Lamar Giles
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September, 2011

What’s it worth to you?

My friend Aimee Salter recently posted a year-by-year breakdown of what it took for me to score a book deal with HarperCollins. It’s a lengthy piece, though, and I’m often contacted by people who are looking for more condensed answers. I’m going to tackle a few of the questions I’ve received lately (look for some of this to make it to the FAQ section of this site), and I’ll continue to do the these brief Q&As as I get more diversified questions. Here we go:

What does it take to be successful in publishing?

I can’t say for sure yet. I’ve been selling fiction for a little over ten years, I’ve been an independent publisher for less than a year, and since my YA Thriller Whispertown won’t debut until 2013, I won’t know how that’s going to measure on the success scale for awhile. Also, the term ‘success’ is relative. I won’t feel like I’m successful until I’m generating full-time income from fiction. I’ve got a long way to go. However,¬† some writers¬† are happy to see just 1 of their stories in print. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just understand that you first need to define success before you can achieve it. Anything else is a dart game in a pitch black room.

What do I have to do to write a book?

The most obvious answer is ‘write a book’. But, that’s a smart ass response and more than a little condescending. I bring that up because I remember being a teenaged newbie and having the opportunity to ask a respected writer about the mysteries of being a novelist. The guy was a total jerk. He actually called me a stupid college kid who asks silly questions which were a waste of his time. He’s still respected among his peers, but I never bought another of his books (I didn’t like his writing that much anyway). My point: I will never treat you this way, Dear Reader. You’re not stupid and there’s no such thing as a silly question. If you ask, I will try to answer. Please note, if you ask me a question that I get a lot I may refer you to the FAQ…it’s just a matter of logistics; I’m not blowing you off. Now, about writing that book…

There’s no concrete method. It takes persistence and consistency, and much like success, you have to define what that means to you. When I’m in the middle of a project with no deadline I shoot for 1,500 – 2,000 words a day, written in the morning under the influence of 1 cup of coffee until it’s done. Once I have a 1st draft I print it, revise on paper, then key in changes until I have a clean 2nd draft. I send the 2nd draft to a handful of trusted readers, wait for their notes, then make more changes. I keep at this until I’m satisfied. I speed it up and write in the evenings if a deadline is pressing. Your mileage may vary.

I have trouble finishing the writing projects I start, do you have any advice?

This is one of those questions where the answer seems so simple to me that I have to be careful how I answer it because I may SOUND like the jerk I described above without meaning to. The problem I have here is that everyone sees the world through a slightly different lens, and it’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking your lens is better than the next guy’s when nothing can be further from the truth. There’s no better or worse…there’s just ‘is’. So, when I hear writers say they have trouble finishing projects, I see the problem through my lens, and from that view the answer reads like this: You don’t want to finish.

It’s not fair to tell others what they want or don’t want, for only they truly know that, but I do believe action is a better indicator of a person’s desires than what they say. In this regard, I’ll speak about my own actions, and the times in my life when I had trouble finishing projects.

When I was in high school I was more concerned with my clothes, shoes, and girls to spend time fully fleshing out a project. In college I had to study and maintain my GPA. After college I had a job and that bit into my time. Through all that, I kept saying to myself and others that I really wanted to write a book. I’ve got good ideas. I’ve started stories. I have the tools, but…I’m just so busy.

I wasn’t too busy to become the best NBA Live player in my college apartment. Wasn’t too busy to catch a movie at the cineplex every weekend, or buy (and watch) the hottest DVD release every Tuesday. I made sure I caught all of my favorite TV shows. And I was always well-rested, 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night.

Underneath all those distractions was the core of the problem. I was afraid that I’d spend years and years toiling away on writing (and I did) only to fail (which is still a risk based on my definition of success), so I avoided the fear with manufactured tasks and too much leisure at the expense of my writing time. I didn’t really want to finish because I might then come face-to-face with my own inadequacies. At some point I had to ask what’s worth more to me? My prowess as a gamer, being up to date on the latest film and TV, or achieving my lifelong dream of being a professional writer (meaning I actually wrote things to completion then sold them)? Once I understood that the potential reward outweighed the risks, I had no problem finishing projects. That’s not to say I didn’t have slow days (or years), but I got over the first stumbling block of simply not writing enough, and once I started I quickly got over the second stumbling block of thinking I’m not good enough. Newsflash: there will always be someone who thinks you suck. Take constructive feedback from these people when it’s there, otherwise focus on those who like your work.

Once I flipped that switch in my head, I was on my way. It started with a question: what is my writing worth to me?

If you’re having trouble finishing projects, I ask you the same. What’s it worth to you?

Ongoing

Like I said, I’ll probably condense these and get them into the FAQ at some point. I hope you found some of this helpful. Feel free to send more questions to lrgileswriter [at] gmail [dot] com, or hit me up on Twitter. Later, gang.

 

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