Like most writers, I understand, it took a long time for me to find a publisher who was willing to accept one of my submissions. Many won’t even look at submissions from unknown writers and a good many note that they are not presently considering new material. I did get offers, but they were patently phony. Agents and publishers alike who were willing to talk to me wanted money. Luckily, thanks to sites like Writer Beware, I was savvy enough not to spend money I didn’t have to spend. So I was really thrilled when I received my first acceptance letter. A real publisher had read part of my novel, asked for the rest and she wrote back that the rest did not disappoint her. Still living in the Dark Ages, I packed up my 80,000 word manuscript and shipped it off at no mean expense and trouble to Canada. Eventually it came back, refused by the publisher. When I wrote to ask what happened, I received an apology. The publisher assumed I knew they only dealt with electronic submissions. Okay, lesson learned. I was happy at first with being a Published Author and, although I approved the cover, I eventually came to hate it. The lack of communication that began with the paper manuscript continued. Somehow, my publisher and I continued to have little misunderstandings. Then a second manuscript, initially approved, somehow got lost. When I submitted it again, she rejected it because she had just acquired two “Cozies”. This while my novel was a police procedural! Eventually we parted in friendly fashion with my rights reverting to me. At about that same time I submitted another novel to a different publisher who accepted it. Wow! Two acceptances at almost exactly the same time, this after years of rejection. This publisher appeared to be great and even created a really neat and appropriate cover for the book. We didn’t always agree of course. She insisted that I not use contractions in narrative. In dialog okay, but not in narrative. Being new and glad to find a publisher, I tried to go along, but eventually when I pointed out that many authors use contractions in narrative, she appeared shocked and said it had only been a suggestion. After all, I was the author. Okay, but that came a little late. Unfortunately the books began falling apart the minute people got their hands on them. The publisher did offer to replace them, and eventually she assured me the problem had been fixed. However, from there things only went downhill for her and before long, she had to go out of business. She did return my rights. Another publisher accepted a novel and she appeared to be really professional. Even assigned an editor to work with me to make my novel as perfect as possible. Unfortunately, along the way she evidently discovered that there’s a lot more money in erotic novels than in mainstream, and by the time my novel was published, there it lay, a somewhat noir, but mainstream novel tucked in among steamy erotic novels featuring nudes on the covers and positioned in a way that no one would ever notice it. She returned my rights too, and we parted company in a friendly fashion. I found another publisher. She was very cooperative and helpful and published two of my mysteries. They came out with good covers and looked good and the books didn’t fall apart, but soon she fell ill and eventually had to sell to another person who apparently knew little about the publishing business. My relationship with the new owner was spotty at best and eventually I got my rights back. Finally, at long long last my work landed on the desk of my current editor. We hit it off immediately and we’ve continued to have a good relationship ever since. She has published all these other novels from before along with new ones. At the present time I have ten novels with her and two more are being edited even as I write. She answers my dumb questions, offers suggestions, is very helpful and cooperative in putting together great cover art, and I’m currently working on another novel which I hope she’ll like as well. From this little jeremiad, as you may surmise, finding a publisher is hard enough for anyone of course, but being able to find one with whom you’ll have a great relationship borders on being a miracle. I’m really thankful that I fell into the good graces of my current publisher. I hesitate to mention names because I don’t want her overwhelmed by writers who are looking for the same relationship I have. I’m sure she isn’t right for everyone, and that’s probably as it should be. But out there somewhere, I’m equally sure there’s a publisher who’s just right for you. If you don’t hit it off with the first one…or two, keep looking. You just have to keep looking. Just had a great idea for a new web business: Match Writer and Publisher.com “Find your Muse’s match for you.” Boy, I may be onto something here. Excuse me. I’ll finish this later.
Over the years I learned that one of the most recurrent questions asked of writers is “How do you write?”
I know some carefully plan their books out chapter by chapter, or even scene by scene, while others take a more open approach, feeling their way along. I understand Agatha Christie carefully plotted each book, and obviously it worked for her. I’ve read that Georges Simenon, on the other hand, simply went into his study and started writing. Thirty days later he popped out with another book.
I’m sure many writers, especially hopeful, as yet unpublished writers, wonder about these things, sometimes questioning their own habits.
Most instructors will insist you establish a schedule and stick to it. Get up and start writing. I can’t argue with that advice. Jack Woodford wrote that while employed as a bank clerk, he got up at four in the morning, rain or shine, and wrote until it was time to go to work. He wanted to give his best to his writing, not to the bank. Like Mr. Balzac I drink lots of coffee, although it probably hasn’t made my writing better or worse. As Mr. Woodford suggested: No-Doz will keep you going. Coffee will keep you going too… to the bathroom.
