Third Key to Publishing: Persistence

As I wrote last week and the week before, the first key to publishing is research, and the second is networking, both to find people to help you along your writing path and people you can help. The third key to publishing is persistence. This is the one key of which you have almost total control. All the research and networking will do you no good if you don’t persist when the going gets tough. And the going is tough most of the time.

Although I’d been writing stories since I was seven, I didn’t write consistently until I was eighteen. In my twenties, I began researching how to get published. But I didn’t publish my first piece of fiction until I was forty-seven.

Part of the problem was I didn’t do enough research into the craft of writing. I thought you either had the gift or you didn’t. I didn’t realize writing was an art you could learn and get steadily better at. I also didn’t network to gain a better understanding of the publishing industry.

It wasn’t until 2015, when I joined my local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers, that I learned how difficult both the art of writing and the business of publishing are. At that point, I could have given up and written for my own enjoyment, which is a fine choice. Or I could dig in and learn.

So my persistence had to kick in. This meant starting a website when I knew nothing about blogging, and keeping up the blogging when it seems like nobody reads my posts. It also meant establishing a schedule for social media posts and sticking to it whether I get a response or not. I had to research newsletters and figure how to put something together of value each quarter. (By the way, you can sign up for my newsletter in the sidebar. See where my persistence comes in?)

I went to pitch session after pitch session with agents and editors, getting all sorts of feedback, including that I should switch from writing mysteries to romantic suspense. I gave up the YA crime novel I’d worked on for literally decades when the characters in my Christmas mystery, “A Rose from the Ashes” sprang to life so vividly that I had to write about them, and the publisher of “A Rose” wanted to see what else I could write. I pushed through back and shoulder pain, crazy schedules, and family conflicts to complete my latest novel.

All of those actions come under persistence. From the time I decided wanted to write a novel to the publication of my first one, A Shadow on the Snow, in 20201 was thirty-two years.

So don’t get discouraged when the pitch session with your favorite agent goes nowhere or your views on your website take a nose dive. Slow and steady persistence will win the race.

Out of the three keys to publishing–research, networking, and persistence–which do you find the easiest to do? Which one is the hardest?

Second Key to Publishing

Last week, I wrote about what I see as the first key to publishing, researching the industry. This week, I’m discussing the second key to publishing, networking. I don’t really like the tern “networking”. Although it refers to professional relationships, it still sounds cold and a bit predatory. So when networking, not only should we get to know people who can help us in our publishing journey, we should look for people we can help as well. Networking should be a two way street.

Getting to Know People

I would have published nothing if I hadn’t crept out of my introverted shell and began talking to people in the publishing industry. My first step was to join the Ohio chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. Writers with different sorts of successes were in the group and welcomed me as a rookie. Two years after I joined the chapter, two authors, Tamera Lynn Kraft and Michelle L. Levigne, proposed our chapter publish a collection of Christian fiction short stories set in Ohio. I jumped at the chance.

Tamera and Michelle decided the anthology would be the first book published by their new press, Mt. Zion Ridge Press. Because I worked hard to write a decent story and acted professional as I met deadlines and helped to promote the anthology, I established some credibility with them. When they asked for submissions for a Christmas anthology, I wrote “A Rose from the Ashes”. Tamera and Michelle like that so much that they wanted to see what I wrote next, which led to A Shadow on the Snow.

All of these stories saw the light of print because I got to know writers in my writing group.

Helping People You Know

As I’ve blogged and attended writing conferences, I’ve met writers I can help. When author Philip Rivera, who writes funny family stories, asked for critiques, I was able to give him my opinion. When YA author M. Liz Boyle asked for information on doing audiobooks as an independent author, I asked Michelle Levigne, who provided detailed advice. Author Therese Van Meter and I phone each other regularly to offer encouragement on our writing journeys.

I feel better if I can help someone, especially if I can offer help that I wished I’d had when I first looked into writing and publishing.

What’s your opinion on the best way to network?

First Key to Publishing

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be highlighting what I think are the three keys to getting a book published. The first key to publishing is research. I’d like to tell you that there’s a book or website with directions or blueprints on how your book can become traditionally published. But no such resource exists. Understanding publishing comes down to research. But how?

Publishers Weekly and other Book Review Journals

Publishers Weekly is the bible for the publishing industry. It has articles about what’s going on in the industry as well as book reviews. Reading book reviews for the genre you write is critical to learning how your manuscript fits into today’s market. After you’ve read them for awhile, you’ll know who are the bestsellers in your genre and be able to spot trends. I always pick up Book Page, a free book review magazine with author interviews, at my library, and I read book reviews in my local paper. I’m also a member of Goodreads, and when they send out their monthly email, listing new books, I look at mysteries and YA books.

Once you begin reading review journals, you start to see what genres different publishing houses specialize in. You can visit their sites to learn what their rules are for submitting manuscripts. All big houses require you to have an agent, who will submit the manuscript for you. Smaller houses may not have that requirement. That’s when you dig in and research.

Books Published in the Last 5 Years

Check out the acknowledgment section in books published within the last five years that are similar to your manuscript. Often in the acknowledgements, the author will thank his or her agent and editor and mention their agency and publishing house. Go to the sites for those businesses and see what the submission rules are. More well-established agents may not be taking on new clients. But younger agents in a respected agency are eager for new authors, and you may be able to approach them.

