Welcome to our first Fangbangers Anonymous special feature courtesy of the wonderful My Secret O. In fan fiction the terms ‘writer’ and ‘author’ are often interchanged with little thought, but an author is a distinctly different thing. It indicates a writer is published and while we have many writers in fan fiction, we have few actual authors. my secret o is one of them, and with us she shared how with a lot of hard work, perseverance, and determination she came to be published and can rightfully call herself an author.
msbuffy is our resident beta at the directory, but she is, in fact, also a professional editor in real life and as well as working her magic on this, she interspersed a few tips of her own from the perspective of an editor.
This is a great resource for (aspiring) writers hoping to one day be published authors, but should also be a fun read for anyone who has ever wondered what it really takes to get published. -Enjoy!
From Fan Fiction to Original Fiction:
What it’s really like to write novels and get them published
It happens to the best of us. The moment one of your well-meaning readers tells you, “I love your writing so much! You should write original fiction!” Sure, you think, and then someone else tells you, maybe even a handful of people encourage you. That’s when you start taking them seriously. I’ve got lots of ideas. I can totally do this! So you start writing …because you love to write, and you write for you.
NOT AN EASY TRANSITION FROM FANFIC TO STRAIGHT FIC…
All of your ideas pour out of your fingertips and into your computer. You start to think about characters and where they’re going to live …which presents a whole new problem. Instead of working with the same characters you’ve come to know and love, you have to create believable, likeable, quirky, and weird protagonists and research endlessly about where they live (just in case one of your future readers has ever been there). Location is one of the most important elements of your book, and you must get it right. Research is crucial. If you can’t visit the place in person, talk to someone who has and take notes. Lots and lots of notes.
CREATING COMPELLING CHARACTERS
Characters are even more important. If your potential readers can’t relate to or empathize with at least one of your characters, they’ll get bored and put your book down. You don’t want that. As a writer, you already pay attention to details and probably know someone who would make a great heroine (without being too obvious, of course. You don’t want to get sued for writing them as they are.). Your characters will need flaws, a sense of humor, a temper, wit, and charm. Make them as human (or supernatural) as possible.
AN OUTLINE BECOMES ESSENTIAL
I experienced another major issue; I didn’t know how to write a book. I didn’t know how to outline, the difference between story and plot, or anything about the three-act system[i] most authors use. I read quite a bit, so I knew when something was missing in a story, but I couldn’t tell you what it was, and then I learned how to outline and follow the checkpoints within the three-act system. Suddenly, I could dissect books and movies, and even predict their outcomes. I could also see what was missing in my own stories and fix them. It’s never too late to learn something new!
FROM FINAL DRAFT TO PUBLISHING
After you figure these things out, you get to work. Sometimes your story goes as planned, and sometimes your characters take on lives of their own that reveal new plot lines you didn’t think of before. Nevertheless, you set goals for yourself and keep writing. You make your own deadlines and push yourself to finish what you started. You might even share this news with a few of your friends. “I’m writing a book!” It makes you dizzy just saying those words aloud. When you complete your book, you try to remain levelheaded. Reminding yourself that just because you wrote a book, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be published. Yet secretly, deep down, you want to be published more than anything. You want your name (or pen name) to be on an Amazon author page. You want to be an author instead of a writer. You dream of a Goodreads Q & A featuring your book. You love your new creation, and others will too. You’re certain of it. Just remember those words of praise and love that initially encouraged you.
WANTED: A SECOND PAIR OF EYES & A KIND HEART
After reading through your story a couple of times to catch the most obvious errors, you ask your friends to look it over. This is assuming, of course, that you have a handful of friends who are willing to edit for you. These are friends whom you trust to spare your feelings while making important comments and changes. I have a few friends who do this. They read everything I write, and always offer kind criticism. They provide an honest assessment of my work while giving constructive feedback that helps me see things in a new way. Friends such as these are the most important part of your success. Your work needs to be scrutinized before turning it loose on the real world. The real world is mean. Cold. Hard. Unforgiving. Sometimes a seemingly benign friend will read something you’ve written and single-handedly break your spirit, so choose carefully. Partners should be avoided for this reason. I don’t care how much you love them; unless you can hear them tear your work apart, steer clear.
msbuffy’s advice: Yes, one must choose wisely. You must clearly distinguish the line between constructive criticism and blatant hostile comments that are not reviews. Writers must learn the difference while shoring up innate defensiveness.
