I just sent the second book of my Heirs of Watson Island trilogy back to my editor for the final time before the Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) come out. And I know it isn’t perfect. ARCs almost never are — they’re uncorrected proofs, that’s what it always says on the cover. But if I could just have one more draft . . . one more pass . . . one more day . . .
Recognize the sentiment?
Regret, what-if, and could-a, should-a are the writer’s constant companions. That’s one of the aspect of being an author that is the most difficult for me. As a writer, I’m in total control of my work and the fictional world in which my characters live. There, I’m GOD. (And it is good.)
But once the manuscript leaves my desk in any form, my level of control dwindles the closer the book comes to publication. Why? Because the book goes from being my brain child to being a product that needs to be appealing to as many people as possible so it can be economically viable. At least if I want to make a living as a writer.
Looking back from this side of traditional publication, I’ve come to recognize that there are steps along the path to publication where we writers have control, and there are steps where our control is minimal. Based on what I’ve learned to this point, here are some ways I think we can make the most of the control we have. And I do think that most of these apply whether we are publishing traditionally or as indie authors.
Using Absolute Pre-Contract Control Most Effectively
1) Take as much time as we can to master craft. Read widely, take workshops, know grammar inside and out, keep learning!
2) Examine the premise of our manuscripts from every possible angle. Look for ways to make them bigger, fresher, more unexpected, and more interesting; good is the enemy here. Competition is stiff, and the premise, more than anywhere else, is where we can ultimately create a salable manuscript.
3) Figure out who the audience is going to be and what they generally expect/want in a book.
4) Re-examine the premise with the audience in mind. Does it meet conventions and then twist them?
5) Write the best book possible that meets the promise of the premise and promises to entice the audience.
6) Develop a network of trustworthy critique partners and beta readers who will be brutally honest with you. Shut up when you hear their advice. Put the manuscript away for a few months. Then look at it again, and be as critical and objective as you can be when addressing what the readers suggested.
7) Write a brilliant pitch for the book you’ve written. When the book is salable and well-executed, this is easier than you might think. Frequently, problems crafting a query/pitch suggest there are still problems with the premise or the execution of the book itself.
8) Create a list of agents you’d like to work with. Get references. Do your homework. Take your time and make sure you’d really love to work with those agents and that your communication styles and tastes are going to be compatible and that they are going to represent all the genres that you want to write in the course of your career.
Now that’s where your control stops. Because from this point, we are at the mercy of market conditions, trends, individual tastes, and yes—let’s be honest—luck.
I am under no illusions that my book is better than a LOT of books that didn’t get published. It’s a solid book, with a lot going for it, and I did as good a job writing it as I could. From there, I was pulled out of the machine by the giant claw of luck. Other books, other writers, are not always so lucky.
Here’s the thing though, we can help to make ourselves more “lucky.”
If COMPULSION hadn’t landed me and agent, and if it hadn’t sold, I would still have kept writing. Work is never wasted. I’ve learned something with each of the manuscripts I’ve written, and all of that goes into making the next book better, and that means that I am more likely to be nearer to the top of the pile when the claw of luck swoops down again to grab someone.
Now here’s the part we don’t see written about as often.
Using Absolute Post-Contract Control Most Effectively
Once the claw of luck grabs us, we have very little control, and we have less and less as the book gets closer to sitting on the bookstore shelves. Which really, when you think about it, is fine. We’re writers. We’re not marketing experts, or copeditors, or keyboarders, or cover designers, or sales reps, or publicity. (Unless we’re indie publishing, in which case we have to be all of the above.)
Once the book has left our desk, and if we aren’t indie publishing, all we can do is . . . wait for it . . . write the next book and make it better. Be GOD in a different universe.
Because you know who ultimately has control?
And what they want is plain and simple. They want books that make them feel something new, experience something new, and make them want to keep reading more.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Martina Boone was born in Prague and spoke several languages before learning English. She fell in love with words and never stopped delighting in them. She’s the author of , book one in the Southern Gothic trilogy, the Heirs of Watson Island, which was a Fall ’14 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Bookstores Alliance, a Goodreads Best Book of the Month and YA Best Book of the Month, and an RT Magazine Best of 2014 Editor’s Pick. The second book in the trilogy, , will be published in October 2015. She’s also the founder of , a Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers site.