Writing Conferences

Writing conferences are a wonderful way to meet other writers and provide access to agents and editors that you might not otherwise have. But not all conferences are created equal. You should ask yourself these questions as you research a writing conference:

  • How long has it been around?
  • Is it national or local?
  • Who are the faculty? Are they well-known writers, respected editors, and seasoned agents?
  • Who sponsors the conference? A national organization? A publishing house? A couple of friends?

Writing Groups

Writing groups are another great way to meet writers in a mutually beneficial exchange of support, expertise, and advice. But again, not all writing groups are created equal. When I first started writing, I joined several groups in which the members each read a portion of their work in progress at each meeting. Some people would comment, but really, the groups existed just to let the members show off.

When I joined the Ohio chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers, a national organization that had 15 years of history, I met writers of various skill levels and publishing success. They took writing seriously and offered serious advice on how I could advance in my writing and marketing.

Why All the Research?

First, you only have so much time. It’s better to spend it in research than going to worthless conferences and writing groups until you happen to hit on a good one.

Second, there are way, way, WAY too many people just waiting to take your money and give you little or nothing in return. If a publishing house requires any money from an author to publish her book, that publishing house is not a traditional publisher. It’s either a vanity press, which will publish anything as long as you pay them, or a hybrid publisher, which charge authors for certain services. But some hybrid publishers are vanity publishers with a new name. Again, research is key.

I don’t mind repeating the most important point: If you want to be traditionally published, then you don’t pay any publishing house a dime. They don’t get paid until you sell books.

Authors, what do you think are a key to publishing?

If You Are Ready to Publish

Since I’ve devoted this year to “The Journey of a Book”, I have to address the business side of writing: publishing, which is my theme this month. Not every writer needs to be published. If you enjoy writing for yourself or friends or family, then publishing may not be on your mind. But if you want to publish stories or books, you need to ask yourself if you are ready to publish. Below is the key question to know if you are.

Are You Willing to Let Others Shape Your Story?

When I first began writing, I thought I knew everything there was to know about writing fiction simply by remembering how the stories I’d read were constructed. The manuscript I brought to my first conference was perfect. All the publisher had to do was print it. I’d be on my way.

Except that this idea was delusional.

Publishing makes a story marketable to a wider audience. Professionals in the industry help you fix quirks of your writing that might hamper readers enjoying your story. For me, that meant having an editor point out when I used colloquial expressions that readers from other parts of the country might not understand. I had to have a teachable spirit, able to take opinions from critique partners, beta readers, and editors and use them to improve my story. I had to admit that no matter how much work I put into a book, I couldn’t do it perfectly and would have to accept advice on how to make it better.

And an amazing thing happen–my stories improved. Many new writers think other industry professionals, like editors, will harm their story. But those professionals want your story to be the best it can be. They also recognize that it’s your story. They want you bring out the qualities that make your story unique.

If you are ready to publish, you are ready to let the story be king, to allow others to make the story the best it can be.

Are you ready?

How to Write Effective Quiet Scenes

When writers talk of plot, we often talk of action–characters doing things with dialogue and thoughts from at least one character. But every book benefits from a few quiet scenes. Even in a thriller, the characters need some less frantic moments to digest what’s happening to them. I define a quiet scene as one in which dialogue or thoughts are the elements that drive the scene. But how to write effective quiet scenes without boring readers?

Understand the Point of the Scene

In my YA mystery, A Shadow on the Snow, I have several scenes in which Rae thinks about the clues she’s uncovered in the mystery of who is stalking her. She is trying to solve the mystery on her own, so she can’t discuss her clues with anyone. Each time I approached a thinking scene like this, I had to first understand what the goal of the scene was. 

Here’s a short scene from Rae’s solo investigation:

The next morning, yawning, I lifted my camera from the card table and wrapped it in its towel. Between staying up late to do research and trouble falling asleep, the yawns kept on coming. 

Stepping onto the tiny landing, I looked for another note, but I didn’t really expect one. My truck parked on the street sent an unmistakable message that I was home. Was there a way to hide my phone so I could get a video of the creep if he left a note at my door again? The landing wasn’t big enough for me to set anything on it to camouflage it. 

I descended the stairs. My garbage can and Mrs. Blaney’s sat under them. Could I hide my phone here? I might get a glimpse of a face through the steps, but I might not. The bare trees and bushes near the stairs wouldn’t hide a sparrow. Even if I did hide my phone, my battery wouldn’t last all night with the video function running. 

I kicked the bottom step, then limped over to my truck. There had to be a way. 

  • Point of the scene: Rae trying to figure out if she can set up a camera to take a photo of who is leaving the notes.
  • Problem: How do I show Rae thinking about this?
  • Solution: Have her examine the area where she might set up the camera.

When I have a character thinking, I need to show how her train of thought arises naturally. In this scene, the progression of thoughts comes from Rae studying the area surrounding the door to her apartment. Her analysis also allows me to keep the reader grounded in the scene. I don’t want my character to think so long that the reader forgets where the character is. Our surroundings still affect us when we’re deep in thought.

Keep It Short

Because readers expect action, especially in genre fiction, keep the quiet scenes short. I shouldn’t let Rae’s thoughts wander away from the point of the scene. Since I write mysteries, I have to let my amateur detective reflect. But I can break up that reflection over several quiet scenes, interspersed with more active ones.

Do you think every novel needs a few quiet scenes? Why or why not?

For more tips on writing plots, click here.

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