You wrote your thing! Well done, but what now?
You’ve finished that story? Great; gin all round! Now you get to see what is beyond the velvet curtain among us mole people elite. Come beyond and learn of our cult’s higher mysteries; the test reader, the agent and the great beyond…
Your guinea pigs
Getting test readers is super important when you’re trying to write. If you want to be a ‘proper’ (ie; paid) writer then you need to get people to see your work. If you don’t then you’ll forever think that your tale of tortoise/porcupine love amidst the hustle and bustle of the stock exchange is marketable. Test readers help with that by saying things like ‘why would he do that’, ‘is she in love with him’ and ‘are porcupines really that well-endowed?’
Getting test readers is so important that I’d recommend that you try for ten people at all times reading your project. Doesn’t sound like much I know, but think about how many people you know. Now think about how many you like. Now think about how many you feel comfortable seeing you naked.
Your writing is your brain naked and vulnerable and exposed. How many people are you happy to have looking at your pimply arse?
Oh, and here’s another kicker; don’t give it to your parents.
Your parents are the guys that put your glue dripping pasta pictures on the fridge, seriously considered the implications of you shitting in corners and said, with all sincerity, ‘how clever’ when you did the ‘I love beans’ dance.
So, mum and dad are out. They just won’t be able to separate you from that nappy filling little blob that giggled and wiggled when they did silly voices. They are preprogramed to say ‘how clever’.
So, you are probably left with a short list of folks you feel comfortable with.
‘Wait, wait, what about forums like Absolute Write or Literotica? They can be great places for getting critical feedback.’
Firstly, shut up, Daddy’s talking.
Secondly, I would leave the forums alone for now. Why? Well, everyone can see it. That is both good and bad. As likely as you are to get someone with a PHD in giving really good feedback you are also likely to get someone who wants to wipe their arse with your feelings. By no means are all your online readers going to give you naff feedback, but they aren’t always going to give you constructive feedback. Sites like Absolute Write are full of good writers and people who give good feedback, but the exception does not prove the rule.
And thirdly, Literotica? Really? You, you just go back under your rock. And how dare you insinuate I have anything to do with the place. It’s not like I have a profile and stories about the magical love between midget alien lawyers and stockbroking porcupines.
But back to our list of people you’d waggle your bits at.
So, you’ve got your ten friends. You send them your stuff and say ‘Hi, I’m giving this writing thing a go. Could you read it and see if it doesn’t suck.’
Two people won’t reply, or they’ll say they will and then never respond.
Three people will give you a vague, ‘I really like this and you’re doing great.’ This sounds nice and stuff, but how much useful feedback have you got? You know it’s good – you wouldn’t really have sent it out without thinking it was would you?
Two people will say ‘I think there is potential here, but this x and this y need work.’ That’s good, you can use that, but don’t stop there. Get them to expand on what they’ve said. Ask if there’s anything they think you’d benefit from reading. On that note, I’d always recommend Hemmingway for his bleak utility of language, Aaron Dembski-Bowden for his fun speed of delivery and Jim Butcher for his pacing. And if you’re of the short story inclination I’d say that Kafka will teach you things that only the son of a preacher-man can.
Two of your test readers will give you a solid bit of in depth feedback. They’ll dissect what you’ve written, line by line and make comments that are constructive and useful. They’ll do this once and never again because, let’s face it, it’s not their job to do yours for you.
The last person will not only do all that for you, but be willing to do it again for you. Huzzah! Now all you need to do is find nine more people and start the whole process again!
Can you help them out? Sure.
I made a questionnaire for my lot. I don’t use it with everyone, but with newbies it’s always useful. I try to include an extract of what I consider to be really good feedback from someone else as well as specifics on what I’m looking for. I’d share it, but it changes from project to project, draft by draft and adapts to the requirements of the moment.
Thank them, even if they’ve delivered you a steaming pile of shit. They’ll be able to feel free to come to you with thoughts and feelings anytime they have them. You can say ‘that doesn’t help’ or ‘you jackass you take that back’ as long as you think it’s required.
Cook for them. People like free food. Plus people talk more when they’re full. Get a note pad and give them a cup of tea whilst they help you. Have a print out of what you’ve written. Mark on it together and keep the chow flowing.
Can you do anything for them? Maybe they don’t know what sort of feedback you want from them. Maybe that sex scene you wrote between the straight laced tortoise and the powerful dominant porcupine CEO was not to their taste and would prefer to not read that aspect of your writing. For example – I have to CTRL H and find all the swear words in my work and replace them with ‘poo’ or ‘butt’ because my Mum will never read anything I write otherwise.
