Holly Lisle began writing in 1984, and sold her first novel in 1991. She went full-time in 1992 with a three-book deal from Baen Books, and has been supporting herself and her family exclusively by writing fiction since then (though along with the "man, are we solvent!" months there have been a few canned bean months). She has seventeen books in print and has been published both in the United States and abroad, in both English versions and translation. Her most recent novels, Diplomacy of Wolves and Vengeance of Dragons, both published by Warner Aspect, debuted at #1 on the Locus Bestseller list and have a five-star rating from readers at Amazon.com.
Along with her fiction, she has been the publisher of HollyLisle.com Forward Motion Writers' Pages (http://hollylisle.com ) since 1997, and she also publishes the FREE Holly Lisle's Forward Motion Writers' Newsletter, which offers biweekly information on writing, selling and publishing fiction from a full-time writer -writing for a living, beginner how-to's, feedback and discussions, finding an agent, how to quit the day job to write, workshops, reviews of recommended fiction and non-fiction books, editorials and much more.
To subscribe to Holly Lisle's FREE FORWARD MOTION Writers' Newsletter send any email to:
Forwardmotion [email protected]
Holly's books include:
Diplomacy of Wolves (Warner Aspect)
Vengeance of Dragons (Warner Aspect)
Courage of Falcons (due from Warner Aspect Oct. 2000)
Fire in the Mist (Baen)
Bones of the Past (Baen)
Mind of the Magic (Baen)
Minerva Wakes (Baen)
Sympathy for the Devil (Baen)
Hunting the Corrigan's Blood (Baen)
and more, and are available from any bookstore, or online.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABOUT BUYING BOOKS - MINE OR ANY OTHER AUTHOR'S 7
INTRODUCTION - EVERYDAY COURAGE AND THE WRITER 11
SECTION 1: PREPARATION & PRACTICE 15
HOW I FOUND MYSELF HERE, OR WHY I BECAME A WRITER 16
COULD VS. SHOULD AND THE PRICE OF YOUR DREAMS 19
FINDING SILENCE 21
EXPERTS, PROFESSIONALS, AND COLLEGE 24
IDEAS: A HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR 28
HOW TO START A NOVEL 30
HOW TO CREATE A CHARACTER 35
• Character Creation Do's andDon'ts 35
HOW TO FINISH A NOVEL 40
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, OR HOW TO CHOOSE A WRITERS' GROUP 45
• Schrodinger's Petshop Members' Handbook 51
ONE GOOD ENEMY 56
THAT OUR REACH EXCEED OUR GRASP 60
SECTION 2: WRITING AND SELLING 63
YOUR BOOK IS NOT YOUR BABY 64
SAY WHAT YOU MEAN 67
THE WRITER'S TOOLBOX 71
APPLES, BANANAS 76
DIALOGUE WORKSHOP 80
MAPS WORKSHOP 88
TIMED WRITING WORKSHOP 92
EDITOR ETIQUETTE 95
• Approaching Your Editor-To-Be 95
• Concept Discussions 98
• Deadline Concerns 101
• Revision Requests 102
• Manuscript Proofing 104
• Marketing, Cover Design 104
• Conventions, Dinners, Hanging Out 107
ABOUT LITERARY AGENTS 109
HOW TO QUERY AN AGENT 112
LIFE CHANGES WRITING; WRITING CHANGES LIFE 115
HOW TO QUIT YOUR DAY JOB TO WRITE FULL TIME 118
• Dealing With Money 119
• Having the Contracts to Quit On 120
• Dealing With Your Family 121
• Agents, Editors and Publishers 123
• Handing In the Resignation 125
SECTION 3: TROUBLESHOOTING 127
HOW TO TELL WHO WON'T MAKE IT IN WRITING (AND HOW NOT TO BE THAT WRITER) 128
• The Writer's Stench O'Doom Checklist 129
THE PERFECT BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY 133
ARE WE HAVING FUN YET? 137
LOSING - AND REGAINING - WRITER'S HUNGER 140
HOW TO COLLABORATE - AND HOW NOT TO 144
• Write a good outline and stick with it 146
• Divide your workload clearly 147
• Remember your priorities 147
SECTION 4: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS 149
• Questions About How To Write 149
• Questions About Publishing 154
• Questions About Agents 156
• Questions About Money 160
• I sent stuff out as often as I could 167
• I never used credit (credit cards are the path to destruction for a writer — something I discovered once I'd "made it" but after hard times returned) 167
• I banished television from the house, so that the time I had with the kids I actually spent with them 167
• Questions About the Business of Writing 168
• Read widely outside of your field 169
• Don't only read things you like, either 169
• Write outside of your field 169
• Work in other mediums 170
• Grab opportunities to learn new things 170
• Listen more than you speak 170
• Pay attention all the time 171
• Keep the machine in good working order — stay healthy 171
• Questions About Going Pro 173
• Questions About Worldbuilding 178
