Friday, June 18, 2010

Where To Begin?

ok, so im really confused i dont know how to become a professional writer and yes i know my spelling isnt the best, or my grammer but i think i have some great ideas and i hardly understand any of the crap that is on the internet about it. So please can u explain in a simple way how do i get something published or become a known writer, i wanna know now so that im prepared for the future.
I sympathize about there being a great deal of information and advice (sometimes conflicting advice) available about the craft of writing and about the publishing industry. However, there isn't a single best path to published authorship, and the advice you need could fill several blogs-- it's not something I can give you in one blog post. You could certainly start by reading Harold Underdown's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books.
Good luck!


Josin L. McQuein said...

This reminds me of someone who blew onto a writer's board a few months ago asking for the "secrets" to getting published, then stormed off screaming that everyone on the board was an elitist because they wouldn't tell him anything other than "hard work and maybe some fortuitous circumstances".

You need to learn how to spell. Learn basic grammar. Learn capitalization. Learn punctuation. Don't use text speak unless that's the format of your book.

Sure those things come easier for some than others, but that doesn't mean that anyone is obligated to drop their standards to make it easier.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Josin-- Gross motor skills (running, kicking, jumping) come easier to some than others too, but noone sees a problem with telling someone that they're not "professional athlete" quality.

I'm not sure why we're willing to admit that some people have more athletic, musical, political or artistic talent than others, but CAN'T say that some people are better at Writing, or Math, or Science.

For some reason, there's this idea that anyone can write. But all you have to do is read a random selection of blogs and comments to realize that sentence structure DOESN'T come naturally to most people......

There was an old poster in my school library when I was growing up. It said "Good writers READ."

Harold Underdown's book won't really help you if you don't already HAVE a pretty good skillset. If you want to be a writer, READ. Go to your library, check out huge stacks of good books, and devour them like Godiva Chocolate. Read genres and authors OUTSIDE your favorite few.
Find a few who take your breath away. Make an effort to write as well as they do. You'll fall short. So read more and write more. Write letters to your family. Make your emails sound professional and clean.

If you want to be a swimmer, you have to be willing to totally immerse yourself in water. If you want to be a writer, you have to be willing to sink down into a sea of words.

(And with that bit of purple prose, I'm off to sink into a sea of LAUNDRY. Words would be better...but the kids are more likely to give me writing time if I make sure they have socks and underwear!)

Anonymous said...

"how do i get something published or become a known writer?"

Well, you don't get something published or become a known writer by not caring about spelling and grammar. A good idea is not enough, it's how you execute that idea that matters. Can you learn to use spell check? Hell, yes. I depend on it. Can you learn grammar rules? Yes. I have.

But it sounds like you just want to "be published," and not become a writer. There is a big, huge, freaking difference. Knowing the difference is the first step.

Read. Read. Read. And then read some more. Pay attention as you read, as to how authors' handle dialogue, action, description, and plot.

Go to a writer's conference if you can afford to. Hob nob with other writers. Join SCBWI if you can, they have great newbie info.

When you finish a book let it sit and then go back and revise it. The whole thing. If you think it's perfect and doesn't need revision -- a lot of revision -- then trust me, you're doing it wrong. The best writing, no matter who's writing it, is rewritten a hundred thousand times.

I recommed Query Shark to learn how to write a query letter. And Nathan Bransford's blog and FAQ are invaluable. Look through Ed Anon's archives, too.

Being a writer is a continuing journey, not a destination. It's not an object to gain, but a lifestyle. It's not for everyone.

jmartinlibrary said...

As a profession, writing is not for everyone.

Claire Dawn said...

Why do people think there is a formula? If you're interested in formulae, become a mathematician. If you want to be a writer, learn the craft and then put your own spin on it.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

First, write something. If you're writing non-fiction, you need to be an expert or an academic type (which, no offense, you don't sound like) and then you only have to write a proposal. If you're writing fiction, which would be my guess, first thing you want to do is figure out what your word count needs to be. Depending on genre, etc. you want to be somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 words. And you MUST MUST MUST have a completed manuscript before you try to step into the world of publishing for fiction.

After your manuscript is complete, polish and revise it until it is high enough quality to show to other people. Then show it to other people (not your mom or someone otherwise unable to separate you from your writing.) Incorporate their advice until you have a final draft. Not a first draft, a final draft.

