It’s time for more advice from a published YA author! Today’s guest post is from M Pepper Langlinais. Her latest novel, CHANGERS: MANIFESTING DESTINY, first in a new YA fantasy trilogy, is now available from Evernight Teen. You can read a summary–and an excerpt–on the Evernight Teen website.
Elizabeth asked, in a sense, what I wish I’d known when I started writing. And the truth of the matter is, you can read every blog and all the advice that’s out there, but at some point you just have to sit down and write. Don’t let the advice scare you, paralyze you to the point that you’re so afraid of putting a foot wrong that you don’t dare write a word. Because that can happen. It happens to me, even now, some seven or eight books into my career. I freeze up because I’m afraid it won’t be perfect—or even “good enough.” I forget that it doesn’t have to be great on the first try, it just needs to exist somewhere other than my own head.
So that’s my first bit of advice: Get it on paper. Do that before you read any writing advice, any how-to books, anything else. Just write it.
Once you’ve got something written, that’s the time to start figuring out what to do with it. The answer is NOT to send it to agents and publishers. Sorry, but no. The answer is to find people whose feedback you trust—people who ideally know something about writing—and get their opinions. This is the part where you find a writing group, whether in person or online. In fact, ideally you joined one even before you finished your manuscript, and now you know how they work, and so when you’re ready to bring them something it’s not, “Hey, I just met you, call me crazy, read this maybe?” You want to give your work to people with which you have established relationships. They’re more likely to be honest if they know you already, and you need honesty. You want to hear, “This is great! Wow!” but that’s not what you need. Remember that. Then thank them for tearing your work apart.
Also remember to take into account the sources of that feedback; are these people who know anything about writing? What are their credentials? Maybe none of them have worked in publishing, but there should be something about them that inspires confidence when it comes to writing and critiquing. Do they write well? Have they been published anywhere? I’m sorry to say that a bunch of newbie writers may not be terribly helpful. Supportive, yes, but not helpful. Ideally you have a mentoring aspect—someone more established helps those trying to find their way. Then, some day you will hopefully return the favor by helping out yet another new author.
All right, let’s say you have trustworthy feedback in hand. Now what? Rewrites! Revisions! You go through this cycle as often as necessary: writing, getting feedback, changing and fixing and revising, getting feedback . . . Until one magical day you feel like there’s nothing else you can do, or at the very least that any changes you make are only for the sake of making them and not actually helping the story.
And that’s when you query.
Not every agent all at once. Just one or two at a time. Or one or two publishers at a time if you’ve decided to go that route. But don’t query agents AND publishers. I, for one, started with agents, and when that didn’t pan out (or, to be honest, when I got impatient) went on to publishers. I now have two books out by small publishers and the rest were self-published because, did I mention, impatient?
Don’t be like me. Be patient. Send out your queries and while you’re dying to check your email every two minutes instead focus on your next project. Start again at the top of this article and just write, not worrying about it being “correct” in some way. There is no right in writing. There’s right in spelling and grammar and so on, but not in that first draft, no, there’s no right or wrong there, so just get on with it. Everything can be fixed later. Say it again: EVERYTHING CAN BE FIXED LATER.
That’s how you do this. Book by book, story by story.
I hear you asking questions like, “Where do I find a critique group?” I found mine on Meet Ups. You can check with your local library, too, or on bulletin boards at coffee houses. You can start your own. Or if you’d rather hide, you can go online to sites like Absolute Write and share your work in the forums there. I believe there is also a forum specifically for people to find beta readers.
And now you want to know about agents and publishers. I use Query Tracker to keep track of the agents and publishers who might be interested in my kind of work. And again I can recommend Absolute Write as a place to look up which agents and publishers are good and which should be avoided.
The truth is, you can’t learn writing from reading a bunch of blogs and books. You learn it by doing, and you only get better with practice. So write. And keep writing. That’s the way to excel.
M Pepper Langlinais is the an award-winning screenwriter, produced playwright, and author. Her latest novel CHANGERS: MANIFESTING DESTINY, first in a new YA fantasy trilogy, is now available from Evernight Teen. Find out more about her and her books at PepperWords.com.