About Writing


Here's everything I know about improving your writing,publishing it electronically and in print, and promoting itafter the sale.

Two questions you should ask:

(1) What will it cost me?

(2) What does this Michael LaRocca guy know about it?

Answer #1 -- It won't cost you a thing. The single mostimportant bit of advice I can give you, and I say it often, isdon't pay for publication.

My successes have come from investing time. Some of it was wellspent, but most of it was wasted. It costs me nothing to sharewhat I've learned. It costs you nothing to read it except someof your time.

Answer #2 -- "Michael LaRocca has been researching thepublishing field for over ten years."

This quote, from an ezine (electronic newsletter) called AuthorsWordsmith, was a kind way of saying I've received a lot ofrejections. Also, my "research" required 20 years.

But in my "breakout" year (2000), I finished writing four booksand scheduled them all for publication in 2001. I also beganediting for one of my publishers, a job I've been enjoying eversince.

After my first book was published, both my publishers closed.Two weeks and three publishers later, I was back on track. Allfour books were published, and a fifth was released in 2004.Written in 2003, no rejections. Another scheduled for 2005publication, no rejections.

See how much faster it was the second time around? That'sbecause I learned a lot.

Also, I found more editing jobs. That's what I do when I'm notwriting, doing legal transcription, or teaching English in China(my new home). But the thing is, if I'd become an editor beforelearning how to write, I'd have stunk.

2005 EPPIE Award finalist. 2004 EPPIE Award finalist. 2002 EPPIEAward finalist. Listed by Writers Digest as one of The Best 101Websites For Writers in 2001 and 2002. Sime-Gen Readers ChoiceAwards for Favorite Author (Nonfiction & Writing) and FavoriteBook (Nonfiction & Writing). 1982 Who's Who In American Writing.

Excuse me for bragging, but it beats having you think I'munqualified.

I'll tell you what's missing from this course. What to writeabout, where I get my ideas from, stuff like that. Maybe I don'tanswer this question because I think you should do it your way,not mine. Or maybe because I don't know how I do it. Or maybeboth.

Once you've done your writing, this course will help you withthe other stuff involved in being a writer. Writing involveswearing at least four different hats. Writer, editor,publication seeker, post-sale self-promoter.

Here's what I can tell you about my writing.

Sometimes an idea just comes to me out of nowhere and refusesto leave me alone until I write about it. So, I do.

And, whenever I read a book that really fires me up, I think, "Iwish I could write like that." So, I just keep trying. I'll neverwrite THE best, but I'll always write MY best. And get betterevery time. That's the "secret" of the writing "business," same asany other business. Always deliver the goods.

I read voraciously, a habit I recommend to any author whodoesn't already have it. You'll subconsciously pick up on whatdoes and doesn't work. Characterization, dialogue, pacing, plot,story, setting, description, etc. But more importantly, someonewho doesn't enjoy reading will never write something that someoneelse will enjoy reading.

I don't write "for the market." I know I can't, so I just writefor me and then try to find readers who like what I like. I'mnot trying to whip up the next bestseller and get rich. Not thatI'd complain. But I have to write what's in my heart, then find amarket later. It makes marketing a challenge at times, but Iwouldn't have it any other way.

When you write, be a dreamer. Go nuts. Know that you're writingpure gold. That fire is why we write.

An author I admire, Kurt Vonnegut, sweats out each individualsentence. He writes it, rewrites it, and doesn't leave it aloneuntil it's perfect. Then when he's done, he's done.

I doubt most of write like that. I don't. I let it fly as fastas my fingers can move across the paper or keyboard, rushing tocapture my ideas before they get away. Later, I change andshuffle and slice.

James Michener writes the last sentence first, then has his goalbefore him as he writes his way to it.

Then there's me. No outline whatsoever. I create charactersand conflict, spending days and weeks on that task, until thefirst chapter leaves me wondering "How will this end?" Then mycharacters take over, and I'm as surprised as the reader when Ifinish my story.

Some authors set aside a certain number of hours every day forwriting, or a certain number of words. In short, a writingschedule.

Then there's me. No writing for three or six months, then aflurry of activity where I forget to eat, sleep, bathe, changethe cat's litter... I'm a walking stereotype. To assuage theguilt, I tell myself that my unconscious is hard at work. AsHemingway would say, long periods of thinking and short periodsof writing.

I've shown you the extremes in writing styles. I think mostauthors fall in the middle somewhere. But my point is, find outwhat works for you. You can read about how other writers do it,and if that works for you, great. But in the end, find your ownway. That's what writers do.

Just don't do it halfway.

If you're doing what I do, writing a story that entertains andmoves you, you'll find readers who share your tastes. For someof us that means a niche market and for others it means regularappearances on the bestseller list.

Writing is a calling, but publishing is a business. Rememberthat AFTER you've written your manuscript. Not during.

I've told you how I write. For me.

