Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The hardest part of writing

Being, or trying to become, an author involves more work than might be imagined. For a start, you need an idea for a plot. If you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi you also need to decide whether you’re going to place the plot in a roughly real world (perhaps in a historical or futuristic version) or a wholly fictional one. The latter gives more freedom, but also entails more work.

Then there’s the first draft. I actually don’t find this bit too tricky. Writer’s block doesn’t afflict me too often, and writing chapter-by-chapter with a day off between finishing one and starting another keeps up a decent pace without it becoming a grind.

However, the numerous redrafts are a different matter. I’m better at these than I was, but they still take a long time. As well as correcting basic grammatical and spelling errors other matters that need addressing include continuity, getting the pace right, making sure that enough time (but not too much) is spent on building the world and immersing the reader in it, and so on. Usually I have to add new bits (continuity’s my worst problem, and I often have to expand scenes or write new ones so that the plot hangs together better), or occasionally delete or reduce others.

Redrafting, for me, takes much longer than the first draft, and is far more tedious.

What happens after getting the text sorted varies according to whether you’re approaching agents/publishers, self-publishing or if you’ve got a deal with a publisher.

In the first instance, you’ll need to put together a cover letter, write a synopsis (from the Ancient Greek meaning ‘The torture of a new writer by a wicked agent and/or publisher’) and format the first X chapters (usually three). If you’re doing this, pay attention to the agent/publisher’s guidelines. They often want much the same (one page synopsis, brief cover later, first three chapters double-spaced) but if they don’t and you send something clearly wrong it’s a great way to get instantly rejected (and 99% of submissions are rejected. It’s like asking Olivia Wilde out, but with a slightly less exciting payoff if you succeed).

Then you will have to wait. Quite possibly a long time (months). And they may not reply at all (this irritates me. Even a standard rejection letter [and if you’re posting the submission an SAE will usually be required so it costs them almost nothing] at least lets you know to cross that name off the list). If you do succeed nabbing an agent then this is a great asset for approaching a publisher, as the very fact you have an agent means your submission gets taken more seriously (and some publishers only accept submissions from authors with agents, although there are occasionally Angry Robot-style exceptions). If you get a publisher then it’s game on and the first publication awaits.

Self-publishing means more control, but it’s not total, and the legwork must be done yourself. The Smashwords website is an excellent facility for such authors. Doing or hiring someone to do the cover art should be done at the first opportunity, as there can be a long wait for a reply and then for the art itself (I’m presently waiting for a response for the Bane of Souls cover). The formatting of the book also has to be done by the author, and whilst small errors are forgivable a big one can be pretty embarrassing. Last, but very much not least, the price must be set. These tend to be significantly lower than for established authors, typically ranging from under £1 to £3. This is quite a tricky decision, actually.

Lastly, we have the author-with-a-publisher. Whilst they do have that warm, fuzzy feeling of having either been published or about to be, they do have deadlines and may well have media commitments (conventions, book signings, interviews etc), so it’s not all fun and games. That said, it’s obviously the best position to be in.

So, what is the hardest part of writing?

The waiting. Whether for an agent or publisher, or anything else. The lack of control and the inability to make the decision arrive faster (especially after months or years of putting together a book) is a strange and often prolonged pause which is quite uncomfortable. Agents and publishers can have enormous workloads, and they can only work so fast, but from a writer’s perspective the weeks or months of waiting is torture.


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