It was a magical experience. He talked a lot about where he gets his inspiration from and how he creates his characters. But what I’d like to show you, my dear readers, are the tips he gave me as an up-and-coming author. Hopefully someone other than me will be able to utilize these tips as well.
I can only speak to (sic) my own experience, but I think that this can be a universal thing.
The world is full of people that will tell you you cannot do it. My mother literally said “don’t waste your time, you will never get published.” This was after she read my first two unpublished novels. Maybe she’s onto something! But I cannot listen to her; I would have stopped.
Had I listened to all the agents who rejected my first novel or my second, I would have stopped. Had I listened to the surgeon who’d heard I had quit my job to write my third novel, who accosted me in a coffee shop, poking me in the chest, saying “Who the hell do you think you are, the next John Grisham”, I would have stopped.
So, I think there are a lot of reasons for this. I mean, people walk away from their aspirations all the time, I mean, it’s just a hard world. If they see you walk away from yours, then maybe they feel better about their decisions. If you go on to become the next Jo Nesbø, then maybe they should not have walked away from their dreams.
So, it’s just the way of the world – there are people like that. You need to find people who understand what you’re trying to do, and will be supportive.
But – be careful about people you ask to read the manuscript. I’m going to tell you this from my own experience – there is no creature as insecure as an unpublished writer. I’m not saying that’s you, but that was me – in a very specific way. If you’re looking for someone to read your manuscript, it’s going to be someone you trust – obviously.
If they tell you that it’s brilliant, you’re probably going to think they’re being nice and not believe them. If they tell you it’s horrible, you’re going to be crushed, and you might never write again. It’s very, very difficult to find the right reader – someone who’s opinion you trust, who can deliver it in an honest, caring way. I was lucky in that my wife is great like that. And if I succeed, it’s great for both of us, so, she’s very capable of that honesty. She’s not going to leave you down the primrose path.
So I think those would be my two pieces of advice. The world is full of writers that will say “take classes, join workshops” – I never did any of that, so I can’t speak to that. I do think that there are countless rookie mistakes that keep you from being published – not you specifically – it’s very important to learn what rookie mistakes are. I don’t know at what level you write, but I did read a few books early on. Just “How to avoid passive voice,” “How to show, not tell,” you know, the proper use of certain types of punctuation, so that I’m able to present a manuscript that looks knowingly done.
Because publishers and agents are very, very busy, they’re very, very jaded because they’re inundated with manuscripts. They’re so busy with the ones they already have that are working, people that are selling, working on the next book and need this, that and the other. Thus, it’s hard to find the time to nurture the new voices. So, you need to be very careful to not rush the manuscript out.
And let me give you a personal anecdote: so, the first novel failed, the second novel failed, it was my third that was published. And this is a rookie mistake, and this is how eager I was. Remember I talked about that insecurity? What I wanted was validation – I wanted somebody in the know to say “you weren’t foolish to do this a third time.” So I think I was probably about ten pages away from finishing the book, when just on a lark I emailed an agent the first chapter, thinking “well I’ll hear back in maybe six weeks.”
Well I got an email that night from her assistant saying “Heidi really loves this, why don’t you send the rest of the manuscript?” I hadn’t finished the book! So I wrote like a madman for the next couple of days. But when I sent it off, I hadn’t edited. And then I got rejected. I got rejected and rejected and rejected. For nine months I got rejected, before I finally did what I should have done in the first place, which was to step back. I had done that through all those rejections – for nine months, I had not looked at the manuscript. I went back and read it with some perspective, and I saw all the problems that were obvious to everyone that said no. Plotholes, tin dialogue, overwritten purpley stuff. And I fixed it!
Three months of rewrites, I sent it out, and the first agent that saw it wanted to represent me. So understand that, yes, there are lots of agents and publishers, but you only get that one shot at the first impression, so don’t undo your good work by rushing it. It’s very tempting.
I hope that helps!