** EDITING **

The next step is self-editing. Fixing the mistakes I made in myrush to write it before my Muse took a holiday. Severalrewrites. Running through it repeatedly with a fine-toothedcomb and eliminating cliches like "fine-toothed comb."

Then what?

There are stories that get rejected because the potentialpublisher hates them, but more are shot down for other reasons.Stilted dialogue. Boring descriptions. Weak characters.Underdeveloped story. Unbelievable or inconsistent plot. Sloppywriting.

That's what you have to fix.

I started by using Free Online Creative Writing Workshops. WhatI needed most was input from strangers. After all, once you'republished, your readers will be strangers. Every publisher yousubmit to will be a stranger. What will they think? I always gettoo close to my writing to answer that.

Whenever I got some advice, I considered it. Some I just threwout as wrong, or because I couldn't make the changes withoutabandoning part of what made the story special to me. Some Iembraced. But the point is, I decided. It's my writing.

After a time, I didn't feel the need for the workshops anymore.I'm fortunate enough to have a wife whose advice I will alwaystreasure, and after a while that was all I needed. But earlyon, it would've been unfair to ask her to read my drivel. (Notthat I didn't anyway, but she married me in spite of it.)

Your goal when you self-edit is to get your book as close to"ready to read" as you possibly can. Do not be lazy and do notrush. You want your editor to find what you overlooked, not whatyou didn't know about, and you want it to be easy for him/her.

Your story is your story. You write it from your heart, andwhen it looks like something you'd enjoy reading, you set out tofind a publisher who shares your tastes. What you don't want isfor that first reader to lose sight of what makes your storyspecial because you've bogged it down with silly mistakes.

Authors don't pay to be published. They are paid for publication.Always. It's just that simple. Later, I'll tell you where to getsome free editing. But there's a limit to how much editing you canget without paying for it. Do you need more than that? I don'tknow because I've never read your writing. But if you evaluate ithonestly, I think you'll know the answer.

As an editor, I've worked with some authors who simply couldn'tself-edit. Non-native English speakers, guys who slept throughEnglish class, whatever. To them, paying for editing was anoption. This isn't paying for publication. This is paying fora service, training. Just like paying to take a Creative Writingclass at the local community college.

By the way, I don't believe creativity can be taught. Writing,certainly. I took a Creative Writing class in high school, free,and treasure the experience. But I already had the creativity,or else it would've been a waste of the teacher's time and mine.

If you hire an editor worthy of the name, you should learn fromthat editor how to self-edit in the future. In my case it tooktwo tries, because my first "editor" was a rip-off artistcharging over ten times market value for incomplete advice.

That editor, incidentally, is named Edit Ink, and they're listedon many "scam warning" sites. They take kickbacks from every fakeagent who sends them a client. (I'll talk about fake agents later.)

If you choose to hire an editor, check price and reputation. (For aballpark figure, I charge $3 per 1000 words for a proofread, twicethat for an in-depth edit.) Consider that you might never makeenough selling your books to get back what you pay that editor. Doyou care? That's your decision.

Your first, most important step on the road to publication is tomake your writing the best it can be.

** PUBLICATION **

My goal is to be published in both mediums, ebook and print.There are some readers who prefer ebooks, and some who preferprint books. The latter group is larger, but those publishersare harder to sell your writing to. I want to be published inboth mediums, because I want all the readers I can get.

Thus, I advocate something of a stepping-stone approach.Publish electronically with a quality place, and enjoy thebenefits of free editing. Later, if you think you can sellyour book to a traditional print publisher, you have aprofessionally edited manuscript to submit. Free editing.

Before you epublish, check the contract to be sure you canpublish the edited work in print later.

If you know your book just plain won't ever make it intotraditional print, print-on-demand (POD) is an option. Someof my books fall into this category. The best epublishers willsimultaneously publish your work electronically and in PODformat, at no cost to you.

A lot of authors swear by self-publication, but the prospectjust plain scares me. All that promo, all that self-editing,maybe driving around the countryside with a back seat full ofbooks. I'm a writer, not a salesman. Maybe you're different.

I self-published once, in the pre-POD days. Mom handled thesales. I had fun and broke even. With POD, at least it'seasier (and probably cheaper) to self-publish than it was in1989, because you'll never get stuck with a large unsoldinventory.

POD setup fees can range anywhere from US$100 to over $1000.Don't pay the higher price! Price shop. Also, remember thatPOD places publish any author who pays, giving them a realcredibility problem with some reviewers and readers, and thatthey do no marketing.

** PROMOTING YOUR PUBLISHED WRITING **

It doesn't matter how you publish your book. Self-published,epublished, POD, or traditional print publishing from a smallpress or an absolute powerhouse. Marketing falls largely on you,and the same things always work. Book signings, book reviews andinterviews in the local newspapers and on radio. (Or Oprah,but what are our chances?)

Start with http://www.kidon.com/media-link/index.shtml. It willallow you to look up all the local media outlets in your areathat have websites.

