Monday, November 10, 2008

There is no free lunch

Back in college I had a history professor that taught us this ideal: “There is no free lunch.”

Just in case you’ve not heard the term, it means you can’t get something for nothing. You have to work for it or pay for it.

Now that I work for a charity that serves millions of free lunches, I’m not so sure it’s true.

But what I do know is that one or two free lunches will not make someone independent or successful for the rest of their lives. It won’t win a victory. Even free schooling won’t work unless the student puts forth effort to glean the knowledge and then put it to work in a paying job after.

Believe me, having worked for a college VA counselor for a couple years, I know that merely paying for someone’s college doesn’t ensure they will take advantage of all the benefits. What a shame.

So let me get to my real point and bring the topic back to my favorite one: Writing and publishing.

So how does this concept relate to writing and getting published?

Let me share a true story. Recently a wanna be writer saw me pounding away on my alpha smart in pubic and found out I’m a writer and began asking questions. She wants me to help her get started.

I don’t mind pointing someone in the right direction and giving some tips. Paying it forward is the name of the game in this life.

However, she wants to write childrens books and I write romance. I don’t know anything about writing for children. I don’t know which houses publish for children (not without research). I don’t know the names or locations of any childrens writing groups. Nill. Nada. Zippo.

But the lady wants me to find them for her and let her know how to find them so she can get started. I suggested she get online and google the term “Childrens Writing” or something similar but she gave me a blank stare and asked me to look it up for her and bring it to her the next time we got together.


I feel bad saying “no” and I don’t want to seem mean or uppity, but is it really up to me to do her research?

It’d be different if she asked me to tell her about something I know, i.e. romance writing. By heart I know the urls to several groups and publishers. I have a good idea of the reputable ones. I could even guide her to a critique group coordinator.

I’m in a quandary. How far should we go to help someone?

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to tell someone how to get published. I suppose people who are brand new think it’s a very simple process that can be told in a few minutes or one brief article. Unfortunately, the reality is that it’s a constant study that takes a lot of diligence and continued learning. Personally, I belong to several writing, marketing, and readers groups that I read daily. I read articles on the many writing ezines. I read articles and industry updates on a lot of blogs. I stay connected.

When I’ve tried to tell someone that it takes work and time and effort to investigate all this, their eyes usually glaze over.

Still, I understand. We all need help. I still need help. That’s why I haunt all these writers places and read everything I can get my hands on. That’s the main topic on my mind way more than 50% of my waking hours.

So, what is good, general advice for writers who want to get published?

First, find your local writers’ groups for the genre of writing and join. You can find them by googling on line, looking at bulletin boards at your local library for notices, looking in the phone book.

A close second is to join writers groups online. At this time I only belong to online groups because my schedule is so crazy I can’t attend regularly scheduled meetings in person but I can read emails and message boards when I’m available.

Read read read, all the writing advice and industry knowledge you can set your eyes on. There’s tons of articles, message boards, and writers loops on the Internet devoted to this subject.

Get involved. Join sub groups within your groups. Volunteer to help on committees. Attend workshops and chats. Join a critique group or find one good critique partner.

Then, you have to work hard. Once you know the genre you wish to work in, brainstorm stories. Research your topic.

Read a LOT. Find the publishers who publish the kinds of stories you wish to write and read a lot of their recently released stories, in particular the newly published authors. This tells you what they are looking for and the quality they expect. Think of similar stories with a twist.

Then put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper and write – a lot. Even if the story doesn’t come out perfect the first time, finish the first draft.

Now edit. Be willing to cut words, phrases, and entire scenes no matter how beautiful if they don’t move the story forward. Be ruthless. Polish every word. Let another pair of eyes read it to catch things you don’t.

Study the publishers in your genre – their submission guidelines, their wish lists for the type of stories they want, their deadlines. Then submit.

This is very oversimplified but like I said in the beginning, there’s no free lunch. You have to do your homework. You have to stay up on things. You have to work.

If you write romance, an excellent group is Romance Writers of America, in particular the online chapter “From the Heart” (FTH). Unfortunately, I don’t write children’s’ stories or mysteries or sci-fi so I can’t direct you to good groups for them, but a simple Google search will help you to find them.

Each of the paragraphs above can be divided into hundreds of more specific articles. Fortunately, there’s a plethora of articles already written and available free on the Internet and all it will cost is a bit of time to find and read them.

Good luck!

You'll also want to see what Amarinda Jones, Anika Hamilton, Anny Cook, Barbara Huffert, Brynn Paulin, Bronwyn Green, Dakota Rebel, Kelly Kirch, Molly Daniels, Sandra Cox, Regina Carlysle, and Cindy Spencer Pape are up to, so make sure to visit them also. :)


Regina Carlysle said...

If she's not willing to even research the genre, I doubt she'll put in the work to actually write the book. I'm all for helping someone by pointing them in the right direction but there it ends. We are all, in the end, responsible for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

One of the things that has impressed me most about all the romance writers I've met both online and in person is their willingness to share information! But anyone who thinks it's easy to get published and wants someone else to do the most basic of research isn't going to make it in this business.

All you can do at this point is point the way.

Molly Daniels said...

Excellent advice, Ashley!

I'm with Regina. If she's not willing to do the research, she probably won't find the time/motivation to put pen to paper, so to speak.

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Terrific advice, Ashley. ANd no. If she wants it, she has to do the leg work herself.

Bronwyn Green said...

I absolutely agree - if she's not even going to do her own research, than I sincerely doubt she'll bother to attempt writing the actual book.

You could always print out the list you posted on the blog and give it to her. It's tangible and she can refer back to the excellent advice whenever needed.

Unknown said...

Thanks guys. I wondered if I was being too harsh. I'll be glad to point her as I've pointed other people.

Unknown said...

"How far should we go to help someone?"

Only as far as you are comfortable with - and no, there are no free lucnhes - everything has a cost

Anny Cook said...

Use to hear all the time... show me how hard you're willing to work. She's not willing to work. I'm with the rest of them. It's her responsibility to get started.

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