As I’ve said before, this is advice for new writers. Writers with just one or two publication credits. If you’ve got a list of pub credits as long as my…arm, then this probably isn’t the reason your book got rejected. Go back to one of the earlier posts and see the stuff about bad timing, bad luck, or just not being a good fit for a publisher at that time. It’s more likely to be that. But if you’re just starting out, this is the #1 reason most books or short stories don’t get published.
You Don’t Know How to Write for Publication Yet.
This shit is hard, y’all. It takes years to learn how to write a novel or a really good short story. It takes even longer to learn how to do it again and again, day in and day out, either for a living or a supplemental income. You don’t just walk out of college with a freshly minted BA in English and sit down to write your first novel. Okay, you probably do, but it almost certainly sucks. And that’s okay. Your first book, story, blog post, article, poem, or whatever the fuck you want to write is supposed to suck. Just don’t think people are going to pay you for it. And don’t think that it’s worth charging money for it.
So how do you get good? How do you get ready to be published? Well, strap in kids, I’m going to give you the Secret to Becoming a Published Author and getting all the women, blow, and cash you can ever imagine.
Work really hard, study a lot of shit, read a fuckload, and put a metric shit-ton of words on the page.
Come on, there’s no fucking secret to it. I spent almost a decade writing a blog and working for poker websites before I wrote The Chosen. I had more than a million words written and about half a million of it published by someone other than my blog before I started writing fiction.
You want to get good? Write.
You have to write. You aren’t good if you’re getting a lot of rejections. That’s the main reason people get rejected. It’s not because they don’t like you. It’s not because they don’t like your politics. It’s not because they don’t like gay people, or straight people, or white people, or African-Americans. It might be because you’re an asshole, but you can probably hide that for the fifteen minutes someone spends with your query letter. It’s almost always because you aren’t ready yet. You don’t serve mashed potatoes that are cold in the middle, and you don’t get your book published until you know how to write, and how to be a writer.
So what do you do?
Write – and join a critique group. You can’t learn in a vacuum. I learned a ton writing my blog, because I had people reading my work every day, and they would call me on it if something sounded stupid. Then I worked for an editor, and they called me on it when I wrote shit. If you live in the boonies, join an online critique group. I know it’s hard to show your precious little manuscript to a room full of strangers, but suck it up, buttercup. It’s one of the best ways to improve. And no, nobody wants to steal your fucking idea. If you think that people go to critique groups to steal ideas, then just be a goddamn stamp collector, because there are already enough idiots in publishing and writing, we don’t need another one.
Read – it’s a fucking mortal insult when someone walks up to my table at a con and says “I have a fantasy novel I’m writing (have written),” then they follow that up with “I don’t really read, I just want to write.” Fuck. You. Read. Read in the genre. It’s fucking necessary. You need to know what the tropes are. You need to know what the crutches are. You need to know what’s selling, and what’s oversold. You need to know what’s been fucking done to death, and when an original idea is actually original.
Study – There are amazing books out there, many of them written by people who are doing exactly what you want to do – making a living off their words. Why would you not take the opportunity to learn from them? I really like On Writing by Stephen King and Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Deb Dixon. Every writer in the world has their favorite. Ask someone.
Go to Conventions and Writers’ Conferences – Yes, they cost money. Some of them are expensive. Most of them are worth it. Where else can you sit in a hotel bar and talk with half a dozen publisher writers? Where else can you sit in a room and listen to six or more people tell you how to answer writing problems? I have several friends, manny of whom I’m now publishing with Falstaff, that I met when they were attending conventions and sitting in the audience taking a shitload of notes. They kept their mouths shut and their ears open, and they learned. And they got better, and now they’re building careers.
Write – Oh, did I say that one already? That’s because it’s the fucking key to it all. I don’t give a shit how many hours you work. I don’t give a shit how young your kids are and how much of a pain in the ass they are. I worked two jobs when I was starting out and still blogged every day building my voice. I drove from Charlotte to fucking Arkansas, spent three nights in a hotel to attend a con where I was nominated for an award that I didn’t win, sold two goddamn books, then drove two days home. I’ve been to cons where I slept three or four hours a night because I was networking in the bar (yeah, I know, but I was networking. Ask my friends how many times they’ve been in a bar with me until the wee hours. Then ask them how many times they’ve seen me actually intoxicated. Those numbers won’t match, and you can probably guess which number is surprisingly low.) then got up to make a 9AM panel.
I’ve been to cons with bronchitis when I was so fucked up on codeine-laced cough syrup I don’t remember the convention, and I was at Dragon Con doing panels and working the convention while I knew my mother was dying. I said my goodbyes on Thursday afternoon, told her I loved her for the last time, drove back to Charlotte, got in the car with two friends, and rode to Atlanta. I got the call Monday morning that she was gone, and we buried her two days later. So don’t tell me you’ve got shit to do that gets in the way of your writing career. I’m standing here shouting from the goddamn mountaintops that if there are things in your way that you don’t want it bad enough. Go read Sherrilyn Kenyon’s website where she writes about how she got her start and all the shit she went through. Then tell me your job is hard and you’re too tired.
If I sound hard, and mean, well too goddamn bad.
This isn’t my hobby. This isn’t what I do when I feel like it. This isn’t something I do when the muse strikes me. This is how I feed my family and keep a roof over our heads. And if you aren’t willing to work as hard as I do, then get out of my way. But if you want it, if you are willing to scratch and claw and work for years to get good enough just to get a personalized rejection letter, then let’s go. I will do anything I can for you. I will help promote your shit. I will perhaps even publish your shit. But if you’re in this because you think it’s an easy ride, go somewhere else. I ain’t got time for dabblers.
I just spent two days working a comic con with two friends. One of them is a doctor. He has literally saved lives, and watched people die in front of him. He has a job, an important job, and he’s good at it. We need him doing his day job. But because this is something he loves, he works all week then drives all across the Southeast doing conventions. He works all day and goes home to write. He’s got one novel out now, with two more coming in that series, and I’ve signed him to a three-book contract for another series. Now tell me you don’t have time to get some words on the page.
You want to know why your book got rejected? Because out there in the dark of night, at 11:35 on a Sunday night when I’m writing a blog to promote myself, promote my brand, and hopefully give a little back to aspiring writers, there’s somebody else who’s working on their craft. Somebody who wants it more than you do. Somebody who’s willing to work harder than you. Somebody who will invest the time and energy into developing their writing ability to something worthy of publishing.
Note that I never mentioned talent until just now. I’ve said this from my senior year of college when I first started directing plays. I don’t give a fuck about talent. Talent doesn’t mean shit. Give me a choice between an A-plus talent with a C-minus work ethic, and a C-minus talent with an A-plus work ethic, and I’ll take the work ethic every time. Fuck talent, get to work.
You like this shit? It’s moving come September. My blog will be more events and fun stories, and my writing advice will be for my Patreon patrons. Because I gotta make a living. My podcast will still be free, and my stuff on Magical Words will still be free, so there’s plenty of ways to get my advice for free. But these blog posts will be patron-only. But they will be available for everyone that pledges $1 or more, so it’s affordable. Go to Patreon to check it out.