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Why I Heart Indie Writers


I was thinking about the brouhaha over at Big Al's Books & Pals blog concerning the now-infamous Jacqueline Howett, who wrote THE GREEK SEAMAN. If you missed it and you're in the mood for some eyeball-pinwheeling excitement, click here.

Welcome back. Still dazed? Here, let me get you a chair. Sit down and catch your breath.

I'm sure that the unpleasant incident has spawned hundreds of blog entries about professionalism in publishing. But I'd like to use it to talk about something much more upbeat: the fact that I've been extremely accessible to other writers and readers on Twitter for almost two months now, and have only met one soul who was a bit clueless, but only because he hadn't done his homework. (Steven Umstead can tell you I was quite the ignoramus when I first landed on Twitter--shut up, Steve, and keep the dark secret about the crazy old writer lady! :D)


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Meet my good friend, Sherry Gottlieb. After being friends with Sherry for more than a decade, I finally turned to her for advice on my latest book (in frantic progress), THE BLOODIEST QUEEN.

What an idiot I was to wait.

Sherry, you see, is a Novel Doctor -- that is, an editor who is skilled at helping aspiring novelists bring their work up to publishable quality. (She was also owner of one of the world's most famous science fiction bookstores, A CHANGE OF HOBBIT.) I'd always suspected she was pretty good at what she did -- after all, her own novel, WORSE THAN DEATH, was published by St. Martin's Forge, her other novel LOVE BITE was made into a movie, and her non-fiction book, HELL NO, WE WON'T GO! about Vietnam War draft resisters was nominated for the PEN West USA Literary Award.

But Sherry and I have always been busy, off doing our own things, and somehow I never nailed her foot to the floor to make her read my work. She was always swamped with editorial work and her other businesses (she also runs a resume-writing service), and we never connected.

I'm so glad we finally did. THE BLOODIEST QUEEN will be my thirty-third published book; I've grown lazy and jaded and had thought there was little anyone could teach me. (Hah!) I went to Sherry just to see her reaction to a particular scene -- whether I was able to pull off a fast one on the reader or not -- and wound up being blown away by her editorial acumen. She understood all the nuances of the scene in question better than I did -- and pointed out exactly what wasn't working, and why. She then gave me a suggestion which was nothing short of brilliant in terms of making the whole thing work beautifully. (And then gave a dozen other suggestions which will make the book *so* much better...) Long story short, Sherry's going through the entire manuscript for me. And she's going to be my best pal during the writing of the next book, too.

I'm so impressed that I've added a link to Sherry's Novel Doctor page to my sidebar. Sherry charges the going rate for such editorial service -- and trust me, you'll be getting an honest, top-notch professional to look over your work.

If you're writing a novel and thinking of getting help, please consider Sherry.

For those of you who would yearn to see your own fiction published: here's some more unasked-for advice from yours truly.

I honestly was too shy to contact any writers, go to any fiction workshops or even ask a friend to look over my manuscript before I sent it off to the publisher. I'm of the opinion, even now, that those who schmooze, lose in the novelist's world. It probably pays off bigtime to network obsessively if you want to write screenplays, but if not if you want to write a book. Why? Quality, not "who you know" still counts in the literary world, and agents and editors are always hoping to stumble across a well-written manuscript by a first-time author. It's the work, not the connections, that count. Give up the lattes and gabfests at Starbucks with other wannabe authors and hightail it to your writerly hovel and pen a few pages instead. I really do believe that talking out a story too many times saps the energy you need to write it down, and dilutes your enthusiasm for it.

So how did I break into publishing? Well, I wrote a book and mailed it off with an SASE that I never got back (though I'm not complaining). But FIRST I 1) obsessively outlined the plot of at least a dozen novels I admired in the genre I wanted to break into, because of all my skills, plotting was my weakest; 2) studied WRITERS MARKET and made sure I submitted the novel to the right editor using absolutely perfect formatting; and 3) worked my saucy derriere off making sure the book was as good as I could possibly make it.

I think I got the idea for outlining novels I liked from a book on writing by Lawrence Block. I forgot to mention 4) reading every book I could find on writing by published writers. A few I found useful: The two books by Lawrence Block (TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT is one), ON FICTION by John Gardener and THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING by Lajos Egri. Now that I'm familiar with writing lingo, I love STORY by Robert McKee, but most beginners find the jargon and technical stuff off-putting. It's the most concise, inspired explanation of plot construction I've read.

If you're not a stickler for detail, if you're not an utter perfectionist, then enter a different line of work. If, however, your friends and significant other(s) have labeled you a nit-picker, then novel-writing just might be your niche.

Or your best friend, either. Especially if you're struggling to break into the writing business and/or aren't brimming with confidence.


Well, read the following comment posted on writing coach Emily Hanlon's blog:

The first draft was twelve hundred pages, and when I was about three quarters done, I proudly announced to my parents that I had just finished writing eight hundred pages. My father was delighted and he congratulated me. My mother laughingly said, “Who would want to read eight hundred pages you wrote?” I laughed with her. After all, I was used to Mom’s brittle humor. Ha! I blocked for three months. I couldn’t write a word.

Friends, family members and significant others can do more harm than good -- unless they're experienced writers or editors. Take the case of my Beloved Consort, aka Mr. K.

I have fallen in love with a blog that is no longer being updated.

But oh, the archives!

Miss Snark was a literary agent (she has since gone on to marry George Clooney, according to her blog). She answered questions about submitting fiction manuscripts -- and she did so with style and grace and no small amount of snarkiness. Those of you who are authors, aspiring or otherwise, could learn much about the publishing world, submissions, and the courtship of agents from Miss Snark, even though she has left us for a time.

My own experience with agents: If you haven't sold a book, it's nigh impossible to find one. Once you sell -- and become a marketable commodity -- they'll catch wind of it and come to you.

After a false start, I found an agent I adore. I've been with him almost twenty-five years now. His name is Russ, and you can't have him, girls. He's all mine.

In the meantime: six polished pages so far today, perhaps one or two more to come this evening. I have a nicely gruesome scene coming up, which always puts me in a chipper mood.

So you wanna be a published author? Have a polished manuscript just quivering in readiness, but don’t know where to send it?

Then get yourself a copy of WRITER’S MARKET. It has everything you need to know about submitting your manuscript to a publisher: format, submission protocol, and contact information for all the editors who are dying to take a look at what you’ve written. And it’s updated yearly.