Friday, August 20, 2021

Published Authors Often Start Off as a Wannabe

by Linda Thorne

Recently a contractor was doing some upgrade work at my home and noticed this framed picture of the cover of a Writers' Journal magazine (now defunct) on my office wall with pages from my story, "Hurricanes Don't Lie." You can't read the engraved words carved into the plaque, but it shows the title of the story, my name as the author, and then the words, "First Published Story 2007." My daughter sent this to me after having it framed and engraved. I had won 2nd place in the short story contest for that issue of Writers' Journal and received a $125.00 check. I then showed the contractor my published novel, gave her a free copy, and found out that she had always wanted to write a book. She asked me how I went about becoming a published author. I gave her a short, general synopsis, admitting that I'd now given it up until retirement from my day job. Later, this dawned on me as a post for Make Mine Mystery. Many who read this blogspot are published authors, some with books and/or short stories galore, but each published author has a story of how and why they made it happen, often starting off as a wannabe author.

There's all kinds of reasons for becoming a published author. You land a job in promotions or production and you realize you can write and want to take it further. You heard something that sparked the desire, saw a movie that drew you into in to such depth it created a desire to write a book. It could've been happenstance, parental encouragement, a thousand reasons. Then there are those with the unexplained itch that began brewing inside them years earlier coming to fruition when they finally must write “the book.” My motivation came from the later, “brewing” up to it. I can’t claim to be a career author since I already have a professional career that takes up a great deal of my time, but I have published a debut novel, many short stories, and a second book even though it needs a ton of work before I'd ever publish it.

If asked how to write a book and publish it, I can’t really speak for others, but I can tell you how I pulled it off. Here’s the skinny:

  • I bought a book on how to write a book. I followed the directions, made index cards, detailed plot points, drew up story lines.
  • I wrote the book with the plot and subplots that had been in my head for years. It took a year. When I read what I’d written, it didn’t sound like any book I’d ever read. It was far from good.
  • Key point. The fact my first draft was awful did not deter me. I took a pause, read more books in my genre, and edited my first draft. It was better, but it still didn’t read like a published book.
  • I joined a critique group and took pieces of my book to weekly meetings where they ripped it to shreds. It helped. Warning on critique groups. You need to get savvy on what to take away and throw away from a critique meeting.
  • I’d take month long breaks from novel writing to write short stories. I sent my polished shorts off to contests and magazines.
  • I learned from reject letters and when I published a short, I used it as a thermometer to tell me what level I'd risen to. Writing shorts and receiving feedback, improved my writing skills.
  • I’d go to the Killer Nashville Writers Conference year after year, pen and pad in hand, and go to every session on topics I had not yet grasped.
  • I read more self-help books this time on plot, structure, and basic rewriting if your manuscript. My 150,000-word book was now down to 110,000 and I started submitting it to publishers and agents like crazy, which stopped when I could no longer take the onslaught of rejection letters.
  • Instead, I started sending segments of my book to contests where the judges gave critiques. There were many, but some were especially helpful: The Sandy Contest, the Colorado Gold Writing Contest, and the PNWA Literary Contest. I never won, but I used every suggestion given by the judges and my manuscript was the better for it.
  • Then I found The Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest where I could submit my book in its entirety. It cost nothing and the winning prize was $10,000 along with publication. The only entry requirement was not to have already published a novel. My first submission did not make the finals, so I went back to the drawing board. My book was getting smaller, now down to 95,000 words. The second year, I did not make the finals again, but my assigned judge sent me an e-mail telling me it had promise. The judge assigned to me the third year, sent my manuscript to the finals, big step, but another author’s book won. I didn’t know how close I might’ve been to beating the winning author until the fourth year when I went to the finals again. This time none of the finalists were good enough for publication. That did it! I had more work to do and this time I needed to revise it for publication. I didn’t have time to wait another year to re-enter the contest.
  • I tore through my book again, taking pieces of it to my critique groups, using my self-help books, my notes from the Killer Nashville conferences, judges comments from various contests. I revised and revised and then began submitting my manuscript, now down to 85,000-words, to publishers and agents again. Bingo! Black Opal Books read my entire book and asked to publish it.

This was a ten-year run for me and a lot harder than I’d thought when I first started out. Was it worth all the work and frustration? Absolutely! That would take a whole other post to explain why. 

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Susan said...

Great post. So true and so inspiring.

authorlindathorne said...

Thanks Susan for dropping by.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

You really worked hard at this--and I did many of the same things and I'm still learning. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

authorlindathorne said...

Thank you, Marilyn. It was fun and kind of makes me want to get back into it, which I'm sure I will at some point.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Great share. Good for you that you didn't give up but just kept learning and applying. You are a great success story.

Saralyn said...

I enjoyed reading about your path to publication. The truth is that writing is a lifelong learning experience, never easy, but always rewarding.

authorlindathorne said...

Thanks Elizabeth and Saralyn. I never gave up during that 10 year period, but I sort of have now (temporarily) because aging while still working full-time, helping my husband out, and other things. Something had to go. I'll probably retire in the Spring of 2022. We'll see.

Morgan Mandel said...

It took me that long to get my first book published. After seeing a program at our library where authors from the local Romance Writers of America mentioned how they got their start, I realized authors were real people, like you and me. I joined their group, learned a lot and finally got a book published, then went on to do more.

authorlindathorne said...

Morgan, sounds like everyone started out sort of the same but different. I hear the 10 years plus often for first publications. The difference with me now is I have so much going on, I can't imagine attending meetings and critique groups.