Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Three (and 3a) Greatest Lessons I Have Learned

Launching a literary career teaches a lot of lessons. So does blogging. A list of everything I have learned would be a little daunting, so I will center on three things that stand out.

1) Be careful what you name your blog. My first title was The First-Timers, playing off the idea of first-time authors trying to get inside the velvet rope of the publishing industry. Bad idea. That title put me in a surprising number of websites that talk about first sexual experiences. Where does an author's blog find a home against that kind of competition? About the 22nd page on a Google search. I switched to Fingertips on Keyboard, which describes exactly what this part of my life entails. Pouring My Heart and Soul Onto a Page might be better, but it's rather cumbersome.

2) Selecting a proper agent and writing a good query letter are absolutely vital. The two cannot be separated. An agent might have the best track record in the business, but he or she must be a good fit for me and my work. The query letter has to be spot on. It doesn't have to follow Query Shark guidelines of 250 words or less (I dislike that barrier the more I think about it), but it does have to contain three things. It must have a nice overview of what my novel is about ... its core idea. It must tell something about me and why I am an interesting author to consider. Third, it must show my level of creative ability. The truth of whether I have the right agent and right query letter is answered only by an agent's reply. Being shoveled into the slush pile is the worst possible consequence.

3) Learn the value of the term "commercial viability." To put it in simplest terms, it means a novel ... my novels, any novel ... must sell. I have to sell an agent. The agent has to sell an editor, who has to sell to the publishing house. It's a business, first and foremost, and it's a business that is trying to find its footing in a difficult environment. The impact of Kindle, et al, is part of it as readers go digital. The impact of self-publishing, in which authors can bypass the publishing houses and still get some nice paychecks, is another. It still comes down to a business model.

3a) Isn't Pandora wonderful? I put on classical symphonic music, or simply limit my selections to a composer such as Beethoven, hook up my headphones and have background music for writing. If only they would remove those annoying ads!!! ... but Pandora is a business, too, so I have to take it as part of the landscape.
Thanks for reading. More later.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Your Characters? You Have to Go All In

Any author needs to fully invest in the characters he or she creates. Your characters have to walk with you when you are away from your computer, and then they are ready to be unveiled during your writing sessions. It's a strange relationship between reality and fiction, but one that is vital to character creation.

On that note, I encountered a bit of problem in starting my newest novel. It has an entertaining opening chapter, and there are good following chapters that fill in gaps in my main character's basic psychological makeup. But as I wrote, I didn't have that connection ... that deep conviction ... that is required.

That has changed. Why? It's a basic fact of writing fiction: Protagonists need antagonists. My first chapter centers on just such a meeting between protagonist and antagonist, but that conflict is resolved by the end of the chapter. The protagonist then slips in what seems like comfortable surroundings, all safe and secure. The story line doesn't sag, but it doesn't have that edge that threat provides. About a quarter of the way through the book, new antagonists emerge ... one in particular is quite driven and focused. My protagonist is threatened ... and my investment starts to become complete.

Now I hang on his every move and decision, and those of the secondary characters and the antagonist. I have gathered all my main and secondary characters in one general location, and I will begin to criss-cross paths and unveil new threats and reach a finale. Now I am enthused about seeing what they will face, and I am itching to get to the keyboard and let the story play out.

There's no better time to start than now. Talk to you later.