• Miscellaneous Questions 180
• Questions About The FORWARD MOTION Writers' Page 181
• The BIG THREE Questions 182
SECTION 5: RECOMMENDED READING 185
• Telling Lies for Fun and Profit 185
• The Courage to Write (How Writers Transcend Fear) 186
• Writing down the Bones 187
• Screenplay: The Foundations ofScreenwriting 187
• The Career Novelist 188
SECTION 6: BONUS ARTICLES 190
MY FIVE WORST CAREER MISTAKES, AND HOW YOU CAN AVOID THEM 191
TEN KEYS TO DESIGNING A SERIES CHARACTER YOU CAN LIVE WITH (FOREVER) 198
• Give your character plenty of room for change and growth 198
• Give your character some endearing qualities that make you want to visit with him or her again and again. 199
• Give your character serious problems that he or she can't resolve in one book, or even ten 199
• Give him or her several real, deep character flaws 200
• Give your character a few friends as interesting as he is, and as deep 200
• Give your character an interesting line of work, something that you won't mind knowing as well as you know your own 201
• Make sure your character's principle locale interests you 201
• Give your character a deep, fascinating history 201
• Give your character at least one really good, long-term enemy — someone who will stay to the background and survive for years. Someone your hero needs somehow 201
• Give your character a theme 202
HOW TO MAKE EVERY STORY BETTER THAN THE LAST 203
• Take planned risks 204
• Scare yourself 204
• Allow the unexpected to happen 204
• Ask yourself the hard questions about life, and allow yourself to be surprised by your answers 205
About Buying Books - Mine or Any Other Author's
In the back of this book, you'll find ads for my books. They're linked to Amazon.com because I'm an Amazon.com affiliate. I would, of course, love to have you buy my books, and the links are there in case you are so thrilled by my writing that you find you must have them the instant you finish reading this book. Or for those of you who live someplace where there are no bookstores.
But, honestly, while I hope you'll buy my books, I would actually be happier if you didn't buy them from me.
I can feel the eyebrows lifting. But this is something so important to every author that I feel it deserves space here at the front of the book. If you like the work an author does, the kindest thing you can do for him and his career (and the possibility that he will be able to afford to keep writing the books you like) is to buy his books from your local bookstore. Even if they aren't on the shelves there when you go in to look for them.
ESPECIALLY if you don't find them on the shelves there.
Every author you read, every author you like, is struggling to sell his work against an increasingly hostile computer ordering system that routinely decreases the size of book orders until it has decreased the author right off of the shelves. This system, called ordering to the net, is wiping out the midlist faster than you can blink, and with it, thousands of writers whose work you have read and loved for years. If you make it into print with a professional publisher, you too will be fighting against this pervasive evil.
It works like this. The chains put in an order for 10 books per store. (That's pretty high, incidentally, but I'm ever the optimist.) Of those, seven sell, one is read to death in-store and has to be scrapped, and two are still sitting on the shelves. This is a 70% sell-through, which will have your agent and you and your editor and your publisher dancing in the aisles. Nobody ever sells through at a hundred percent. 50% is considered acceptable, a 70% sell-through is considered terrific, 80% or better and you might as well be walking on water where you publisher and editor are concerned. I've had a number of books sell through at 70% or better . . . a couple way better. The sounds of jubilation are spectacular. While they last.
Because then the chains reorder. Logically, if you have a book that sells through at 70%, you will order twice or even three times as many of that author's next book, because sell-through remains constant. If you sell 70% of ten books, you will sell 70% of twenty books. Independent booksellers know this, and follow it. Chain stores do not. Chain stores order to the net - that is, they let the computer automatically reorder only the number of books that sold before. Therefore, they will not order twenty copies of your next book. They will not even order ten. They will order . . . seven. Why? Because they sold seven.
