I often hear from people who want to write a book but don’t know how or where to begin. Or from people who have already written a book that’s ready for publication but don’t know how to get it published. I recently began a new blog series, Writing and Publishing Tips From Authors Around the World, to help writers.
The fourteenth contributor is U.S. author Marlene Lee and she’s here to talk about writing for publication.
Writing for Publication, by Marlene Lee
Writing fiction for publication is an achievable goal, but not an easy one. Since we can all read and write, it’s logical to assume that when we want to create something artistic and/or rich- and famous-making, we can write a book and have it published.
My dream of writing and selling a book was powerful and kept me at the computer for many, many years. (Actually, it kept me at the typewriter because I began writing more than thirty years ago which was in the Pre-Cambrian—I mean Pre-Computer–era.)
What kept me going all that time? An empty life, for one thing. If your days and nights are full and happy with lots of love and fun and good food and good sex and you’re thin and attractive and popular and you have perfect children and crowds of great friends, well, you might not want to spend thirty years trying to write stories that make you feel better. You may not want to spend forty-five minutes, again and again, constructing that perfect, evocative sentence.
But if you’re like me, you love language, you love imagining people and situations, you love filling up personal emptiness, and you love achieving something that is difficult.
If you’re like me, you’ll wait for an agent and publisher, but if you’re like a lot of writers, you’ll self-publish because you’re tired of waiting. To do this, you’ll learn to be efficient on the computer and to publicize your work in person and on social media. You’ll learn from others who are self-publishing, and you’ll most likely observe that they work constantly to produce new books, sometimes several a year, in order to build readership.
It’s not easy, but you can do it because others have.
On the other hand, if you’re like me, you’ll use your unpublished time (months? years?) to become an accomplished, if slow, writer. You might attend critique groups, classes, MFA programs. And you’ll never stop sending out query letters. It will become a habit. In swift, knee-jerk reaction, you will redirect all failed queries to new (and of course) more receptive agents.
Some day you might be fortunate enough to meet another writer who introduces you to her/his agent or publisher, as Susan Finlay did for me. By then, you will have a pipeline of books that you have been writing for years; the publisher will turn the spigot and out will come good, completed fiction. (Your editor will help you make it even better.)
You will still have to help with publicity by giving readings, participating in panels and Q&As, flaunting yourself and your books on social media, and submitting material to periodicals and contests. And of course, if you’re like me, you’ll still be writing new work because that novel just around the corner is going to be the best thing you’ve ever done.
I will now call attention to my pathetic retail hunger and abject narcissism (www.marleneLee.wordpress.com) by telling you that Holland House Books, a small, independent press in England (www.hhousebooks.com), has brought out my four books of fiction: Limestone Wall, Scoville, Rebecca’s Road, and The Absent Woman. You can purchase them from Barnes &Noble, Yellow Dog (in Columbia, Missouri), Amazon, and Kindle.
One presses on with self-advertisement. But if you’re like me, lasting satisfaction comes from writing better and better fiction, whether it’s widely read or not. If it’s money you want, write a book about how to write and be published. Write an app. Write about your after-death experience and bring back proof of Heaven. These products will sell and you won’t have to spend forty-five minutes, again and again, on one evocative, well-wrought sentence.
When she’s not reading, playing the piano, or talking with other writers, Marlene Lee holds down a table at the Lakota Coffee House in Columbia, Missouri, confronting blank pages during business hours and postponing the inevitable with another cup of coffee.
Before writing full-time, she carted her stenotype machine from place to place (eventual settings for her fiction) in a moveable feast of court reporting: Brookings, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Chico, California; San Francisco; New York City. Before court reporting she taught high school, children’s special education, Freshman and Sophomore college English, and vocational school classes in stenotype. Always and in-between, she was writing short stories and novels.
Two of Marlene Lee’s books were published by Holland House in 2013: The Absent Woman and a collection of short stories, Rebecca’s Road. Scoville, a collection of three mystery novellas (“Three Blind Mice,” “Always On Thursdays,” and “Recesses of the Mind”), was published in spring of 2014 under the Grey Cells Press imprint. Limestone Wall, a novel, came out November 1st, 2014, from Holland House Books.