By Laura Childs
As an author who writes three successful mystery series, I’m asked repeatedly to share a few of my writing tips. And my answer is always a resounding yes.
Because writing a book – and getting it published – is a brass ring (not gold, just brass) that’s out there for absolutely anyone to grab hold of. But be aware, there are a couple of things to be mindful of: You need to have a clear-cut vision in your head. And you must be utterly dogged in your pursuit.
Put another way, you have to be fearless.
Yes, I know that concept can be difficult for many people. We’re human, after all, so we’re all imbued with a modicum of self-doubt which can masquerade as modesty, timidity, or analysis paralysis.
Here’s the gut-wrenching thing when it comes to writing. You have to absolutely, totally believe in yourself and the book you have inside of you. Because if you don’t have faith, nobody else will either.
So let’s say you’ve noodled around countless ideas and finally settled on one that you think might make an absolutely brilliant novel. But perhaps you’re also experiencing fits and starts when putting pen to paper. Here’s a trick – start with a single paragraph, a kind of elevator test that succinctly explains the gist of your book. Now expand that paragraph into two pages. Is your story starting to gel? Is your concept getting a little more interesting? Do you see a few more possibilities for plot lines and characters? Now see if you can expand those two pages to thirty pages. This will entail writing a flushed-out outline that, along the way, will probably yield some sample dialogue, sub-plots, new characters, and descriptions.
Along the way, you should also be taking a writing course. Try to find one that’s taught by a real author who (ideally) specializes in your genre. Someone who’s been vetted and published by an actual publishing house. You could also ask this person for a critique.
You see where we’re going here? You’re learning while you write, and getting professional feedback. Which will eventually land the ball squarely in your court. Because now that you’ve got an outline and some newly acquired writing skills, you’ve got to seriously buckle down and write your novel. This could take several months, it could take years, depending on your circumstances. (My first novel took three years because I was still running an ad agency.) Please don’t get disheartened along the way – this is the writing process that we all go through. If you begin to experience serious doubt or burnout, set your manuscript aside for a few weeks. When you finally go back to it I promise it won’t be nearly as bad as you think.
Once your novel is finished, do not pop that bottle of champagne, do not think that all the hard work is over. Now you have to find an agent. You need to hi-ho yourself to a writer’s conference – mystery, romance, whatever, and pitch your little heart out to anyone who’ll listen. Again, put your self-consciousness on the back burner and sing and dance the heck out of that manuscript!
You also need to mine your friends, business colleagues, and acquaintances for publishing contacts. When I was trying to sell my first thriller, I had an advertising friend who put me in touch with Mary Higgins Clark. Mary advised me to attend the Mystery Writers of American Symposium and, when I arrived, took me by the hand and introduced me to a dozen publishers, agents, and editors. I also worked the room like crazy and passed out little postcards that showed my book’s cover and featured a short synopsis. In the end I connected with a terrific agent who wasn’t able to sell my thriller, but did get me a three-book deal that jump-started my Tea Shop Mystery series – and my entire fiction writing career.
Thanks so much for reading this. Now go ahead and write that book so you can get out there and be a tiger!
Laura Childs is the New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbooking Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. Recently, Book Riot named her mysteries to their list of “25 of the All Time Best Cozy Mystery Series.” In her previous life Laura was CEO of her own marketing firm, authored several screenplays, and produced a reality TV show. She is married to Dr. Bob, a professor of Chinese art history, enjoys travel, and has two Chinese Shar-Pei dogs. Released December 4th – Laura’s new Cackleberry Club Mystery Eggs on Ice! Connect with Laura Childs at www.laurchilds.com or on Facebook at Laura Childs Author