QUERYING AGENTS & EDITORS
Now it’s time to write a query. What’s a query letter? ‘A query letter is a formal letter sent to magazine editors, literary agents, and sometimes publishing houses or companies. Writers write query letters to propose writing ideas.’ Thanks, Wikipedia! Cue eye roll. Tell me, what’s a query letter? This article from huffpo is pretty great. Sweet! You have your opening lines, summary of the plot, a little something about yourself (balancing modesty, shameless promotion, and still coming across as likeable), and have expressed your gratitude for the time it takes the editor or agent to read 500 words. Some people say the query is more important than your manuscript simply because even if you write a compelling story and your readers are on the edge of their seat, if your query sucks, publishers will trash your letter before they even get halfway through it, so write well! Your precious baby depends on it! This is another opportunity for you to enlist the help of your editing friends. Paying them in one form or another is a good way to ensure they feel appreciated and it will encourage them to lend a hand in the future.
msbuffy’s advice: A query letter is akin to a cover letter for a CV or a résumé, but unlike the cover letter, we want you to rock our worlds with your queries! Dazzle us with brilliant use of language and imagery! Use that same skillful craft and overwhelming creativity you have that makes your writing so spectacular in your queries so that we can’t wait to get to the submission! You have it; use it! As this editor advises, it truly does leave the greatest of impressions when the query is personally addressed. If you’re using a form letter, but do know the name, use it as shown, and then use your pen to put a line through the “To Whom…” and hand-write the individual’s name, e.g. “Dear Ms. Buffy,” (If you’ve met with the person or actually do know the person, use their first name) A comma may be used if you are familiar with the individual; if not, use a colon. It’s still a business letter at that point, and there are still formalities. Don’t forget your manners!
HAVING AN AGENT IS GREAT, BUT YOU CAN DO WITHOUT
Once you have your query finished, where do you send it? Ideally, all authors should have an agent. Agents fight for the best contracts, submit to multiple publishers simultaneously, and promote you. Each agent has a list of genres they’re willing to represent, so save everyone’s time and query only the appropriate ones. writersdigest.com is a good source for finding lists of possible agents. Follow their instructions carefully if you want them to take you seriously. The problem is not only do agents take ten to fifteen percent of your royalties; they’re also in high demand so they can be very picky. I queried ten agents for my first book, and was rejected by every single one. Luckily, their rejections came within a week or two, so I didn’t have to wait long to find they had no interest in my manuscript. Still, don’t let that get you down; many publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts from unknown authors. That’s you!
RESEARCH THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES… AND THE EDITOR’S NAME!
So you decide to submit directly to the publisher. Every publishing house has its own submission guidelines. Pay attention! These are important! Make a list of the houses where you want to submit, and then add their guidelines to that list. It’ll be very long. It’s nerve-wracking to be certain you design your submission just right prior to clicking ‘send’. Some houses still require physical submissions, but most have switched to electronic delivery only (especially romance publishers). That means you’ll be e-mailing editors directly with your query and some or all of your manuscript. Be certain your details are precise and correct. Research the company and be sure to get the names of editors. Make your query personal. Below is advice directly from an editor:
As it was, your query was addressed To Whom It May Concern. Just as authors hate receiving form-letter rejections, neither do we editors enjoy receiving submissions that are impersonal. Show us you care about what you’re submitting and are serious about your craft. I feel your pain…who do you send it to? You don’t want to offend, etc. It actually works more in your favor if you do put a name down. As you saw, we don’t have a problem passing the novel to the proper department. It looks better for you if you show that you did enough research to find a name and there’s no issue of offending or sending it to the wrong person.
MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS ARE OK… SUBJECT TO GUIDELINES!
After your initial submission, you should receive an e-mail stating that they have received your manuscript and you have now been entered into their ‘submission queue’. Each house has their own timeline for getting through submissions. Some of the bigger houses won’t get around to reading a submission for ten months. Smaller houses tend to move faster. Should you submit to publishing houses one at a time? Well, that depends. Assuming the average response time is two months, and you’re submitting to eight houses as I did, you’ll be waiting up to eighteen months. I’m not that patient. What’s the alternative? Submitting to multiple publishers simultaneously. Is that allowed? Sometimes. Look through the submission guidelines very carefully. Some of them state quite clearly that they do not accept multiple submissions. Others will allow it, but request that you show common courtesy and let them know. Either way, you’ve sent your beloved manuscript off to the publisher(s) of your choice. Now what?
