Cindy’s Tips for Writing & Selling Your First Book
Welcome to the World According to Callaghan. Oh, what a world that would be! Seriously, though, I do have five sure-fire tips that I would like to share with you aspiring writers out there:
Cook Up a Well-Written Story
And by well-written, I don’t just mean a good book (thought obviously you need that – more on this below). By well-written I mean well written, which includes all of the basics: spelling, grammar, punctuation, formatting. You can have the most genius idea in the world, but if you aren’t adhering to the traditional grammar rules and you’re buried in typos, no one will take you seriously. This lesson took me a very long time to learn. I am a terrible typist and an awful proof-reader, and even though I was an English major, I make LOTS of spelling and grammatical errors. I really try not to, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort.
Cook up a Well-Told Story
To me, a well-told story has a unique idea populated with rich, colorful characters involved in an interesting or intriguing plot. These three things are huge so I want to say them again:
- A unique story idea (“or concept”)
- Rich, colorful characters
- An interesting and intriguing plot
How you gather these ingredients is really up to you, and no blog post (or book, or class, or anything) can give you step-by-step instructions for coming up with a hot concept, great characters, or a pot-boiling plot. I do think feedback from a safe critique group and/or a professional editor is crucial to creating both a well-written and well-told story.
Let Your Story Simmer
This is the hardest part. If you’re like me, the minute you’ve finished a story, you want to get it out there. But, like a rich stew or tender pot roast, your book needs time to cook. This is especially important for first-time writers, like I was. Finishing a novel draft is a huge accomplishment, but it marks the beginning, not the end, of the process. You must revise, revise, revise. Again, here’s where that critique group or professional editor comes in handy. Keep revising until your book is as good as you’re going to get it, and then get it ready to send out.
Concoct a Well-Pitched Query
A strong query letter and synopsis are needed. These two documents are often very short, but can take an eternity to write. That’s okay. It’s really important that they are very tight and polished. I had my query and synopsis critiqued several times before it was ready to send out. Many articles about writing query letters are available on the Internet, but keep in mind what I said about letting your story simmer: you only have one chance to make a first impression, so don’t blow it. Take your time putting together the right query letter and right pitch/synopsis. You’ll be glad you did.
Even though kidlit is one of the few areas where you can still sell a novel without representing, you really need an agent (especially if you REALLY want that baby to sell). Once you have a solid project to shop around, consider attending conferences (like the ones offered by SCBWI). This is the route I went, and even though my agent asked me to revise JUST ADD MAGIC, once she agreed to represent me my book sold in a matter of weeks. I’m not sure that’s something I could’ve done on my own.
Finally, this isn’t a tip so much as a word of encouragement: the secret ingredient is persistence. Before I sold JUST ADD MAGIC, I wrote a full adult novel, several partial drafts of other novels, and even some picture books. I didn’t send all of these out or even try to get them published, but I wrote, wrote, wrote and never stopped writing. I’m very quick at banging out first drafts, and I write a lot — even with my family, a full-time job, volunteer work, and a soccer team I coach — but part of the reason I write so much is because I make the time to do so. Writing is one of the only things I do just for me, and I wanted to publish a novel. So I did whatever I could, whenever I could, to make my dream a reality. It didn’t take magic so much as a lot of good old-fashioned hard work. (Though my Super Swirleys didn’t hurt, either!)
Come back tomorrow for the chance to win a JUST ADD MAGIC prize pack (which includes a paperback copy of THE SWEET LIFE OF STELLA MADISON, also released this week)!