If you write to them all, you're a spammer. Plus, it'll takeages. Look for the ones with a legitimate interest and fireaway.

If you find a stale URL, and I think you will, look for the nameof that media outlet at some place like Google. Spend some timelooking for the right press contacts, spend some time writingyour press release, and do what you can.

Most of these sites list email, snail mail, and phone numbers.Since I live in China, I've only used email.

Book reviews, author interviews, book listing sites, and bookcontests are something we can all do, regardless of where welive.

HOW TO GET PUBLISHED (my free ebook) contains my list ofresources. http://www.chinarice.org/howtogetpublished.html

Some of the sites I mention review ebooks, and some do not. ThePOD option can help e-authors here, but balance cost vs.likelihood of gaining enough readers to offset that cost.

Some are ezines and some are websites. Some are printednewsletters, some are printed magazines, and some arenewspapers. This is just a starting point. If you visit themall, and you have time for more promotion, you can find manymore.

Aside from two radio interviews and a seminar in Hong Kong, andsome emailed press releases to the LOCAL media back in the USwhich may or may not have succeeded in anything, my marketinghas come from the Internet.

I have a website. I have a newsletter. I write free articlessuch as this one. I give away a free ebook, the essence of whichyou're reading now. You found me somehow, right?

Here's the type of message I receive often in email. To be moreprecise, in spam.

"If a million people see your ad, and you get 1% of them, that's

10,000 readers and therefore $15,000 profit and you only paid$1000 for those million addresses."

NO!! It doesn't work that way. Need I use the words dot-combust?

My website is free. My newsletter is free. I don't buy mailinglists, I don't harvest email addresses, and I don't spam. Iwant interested traffic, not just sheer numbers.

Do you think the Phoenicians tried to sell sails to people athousand miles from water?

Internet marketing isn't a replacement for the methods mentionedabove, but a complement to them. And by using it, I got you here.

Your goal in marketing is this. There are people in the world wholike what you like. And since you like your book, they probablywill too. You have to find those readers and make them interested,without spamming them and without "playing the numbers game."

If you're an e-author, let me state the obvious. Nobody buysebooks who doesn't have Internet access. Do they? So youdefinitely need a website.

Traditional print authors need websites too. Even blockbusterauthors like J.R. Rowling and Stephen King, who I doubt couldgarner any more name recognition, have websites. So does everylong-established inescapable monstro-business like McDonalds andCoke.

Okay, those folks pay web designers. I'm not doing that. I can'tgenerate sales like that. And yes, I've been employed as an HTMLprogrammer. But you can write your own website without learningHTML if you want. It's no harder than writing a manuscript witha word processor.

It won't be super-flashy like the big boys, but it'llcommunicate the information. Remember, you can communicate.You're an author! That's what keeps people coming back to awebsite after the thrill of the flash wears off. Information.Content. Your specialty.

I consider my website and my newsletter to be successful, and I'veanalyzed how they got that way, in the free ebook I mentioned above.There are legitimate ways to bring traffic to your website and yournewsletter. Not massive numbers overnight, but slow steady growth overthe long term. http://www.chinarice.org/howtogetpublished.html

** CLOSING THOUGHTS **

Here's something you've heard before. When your manuscript isrejected -- and it will be -- remember that you aren't beingrejected. Your manuscript is.

One reader took me to task for that statement, claiming he'dnever been rejected. I'm very happy for him. But why, if I may beso bold as to ask, would he need advice on "How To Get Published?"I'd rather he write some advice so I can hang up my "helper guy"hat and learn from a master.

But I digress. You aren't being rejected. Your manuscript is.

Did you ever hang up the phone on a telemarketer, delete spam,or close the door in the face of a salesman? Of course, and yetthat salesman just moves on to the next potential customer. Heknows you're rejecting his product, not him.

Okay, in my case I'm rejecting both, but I'd never do that to anauthor. Neither will a publisher or an agent. All authors tellother authors not to take rejection personally, and yet we alldo. Consider it a target to shoot for, then. Just keepsubmitting, and just keep writing.

The best way to cope with waiting times is to "submit andforget," writing or editing other stuff while the time passes.

And finally, feel free to send an e-mail to me anytime.michaellarocca@chinarice.org or michaellarocca@yawweb.org.I'll gladly share what I know with you, and it won't cost you acent.

I would wish you luck in your publishing endeavors, but I knowthere's no luck involved. It's all skill and diligence.

Congratulations on completing the course! No ceremonies, nodegrees, and no diplomas. But on the bright side, no studentloan to repay.

Best regards,
Michael LaRocca
http://www.chinarice.org

Copyright 2005, Michael LaRocca

Michael LaRocca's website at http://www.chinarice.org waschosen by WRITER'S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best WebsitesFor Writers in 2001 and 2002. His response was to throw itout and start over again because he's insane. He teachesEnglish at a university in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province,China, and publishes the free weekly newsletter WHO MOVEDMY RICE?


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