Terry Brooks is reading my novel, The Dark Thorn.
Terry Brooks. The New York Times bestselling author. The man who introduced me to reading fantasy when I was 13 with The Sword of Shannara and put me on the path to eventually—one day twenty years later—write this article.
To say I am scared to death of what he will think is an understatement.
Terry tries not to read much fantasy. He has said numerous times he doesn’t like to because he thinks on how he would improve on whatever he is reading. No, he is not an egoist. For him the craft of writing is never far away from his thoughts and like many writers he cannot turn his internal editor off. It takes away the pleasure of reading the genre. As an example, despite having been his friend and webmaster for almost ten years, Terry didn’t read my first effort, Song of the Fell Hammer.
But for some reason—perhaps because he hasn’t read a fantasy novel for the last two months, perhaps because after two years of his fans asking after my own writing endeavors—Terry asked for The Dark Thorn and he took it with him this last holiday weekend to the beach.
So while he is reading The Dark Thorn, he will be mentally ripping apart my labor of love for the last year.
Talk about pressure.
I’ve spent a great deal of time the last few days since I gave him the book, thinking about how I have arrived at this moment and how my experiences can help others in a similar position. After all, breaking into this business is the most challenging aspect of getting a book published—far more difficult than actually writing a book. There are a limited amount of agents and editors to help the hundreds of thousands of writers who submit a book every year. Therefore it takes becoming special in some way to stand out in the vast sea of other submissions.
How does one do it then?
Writers by the large are introverted and have a hard time doing the extroverted things to get noticed. Sending queries or submitting partials and full manuscripts to agents and editors from the safety of hearth and home are a natural part of the process but the massive bulk of writers who do so are competing against thousands and thousands of other people—people who are are also faceless.
So, how does one have an easier time of it?
A writer must build a relationship with an editor or agent or author who represents similar work.
Well, how does one meet them?
I’ve had an advantage knowing Terry for as long as I have, and that is a rarity. But that friendship came about because I was proactive. In October 1999 I gave Terry a letter at a signing event offering my services as a webmaster. I did it for free. It in turn has led me to this moment of having him lambaste my own book, although it could have a happy ending. Gonna have to wait and see on that line…
Any writer can break into the business though by building a relationship with an author. Many authors had help from established writers when they broke into the business and they usually pay it forward in some way. Do you live in a big city or have access to a big city within a two hour drive? If you do, you are in luck. Major publishers often send their bestselling authors on tour and it can be a perfect time to learn more about the current business as well as gain possible contacts for getting your book into meaningful hands. Take the time to attend as many book signing events as you can. Sit and listen to what the author says while the signing takes place, waiting until last. Then offer to buy them a drink or coffee in exchange for asking them any questions you may have.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be giving them a finished manuscript eventually after trust is established. You never know. I’ve seen it happen. And if they like it, it could go on to their agent or editor.
How do you think Christopher Paolini was found? Or Steven Barnes? Or any number of other authors wanting to break in?
So you live too far away from a major city to visit a touring author?
Then save money, get the time off, and travel to a writing retreat.
I did that very thing almost five years ago when I attended the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference. There are many retreats around the world with the expressed intent of finding new talent as well as educating new writers about the craft of writing and the business. Authors, agents and editors give of their time, hoping to find the next publishable writer. I came away from going to the Mauri Writers retreat with more writing knowledge than I had gained while attending the University of Washington–true story.
To see a list of Writing Conferences and Retreats, click Shaw Guides!
I can already hear people protesting out there. Yes, you can save enough money to go to a writing retreat. Yes, you can take the time off to go to a writing retreat. It is the best way to meet these people and leave a great impression, one they will remember when they read your book amongst the thousands of others that come in. People who say attending a retreat isn’t feasible are people who are letting the dream die before giving its earnest due. Many writers are discovered at these retreats—Eldon Thompson and James Rollins being two of them just from Maui—and you could be the next one if you are willing to sacrifice enough.
Hard work and networking. These are the proactive avenues one can see a dream fulfilled. Yes, luck does play into this business, just as it does everything else but you can become luckier than you were with some savvy machinations and hard work.
And of course you have to have a good book.
That goes without saying.
Give yourself the best chance possible. Meet writers. Meet editors. Meet agents. Get a printed galley of your work into hands that can make the dream happen.
That way you can look back and say you’ve done all you could.
It’s the only way I sleep at night.