Every once in a while, I come across a blog post so informative that I just need to share it. Jo Bourne, for those of you who don’t already know her, is a critically acclaimed writer of historical fiction, including THE BLACK HAWK and THE SPYMASTER’S LADY. She’s also one of the smartest people about the craft of writing I’ve ever met. We are old friends from the Compuserve Book and Author forum, where we both serve as section leaders, and over the years I’ve found myself savoring (and quoting) much of her writing advice. This time, with her kind permission, I am reprinting an entire blog post. I hope you’ll enjoy it, and check out her blog for yourself. If you’re a writer, you’ll thank me.
Here, with no further ado, is Jo:
“Congratulations on finishing your manuscript.
… All through with dancing and whooping it up?
Now there are a few necessary steps to take to get from here to publication.
I. Get Crits
What: Turn some chapters of your manuscript over to harsh, knowledgeable critters. Listen to what they say. You need critters who haven’t been with you every step of the way as you wrote. Critters who are not your family or friends.
This is not putting a saucer of milk out for the tabby. This is wrapping yourself in raw meat and stepping into the lion’s cage.
How: There’s a Writer’s Workshop in the Books and Writer’s Forum. Here. Absolute Write, here has a ‘Share Your Work’ section. Writer’s Forum here has a Writers’ Workshop.
If you are writing genre, there are probably specialized sites for writers of your genre.
Why: Intelligent criticism of your work will help you write better and will prepare you to edit your manuscript.
II. Let the manuscript rest
What: Put the work away for as long as you can. Six weeks. Three months. Six months.
(You spend this time working on the next ms and critting other folks’ manuscripts, which is an excellent way to improve your own writing skills.)
How: Print it out and put it in a locked drawer in the bottom of your desk. Put all the work in a folder named “Open in January.
Why: This lets you look at your own work with a critical editorial eye. It gives you distance.
III. Learn how publishing works
What: Spend a solid 40 hours studying the publishing industry.
How: Start out by Googling everything you can find on the subject. Then drop into places full of knowledgeable folks and ask questions.
Why: If you were going to (a) take a job in Thailand for a year or (b) go to State Aggie to study animal husbandry or (c) work for Avis Rent-a-car, you’d do that much research about (a) the country, (b) the university or (c) the business.
Why would you go into writing with less preparation?
III. Learn about agents
What: Start making a spread sheet of agents who work in your field. See who they represent. See who they sell to. See what kind of deals they’re making. Find out what folks say about them.
If they have an on-line presence, get a feel for who they are.
How: Google. Look at the acks in the front of books similar to your own writing. Publisher’s Lunch and Publisher’s Marketplace.
Why: That’s the list you will query, when you query, if you decide you want an agent. And after all, you have some time while your manuscript is resting.
What: When the manuscript has aged like, y’know, fine wine … take it out of hiding and read it over.
Now you will revise. Now you see what’s wrong.
How: Read and correct as if someone else had written it.
Why: Because, unless you have indeed done this, the manuscript is not as good as you can make it.
What: Beta readers take an entire manuscript that is ready for submission and crit it. Beta readers, if possible, have never seen the manuscript before.
How: Find them by doing beta reads for others. Find them by making friends in writers forums. Pay them in chocolate.
Why: Because they will tell you if the whole thing works. They’ll point out illogical story lines. They’ll improve the manuscript.
VII. Get an agent … or not
Three months have passed since you declared your manuscript finished.
You will have read 10,000 words arguing Indie/Big Press/Small Press.
You’ll have the best manuscript you can write in one hand and a significant bit of WIP in the other.
Now you make this decision.
Many thanks to Jo for permission to reprint this post. If you appreciate her thoughts, you know the best way to thank a writer, don’t you?
Speaking of which, I’ve just learned that my new book, A DANGEROUS FICTION, has just made one of Amazon’s top 100 bestseller lists recently, the one for thrillers with female sleuths. So woot woot!, as Jo says! Recently there was a wonderful review by Joan Baum in Dan’s Papers and a couple of fun interviews, one by My Bookish Ways and one by writer Sara Bowers, and there’s more to come.
The past few weeks since launch have been quite a whirl. In fact, A DANGEROUS FICTION, worn out from the rigors of self-promotion, was recently spotted taking a bit of well-earned R&R.