I thought that by addressing my own habits (?) some other writers might either take courage or on the other hand, see a pitfall to avoid.
I’ve always been a procrastinator. I’ve never in my life been able to establish a writing schedule, and like everything in my life, I’ve always worked in fits and (often false) starts.
I’ve never been able to plan a book down to the last detail. In fact, I don’t do much planning at all. Since I write mostly mysteries, I take care to establish the killer before I start, but in between…well, here’s a typical scenario: I piddle on the computer for a while and then I have a cup of coffee and lie down on my chaise in the patio and close my eyes whilst listening to my babbling false brook. Or, sometimes I read for a while and then close my eyes. Weeks may go by, even months, but one day an idea comes to mind and I start thinking about it, seeing possibilities. I begin to develop it more and more and may actually start writing and creating characters. I have several like that, a number of stillborn books that either linger somewhat mummified in my computer or books have already been lost to posterity.
But now and then an idea comes along begins to grow and the more I think about it, the better it seems. Where did it come from? It could be from something I saw on the news, or something I read about or heard about. I don’t know. It had been over a year — a very dry year — since my last triumph (LOL), “The Sand Bluff Murders”, and day after day I tried to think about things I might write. Just recently an idea began to form and each day I liked it more. Although I didn’t really start writing, I began to visualize it in my mind and — because it’s easier to get an acceptance from my particular publisher is I offer something as a sequel — I turned it into a sequel to The Sand Bluff Murders and voià, The Morgenstern Murders was born. Here comes the really weird part. After such a long dry spell, I hadn’t even completely finished polishing The Morgenstern Murders when another book began to fall into place. I called it The Handyman but before I got off to a very good start, I realized the handyman was only a catalyst. The story was really about a small town deputy sheriff and it quickly changed from the Handyman to The Deputy. It should be out by July.
In the meantime, I confess, I play it by ear. I pretty much let the characters take over. That brings me back to my chaise in the patio. I’ll take a little break and lie down and close my eyes and start writing prose that would go down in history. I mean impeccable, flawless prose that rivals Shakespeare and the King James Bible. It’s so good that no matter how tired I am, I just have to get up, go back upstairs and get to my computer. Unfortunately, by the time I get there, somehow things don’t turn out anything like they did while I lay on my back with my eyes closed. They never do. Sad but true.
And that’s my system. When it’s going right, nothing can interrupt me. When I was working on my first published novel, “The Little Mornings”, my little spare bedroom which I had turned into my office, was invaded by my daughter, her husband and five kids, all of whom took over the office with air beds etc. This went on for a month, but I had reached a point in the book where the urge was too strong, so every day I literally climbed over air beds and, surrounded by noisy kids, kept right on going and finished the book without a ruffle.
I don’t know whether this will help anyone, or perhaps show people pitfalls to avoid, but there it is. Now that I’ve got my fingers warmed up on a hot keyboard, I can get back to writing.
I‘ve sometimes wondered at the continued popularity of certain books while so many — even if they’re temporarily hot — quickly languish and fade away.
I think about one-shot wonders like, “The Catcher in the Rye”, “Gone with the Wind”, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Moby Dick”. True, Melville is remembered for “Bartleby” too, but only by a few.
I’ve really wondered what it is that makes these books so special, and in the end, while they certainly speak to a segment of readers, I can’t see why they’re so much more memorable than so many others. Maybe I’m missing something.
Of course I’m not blind to the fact that these books contain memorable characters, Cap’n Ahab, Scout and her dad, “Tomorrow is another day” Scarlet; Holden. There’s only one Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, only one Oliver Twist, etc. But in our times even the most memorable characters have fallen by the wayside. Kitty, Mildred Pierce.
Unfortunately none of Salinger’s, Mitchell’s, Lee’s and Melville’s characters particularly appeal to me, so maybe that’s my problem. Hey, that’s okay, I certainly have my blind spots. I can’t see why millions of fans go nutty over football games either. The only part of football that I can understand is the part about beer and hotdogs. Nowadays with chicken hot dogs being all the rage, I wouldn’t even eat a hot dog at a game, and I don’t have to pay big bucks to freeze on a bench in a snowstorm to enjoy a beer.
Who knows which books and characters will catch on in the public mind and continue to sell thousands of copies each and every year in the future? Publishers can’t predict, otherwise the Dollar Tree wouldn’t be a great place to buy books. In the end, only the reading public can and will decide that for us.