A few times a year, someone I know - a friend, cousin, neighbor, dental hygienist, etc. - confesses they’d like to write a book. They mention how they've heard about my upcoming release, The Truth About 5th Grade, co-written by me and Mark Parisi (summer 2024, HarperCollins).
|by Mark Parisi|
Or they mention my award-winning books with Chronicle or one of the writing classes I teach.
All ask the big "H" question - “how”. How do you write books and/or have a successful writing career?
I love sharing goals and dreams with friends, so the question is a huge compliment!
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 following information is useful to you, 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 creating a 60,000 word novel. After I finished, I read a 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). Set aside a time every day to write and commit to that schedule. For me, it is first thing in the morning. One of my friends writes at night after everyone has gone to bed.
2. Join an Organization. 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. It might take a bit of research for you to find the right fit (Romance Writers of America; History Writers of America, Science Fiction Writers of America, etc.).
3. Connect with Other Writers. Research to see if anyone in your area hosts a writers connection event (a writer get-together). When I lived in Colorado, I co-hosted a Connect for SCBWI members who lived in Boulder area. The other co-host and I picked a topic and moderated a group discussion. We covered novel structure, character development, craft book discussions, goal setting, etc. Now that I live in Phoenix, and I co-host a Write Night.
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 Deborah Halverson's Dear Editor. I also like Adventures in Children’s Publishing, and 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, or Everybody Writes: Your New and Improved Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley.
5. Find or form a critiquing group. This is crucial! It takes a village to write a great book—your village starts with your critique group. A good critique partner tells you about your glows and grows. I like the sandwich method—that's when you begin by talking about what you specifically like and what works well and even why you think it works well; next you discuss what needs work and why (in your opinion); lastly, close with something specific and positive. If you can't find an in-person critiquing group, there are many on-line forums.
6. Social Media. Find a social media forum that fits your style and “follow” a focused base of people who are experts, consumers, and also 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 so-and-so say this time.
7. Subscribe. Consider a subscription to Writer's Digest, Poets & Writers, or 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, one that is craft and feedback focused.
9. Podcasts. 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. Reading is important to mention a second time! Be a good literary citizen. Good writers need to be avid readers first, especially in the genre they want to write. It is bananas 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 Bestsellers.