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The ONLY Sure-fire Way to Impress ANY Editor – and SELL your Article, Story, or Book
We’ve all done it! We’ve all written our ‘masterpiece’, smiled smugly, sent it off to an editor – and waited (im)patiently to receive his reply, and become rich and famous overnight.
Perhaps it was a short story, an article maybe, a poem, or even our first book. (The one we just knew was a winner.) Whatever it was it is almost a certainty that at best all we received was a rejection slip. At this point most abandon all thought of becoming an author and concentrate on knitting blanket squares – or breeding iguanas.
So what went wrong? Why didn’t the editor like your work? What do you need to do to impress an Editor, and sufficiently inspire him or her to not only read your manuscript – but offer you a contract? How do you set about convincing them to take a chance and publish your book? Many of you will try several times. and submit your M/S to several Editors. Most of you will fail – and wonder why!
The answer is simple: You are trying to convince the wrong person – FORGET THE EDITOR: The person you should be convincing of your manuscript’s merits is ME. Who am I? What’s so special about me? I am the one that supplies the cash to make the thing a viable proposition. Keep me happy, and Editors will snap your work up.
How do you convince me to part with my cash? Easy: I am a simple kind of guy called ‘Joe Public’. Impress me, and I’ll buy your stuff. If not, it probably sucks: I’m easy to please, but no sucker.
Although I’m easy to please, your writing will need to follow some simple guidelines to grab – AND HOLD – my attention. If it does that, fame and fortune beckons you.
The following is applicable whatever you write, irrespective of genre. For the sake of simplicity we’ll take writing a fiction novel as an example:
First, last, and foremost, it must grab my attention from the start – and hold it to the last page. Like any item I consider buying, I look for two main things: I want it to provide me with what I am looking for – And I want value for money. I want a work of fiction to supply me with a ‘good read’. I want it to give me an ‘experience.’ I want a story to give me a feeling of interacting with it. It must set me thinking. If your story does that, you’ve given me value for money – and I’ll come back for more.
When looking for fiction to read, my first rule is to ignore the cover picture. Chances are that even a book on growing carnations – or bee keeping – will have a naked lady in some un-natural pose adorning the cover, hoping to catch the eye of any male punter in a hurry.
Having said that, you ignore YOUR cover at your peril! – It is the first thing your prospective purchaser sees. It is their first interaction with your story. At this point, they have no feeling for the contents, no connection with story or characters.
In my role as Joe Public, if I’m in a hurry I’ll grab a book that I’ve not read, but is written by an author I’m familiar with. With time to spare, I’ll peruse titles at leisure, read any synopsis or other blurb, and flick through a few pages to get a feel of the story. It is at this point your skill as an author is put to the test. Your story must be written in a way that – even a cursory perusal – will grab me, set me thinking, wondering, and reacting: It must make a connection with me. The better you’re able to make this connection, the more certain you are to sell me your story.
To do this you require certain basic building blocks to use in your story’s construction: A good plot, believable characters, and some form of action. It will require dialogue, some descriptions, and a definite structure to it. Use these components with skill, give them substance and quality, add a touch of your unique style and you will create an enjoyable experience for me.
The quality of each component in your construction is critical: Any weak link in the chain, and your story will exist as a collection of words and sentences of uninteresting mediocrity. I will dump it – having made a mental note to ignore anything by you in future.
You may be thinking I’ve missed the main point: ‘How do I get my book onto the bookshelves in the first place? – So you can read and decide if you want to buy it? Surely I need to get an Editor to accept it first?’
Patience – read on…
Earlier, I mentioned adding a touch of ‘style’. This is a small but all-important ingredient. Like any meal, a book is made up of basic ingredients. Most of us can use them to produce an edible meal for ourselves. But how many others will sample it and come asking for more? It is the acquired knowledge and skill of the cook, and his unique contribution to its preparation, which transforms a meal into a culinary delight, and turns him from ‘Cook’ into ‘Chef’: So it is with writing…
The writer uses the basic building blocks, adds his touch of uniqueness, and moves up from being a ‘Writer’ to becoming a ‘Published Author’.
Every would-be footballer knows the basic rules of the game. However, it takes dedication, training and practice, and a natural flare and uniqueness of style to stand out from the crowd, and catch the Football Scout’s eye.
As a writer you will have a natural style, though at first you may not know it. Initially you may try to emulate some author you like. That’s fine for practice, however, you must adapt it so you write with a pace and flow that feels comfortable and natural to you, otherwise it becomes forced, artificial – AND IT WILL SHOW. It will not impress your readers.
Experiment. Find what way of thinking, moving your story along, what pace, what way of speaking, feels most natural and comfortable for you. Once you’ve found this you can then drop automatically into this style and frame of mind each time you sit down to write. With practice, it becomes second nature: You can then concentrate 100% on the content without the concern of how you present it.