Your next step is to write a query letter for the manuscript you wrote. This is a short, frankly brilliant letter that showcases both your writing talent and what your manuscript is about. Then you want to query widely to agents and publishers. Preditors and Editors is a good place to start, as is Publisher's Marketplace, to find the people you want. Also, don't waste anyone's time. Make sure they're interested in what you wrote. Some agents only represent non-fiction, some publishers only publish romance, etc. etc. Also, make sure you follow their query guidelines closely (i.e. I want only a letter, I want a letter and three chapters, I want a single plum floating in perfume served in a man's hat.)

Don't worry about getting past the query stage now, just think of that as your current goal. There are a few more steps after querying before an agent or publisher will take you on, but you must complete your manuscript first and then begin querying before anything else will happen. Not to pimp my blog, but here are my thoughts about the next few steps:

Then, start on your next manuscript, and lather, rinse repeat. Hopefully after repeating the process a few times you will have developed the skills and knowledge to write and publish a workable manuscript. Anything I left out, much better informed people?

And one more thing: good luck.

jjdebenedictis said...

Dear questioner,

You can't sell an idea, no matter how great it is. You can only sell a book.

And books consist of words and sentences. Therefore, step one is you need to learn how to write words and sentences correctly.

Worry about step two after you've mastered that. No reputable publisher will take your work seriously until you have.

Good luck!

Jeannie said...

You know, I hope this doesn't come across as snarky. But I am certified as a high school English teacher, and my question for this writer is: How well do you read?

Most community colleges can test your reading levels and skills. In this case, I think you should probably have these checked. Yes, I do mean that, in the kindest way. If you're having so much trouble learning from the advice to writers that's posted all over the Internet, then either you're not looking in the right places, or you're having trouble processing what you read.

My experience has been that if your reading skills are below college level--if you read on the same level as a 9th or 10th grader, for example--you're going to have a lot of trouble at this writing game. That's not to say you won't make it, but some very hard (and even remedial) work may be ahead of you.

Good luck!

Karen Schwabach said...

Redleg, that was a very complete and generous answer.

Anonymous said...

I would bet money that the questioner is a child or teenager. I wish people could be nicer.

Richard Gibson said...

Anon 5:05 - they were VERY nice!

Ebony McKenna. said...

I agree with Redleg - write something and then you'll have made a start.

As horrible as this sounds, you really do need to put in the hard work. It will take years.

Patience is key - and a willingness to put in loads and loads and loads of work before you see any results or rewards.

Writing books is more than knowing spelling and grammar, but poor presentation will be the first thing that trips you up because they show immediately your lack of a deep passion for language. So although you have plenty of ideas, you really do need to work on loving language.

Read widely - read Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel and Robert McKee's Story to get you started.

There is a 'formula' of sorts - and it's based on the three act model, or the hero's journey (Joseph Campbell).

Hope this doesn't put you off. But then, if it has, maybe writing isn't going to be your thing and it's time to follow your true passions.

Michael Grant said...

1) Manage to be born with some talent.

2) Write.

3) Learn the business.

4) Get lucky.

Ishta Mercurio said...

It boils down to what other people have said.

Write something.

Get feedback from writers (not friends and relatives) and revise it to make it better.

Research magazines (if it is a magazine piece) and agents and editors (if it is a book) and decide whom to submit it to. Use books like THE WRITERS' MARKET and blogs like this one to help you with this.

Submit your work, following the submissions guidelines that the people you're submitting your work to have outlined. (Some prefer that your manuscript be mailed, some prefer that it be emailed, etc.)

Wait for the people considering your work to get back to you. This can take anywhere from a few hours to several months. While you wait, start writing your next manuscript. Repeat.

It takes a lot of hard work, and a loooooong time. Be patient, be persistent, and always, always revise to improve your manuscript. Work hard at writing well. Ideas are a dime a dozen; it's the writing that counts.

Harold Underdown said...

Thanks for the endorsement of my book! And I completely agree with the comments of people who pointed out that it doesn't tell you everything you need to know. That wouldn't be possible in a 350 page book--so it focuses on the practical and business sides of children's book writing and illustrating.

It's not a writing guide. Instead I have an entire chapter that helps you find a writing guide or guides that work for you.

It's also not a comprehensive guide to the books in the field already, though I do have chapters that introduce the different areas of the field and point you to where you can find the award-winning as well as the popular books.

For more information about it, and some sample chapters, please visit the page I set up at

Anonymous said...

When I read questions like this, I sometimes wonder how E.A. valiantly holds on to a will to live.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon, who said this is most likely a young person. The questions sound quite a lot like those I see when chatting with teens on a well-known teen writing forum.

Be kind, folks. Remember the one mentor who inspired you to want to write...and be that.

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