Saturday, November 26, 2016

What Makes a Great Writer?

You’d think that to be a great writer, you have to be a master wordsmith. While that certainly helps, it takes a bit more to put you at the top and keep you there.

Someone who writes a bestselling book the first time out of the gate may be a good writer, especially if the book is a hit. But it could be the subject matter that sells the book—plus some really great editing.  Having one hit book doesn’t make anyone a great writer, just a lucky one. In fact, can this person even be considered a writer at all or just someone who’s incredibly lucky. Great writing comes with experience and lots and lots of writing. The old saying, “Practice makes perfect,” isn’t far from wrong.

Take Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Some claim her book to be one of the best of all time, but what else did she write? She just happened to write about racism—a really hot topic just about any time—and she did it well. But then nothing for years. Recently, she tried to resurrect one of her old manuscripts, but it more or less fizzled. So in the greater world of writing, she might be considered to have produced a “happy accident,” but she’s not necessarily a great writer.

Then look at writers like Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Ann Rice, and John Updike, and you’ll notice they all have one thing in common—they all have written about various subjects equally well.

Another thing these writers have in common is that they aren’t only aware of the world around them, they scrutinize it’s every detail. So many things occur every day that the number of subjects and even topics within a subject category is almost endless. All of the above writers most likely had so many ideas they didn’t know which to do first.

Prolific writers are students of the world around them. They pay attention to everything because stories worth their time are happening all the time around them. The difference is that they see details others don’t. Their gift is seeing beyond the obvious.

Great writers also know how to fight resistance—that invisible force that works against creativity, production, and progress.  Resistance is that little negative voice that tells you that you can do it tomorrow or that you’re not that good anyway. Resistance is the enemy to anyone who strives to be great. Successful writers are aware of this and know how to fight it.

Creating writing is hard work. Many people who think they want to be writers just don’t make it because they don’t realize just how hard it is. There are probably more half-written novels out there than completed ones.  To be a great writer, you’ll have to keep your head down and move forward regardless of the odds.

If you say no to new ideas, you probably haven’t taken many risks. And writing is a risky business.  Too many beginning writers don’t like to see other succeed where they have failed. And when someone does succeed, they usually don’t know all the details. A great writer believes his or her ideas are possible whether they are or not.

People often see great writers as delusional or egotistic. But it’s really seeing the world for what it could be and expecting nothing less than passion and belief in what they are doing that makes them great.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Tips for Writer/Agent Negotiations

Okay, you’ve decided that you just can’t be successful as a writer unless you have a literary agent representing you. You’ve found one, but just because you're excited someone wants to represent you doesn't mean you should let them take advantage of you. You still must watch out for your own interests. Not all agents are as professional as they should be. Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure to follow these tips while you’re negotiating your contract.

First, find a reputable agent. You’re first thought is: Aren’t all agents reputable. The simple answer is no. Reputable agents generally don’t require payments of any kind when you sign a contract with them for their services. They also don’t charge fees to read your work. And they don’t sell your work to vanity presses. But most importantly, they’ll readily share with you the names of other authors and projects they’ve represented.

Reputable agents don’t charge excessive commissions. Today, the standard is 15 percent for book sales, although you could pay up to 20–25 percent for foreign sales, and 10–20 percent for movie, TV and theatrical sales.

Most reputable agents won’t try to cash in on your speaking fees—they really aren’t entitled to, unless they were directly responsible for getting you the engagement.

Control your agent-related expenses. Ideally your agent won’t charge you for making one or two copies or standard postage, but only for unusual expenses, such as large numbers of copies and priority mail, express or courier services. You agent should work within spending limits that you set and not spend anything over a fixed amount, say $100–$250, without your approval.

Some agents demand that publishers pay them your entire book advance directly, then they’ll send you your share. In most cases, a publisher will send you your 85 percent and the rest to your agent to cover your commission fee. The first incidence can pose a risk. If your agent gets paid your entire advance and then goes bankrupt, you’ll get nothing. Insist that your publisher pay you the entire advance directly, then you pay your agent.

Although most publishers still report and pay royalties semi-annually, typically within three months after the semi-annual period ends—the check for the royalty for a book sold in January will be paid in late September. If your agent insists on receiving all monies owed to you by the publisher, he or she should pay you promptly upon receiving the funds—ideally within 10 days, but no longer than 30.

Above all, you should expect your agent to be honest in their dealings with you., but don’t take that for granted.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Do Beginning Writers Need an Agent?

