Authors, What’s Your Best Publishing Advice to New Writers?

Since this month’s theme is publishing, I decided to have questions to prompt discussions rather than photos to prompt stories. So, authors, what’s your best publishing advice to new writers?

My best advice is to dream small. It’s fine to work on a novel that you hope will become a national bestseller. But don’t pass up other writing opportunities because they don’t fit in with your dream as a novelist.

I joined my local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers because I was working on a Christian novel. When the opportunity came for me to contribute to an anthology of Christian fiction, I jumped at the chance. Although I wanted my novel published, I recognized that this might be the only story of mine to see the light of print.

So I published my first mystery short story in 2018. I heard about a Christmas anthology and submitted “A Rose from the Ashes”. It was published. The publishers liked my mystery short story so much that they wanted to see the next story I wrote. That was A Shadow on the Snow, which became my first published novel.

No, it wasn’t the one I’d been working on for years and years. Shadow was much better. But I wouldn’t have had the chance to develop this new novel if I’d been stubborn about clinging to my original dream of becoming published.

So I’d love to hear from you, authors, what’s your best publishing advice for new writers?

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?

Use Labor Day in a Story

I decided to take advantage of the holiday falling on a Monday to inspire today’s writing prompt. How would you use Labor Day in a story?

For those of us with kids in school, Labor Day often feels like New Year’s Day. The beginning of a new school year feels like it should also be the beginning of the actual year. This makes Labor Day a good setting to start or end a story. I think it’s particularly effective to start a story because Labor Day picnics give you a reason to bring many different characters together and introduce them quickly to the reader. It would work well as ending if you had a story taking place over a summer.

For more prompts for stories set in September, click here.

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.

Use This Scene as a Plot Point

My last prompt for plots this month is this cute photo. How you could use this scene as a plot point? It seems too innocent to add any tension or conflict to a story. But that’s the challenge. Here’s my inspiration:

I should have taken that job at the beach concession stand. Waiting on sweaty, hungry tourists had to be easier that keeping track of my little brother all summer.

The early morning sun wasn’t searing yet, and the breeze was still cool off the water as I scanned the docks for Noah.

There. At the end of the dock. I should have known he was with that little girl from the rented condo down the road. He was usually with her when I couldn’t find him.

I opened my mouth to call his name, when a big guy, tall and muscular, pounded down the empty road by the docks. “What are you doing out here?”

The little girl leaped to her feet. Then she jumped in the water.

For prompts dealing with plot, click here.

Let me know how this photo inspires you in the comments!

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