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
Take as much time as we can to master craft. Read widely,
take workshops, know grammar inside and out, keep learning!
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
Figure out who the audience is going to be and what they
generally expect/want in a book.
Re-examine the premise with the audience in mind. Does it
meet conventions and then twist them?
Write the best book possible that meets the promise of the
premise and promises to entice the audience.
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
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.
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
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 Compulsion,
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, Persuasion,
will be published in October 2015. She’s also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com,
a Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites
for Writers site.