And because sell-through remains constant, they will sell roughly five copies of your next book. (70% of seven is four-point-nine, or about five.) And because they only sell five copies of your second title, they will order . . . you guessed it . . . five of your third title.
And because sell-through remains constant, the chains will sell three-and-a half copies of your third book, and will also show a three-book pattern of dwindling sales. The fact that they and their computerized ordering system caused this pattern will not be brought out in your favor. The fact that your books are still selling through in great percentages will not be brought out in your favor. Only the fact that the computer has been ordering less and less of your books will ever be considered within the chains. So after three books, all things being equal, you are probably doomed. The chains won't order your titles. Your publisher won't be selling enough of your books to make it worth his while to publish you. And you can go forth to write under a new name, or you can go back to work as whatever you were before.
You as a reader are the key that can break this destructive chain. If you can, buy the books you want locally. Special-order them if they aren't in stock. Tell the booksellers that these books and this author, whichever books and whichever author it might be, need to be in stock. This may be futile with chain stores (nothing seems to slow the onslaught of the chains' computers), but you might be able to get through to someone somewhere. It cannot hurt to try. Special-ordering the books you want and recommending titles to keep on the shelves will definitely be helpful with independents.
For your consideration of this vital issue, you have my thanks. This is something that you do for me and every other writer like me . . . and it is something you do for yourself, both as a reader who wants to see your favorite writers keep writing, and as a writer who wants to make a living in this tough environment.
Keep writing, keep believing, and never give up on your dreams,
I've been self-supporting as a novelist since the end of 1992. I won't say that I've always managed to support my family in style, but I've never had to quit writing and get a day job in order to feed us. Writing is a challenging profession - writing fiction full-time is an exercise in lunacy. But it's great fun, and if it's something you've always hungered for, read on. This is how i do it, and how you can do it, too.
You want to write. You want to be a writer. But somewhere along the way, you've run into an obstacle that you haven't been able to get past. Maybe that obstacle is lack of time. Maybe it's lack of support. Maybe you aren't sure how to go about plotting a novel, or how writers come up with story ideas that sell. Or maybe you're just afraid to try, because you don't want to look foolish in front of strangers, or you don't want to fail, or you fear that you might not be good enough. I've written this book to show you ways to beat the obstacles that are holding you back, and to give you the courage to try.
You need courage to be a writer - a special kind of courage.
My definition of courage is nothing more than taking one step more than you think you can. It has nothing to do with feeling or not feeling fear, with doing great deeds (though sometimes courage accomplishes great deeds), or with conquering life-and-death situations (though in such situations it is certainly helpful.)
Courage is a form of tenaciousness, a refusal to quit when you want to quit because you're tired or humiliated or broken, and it is as necessary in everyday life as it is in moments of great upheaval. In fact, I could easily say that everyday courage is more important than the 'great deeds' sort, because every one of us will be in everyday situations, while not all of us will be called upon in our lifetimes to perform great deeds.
Courage is as essential to the writer as oxygen, no more and no less. The writer who lacks courage will never succeed.
And you're saying, "That's silly. A writer sits at a desk and types all day. Where's the risk? I can't think of a safer sort of work."
Really? Think again.
Let me define the act of writing for you. As a writer, you're going to attempt to sell the products of your mind to a world that doesn't care right now whether you breathe or not. You're going to strip your soul naked and parade it in front of editors and agents, publishers and eventually - if you're persistent and lucky and talented -readers. You're going to say, "What I carry around inside my head is so interesting, so compelling, so riveting, that you, the agent, are going to want to risk your reputation with editors for being a shrewd judge of talent to present the products of my fancy to them; and that you, the editor, are going to want to put your career on the line to fight to bring my imaginings to press; and that you, the publisher, are going to want to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars presenting these imaginings to a world that has never heard of me; and that you, the reader, are going to want to put your hard-earned money on the line so that I can tell you a story that will give you nothing tangible."
While you are reaching out to editors, agents and publishers, you're going to fail. over and over and over again, you are going to send things out and they are going to come back with impersonal rejection notices, with no notices at all, with the occasional signed memo that "This isn't for us." You are going to stare at your words and sit in a darkened room and wonder, "What the hell is the matter with me?" You are going to take the rejections personally, are going to hurt, are going to bleed. Agents will turn you down, editors will turn you down, places that don't even pay for stories will turn you down.