It is important you develop this individuality of style to suite you: MORE IMPORTANT is that this style ALSO suits your readers! This is where learning the ground-rules from successful authors is a must. There are many ‘Writing Schools’ available for this. Most will cost you an arm and a leg: Try the extremely friendly, but very professional group at http://www.longstoryshort.us for value, or use a search-engine to find one. You should also join a small group of fellow writers. (I use [http://www.writespots.com] ) which has just re-emerged, but the web has many to choose from.
Having found what style suits you, it’s pointless pressing on using it unless others like your style too. Test it out by presenting samples to others, and getting their feedback. Be prepared to modify and adjust, as a result of the critique you receive. Feedback will often be controversial, it may disillusion you, and be hard to swallow, seem over harsh, or appear as a personal attack: 99.9% of the time it will be none of these. What it WILL be is a genuine effort by others just like you to offer their ten-cents-worth to help you.
However varied and controversial the comments, invariably they will have some consensus running through them. It may be they indicate your style is too ‘ceef’ (wordy), has too much ‘tell’ and not enough ‘show’. Or that the dialogue does not flow naturally, or your characters lack personality, or believability! Maybe it is too ‘ceef’ from you using a proliferation of adverbs. Maybe you change tenses mid-stream, or unwittingly use too many hackneyed phrases.
What seems to you as fine – and something of a masterpiece – may be pulled to shreds before your eyes. However, along with critique will be suggestions on how you can improve your work. At this point, it’s time to swallow your pride, digest the comments, pick out the ones you feel most useful – and do a re-write incorporating them – then re-present the work for further critique. Do this until you are happy with it, and the comments received convey the satisfaction of the readers. And always remember: each commenter is also a ‘Joe Public’ – like me.
Having modified your style, then perfect it. Once perfected it becomes that special ingredient which embellishes all your work and makes your writing unique. However, that is merely the finishing flare touch – the special addition you bring to your basic construction: Unless your other building blocks are sound, it is worth naught…
Does your story have a sound ‘structure’? Does it tell what you want in a way that presents it in its best light?
Have you really thought about it? Or merely trotted it out in some conventional manner?
Does it have your stamp of individuality?
Will it give me an ‘experience’ when I read it? Structure is important, but needs a ‘plot’. The plot is all-important: It must tempt me to want to follow it. It must hold my interest, make me think: Take me and keep along on the ride. It may well be incredible – but must be believable. Does it have twists and turns that keep me wondering or in suspense? If not, and it follows a well-tried standard plot, then the onus will fall heavily on the other story components – particularly the characters you’ve created – to keep me stimulated.
Without characters of substance, you’ve no chance of holding my attention. It’s through your characters you make the connection with me – Use run-of-the-mill characters and I will jump off the ride. You have to give them individuality, substance and depth. I’ve no interest in stereotypes – I want uniqueness: Characters conjured up from a mixture of your own imagination, observation, and life-experience. I want to know them, have empathy with them. Maybe even live them.
Having amassed your characters, plot, and a story structure, you have to add another ingredient – ‘action’.
It is essential your characters interact with each other within the scenes and throughout the story naturally, because of who they are, and their disposition. The action must flow naturally because of circumstances within the plot. No character should ever be made to do or say anything incongruous to ‘fit in’ with some twist in the plot.
You should have established a connection between each individual in the story and me as a reader through the various components of your story: Having them forced into doing anything odd to fit the plot and they lose credibility. They become unbelievable. My illusion is shattered. Any connection I had is lost. I will toss the book down in disgust.
Characters are not usually all mute. They are required to speak – so your story needs ‘dialogue’. Any dialogue must be natural. However, great care is needed to not make it TOO natural. Whilst staying within the constraints of each character’s background and personality, it is best to err by using more regular written language. Using vernacular can make for heavy reading and understanding. (Providing ‘translations’ should be unnecessary, and avoided like the plague.) Be sparing with ‘street talk’ – it takes great skill to use this successfully without making reading tedious.
The golden rule when it comes to dialogue is to ask, “Is it necessary? Is it said well? Is it REALLY worth saying?” Pruning dialogue is all-important – so is pruning ‘description’.
Description is another integral part of a story, and needs thought and skill. Be ruthless: Remove ‘ceef’ (non-essential incidentals and trivia). Nevertheless, don’t miss showing or telling the reader vital information about anything, or any character. Your descriptions must fit the tone of the story and be integral to transmitting information of the plot, characters, and actions.
Information on locations and atmosphere add to the reality-feeling experience of the reader. Done in your unique style, these will enhance reader-experience, and draw them deep into your story.
Ask yourself: “Have I left my readers looking in from the outside? Or have I taken them inside the story with me?”
If you succeed in taking me inside the story – and keeping me there throughout the journey – you just sold yourself to your Editor. You see, the Editor’s a ‘Joe Public’ too…
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