by Mary Ellis
About ten years ago, I began writing my first book—longhand! I researched the time period and pertinent details, prepared a rough outline, and filled up three notebooks of paper. I added sentences and scribbled in changes until the book became almost unreadable. Only then did I sign up for a class on computers, the Internet, word processing, etc. This process I do not recommend. Once I learned about the wonders of spell-check, page formatting, and the ability to move paragraphs around with the click of a mouse, there was no going back! I typed the manuscript from my longhand draft and when finished, I had a one-hundred-thousand-word Civil War romance, loaded with medical, nursing, and battlefield details. Proud of my accomplishment, I attended my first romance writers’ convention and quickly discovered no one was buying American historical novels other than the Wild West. At the time, novels set in Regency England or the Scottish Highlands were the rage. How disappointed I was! I might have saved myself heartbreak had I found this out a tad earlier. However, American history was my passion, and this was the book I was meant to write. Had I chosen another genre or locale, I probably never would have finished the manuscript.
To discover the type of book you should write, look at the books you love to read—cozy mysteries, inspirational romances, historicals set in Victorian England, or perhaps true-life stories based on people who rise above disabilities or exceptional circumstances. Read, read, and read some more the books by your favorite authors. Study their style and what makes them unique, not to copy them but to get a feel of how writers differ from each other. If by this time you’ve discovered the idea for your story, sit down in that chair at your table or desk and start writing.
Block out a period wherein you can work uninterrupted for at least several hours. Try to make time for your writing each and every day. Maybe you’ll decide to investigate what publishers are buying right now or maybe not, since that is always changing. Either way, get busy and let nothing or no one discourage you. Have faith in yourself and in God, and let the small details work themselves out.
Now that I have you writing, here are nine steps that may help you along.
#1 Finish the book. If you have something simmering on the back burner of your mind, get it down on paper, (or at least into your computer.) Stop talking about writing and do it. If you wait until everything is clear to you, until you know everything about your characters or your plot, you’ll never begin.
#2 Learn your market. Once you know you can write a book, investigate using the Internet what market exists for the specific type of book you have created (or wish to create.) If your masterpiece isn’t what publishers happen to be buying at the moment, find out what is. Set your “baby” aside—someone may be looking for just that kind of book in the future. Adjust your subject matter or your style for the second book. I’m not recommending that you jump into the popular genre if it isn’t your cup of tea. You will never succeed if you don’t write something from your “heart.” But be willing to try a different time period or a different style (first person versus third person, for instance.)
#3 Join a writers’ organization. Each type of fiction (Christian Inspirational, romance, mysteries, science fiction, young adult, etc.) has a network to help you connect with others pursuing the same goals. Join in and benefit from those walking the same path. Writers’ loops, blogs, workshops, online seminars, and professional conferences are available to help.
#4 Submit your work. Send sample chapters with a synopsis to potential publishers, agents, or various contests within your type of writing (genre). Follow their guidelines to the letter. Do not submit the whole manuscript unless specifically asked for. The feedback that you’ll receive can be invaluable for improving your work. Every writer faces rejection—get used to it—or find another career if you’re thin-skinned.
#5 Improve your writing. When we finish our first book, we want to think we’re “done.” It is a big accomplishment, but it’s only the first step in the process. Few books are publishable right from the starting gate. Be willing to edit your work based on feedback. Some fledgling writers use critique partners, or writing groups that meet to critique each other’s work. Attend workshops at writer’s conferences or sign up for a class at the local community college. You may decide that your first book cannot be “fixed”—that’s okay! Put it in your cedar chest and start something fresh with what you’ve learned.
#6 Get an agent. Look up the list of accredited agents online, and submit your work. An agent hears what publishing houses happen to be looking for and will steer you in the right direction. Also, submissions to a publisher from an agent tend to receive more immediate attention.
#7 Take your agent’s advice to heart. He/she has a vested interest in your career. Writers seldom (if ever) have an objective perspective on their own work. Listen to what your agent, potential publisher, or editor suggests for ways of improvement. To be successful you must check your ego at the door.
#8 Keep writing and re-writing. Read books on plot structure, character development, and good old-fashioned English grammar. Then keep writing and watch your work progress.
#9 Pray. Do not underestimate the power of prayer in accomplishing what seems like impossible dreams. With His help, all things are possible.
Meet the Author:
Mary Ellis grew up near the Amish and fell in love with them. She has now written nine bestselling novels set in their communities. When not writing, she enjoys gardening, bicycling, and swimming. Before “retiring” to write full-time, Mary taught school and worked as a sales rep for Hershey Chocolate. Living in Harmony, book one of her current series won the Lime Award for Excellence in Amish Fiction. Her debut Christian book, A Widow’s Hope, was a finalist for the 2010 ACFW Carol Awards.
Click on the pictures for information about buying Mary’s novels.