WRITING: Breaking Into Print

Hi Everyone

For those who love writing,or are thinking of learning to write, I’m sharing a ‘dual blog’ right now with you. For the entire month of September, I’ve been given the opportunity over at eharlequin.com to have a blog to coincide with the release of my launch book,UNFORGIVEN for the Silhouette Nocturne line. UNFORGIVEN and the line launches on September 26th, although the ‘real’ date is October/2006. So, come along with me as I talk to aspiring writers over ‘there.’ 🙂

Copyright Eileen Nauman 2006
Last night, on 9.14.06, Thursday, as I did my hike,there was a wonderful monsoon on the western horizona. I got luck again–I got 3 photos and this is one of them–the best. It was very dark and my shutter speed was slow. And believe me, I was shocked to see I’d captured three different lightning strikes!

Over on our Nocturne Blog, Mrs. Thompson wrote a post that had quite a few questions–and they couldn’t be answered in ten words or less. I was on deadline with DARK TRUTH and though I wanted to answer her, I simply did not have the time.

Now that DARK TRUTH is off to my editor ahead of contract deadline, I can breath easier and have a bit more time at my disposal for a few days before I have to ramp up and create a proposal for Book 3 of the Warriors for the Light series at Silhouette Nocturne. So, in today’s blog, I hope to give sufficient time and focus to her very good questions. So, here is the first one:

QUESTION: Is it possible to break into publishing as a completely new voice? Or should I continue to beat the short story magazine path and develop credentials, and a formal network, to then reference when submitting?

COMMENT: I don’t know of an editor or house who doesn’t get excited about an author with a ‘new voice.’ They die for a ‘new voice’–which is WHY it is so important for every aspiring author to honor her unique voice. Your unique voice gets an editor’s attention every time. Now, that doesn’t mean that the editor will love your new voice–might be quite the opposite because editors have personal preferences in writing styles and prefer certain types of voice just like any reader does. This is not a criticism against editors. It is simply a FACT of life.

The point is: a unique voice GAINS the immediate attention of EVERY editor. Period. And your manuscript will be given a thorough going over as a result. It does NOT guarantee a sale, however. It will guarantee a “nice” reject slip if the opposite occurs. And “nice” rejects show you how close you are coming to getting bought. The old adage, “To thine own self be true,” was never more critical than when a writer is discovering who she is and developing her voice. You can never copy another author’s voice anyway–it’s impossible. Readers can spot it in a heartbeat and a mile away. And you don’t want to create distrust like this between you, the author, and your readers–that’s a death knell. So, you don’t do that. You keep your author’s voice yesterday, today and tomorrow. Besides, your creativity will dry up very quickly if you are anything BUT your author’s voice. Guaranteed.

And it doesn’t matter whether you write short stories, articles, nonfiction or fiction books–your voice develops through any medium of words–so do what feels best. Me? I wrote a ton of articles for astrology magazines while I was honing my creative fiction voice. Every writer has her own path to publishing, so just follow your wolf nose on this–your instincts–they will take good care of you.

For example, not all readers are going to like my author’s voice enough to buy my books. They prefer another type of author’s voice, instead. And that’s fine. What an author must do is stay loyal and true to her voice and not try to imitate someone else’s–and if they try to do that–guaranteed–they won’t sell or they will lose sales and eventually go away in the publishing world. This also goes for editors. Same analogy applies.

In my day, there were no writing organizations, no critique groups, no contests, no — nothing. I did it all on my own. I’m rather proud of that because it toughened me up, it forced me to hone my voice. It also allowed me to develop on my own. Most importantly, however, it allowed me the time to develop my unique author’s voice without outside prejudice, judgment or distorting it.

The problem (potential one) I see with joining a writing groups of any kind, or going to writing conferences, is that a young author who is flailing around trying to find her voice, is going to be told that she can’t do this, that, or whatever, because it goes against the constraints of a certain house who needs a book written a certain way. What this does for her is hacks into her already fragile writing ego and usually ends up harming it or possibly distorting it one way or another–if she isn’t tough enough to sift wheat from chaff on opinions by others.

On the other hand, if you have an aspiring writer who is mature, knows herself, has some self-esteem already in place and trusts her own voice/creativity, a group/conference/critique situation, is not going to dissuade her from her voice and the development of it. This individual can get information that will support her skills. I’ve seen too many aspiring authors ditch their uniqueness to ‘fit in’ to a group demand or a group concept of what writing should or should not be and lose her focus in the long run.

Writing, in my opinion, is an alone job. Nobody can do it for you. And frankly, development occurs in a natural, unfolding process, your writing ego in tact, if you do it alone. It may take longer, but so what? The only thing you really have to deal with then, is rejection slips. They will toughen you up plenty over time. I had 1,000 reject slips before I ever got one book in print. And it took from age 13 to age 35 to develop my writing talents and voice to a good enough commercial level of writing to be bought.

This way, you don’t have to deal with a hundred other people’s opinions of what you should or shouldn’t write, or write a certain way if you decide, instead, to develop alone, quietly and naturally. I’ve just seen too many careers destroyed this other route of writing via joining organizations/conferences/critique groups, to support them without some reservations and conservatism on how utilize the tools they have vs. harming your writing psyche as an aspiring writer. They don’t do it on purpose–but it happens. Writers are fragile, anyway. And they should care for themselves in an appropriate manner that supports their maturing and healthy growth as a writer.

