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Friday, October 14, 2016

How Not to Spin Your Writing Wheels: A Debut Author’s Advice

by Christa MacDonald 

Like many new authors I started off making absolutely every mistake in the book. I was all tell and no show, used more adverbs than an episode of School House Rocks, and I killed off two characters in my prologue, never mind the fact that I even had a prologue.  I had many painful lessons to learn before selling my first book so to save you from the same; I humbly submit the following insights.

1. Research! This tip starts off with plain ol’ knowing your genre. Are you Romance, Women’s Fiction, Upmarket, Literary Fiction? There are genres and sub-genres and you need to know where you book falls before you start to shop it around to agents or publishers. Best way to know? Find books similar to yours and read them. Read a lot. Then read some more. By the time you understand what genre you’re in you’ll probably have a good understand of what your sub-genre is as well. Research prospective agents. Don’t make the mistake of querying someone who will auto-reject you because they don’t represent your genre.

2. Word count matters. Now that you’ve researched your genre you’ll know what the range is for word count. If you’ve got a contemporary romance at 130,000 words you’re not gonna get a lot of agents or editors willing to look at it. The same is true if it’s 40,000. If you’re shopping around a high fantasy at 60,000 you’re not gonna get a lot of interest. Fair? No. But this is a business and as an agent, why read something you know misses an important criterion.

3. Know your audience. So you’ve written this really compelling story about a heroin addict and his long journey to sobriety. It’s gritty and real with the word choices to match.  Probably not a novel to shop to an agent who deals with young adult or middle-grade novels. As important as knowing your genre, watching your word count, is knowing who your likely readers are and what category that puts you in. You want to be sure you’re querying agents and publishers who are looking for what you’ve written.  You also want to your book to appeal to your readers. Again, read to research. Seek out comp titles.

4. Edit, revise, and refine. I can’t say this strongly enough. You cannot edit your own book unless you yourself are an editor. A good one. Get beta readers for big feedback, but for the heavy lifting you either need to hire an editor or choose skilled critique partners. A good CP is worth their weight in gold. There’s online CP forums if you need to seek one out. I found mine on Twitter and they have been incredibly helpful.  A skilled CP will point out where you’re telling and not showing, where you switch tenses, where your characters suddenly act out of character. Then you need to kill those spots with fire! Chop those adverbs and clean up that writing. Clean writing can make the difference between pages that get a full request and endless rejections.

5. Invest in your career. Don’t be afraid to pay for that workshop, that editor, or that class if you think it will improve your writing. If you’re taking this seriously, you need to invest in your talent. Don’t be afraid to take a risk on yourself. You are worth it.

How Not to Spin Your #Writing Wheels: A Debut Author's Advice - @CricketMacD on @NovelRocket (Click to Tweet)

Katherine Grant takes the job at Sweet River Christian Academy hoping a small town in the wilderness of Maine will be a vacation from her high-powered career and a break from the emotional toll of the secrets she has buried deep. With the school director on a power trip and evidence of shady dealings, there’s nothing relaxing about it. Maybe it would be easier if she wasn’t so distracted by Captain MacAlister, the local cop she can’t get along with, yet can’t get out of her head. She didn’t trek up to the middle of nowhere to lose her heart.
Mac doesn’t need the kind of trouble he believes Katherine will bring. He’s got enough to deal with from poachers to drug crime. Mac has rules to maintain his faith, like avoiding the pull of an attractive woman who doesn’t fit his life. But when he meets Katherine, he’s drawn in by her intelligence and strength, despite getting burned by her quick temper.

When near tragedy strikes, Katherine reveals her feelings, and Mac doesn’t hesitate to respond. If only their scars, both seen and unseen, didn’t threaten to tear them apart. Two wary hearts must soften and two steel wills bend if they have any hope of making it down the broken trail to love.

Christa MacDonald began her writing career at the age of eleven, filling a sketchbook with poems and short stories. While at Gordon College she traded the sketchbooks for floppy discs, publishing short personal narratives in the literary journal The Idiom. After graduation and traveling cross-country she settled down to focus first on her career in operations management and then her growing family. When her children reached grade school Christa returned to her love of writing, finding the time between conference calls, dance lessons, and baseball games. 

When not at her desk working or writing, Christa can be found curled up in her favorite chair reading, out and about with her husband and kids, or in the garden.  She lives with her family along the coast of Massachusetts in the converted barn they share with a dog and two formerly-feral cats.
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  1. Sound advice, Christa. I would add a disclaimer, though: don't let the critique partners, craft books, and conferences distract you from finding your own style and voice. I think one writer said it best when she said, "Learn the rules, then ignore them and write."

  2. Excellent article, Christa! I do agree with Ron, always keep your own voice while working to improve your craft. But I especially appreciated what you said about investing in your career. Any business invests money to make money--and you can't succeed at writing without surrounding yourself with people who know more about the craft than you do--and sometimes that requires paying professionals to make your work shine.

    Your book was such a joy to read. Totally love it!


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