Vicki's Book News and Articles

Craft: Twelve Tips from the Trenches

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 28, 2010

Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011

Opinions vary, but based on my decade of experience in this business, and some of the hard-knock lessons I’ve learned, here are what I hope will prove to you to be a few helpful hints:

1. Odds of publishing a category novel (versus single-title or mainstream) are higher for the new writer because the number of category novels published on a regular basis is much greater than the number of single-title or mainstream novels published. As a new writer, you lack an established reader base. Category novels are aided in selling because the line of novels in which your category novel resides does have an established reader base. This reader base decreases the risks of taking on a new writer for the publisher and for the author.
2. If writing a category novel isn’t for you, realize that it’s apt to take longer to get published in single-title, and longer still in mainstream (where the risks to both the publisher and the author are enormous), and have realistic expectations. Don’t make the mistake of thinking writing category is easy; it’s not. It’s very challenging to fulfill the genre requirements in limited space. And you must love to read these stories—your captivation shines through in your work. But if you love category, as well as single-title and/or mainstream, your odds of publication coming more quickly favor category.
3. Before you begin to write, get the publisher’s guidelines. If you’re writing to sell, then slant your novel to suit the publisher’s needs. They’ve spent a fortune on analysis, figuring out what sells to their specific readers. They want to buy books—without them, they’ve no business. But they want to buy what they know they can sell. So give them what they want to and can buy.
4. If you’re writing a single-title or mainstream novel, do your homework. In the bookstore, find novels similar to yours in tone, plot content, and style. Read them. Check Publisher’s Weekly to see how the book sold. If the info isn’t there, search the list depicted for novels by your targeted publisher that are similar to yours. If the novel didn’t sell well, the publisher isn’t apt to want another. After you’ve identified a good seller similar to your novel, find out who edited the book. If you can’t find out any other way, call the publishing house and ask. Remember, writing is subjective. So is reading. One editor might love a novel that another at the same house doesn’t find appealing. By doing your homework, you increase the odds that the editor to whom you submit will like your novel.
5. Read. Too many authors don’t and this puts them at an extreme disadvantage in knowing what’s selling and who’s buying. Read the top sellers of the type of novel you want to write. And read the new authors, as the established ones are apt to be able to do things a new author can’t. Study the top sellers. Analyze their books to determine what works and why. Then use the tools you unearth in your own novels. Don’t feel you have to reinvent the wheel. The wheel is merely a method. Use proven methods.
6. Never stop studying the craft. And never limit your studies to only books on writing. Remember, the more you put into your mind’s well, the more information and knowledge there is to draw from that well.
7. Don’t start the story too soon. Very often writers ease into a story, giving tons and tons of background information before hooking the reader into the story. Open your story in the middle of an on-going situation. And tell the reader only what the readers need to know at that point and time in the story for what’s happening to make sense. Dribble in background, a few sentences at the time. No pages of narrative/exposition. A few sentences are easy to digest and don’t stop the forward momentum of the plot.
8. Exposition/narrative/background is stagnant. Passive. It grinds the action to a halt. It’s dangerous to slow the pace, stop the forward momentum/action in a novel. It’s at that point readers put the book down. Too many halts, and the reader just doesn’t pick the book up again. So, background dribbled in, as needed, interspersed with action and dialogue.
9. Research is beneficial, essential, and risky–if you get so enraptured with it you don’t write. Most writers enjoy research, which is good. But don’t forfeit writing.
10. Don’t talk out your ideas before you write. You dilute your own enthusiasm. Once you thoroughly discuss an idea, in your mind, it becomes a done deal. Put that enthusiasm onto the page. If you hit a snag, then discuss the snag with a trusted colleague.
11. Reach out. Don’t accept the obvious, the easy. Stretch for the fresh, original twists in your work. The new perspective, the deeper insight are infinitely more rewarding–to you and to the reader.
12. Trust your instincts. Only you totally envision your complete story. If advice given sounds wrong for your specific novel as you envision it, then it probably is wrong. Remember, no one has your unique individuality, or your vision.*


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