Last week I was contacted by two people I know to ask questions about how they can move forward in the world of publishing. The first was a fifteen-year-old friend of my daughter. She and I have talked several times about the business side of writing, but last week she told me she was up to 80K words in her fantasy novel and hoped to have it finished by the end of the summer. Her question was, “What’s my next step?”
My answer: “Is it beautiful and polished and a testament to your best work?”
She was silent.
“That’s the next step. Make it worthy to sit on a publisher’s desk and have them fall in love with it.”
We’ve had several conversations about traditional versus self-publishing versus hybrid and the pros and cons of all. I’m a supporter of all three. There’s no black or white in this area, and each author needs to decide what’s best for them. She’s made it clear she wants to pursue the traditional route first, keeping the self-publishing possibility open as an option.
She’s worked hard and added 30K words to her manuscript this summer. She’s a very driven individual, but acknowledged that large parts of the manuscript haven’t been read since she wrote them. “Editing,” she nodded. “I’ll work on that. And when it’s ready I’ll work on a query letter for an agent. It’s going to be hard to describe my book in a few paragraphs.”
I nodded. Yep. That’s the curse of the query letter and kudos to her for recognizing how important and difficult it can be. I was feeling quite proud of my little student.
Then she floored me with, “Do you think I should go to college or will being an author be sufficient?”
My mouth dropped open, but I recovered rapidly. She’d grasped some concepts so easily but missed a very big element.
“College definitely. Always have a back-up plan. Writing is something you can do at any time.”
She didn’t seem thrilled with that answer which led to a long discussion about the constant changing world of publishing, advances, and royalties. In the end, she walked away with:
Go to college.
Keep your options open.
My second contact last week was a retired friend who emailed me a partial outline of a novel/screenplay and wanted to know what to do with it. He admitted he didn’t know if it was going to be a novel or a screenplay. I suggested some book titles on writing screenplays and novels. He replied back that he didn’t have the time to learn how to write and asked if an experienced author would help him write it.
I banged my head on my desk and then agonized that I would have to let down this kind man whom I adored. I wrote back that I don’t have time to guide him because I’m working on my own stuff, and that I don’t know how to teach what I do. He clarified that he meant a ghostwriter (like for celebrities) who would write this project for him. Relief swept through me, but then I banged my head on the desk for the second time. I told him I didn’t know any ghostwriters and warned him not to hire anyone without a legal contract.
Two very different people. On two different paths. Similar financial goal: make money.
The girl was willing to work hard, and she enjoys writing, but she wanted assurance that she could make a career out of it. He didn’t want to do the work, but wanted the big bucks that would surely come when his ghostwritten novel became a movie.
Who do you think will succeed?