Today’s guest post is from Jim Ainsworth, an excellent writer and a true gentleman. He got into writing while he was working as an accountant. A publisher approached him and ask him to write a book on some phase of accounting. Jim did and it was successful. So, others followed. But you and I know it’s easy to gravitate to fiction, so Jim took up fiction writing and has produced some excellent books that are definitely worth looking at. But, here’s Jim’s take on the difficult task of a fiction writer.
About six years ago, a small publisher offered me a contract to write a book on the perils and pitfalls of writing and publishing. He even offered a small advance. You writers out there know how rare that is. But I have not written the book yet because I still need a way to end it. When one reads a book about a problem, one expects a solution.
After almost fifteen years of writing novels, I still have not figured things out. And I am still a little surprised at the bias against fiction, especially non-genre, character-driven fiction.
I think that these are the six most difficult things for a writer of such novels to do:
Number six: Write a synopsis. Synopses used to be about 20 or 30 pages for a 350 page book. Now, they are usually one or two pages. We must tell what our book is about in about 500 words or less. Try doing that when you are not writing plot-driven fiction. Try fleshing out five or more characters in a page or two without sounding silly.
Number five: Write a query letter. Make it engaging, yet professional, agents and publishers advise. List your background and qualifications, your book’s genre and word count, a synopsis of everything that happens in your manuscript from beginning to end, describe the target audience for your work (and no, all the readers in the world is not an acceptable answer),and by the way, keep it to one page, please. Also, if the margins are wrong, it will often be rejected out of hand. Then wait six months. In one case, I had a query answered four years after my book was published.
Number four: Write a logline. This is your elevator speech, just in case a very naïve agent catches you on an elevator and asks you what your novel is about. I expect somewhere in ancient times that actually happened, but nobody can prove it. In most of the big conferences I have attended, agents run for their rooms and lock themselves in just as soon as their presentation is finished.
Number three: Write copy for the cover of your book. See numbers four and six. One would think we could use those for cover copy, but they are never the exact number of words and four and six are written for agents and publishers. This one is for readers.
Number two: Get an agent or publisher to read any of the above. They look for blockbuster potential, and non-genre, character-driven novels seldom become blockbusters.
Number one: Market this type of book after it is published.
Yes, I know all the stories about unknown authors who finally hit it big. J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, Stephanie Meyer and the Twilight vampire series, E. L. James and the Shades of Grey erotica series (some call it mommy porn), John Grisham selling books out of his pickup in Wal-Mart parking lots.
Many first-time best sellers came about because of a fluke, a happenstance, a key contact, or a tremendous amount of money spent on a fine publicist. I don’t mean to imply that the best-sellers are not good books, only that there are many superior books that never sell a tenth as well (if at all).
So all I have to do is make myself the beneficiary of a fluke, create for my fifteen minutes of fame that will cause my books to skyrocket to the best seller lists. Stieg Larsson and his The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, etc… made it big by dying. Scratch that.
And yes, I do believe in flukes. I enjoyed one big fluke and a few smaller one when I wrote non-fiction. So for now, I will just continue to work on finding the solution so I can write the last chapter of that book.
Jim Callan: If you disagree with JIm’s six tasks, or want to add another, please add your thoughts in a comment. Thanks. Find more about his books at: