; gone too soon.)
ST: What advice do you give to young writers?
NK: A long time ago, the film director Terrence Malick came to my college campus. He was supposed to introduce a screening of his film “The Thin Red Line,” but he never set foot in the theater—unsurprising in retrospect, given his penchant for staying out of sight. However, he did make an appearance at a smaller gathering for students and faculty beforehand.
All of us film and writing geeks, we freaked out. Finally one of us cobbled together enough courage to actually walk up to him and ask for some advice on writing. He said – and you bet I still have this in a notebook – “You just have to write. Don’t look back, just get it all out at once.”
I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever heard. It’s easy to stay away from the writing desk by telling yourself that you’re not quite ready yet, that you’re not in the mood, that somehow the story isn’t quite fully baked in your mind. If you think like that, though, nothing is ever going to have to come out. Even if you have to physically lock yourself in a room, you need to sit down, place your hands on the keyboard, and force it out. The words will fight back, but you’re stronger.
ST: Can you please tell us one random fact about yourself?
NK: I like cats and whiskey.
You’re in the thick of writing some characters’ conversations and it hits you: where do the commas go? Do you need one after an exclamation mark? How’s it supposed to look on the page?
We’ve broken down some dialogue into it’s simplest parts with our step-by-step, visual tutorial covering punctuation, dialogue tags, descriptors, and formatting.
“When you’re writing your work and submitting it to places, you’ll look a lot more professional and it’ll be less work for your editor to go back and fix up those nitty-gritty bits…”
Dialogue is something that you can easily get wrong with just one comma out of place. Check out the video in full by following this link:
What to Take Away From This Video:
- Punctuation should always be inside the quotation marks.
- The simple comma is your friend! Use it when tying up speech around dialogue tags (the old favourite, ‘s/he said’).
- Each line of dialogue should be on a new line; keep the formatting nice and clean.
A great exercise is to pick two or three books (ones that you love!) and find some examples of dialogue. Each book may be slightly different in their smaller details, but it’s handy to see the basics of punctuation in action.
The best way to learn, of course, is by writing some dialogue yourself. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because practice makes perfect!
Whether you’ve got an existing protagonist, or you’re about to create something new, keep this in mind: Travel changes a person. Today, we’re not just talking about the commute to work, we’re talking big travel. Think about your protagonist and their experiences, where have they been? Have they been anywhere at all? It’s time to explore these possibilities.
You don’t have to make them travel, but it now’s the moment to be asking yourself, and them – why not? And if they have travelled – where? Why? Who with? What was different when they came back? One of the oldest notions about travel is that you feel as though everything has changed when you return, when in fact, it’s you who’s changed.
One of the reasons we fall in love with characters is because they go through different stages of development and growth… Do the choices your character has made about travel, tell us something deeper about them?
Often when we work continuously on the same piece of writing (especially a long piece) we can lose our objectivity. Sometimes we get so caught up in our writing, we forget that simply powering through can affect the quality of our work. Taking a break allows us to come back to our work with a clear mind and a new perspective. This is important because it also allows us to critique our own writing by bringing a fresh view to our work.
Sometimes when reviewing work after a break we might even change our focus and bring new ideas to our writing. This is very useful when your writing just isn’t working. If you are at the point where you are forcing a story, take this as a sign to take a break from it. Give yourself time to understand why it isn’t working and allow your creative juices to flow and bring you a new view, a new path to take in your writing, or even the courage to scrap what you were doing and start something completely new.
“As writers, we overwork our brains and we don’t realise it. We are constantly thinking, constantly brainstorming, and constantly flooding our heads with superfluous information from blogs to books” – Paul Jun (Problogger)
Remember why you write
There are many reasons why writers write. Some of these are:
- We enjoy it
- We have something we want to say
- Writing gives our imagination freedom to run wild
- To inspire others
- It’s our creative outlet
Whatever the reason, we shouldn’t lose sight of why we are writing something and we certainly shouldn’t lose the enjoyment. If you find that this is happening to you then take a break. The last thing you want to do is lose sight of the reason why you are writing. Especially if it’s important to you. Sometimes taking a break to remind yourself of these reasons can be very useful. Take the time to give your mind some breathing space, relax and enjoy life.
Taking a writing break doesn’t mean you can’t think about writing or think about new ideas. As writers, simply seeing or hearing something can spark our creativity and cause our imaginations to run wild. This doesn’t need to stop. Taking a writing break can simply be a break from your current writing project to allow your mind to have a rest and let you re-energise. In the meantime, if you get an idea for another piece of writing, or even for your current project, jot down the idea so you don’t forget it and come back to it later. This will also allow you to assess your new idea objectively.
Time Out and Observation
There are some things you can do whilst taking a break that can help your writing and help you to view what you have written objectively. When you are out, whether it be in a shopping centre, in a park, or when you’re simply around other people, listen to the way people talk to each other. This is one way to check whether the conversations between your characters sound realistic or forced. When you listen to the way people talk naturally, you may realise that some of the conversations between your characters sound robotic or too formal. This is a good way to remind yourself how a conversation between people flows naturally.
“We writers tend to live in our heads and its necessary for us to step outside and enjoy the sunshine more than every once in a while. Shaking up your routine can sometimes, inadvertently, lead to you generating some of your best material” – Mitchell Martin Jnr. (Paper Hangover).
Simply observing people can help you with your character development. Observation can often spark the creation of a new character, add realistic descriptions to your characters and their actions, or even give you a new story idea. For example, you may see a couple who are arguing, even if you can’t hear what they are saying, you might want to use your creativity and make up something that they might be arguing about, something that can be applied to your characters.
Observe (discreetly) the body language of the couple as this can help when you describe interactions with your characters. You want your readers to be able to visualise what is happening and the more realistic it sounds, the easier it will be for your readers. Or perhaps you notice an interesting looking person, someone who is oblivious to what is going on around him or her, perhaps he or she doesn’t seem to notice other people because they don’t seem to care what other people think. Do you have a character like this in your story? If so, some simple observation can give you wealth of inspiration.
Enjoy other people’s writing. Choose a book that you like and read (or re-read) it. Take the time to think about why you enjoy this book so much. Think about things such as:
- How does the author capture your attention?
- What methods does the author use to keep your attention?
- Do you care about the characters in the story? Why or why not?
- How does the author move the story along?
You can learn a lot by reading books and understanding techniques used by other authors. This can add great value to your own work when you are stuck on how to progress your story or when you need a reminder on how to keep the reader interested.
How long should the break be?
Only you can decide how long of a break you should take. Don’t feel guilty if you end up taking a long break. Take all the time you feel you need. Your writing will be there when you are ready to come back to it and it will benefit from the break. So, if you feel that your writing is getting stale or if you feel that you simply are not making progress, then do yourself a favour and have a break from your writing. Allow yourself time to refresh, get reacquainted with your creativity and revamp your writing.
Happy Sunday, and happy writing!