People generally look for the easy way out on most things. And writers, especially beginners, are no different. So it’s no surprise that many beginning writers believe that in order to succeed in publishing, they have to have a literary agent.

The publishing world is a mess at the moment. It’s no wonder beginners feel that they need help to navigate the confusing maze of publishers and editors. But does having an agent guarantee they’ll get published? Not necessarily.

In the first place, many literary agents won’t even consider taking on beginning writers. And those that do usually are a bit shady in their dealings and take advantage of a beginners ignorance in business matters.

At this point, it might be a good idea to find out just what an agent does for a writer. Essentially, when a writer teams up with an agent, he or she is basically outsourcing the marketing and promotion of their work. A highly successful writer, usually those writing and publishing books, needs someone like this to help with promotional chores. This leaves more time for them to write. But a beginning writer has not such demands on their time. Many beginners usually have just written their first book and are desperate to get it published. They see an agent as an express method of accomplishing this.

A big problem with many agents is that they have a stable of editors and publishers with whom they have close relationships. They rely on these people to place their clients’ work because of past successes. They do this at the exclusion of any other publisher that could possibly want to consider a book, for example.

One writer’s agent sent a book proposal around to 28 different publishers. Each politely declined to publish the book. When he had exhausted his list of publishers with whom he had relationships, the agent stopped sending out the proposal. In the end, the writer never did get his book published.

Another writer worked successfully on a couple of travel books through an agent and a particular publisher. The agent took a hefty 15 percent of his advance as her fee. After completing these two books, the writer decided to try his hand at negotiating himself. He got substantially more money than the agent was able to get him and didn’t have to pay her the 15 percent fee. The writer went on to publish two more books with the same publisher and had the firm consider two more book ideas.

So it comes down to this. Beginning writers are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to publishing their first book. They have no credentials and think that having an agent will miraculously give them some. Also, agent generally don’t promote articles or short stories. The low fees paid for them can’t compare with the advances paid for books. And, let’s face it, 15 percent of not much money isn’t a whole lot.

Next Week: Some tips on writer/agent negotiations.

Monday, November 7, 2016

When Writing and Your Busy Schedule Collide

Every writer perceives the writing process in a differently way. For some the classic rhythm of “Write, edit, revise” is their mantra, for others  order out of chaos rules. But the writing process is flexible, so you can make it serve you by creating your own process.

However, at some point, your busy life and your writing will collide. This leaves you with two ways to go. Become a hermit or get proactive with time management.

Forget choice number one. Do not become a hermit. Isolation will eventually work against you. Don’t remove yourself from your friends and family They will play a major part in the things you achieve. Instead, daydream and seek inspiration whenever you have a moment where getting lost in your ideas won’t be a hazard.

When it comes to making the most of your writing time, there are ways to improve the amount you write, and still have time for your life. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to just  sit down at your favorite place when you have a moment of free time and begin to write. You’ll find this haphazard at best. Instead, schedule your writing just as you would exercise or meals. If you plan on writing say for an hour three times a week, then you’ll look forward to those sessions.

To make the most of the time you do have, you must learn to shut off distractions like Facebook. In order to keep everyone tuned in all the time, Facebook does something pretty sneaky. It may or may not insert a post in your news feed. This causes you to constantly be looking to see if you missed anything. That’s a major distraction which is beginning to cause anti-social behavior in many people. Also, turn off your cell phone. Let voice mail take your messages. That’s why you have it. Now that you’ve eliminated some major distractions, it’s time to write.

Basically writing is one word followed by another. But if you haven’t planned out what you’re going to write, you’ll only get a mish-mash of words that mean little or nothing. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, a little planning and forethought, you can accomplish a lot in a little time.

Professional writers know all too well that planning makes their writing and their life easier. Planning can take many forms. You could begin by creating an outline or you could simply block out what you plan to write. The latter form actually works well for many writers because it allows them to get creative in the process without going off track. If you plan too much, you’ll confine yourself to rigidly and that tends to block creativity.

When it’s time to get back to work, school, chores, eating or sleeping, or whatever else you have to do, remember to pack along a notebook to jot down any ideas that may pop into your head. Wherever you go, inspiration will follow, so be prepared for it.

When you finally sit down to a serious writing session, don’t write too long. Allow time to get a snack and to give your mind a break. Those little breathers will help refresh your brain and actually make you more productive.

Remember, its balancing your life and your writing that’s important. Don’t let your life overwhelm you. Your writing will surely suffer. And the opposite is true. Too much writing will put you out of touch with life around you.