Hello, and first off, I’d like to thank Anna Kathryn for the invitation to guest blog.
My name is Carol Dunford, and in ‘real life’ I write scripts for televised government training. Trying to make subjects like Government Pension Offset or Medicare Part D interesting enough to keep a captive televised audience awake takes a certain amount of creativity. My scripts have to be factual, but I also try to keep people awake.
Like many of you, I’ve been writing fiction for a while and have yet to be published. Life has sometimes intervened, and I decided to return to school for several years, but I’m back in the fiction-writing saddle again. I’ve often been asked about various ways to improve the “odds” of getting published. While there’s certainly no magic bullet, there are a few things ANY writer can do to move closer to a contract, and also make herself poised and ready to critically evaluate an offer to publish.
The very first thing is to become an outstanding practitioner of the English language. I can’t stress this enough. The days of an editor fixing your spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes are long gone. Your manuscript has to be picture perfect when it lands in the hands of an editor. The ONLY time grammar, spelling or punctuation mistakes are admissible are in dialogue. Your cowboy with an eighth-grade education might say something like “I reckon it ain’t no problem.” You, however, are not allowed to write things like ‘Large, puffy, bulky curtains was hung by the tiny, dark mullioned, windows’. If you want to brush up your skills, try sites like Smashing Magazine’s 50 Free Resources That Will Improve Your Writing Skills or Mahalo’s How To Improve Your Writing. Also, the more you read, the more you’ll recognize and internalize good writing.
Write for others. Try bidding for work on sites like Guru.com, elance.com, or others. Warning: you will not get rich. But you will be able to build a resume of published work that you can reference in a query letter. For example, I’ve written short articles for RV Trader Online, for a dental reference website, and for both British and Australian-based companies regarding specific subjects. Freelancing will also teach you how much you can take on, how to meet deadlines, and how to deal with requested revisions.
Focus tightly on the Goal, Motivation, and Conflict for your book and for each of the main characters. I can’t tell you how many contest entries I’ve judged where I can’t figure out a reason for what the characters are doing. Classic example: heroine is investigating [insert event here]. Hero comes along, and she drops everything to have a hormone attack. Why? If solving the mystery is her goal, she’s going to see the hero as an impediment to that goal. She’ll have to deal with the impediment, and in so doing will develop a relationship (probably adversarial) with the hero, and things will go from there. But give your people goals! Your reader wants to cheer these folks toward something, but they have to know what that something is. Every scene needs a goal, and the entire story needs an overarching goal. For example, in the historical wip I’m working on, my heroine wants to get released from an insane asylum (goal for about the first half of the book), BECAUSE (motivation) she wants to free herself from her marriage and can’t do that if she’s considered mad, BUT (conflict) she has to get the hero (asylum superintendent) to sign the papers to free her, and his perceptions are colored by the fact that she’s in the asylum in the first place. Focus on the goals, and let the relationship between the two characters develop naturally. If you haven’t read Deb Dixon’s ‘Goal, Motivation and Conflict’ book, I urge you to do so.
Enter contests. This can be a great way to support your local chapter if they sponsor a writing contest. Otherwise, look for contests with final-round judges to whom you’d like to submit, and ones that offer written feedback or critiques of your story. You can also circumvent the “I won’t look at you unless you’re agented” hurdle with contests if you make the finals. Contests aren’t free, so you can’t enter all of them, but this will also help you deal with deadlines and proper formatting of your manuscript.
Finally, find a trusted critique partner or group. You want honest feedback, and you’ll want it on both the “big picture” things like GMC, as well as small things like repeated words or phrases, mis-matched eye colors, misspellings, and the like. Finding the right person or group takes time and effort, but it’s well worth it.
If you can accomplish all this and keep writing while you’re at it, your craft will improve. None of these will guarantee a contract in today’s super-competitive market, but they’ll definitely help you get a leg up on the competition.
I hope these tips help you move closer to your publishing goals. It's a new year, so it's time to get going!