A few times a year, one friend or another tells me they’d like to write a book. They mention how they heard I have a book coming out with Chronicle, and then they ask the “how” questions that make me smile. I love sharing a similar dream with friends, and their interest in my opinion is a huge compliment!
My most recent email was: Hey Kim! I know you are a writer, correct? I am thinking of writing a true life story. Any pointers you can give me? How do I go about presenting to a publisher? Is it best that I get a writer to assist me in my story? Any help/guidance would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
Here’s my evolving answer. I hope the information is useful to others, too.
I'm happy to hear you're interested in writing a book. Good for you to ask questions early! When I decided I wanted to write, I spent a year typing out a 60,000 word novel. After I finished, I a read book on craft and talked to experienced writers—that’s when I discovered the one million things I did wrong, haha—oh well! The best thing I did was sitting my butt in a chair and getting started. Here are my recommendations:
1. BIC (butt in chair). Have a goal of how many words a day you plan to write and do it (by the way, word count is where it's at; not page count but word count). Set aside a time every day to write and commit to that schedule. For me, it is first thing in the morning (it's 5:16am right now, and I’ll get started as soon as I finish this blog post). One of my friends writes at night after everyone has gone to bed.
2. Join a genre-specific organization and participate in activities and events. I write children's books, so I joined the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). There are many organizations out there, and it might take a bit of research for you to find the right one for you (Romance Novelist of America; History Writers of America, etc.).
3. Research if anyone in your area hosts a writer’s connection event (a writer get-together). Every six weeks(ish), I co-host a Connect for SCBWI members who live in Boulder (or for those who want to drive to Boulder). The other co-host and I pick a topic and moderate a group discussion. We cover a variety of topics including novel structure, character development, craft book discussions, goal setting, etc.
4. Find blogs and read, read, read. My blog is geared toward children's book writers and readers. I post book recommendations, interviews with agents and editors, and writing tips. I like the SCBWI blog by Alice Pope, and several others such as Dear Editor, Adventures in Children’s Publishing, and the one by Nathan Brandsford. In addition to blogs, read craft books like SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder, or WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron, or SCENE AND STRUCTURE by Jack Bickham, or THE BREAKOUT NOVELIST: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers by Donald Mass.
5. Find or form a critiquing group. This is crucial! It takes a village to write a great book—your village starts with your critiquing group. A good critiquer gives feedback in the sandwich method—they tell you what they like and what works well, next they tell you what needs work and why (in their opinion), and then they close with something positive. If you can't find an in-person critiquing group, there are many on-line forums.
6. Join Twitter and “follow” a focused base of people who are both experts and novices in your field—through them, you can stay on top of what is relevant—i.e. conference chatter, or when is the so-and-so book award coming out, or when is Dear Editor giving away a free critique, or what's the latest in Publishers Marketplace, or what did Daniel Handler say this time (okay, just kidding. He made his amends).
7. Subscribe to Writer's Digest and consider a subscription to Publishers Marketplace. Subscribe to the free email offered by Publishers Lunch.
8. Attend a conference. The knowledge you'll gain at a conference will close the learning gap quickly (craft, formatting, word count, looking professional, how to, and more). Also attend a writing workshop which is primarily craft and feedback focused.
9. Listen to Grammar Girl podcasts and become familiar with The Punctuation Guide, then forgive yourself for how many things you get wrong (but fix them).
10. READ read and read. Good writers need to be avid readers first, especially in the genre they want to write. It is crazy to me when someone says they want to write a children's book, yet all they read are adult books. The best writers are readers first.
Good luck! I look forward to seeing your name listed under New York Times Best Sellers.