One of my most common emails (that I get, not that I send–just clarifying) is from people who have completed their novel and they want to know what to do next.
My first response is: rewrite it.
I don’t tell people that because I don’t want to discourage them. They’ll get plenty of discouragement from agents/editors/publishers. Besides, for all I know said optimistic writer has already rewritten the thing 17 times.
I usually tell people about agentquery.com It’s a great resource for authors. You can search agents by genre and the site gives you all sorts of useful information like the agent’s submission guidelines and what sort of chocolate to send in order to bribe them. Okay, the website doesn’t really tell you about agents’ favorite chocolate, but it should. If I was an agent, that’s the first thing I’d have listed there.
Anyway, here is the checklist I should give people before they submit anything.
1) Have you read any books on writing? If the answer is no, you’re not ready to submit. If the answer is yes, but you’ve only read one or two, you’re also probably not ready to submit. Writing is like playing the piano. Most people who are self-taught are not going to be all that good at it.
Here are some great writing books for novelists:
Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain
Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham (Actually anything by Jack Bickham)
GMC Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Deborah Dixon (You need to go to the publisher’s website for this one.)
Anything by Gary Provost
Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
If you write non-fiction or picture books, get and read the books that pertain to those genres. Ditto for romance books, westerns, whatever. Blogs on writing are also very helpful. For example, if you need to write an action scene involving angry grapefruit, you’ll want to read my last blog.
2) How many times have you gone over the manuscript yourself?
If the answer is twice, you’re not ready to submit. For first time novels, you need to send that baby out to lots of readers for critiques. Don’t just send it to your mom or friends. They’ll tell you that it’s great–and they might even believe it. After all, they love you. You need to have a network of fellow writers or well-read friends that can give you tough love. If you don’t have that, pay for it. Revising is the difference between selling and not selling.
3) How long have you let the manuscript sit, unread?
If it’s only a few days or a couple of weeks, you’re not ready to submit. One of the truly weird things about writing is that you can’t see your own mistakes when you write them. This goes for missing words but it also applies to unclear dialogue, bad description, etc. The story works beautifully in our minds, and so that’s what we see on the paper. Let your manuscript sit for a month. Two or three months is better. (Which is why it’s great to send a manuscript to an editor and then not get the revision letter for a couple of months. By that time you can look at it with fresh eyes.)
4) Have you ever gone to a writers’ workshop or conference?
If not, why not? If you want to publish you probably should go to a conference that addresses your genre. You’ll meet people who know about the industry. You’ll get advice from pros, and you’ll get tips about what’s selling and what’s not. If paranormal is a hard sell (which it is right now, by the way) and you’re pitching your paranormal romance, you may run into problems. Not knowing why something is rejected is one of the most frustrating things about this business. Stay up to date about what’s going on.
Besides, a good writers’ conference will energize you. That’s why people go back year after year.
5) Have you bought all my books?
Actually, this step might not really help you, but it would help me so I’m including it.
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You have two step threes- just wanted to point that out.
I love your blog- I even went back in the archives and have been reading it from the beginning (slowly but surely).
I also love your books, although the only one I own is My Fair Godmother.
Keep blogging&writing, because you’re amazing at both!
I’ve done all these things (well, okay, I only own about half of your books, but I’m working on it – my budget can only take so much of my reading habit). But, would you believe it that while I’ve read books on writing, I haven’t read those books on writing? Sigh. More things to add to my to-do list 🙂
Also, I’m doing a blog makeover giveaway over on my blog. You might not be interested, but I thought I’d let you know if case you were (or your readers, they’re welcome to enter too!) Here’s the link if so: http://www.tianasmith.com/2012/04/grand-opening-giveaway.html
Maybe it’s the nerd in me, but I love reading books about writing. I feel like I’m expanding my brain power when I do. Thanks for the list of books. I will definitely be reading those soon!
Great tips! I have one of those books from #1 and will put the others on my wish list. And I wish I had all of your books, too! The ones I’ve gotten ahold of have been so fun to read.
I really like this post! This reminds me of an article one of my grad school professors shared about Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers”. Gladwell says that before you are really at the top of your game in any field, you have to put something like 10,000 hours of effort into it. And I believe it.
Recently, I had this major “how to write books” books to read. Just kept devouring them, if they were intresting. I read Character & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. He really gets it. Even for a 12-yr.-old like me!
Very disciplinary and helpful points
Emily, yikes,see, that double #3 thing was just an example of how we don’t catch our own mistakes. If I had let that blog sit for awhile before I posted it, I would have caught that.
Tiana, I definitely need a blog make-over–and a website one as well. That’s one of the things on my to-do list that isn’t getting done.
Dena and Leslie, I’m a nerd too. I have over 40 writing books (some that I haven’t read for lack of time, but that won’t keep me from buying new ones.)
Merry, I’ve heard the theory before, and I think it’s right. I wish I’d kept track of my hours so I know where I am on that learning curve.
Cassandra, you’re smart to learn so much at such a young age. I wish I had.
KMD, glad you found them useful.
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This is awesome! Thank you for this advice!!! 😀 I’ll keep chugging on with it!
And, yes, I’ve done step #5. I own all of your books. Who knew I was so in tune with your advice?!
