So I have been getting lots of notes and the such as of late asking me to let a few people backstage, behind the scenes, into the kitchen to see how books get written, vetted, sold, and published.
Yes, I am a regular ol’ high school English teacher working at Lynwood High in Los Angeles but I also moonlight as an author having published books with Disney, Scholastic, Recorded Books and, coming soon (I just inked a new contract for a new YA title), Penguin, as well.
I write books for teens. Or for people that work with teens. Right now, that’s “my thing”.
The truth is, there are a great many similarities between student writing and professional writing. And there are scores and scores and scores of pages I can write about the process of becoming published. So going forward, I am going to start flavoring this blog with insights from the “other side” of literacy (i.e. the book writing side as opposed to the book reading side) and then work to make connections back to the kids, the classroom and so forth.
In a way, the writing/publishing process seems as if it’s kind of secretive to others. People ask me all the time, “How do you get a book published?”
Really, it’s not all that cryptic. Write a good book. Do that first and foremost.
Wait, let me re-phrase that, because we all know that there are lots and lots of books out there that are hunks-a-junk.
So what’s the rule?
Write a good book. Yes indeed.
See, I don’t really need to re-phrase the advice at all. Everyone is going to have an opinion on what is “good” and not everyone is going to like your stuff no matter who you are. (Just ask Stephanie Meyers who has some folks swearing she’s the cat’s meow and other folks complaining that if they read about one more “crooked smile” on the face of some sexed-up teen vampire hunk they are going to heave her Twilight tome into a furnace!)
You, as the writer, must believe in your own work. If you are not ready to stand up for your own effort, to declare that “Yes, this is worth reading!” then why-oh-why do you expect anyone else to waste their precious time investing what you yourself do not believe is really worth a hoot. Reading takes time, effort and mental energy and there are lots and lots of options out there for us all to digest.
So if you want to become published, write something you believe is worth reading. Write a good book! Human beings are hungry, starving for things that “speak” to them… and I have yet to meet anyone who has said, “Ya know, that’s enough for me. I’ve had my fill of hearing good stories, meeting great characters, vicariously experiencing new predicaments, settings, circumstances, triumphs and so forth.”
Look, for me there comes a point for me where I hate every book I am working on and think it’s the worst piece of crap that has ever been stroked on a keyboard. (Homeboyz one of my most successful and highly acclaimed books to date was, in my opinion, an absolute train wreck at times and I literally wanted to pull out the hair of my main character — as well as my own — because he was torturing me like you don’t even know. And yet, with time in the chair, my butt in the seat and a steely determination to “crack this nut” I finally broke through — stuff that no one really knows about this experience of writing what has become a real student favorite, particularly with reluctant reading kids.) Then again, if you are a writer, you have to know that by nature you are a dramatist and therefore, you can’t fall prey to the daily roller-coaster whims of “this is going to be the best piece of literature ever!” on Tuesday to ” I knew I should have become a CPA… why-oh-why did you ever think you become an author?” on Wednesday.
Neither extreme is true.
You put your butt in a chair and work day in and day out and give it your best — and then, after you string a few hundreds days in a row like that together, you have something. What do you have? Well, that’s up to you. But before you can be a writer you must do the work of a writer. You must learn your craft and the only way to do so is by applying your craft.
Like I tell my students, there is no magic pill I can give them to improve their reading ability or improve their writing ability. There are no literary steroids. What there is is true effort. Intellectual sweat. Mistake making, hard work and time — lots of it.
Really, I am not sure anyone becomes “good” without having travelled along the road of having been “poor”. Is there such a thing as talent? Sure, but talent will rarely reveal itself nor fulfill its own potential until work ethic plows its path.
You may not like Stephanie Meyers, you may love her, but one thing no one can dispute is that she sits her rear-end in a chair and cranks out 600 plus page books. That takes effort, discipline and endurance.
And those are the elements which real writers cultivate.
As for me, currently I am proofing a new book. The title is still under lock-n-key as I haven’t yet sold this book — my agent just finished it, really, really, liked it, and we are going to “go out with it” and try to sell it in the next few weeks. (I’ll keep ya posted.) But I will tell you this, it’s a comedy, it’s for YA readers and my wife thinks I am cuckoo because she hears me late at night typing away at my computer laughing out loud in a room where I am sitting all by myself. (In my own defense though, if I am not laughing, who will? — even if it does mean I might need to be fitted for a straight-jacket at some point going forward. I mean some things, like being published, are worth the price of admission, right?)
Now, I’ll circle back to the genesis of ideas (my students supply me with SO much material — all I do is work to be a listener and entire universes unfold), the process of actually writing (often late at night when others are sleeping — but you have to find the time no matter what), character, plot, motivation, antagonists and protagonists, setting and more — at a later date. Right now, if there’s a take-away today it’s this.
Writers write. It’s the only way to advance.
I’ll never forget the time I heard Neil Simon say,” The page is just as blank for me when I wake up in the morning as it is for you.” That stuck with me.
Writers write. He knows it. I know it. Now you know it.