Ok, I broke one of my own rules; I do use my Mum as a test reader on occasion.
I want you to imagine yourself as a James Bond villain. Your mission is to capture Bond. Except your only weapons are your words and your only henchmen are your internet browser and a pot of coffee. Off you go.
You’ve written your manuscript. It’s as good as it’s going to be. It’s time to get it out into the real world – and you need an agent.
If you’re anything like me – IE; crap – then you are going to get rejected a lot. Be prepared for that. The average amount of rejections you can expect is about 150 before you get an agent. You will feel like the worst Bond villain ever – even worse than Alec Trevelyan. No, Mr Bond, I expect you to shot me whilst I monologue, etc, etc.
So you want to catch your 007? Prepare the piranha tank and warm up the death ray.
Try to match your writing to an author you think writes in a similar manner. Then try to get that guys agent. If that doesn’t work keep looking for agents who represent the sort of thing you write. This is where the most holy of holy grails comes in; querytracker. I swear I’m on this thing every day.
Another thing you can do is use the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. Every agent who’s anybody’s agent will be there. You could use this… if Querytracker had perhaps eaten your babies and you are the sort of person who holds a grudge.
When you get the attention of 007 you should come armed. This secret agent isn’t going to shoot you, oh no, it’s much worse than that. He’s looking for reasons to reject you and use your tears of failure as lubricant for his weasel fluffing business.
You also need to decide if you want a literary agent or just go straight to a publisher. Most publishers will only consider material submitted via an agent, particularly if it’s fiction so it’s a dicey choice. Presentation is crucial and an agent helps with that. Do you think any publisher would have picked up Fifty Shades of Grey were it not for the mammoth efforts of an agent. That’s the real power of a literary agent; they take your anal vomit that you call ‘ritin’ and make people think it’s actually worth some money.
All this money alchemy the agent does takes time. Even when they’re reading your fluffy bunnies erotica they’re trying to convert some other person’s waste product into cash. Give them time. Wait for a decision on your work: don’t start pestering too soon. Publishing takes time.
Oh yes, before I forget; rejection. It happens. It happens a lot as I said earlier. Print out a copy of each rejection email you’re sent and then stick it somewhere just so you’ve got a running total. Each rejection is not a badge of shame, but a scar of worth. If any of you have played the game Dawn of War there is a character that screams ‘MY SCARS PROVE MY WORTH!’ That dude’s right. A rejection letter just means that you got knocked down. Two Rejection letters means you got knocked down, and then you got up again. Three mean… well you get the point. Just don’t give up!
When you approach an agent, this glorious 007, you need to bring out some tits. Sorry, I mean you need to write them a good letter. They need to know a lot in a very small amount of time and space because they have lots of 007 things they need to do. From their point of view the clearer you can be about your book, the better. Don’t believe me? Have a gander at QueryShark and see what I mean.
Are you writing fiction or non-fiction? I’ve read about submission letters that say ‘My novel is all TRUE’, or ‘I’m writing about an important issue but I’ve turned it into fiction’. Draw the line and pick a side. Sure you can mention that there are parallels that can be drawn, but don’t for GodsSake say that this is based off a lurid sex weekend you had with George Bush.
Are you pitching this for adults or kids? JK Rowling managed to cross the streams but you can’t. No you really can’t. The law of averages just isn’t with you. If you try to do that then you’ll end up trying to appeal to kids and grown-ups and become the literary equivalent of a Bard. Fuck the Bard. Be a Fighter or a Wizard. Pick one.
Carefully proofread your submission material. I don’t know if I need to say this, but I’m going to. You just have to. If you can’t then get someone else to have a look. A typo here and there is OK, but too many grammatical screw-ups can make you look unprofessional at best and at worst like a gibbering idiot.
Ok, so let’s say you do all that. You get the agent, you get published, you get a few hundred more twitter followers.
Sit back and collect the Benjamins, amirite, bro?
Get writing another one slugger. You know all that heart ache and suffering that you put yourself through with the first one? You have to do that all again. Get cracking.
It does get easier. Very slowly you add and add and finally you find out that you’ve written another book. Then you take it to your agent and see if they like it. They’ll say no.
So you go away and work on it and then bring it back to the agent. They’ll say they like it but there needs to be more sex.
So off you trot to the word mines and you put in more sex.
Welcome to the sex mining word mines of the rest of your life.