Thursday, March 17, 2011

How Not to Fail at Writing

On Tuesday I watched the trailer for a movie coming out called Limitless. It started off by zooming in on a shabby looking man walking the streets of a huge city (probably New York). Then there was a voice over that went a little like this:

"See that guy over there? That's me. I've got an excuse for looking like this: I'm a writer."

Legend. What a legend. I don't care if he's failing at life, he's a writer, and therefore he's a legend.

Anyway, if you watch the trailer here, you will find out that this guy is given a stock of pills that will unlock all of his brain's potential, making him super-smart and super-prolific. Halfway through the trailer, after taking his pills, we learn that he finished writing his book in just four days. It shows a snippet where he walks into an editor's office, tosses his manuscript on her desk and says, "I'd like to renegotiate my advance."

BOOM. I suddenly know why this guy was failing at life before he started taking the pills.

He didn't know how to operate properly inside the publishing industry.

So without further ado, here are a couple of points to make sure you aren't that guy who has to wait for some other guy to give you some drugs so that you can succeed at writing:

1) Never rock up to a publishing company uninvited. Sure, you have this awesome manuscript you want to pitch, and sure, you live just down the road, and sure ... blah, blah, blah. But no-one wants to see you. It's the same with calling on the phone - don't do it, ever. Editors don't want to hear your voice. There is a proper process to getting published, and that isn't part of it. The proper process involves these things called query letters, and you don't even send out your query to a publisher.

Which brings me to my next point.

2) Get an agent. You shouldn't be in an editor's office at all, let alone throwing your manuscript at them. There's a middleman called an agent. And that is who you send your query letter to. He will then do the talking with a potential editor, and the negotiations. Your agent takes a commission fee of usually about 15%, but there are incredibly good reasons to get one:

  • While publishing companies are full of good, kind people, they won't hesitate to royally screw you and exploit you. If you have an agent, this won't happen.. That is because an agent knows the industry, the legal side of things, and will point out clauses in your contact that you never thought mattered.
  • But the main reason is, simply, that most publishers now days do not want to work with authors directly at all. Since an agent is hard to get, a publisher will know they are getting something decent when they are approached by one.
There are volumes to write on agents (and volumes have been written), so I'll leave it at that for now. But other great sources to check out are How to be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis (the title makes me laugh because this book really explains that there are so many things that an agent does that you would not want to be your own one) and this blog post by Moonrat, an anonymous New York editor.

3) Don't rely solely on writing. If you do, and things don't work out (or at least you aren't earning enough to support yourself for the moment), you're screwed. You need a day job, unless you are fourteen and your parents feed you (lucky me). If you don't have parents who feed you or a solid day job that brings in money every week as you start off in your writing career, you are probably going to end up like the guy from Limitless. You'll start taking drugs. Except you probably won't be into brain enhancers, instead it will be cocaine and heroin. 'Nuff said.

And those are my tips for the day. Yes, yes. This is a post for writers - congratulations, you noticed. If you're not a writer, go find a writer friend and tell them about this blog. They might just be interested.

If you are a writer ... you are a fricken legend.


  1. Hey.

    I see you commented on my blog, "The Nationeers", so I decided I would check out your profile. Found your blog. I'm Matt, and I'm also working on an epic fantasy novel with a friend author named Jackson Porter, who also collaborates with me on "The Nationeers". We won't be revealing too much about our novel, just that news is coming soon and we're going to be working very hard on it for the next couple of years. I'm almost 14 years old and I live in TX, and no, I don't have an accent, because I'm an Italian-Irish mutt. :-)

  2. Hey :) Nice to meet you Matt (by the way your initials are awesome), I'm almost fifteen and I live in New Zealand. I'm writing an epic fantasy as well. I like the idea of a collaboration, although I don't think it would work for me because I'm too protective of my writing haha. Looking forward to hearing more about your novel on your personal blog :)


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