You wait. You check your e-mail every day. You scroll through messages from your sister impatiently thinking that at any moment you could get one of the many replies you’re waiting for and your whole life will change…
REJECTION IS PART OF THE PROCESS
Then rejections start coming in, and you wish you had a filter in your inbox that could soften the blow. There isn’t one in case you’re wondering. Sometimes you may get a rejection that could say the following:
Thank you for sending this manuscript to (Publisher). Unfortunately it’s not right for us at this time, but I encourage you to submit future works to us. Best, (Editor’s name)
You take a deep breath. That’s not so bad. At least I have the name of an editor to address in my submission for my next book! Then more arrive, so many more. They sugarcoat the rejection so you have to read line after line to get to the important part:
I commend you for taking that important step forward in your budding career as a writer by submitting your work. It takes a lot of courage to send our “little babies” out to pasture and see how they fare. Through these experiences, we learn the trials and tribulations of rejections, revisions and resubmissions. Don’t let this rejection discourage you! Use it, instead, to help you learn your craft.
Of course, it’s far better than, “We thought it was awful. I can’t believe you wasted our time!” still, it hurts. Don’t get discouraged. That’s easier said than done, but you didn’t work this long and this hard to stop now.
IF YOU ASK FOR FEEDBACK, BE READY FOR IT…
What’s worse is if you ask why your manuscript didn’t make the cut. This is dangerous for a number of reasons. If you’re anything like I was, you have loads of experience writing fan fiction, you love to write, and your readers love you. You feel like you’ve got decent writing skills. That’s when reality steps in, slaps your face, and reminds you that writing on a blog is not the same as writing professionally. These editors have spent years reading and picking apart manuscripts. It’s their job. If you ask why your manuscript wasn’t good enough, they might just tell you. They’ll point out the fact that writing in first person is a no-no, you must use active verbs instead of passive ones, never write in present tense, always show not tell, they’ll point out POV inconsistencies, continuity issues, what they deem as not enough initial sexual heat, using that vs. who, call attention to every instance you didn’t use punctuation correctly, they’ll tell you that your scene breaks aren’t used properly, that your formatting is wrong, you use too many adverbs, your story lacks conflict or is light on plot… Okay. Okay. I get it. I’m sorry I asked! When you’re done crying, learn from this horrible experience. In the future, just say ‘thank you’ and try again.
WHEN THE NEWS IS GOOD, REMEMBER TO CELEBRATE!
Then …it happens. After a never-ending string of rejections, you might just get accepted. These are the best words I’ve ever read in my whole life:
Thank you for submitting (Book Title) to (Publisher). We appreciate the trust you placed in us with your submission. (Publisher) is dedicated to bringing high quality romance books to our customers, and we’re always happy to have another chance to find a story that might capture our readers’ hearts. We loved your story, and I’m delighted to offer you a contract for publication. I’m so excited for you!
Fill your lungs to capacity, and then scream, squeal, squee, and dance around! Don’t miss this opportunity. Take it! Live it up! Tell everyone! “I wrote a book, and I just got offered a contract!” Okay, maybe not everyone. Remember that not everyone loves the genre you write, and if you’re writing romance that has a great deal of sex in it, you may just want to keep your news quiet around your conservative family and friends who will never again look at you in the same way. Don’t worry, it doesn’t ruin the excitement, it means you get to keep a little piece of it inside you.
It was one of the happiest moments of my life. For real.
Did you really think that was it, that this author lived happily ever after with a book deal of her own and the story ended there? No, this is just the beginning to the rest of My Secret O’s impressive retelling of “From Fan Fiction to Original Fiction: What It’s Really Like to Write Novels and Get Them Published.” continue reading PART TWO ->
[i] My Secret O has been generous enough to provide us with a detailed explanation and work form for the three-act system that are a useful tool for any writer which alongside this post, the to be published part II, and the Q&A can be found in our newly created Writer’s Resources page.