Writing the book on book writing

Ronda Rich's picture

A friend and I were just talking about this. Talking about how so many people want to write a book.

He explained that he had a secret longing to write a biography on a little known engineer who had helped to change the complexion of industrial America. Additionally, I had just gotten one of the daily emails I receive where someone asks for advice on how to get published.

Earlier, too, I had been lunching with friends when someone came over to our table, introduced himself and inquired if he might call me for advice on how to get his novel published. As always, I said, “Of course,” and handed him my card.

“I never realized that so many people wanted to write books,” Claudette remarked in a puzzled tone as she watched him walk away. “When I’m with you, everywhere we go people want your advice on the subject. Everyone wants to write a book.”

“Well, I’ve never had the slightest inclination to write a book,” Penelope Ann popped up and said as she buttered a roll. “Never crossed my mind.”

“That’s because you have never read a book,” I replied, raising an eyebrow. I wasn’t kidding.

Penelope Ann stopped buttering and pinched her pink glossed lips into a pout. “That’s not true.”

“Cliff notes don’t count.” I remembered how in high school, she was the number one buyer of Cliff notes in the history of Perdue’s News Stand.

She raised her chin imperially. “I have read two,” she emphatically tossed two fingers at me for effect. “Both Nancy Drew books.” She waved a hand airily. “One had something to do with a staircase.”

Later, when Charlie mentioned in passing how he would one day like to write the book on the engineer but wasn’t inclined to spend all the time researching the background required, we sauntered into a lazy conversation over how many people long to write books.

“But you know,” I commented, “Everyone does have a book in them. Everyone. It’s just finding the story and putting it on paper.”

I firmly believe that.

After all, if a memoir like “Angela’s Ashes,” which recalled the dreariest possible childhood in Ireland, can become a runaway best-seller, everyone’s got a shot. If the prose is lyrical enough, that is. It’s not always in what you have to write, it’s how you write it. I just read – tried to read, that is – a book by a Southern iconic television star. She had a great story to tell about all her husbands, but the prose was so bad, I put it down after three chapters. I will not torture myself.

In the event, you’re one of the hundreds who have sought or will seek my advice on this subject, I’m happy to share what little I know. First, get an agent. Without one, a publisher won’t talk to you.

Now, how do you do that?

Begin with lots of research. Know thy poison and how it worketh. I always recommend a book called “Guide to Literary Agents.” This little jewel of a book details agents and what kind of properties they represent. Don’t send non-fiction material to an agent who specializes in romance or a children’s book to an agent who reps business books.

Make out a list of suitable agents. Write a good query letter pitching why your project is marketable – research why people will buy it – and then mail it off to the prospective agents.

Apparently, I write a pretty decent query letter. When I first went in search of an agent, I mailed the letter to 12 agents and got six favorable replies, including two immediate phone calls saying, “I want to represent you.”

Finally, don’t ask me to read your manuscript. I am the worst judge of talent possible. More than likely, I’ll do you more harm than good.

Here’s my best advice, though. Pray. Hard. Without ceasing.

And be sure to pay the preacher well.

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Phil Whitley's picture
Submitted by Phil Whitley on Sat, 06/07/2008 - 8:36pm.

One night on one of my message boards, I was discussing favorite foods from my childhood in the 1950's. I wanted to get the recipe for fried baloney just right, so I Googled it. Not only did I find what I was looking for, but I also found Ronda's article on that very subject. I have been hooked ever since! I had my first book published at the age of 63. I use "suthun" vernacular in my writing, which is supposed to against some rule or something, but hey, Joel Chandler Harris got away with it... right?

I wrote a short story for Amazon Shorts called Good Ol' Boys~ Catfishin' which hit the top 10 in humor and stayed there for several weeks. It is still available, but I'll wait to post the particulars until I learn the rules here a bit better. Sure would like to hear Ronda's comments on it though... lol

In the meantime, I'm mighty proud to be hyer!

Phil (friends call me Brew)

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