Hi Janette! This is soooo funny. Your blog is in blogs of note, so I clicked on it and you have the same background. Not only that, but I’m an author too. 🙂 Just got published this month, actually.
Your points are pretty much spot-on. Excellent and honest. 🙂
So fun to find another writing blog!
Just discovered your blog. I want to learn much more about writing – I enjoy writing but know I need to learn a lot more about doing it properly. You given some great tips. I’ll be back to explore your blog further.
Thanks for sharing! I think I may be the only wannabe writer who has not taken any of the steps you wrote. Sob, sob :(. But he, it’s never tool ate to start! And start is what I’M gonna do!
*sigh* I don’t want to go back and revise again, Janette!
Ok, I will. That’s what I’m suppost to be doing right now but your post distracted me.
Thanks for more book ideas. I’ve read a few of them. I have ten YA books by my bed, waiting to be read. SLAYERS is one of them…
Very interesting.Keep writting…
Im from Brazil , but yes i do speak english, and well… visit my blog too.
These are great tips. I’m glad I came across your blog via Blogs of Note. And timely too, as I’ve just finished my first draft. I’m doing exactly what it says on the tin; reading, reading, reading, and then some. Now for the hard work – rewrites.
Oh, these are good things to know, but dangit! I’m in the stages of planning out a story that I hope could someday maybe possibly be published, but it starts out with dialogue. As in, “Trick-or-treat!”. Is that No Starting With Dialogue rule iron-clad? I was kind of fond of that opening line, heh.
First time commenter, by the way *waves*. I came across this site almost a year ago, because I was so anxious for any news if there was going to be a threequel to the Godmother books (I ADORED them!)
I actually work in a book store, and I have My Fair Godmother, My Unfair Godmother, and Just One Wish as some of my personal picks.
All the time, when a tween or teen comes up to me and asks for a book suggestion, I go “How much do you like fairytales?”. Not a single one has said no to me yet, and I then proceed to tell them about all three of those books (as those three are the only ones of yours that we carry).
Since summer of last year, I think I may have successfully sold three My Fair Godmothers, four My Unfair Godmothers, and three of Just One Wish (but that number may not include the ones we sold on my days off, so I’m not sure about total number).
It’s not much, since I’m not asked too often about what I would recommend to tweens and teens, but when I am asked, I’ll pull out the Janette Rallison ones first.
People should stop by “May We Recommend…” walls in bookstores more often xD You can find some great stuff there.
Great advice, wish I’d read this a while back when I decided that my third draft was rubbish! I would have felt more normal.
I agree with the rewrites, I’m getting more creative and more selective each time.
Hi Janette, came across your blog and really like this article! Really helpful, I’ve definitley taken some notes! Looking forward to reading more in the future! : )
hello. My name is Alex. I was looking at peoples blogs to get ideas for mine. (www.alexdanielson.blogspot.com)
Your blog is cool. Also check out my teacher’s blog that is famous: http://www.mrbuxton.blogspot.com
p.s. Cassandra Day, I have read The School Story.
Hi Janette, I enjoyed reading your blog. You gave out some good advice for writing. I looking forward to reading the next article.
I’ll drop in often 🙂
PS I also invite you to my blog:
Comments are welcome;)
CONGRATULATIONS on being selected as a Blog of Note! I’m glad I found your site – keep up the great work!!
Im visit your blog visit back to http;//khusnul-blognewbie.blogspot.com
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hi Jannet Rallinson, i’m Arye from indonesia,
from many book in blog that i find, i think it’s a great.. i wanna get one of your book, but…. i’ve not money enough… very2 want to read the story in it,,, (T_T)
hmm never mind, i’m very happy can find and follow..:)
nice your blog..i love your blog,
Welcome join my Blog..Thanks wery much
Liz, thanks for being in tune. You’re awesome like that.
Jessica, congrats on becoming published. You’ll soon become cynical and callous like the rest of us. (Okay, just kidding about that. It actually takes a year or two . . .)
Niki, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the steps. You’ll be glad you did.
Taffy, revise until it bleeds.
Debbie, same advice–cut that manuscript until it bleeds.
Melissa, first off, thanks for recommending my books! You’re awesome! Personally, sometimes I’m okay with an interesting bit of dialogue at the beginning of a book. Case in point, Rob Wells book Variant starts out with, “This isn’t one of those scare-you-straight schools, is it?”
That’s intriguing enough that readers want to know the answer to the question too. That said, I do know some editors and agents that hate dialogue as a starting line, so they might put down your manuscript right away–and you don’t want that. So for your first book, I’d only go with the dialogue if you can’t think of something else you love more.
You’re on the right track. Keep at it.
Cheney, glad to help.
Kimarcusrich,Kaja,Khusnul, and commoncents, thanks!
Hola Jannet tienes un blog maravilloso, a mí me gusta mucho la aventura, el romanticismo, y quien algún día de su vida no ha creido en las hadas?Fabuloso sigue así .
Aquí tienes una fiel seguidora, espero quete guste el mio.
I actually understood some of that. Thanks, high school Spanish!
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IWhich Gary Provost book would you recommend if I can only get one?
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I think the firs I read of his was Make Every Word Work. They’re probably all good–although I think they tend to repeat some of the same advice.
I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.