So say you have courage. Say you go on, and you take one step more than you think you can, and then one step more after that, and then one step more after that. Eventually you will sell something. You'll get paid. You'll 'succeed.' Your story or your book will enter the marketplace, and maybe you'll do well with it, or maybe you won't. In either case, let's say you keep going. You sell again.
Even though you've succeeded, you're going to fail some more. You'll get hostile reviews. Letters from people who don't think you can write. Comments from critics questioning your talent, your vocation, your species. These will, if you're lucky, come interspersed with glowing reviews, a nice sell-through, an offer from your editor to buy the next thing you're doing - but don't think for a minute that the good things will offset the pain of the bad. They run in parallel courses, these good and bad responses, and they don't touch each other's worlds at all. I'm always delighted by the good reviews, always hurt by the bad ones.
But go on. You take another few steps, and these seem easier. You do more books, find an audience, settle into a flow. You discover one of the ugly facts of success -that there are people who you thought were your friends who were only your friends when you were failing. Now that you have, in their eyes, reached success, you have become the enemy. A target. They want to see you fall down, because when you are standing, you make them feel their own failures more.
You leave the false friends behind. You keep writing, keep selling, get fan mail, generate some nice reviews, make guest appearances at conventions and seminars, become (as much as any writer ever does) a celebrity in your field. And somewhere along the way you realize that you want to stretch your wings. Try something you haven't tried before. You write this new thing, and your fans hate it because it's different, and your editor takes a beating, and you publisher loses money, and all of a sudden you're in a precarious position. You have to decide - pursue the new course and take chances, or stagnate in the old thing that has become popular and that is starting to feel like a prison. or find some third writing course.
All along the way, you've had to face the certainty of various sorts of failure. You've been embarrassed by your family, who does not understand why you must do this ridiculous thing. You've felt pain and rejection and worthlessness. You've had your soul and your talent and your hope stepped on, and you've cried your share of private tears, and you've kept up a brave face in public more than you'll ever admit. Even when you succeed by your own definition of success, whatever that might be, you will continue to struggle, and you will never leave the struggle behind. Every story and every book is another chance to fail just exactly as much as it is another chance to succeed. Every new level of success raises the bar higher, making failure more public and more painful ... and more likely. Every day is a challenge, and every day requires courage.
I've learned this about writing - if you will not put yourself in a position to fail, you cannot succeed. The two are as inseparably linked as breathing in is linked to breathing out. You cannot have success without failure, though you can live a safe life and have neither.
Courage is standing at the bottom of the mountain, knowing that the climb is going to hurt like hell and that you might never reach the top, and climbing anyway. Courage is saying "One more step. Just one more step," when hands and knees and heart are bleeding. Courage is saying that you might let yourself quit tomorrow, but that you're going to hang in today, just for now... and not telling your tired, hurting self that the next day is always today, and the next moment is always now.
What about my climb? I've done my share of falling, and I have the scars to show for it. It seems like there's as much mountain above me as there ever was, though when I
Holly Lisle look back, I can see that I've covered a surprising amount of ground, every bit of it one step at a time. I still don't know what the view from the top is like. I do know what the view from the first ledge above the treeline is like, though, and it's been worth the climb so far. i'm still working my way up the mountain, because what you can see from up here is nothing you can even get pictures of down in the valley where it's safe. Part of the beauty of this place, I think, comes from having survived the pain. Part of the elation, too. If the climb were easy, it wouldn't be any fun.
This is the world of writing, and it is the only world of writing. Every writer climbs the same mountain, though we all climb it by our own path. You can make this climb. It takes courage, but it only takes the sort of courage everybody can have -the courage not to quit when quitting would be the easy thing to do. You will not be called on to perform heroic deeds - to leap into burning buildings or lift cars or fling yourself into the midst of a shark feeding frenzy to save a drowning child. All you have to do is take one more step. Remember to keep your head up, brush the dirt off your face and pick the gravel out of your palms when you fall, and know that every other person who climbed the mountain has done the same thing.
Good luck in your climb. My wish for you is this: May you have the courage to fail, because it is the courage to succeed.
Section 1: PREPARATION & PRACTICE
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