What you really need to do is follow your gut instincts on how best to develop as a writer. If you follow your intuition–it will never lead you astray. When you allow your mind to take over and run the show–you’ll be sure to crash and burn several times as an aspiring writer. And enough bangs into the wall, so to speak, may shatter your writing confidence, destroy your fragile creative self-esteem and you quit writing because you don’t think you’re good enough.

I taught writing at Akron University and Kent State University (Stark County Campus) in the Adult Continuing Education program for five years in Ohio. I had two very popular classes on writing fiction/nonfiction and manuscript evaluation. My classes were always full–30 people maximum. The first thing I told them on the first night was: “Don’t bother coming through that door next week unless you have ten new pages of material with you.” Why? Because I wanted to winnow out the wannabe’s from those who had the burning Passion for writing.

Ten new pages of a manuscript a week isn’t a lot–but it’s enough to find out who really wants to work and who doesn’t. And I sure wasn’t interested in wasting my precious time on wannabes. I wanted the Passionate writers. And do you know? In the 12 week courses I taught, 20% of my students sold after taking the course? That is a very high number given you have people from all across the creative writing median that you are dealing with as a teacher.

I gave courses that supported their confidence in themselves, taught them how to perceive where they were weak and how to turn it into a strength. In other words: it was Basic Writing Boot camp–but it was done in such a way as to BUILD the writer’s self-esteem and believe in their unique voice rather than tear them down or apart–which goes on way too much with organizations/conferences/critique groups nowadays.

And, on the other hand, you could say that the writing organizations/conferences/critique groups are actually winnowing out the wannabes from the Passionate aspiring writer. One could look at it this way if they so choose. And in fact, that is exactly what happens. It defeats a lot of people when they enter contests and get harsh criticism back on their writing instead of critique. And here lies the core issue: criticism vs critique

Criticism is simply what is wrong with your writing.

Critique tells you what is wrong with your writing but how to fix it and make it strong

Few groups practice critique. And that is ashamed for everyone. We lose great writers every day because groups practice criticism and not critique.

When you get a ‘nice’ reject from an editor, it is a critique, NOT a criticism. Why? Because that editor does not want to destroy your fragile creative psyche with harsh criticism. Instead, he or she wants to, as gently as possible, tell you why they rejected your mss., but what can be done to strengthen it. Or, they will tell you what was strong and good about your mss. Either way, editors do not delight in having to turn you down as a writer and if they get the chance, they’ll use critique to help you along as a burgeoning writer.

Having said this (phew! This is a diatribe!), if you decide to join a writing organization, a writing group, a critique group, then go in with your eyes open. Ask yourself: are they practicing criticism of my writing or are they practicing critique of it? If they are practicing critique then I’d stay. But if they aren’t–get out sooner rather than later.

Also, align yourself with positive, upbeat, supportive, people, critique group people and partners. I once ran a critique group and it was a joy because I trained all of the aspiring writers on how to critique a person’s manuscript. It turns a dreaded evening into one of excitement and joy because you know that not only is your writing going to be judged fairly, but you’ll also hear how you might IMPROVE your skills in a weak area. When you KNOW you’re going to get good, sound advice on how to become an improved writer, wouldn’t you be looking forward to that? You bet you would!!

Do not sit still for people in a group who have jealousy, envy or competitiveness toward you (for whatever their reason) and they “attack” your manuscript because they perceive you as a projected threat of some kind. Walk away from this group as fast as you can.

When you submit your manuscript, I, personally, would not tout what organization or group I was with. All an editor’s interested in is your VOICE and she or he can tell that in reading the first two paragraphs of your book! Nothing else really matters to them. They aren’t buying your manuscript because you belong to a certain organization, study group or critique group. They are buying your voice, your creativity and your Passion for what you’ve written. Keep your letter to one page and make it short and sweet. Editors may well by-pass it or just give the ‘once-over gloss’ to get to the meat: which is your book manuscript beneath the letter.

I’ll end this blog with a suggestion. Free will choice here. 🙂

I feel every aspiring writer, indeed, every human being, should have a copy of this book. It is a small book. Not very large. Not very thick. But the concepts, the empowerment that lies between its pages are awesome. And I believe, this book is of great help to aspiring writers (indeed, anyone struggling in their life) in particular, who are confused as to what to do. The book is called “The Laws of Spirit” by Dan Millman. If the name is familiar to some of you, he wrote “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” (I recommend all of Millman’s books/tapes/DVD’s to all of you) and he’s got a voice that is incredible! In “The Laws of Spirit” he takes very meaty, philosophical concepts and grounds them into common sense, every day digestible understanding for you and me. And while first reading this life-changing book, I found myself wishing over and over again that I had had it to read to my writing classes from long ago–because his words, the ideas, the Laws, all help a writer create his or her voice.

Okay, I think I’ve answered your FIRST QUESTION! I’ll answer another one on tomorrow’s blog!

In Spirit….

Lindsay McKenna