ELF: I have the pleasure of a guest post from author Shayla McBride, who shares her thoughts on...
SMcB: Thanks for trying to help early writers. It really is a neglected portion of the industry, and one that deserves far more help than it gets. The biggest problem I see is that everyone who is literate can, by definition, write. So, also by definition, they are a writer. Yes, but of the quotidian. Genre fiction is a very special and demanding beast.
A is for Author is one writer’s attempt to help new and aspiring writers gain sufficient information on the basic aspects of our craft that more advanced books really don’t contain. I cringe when looking at the offerings in book stores and on-line. A how-to that promises you can write a best-selling first novel? Absurd. Many of the more helpful books assume a level of knowledge the early writer simply doesn’t have. So reading them is frustrating and confusing.
Importantly, most aspiring writers enter the field thinking they can write genre fiction. It’s a horrible shock when the words don’t behave themselves, the characters turn into speechless dolts, and the plot dissolves into a misty, meaningless fog. What’s going on? Most of us have been writing most of our lives. What’s happened to that talent? Creating genre fiction is not the same as writing a report, a term paper, or the annual holiday letter to friends and family. It’s unique and damned hard to learn. Hemingway put it perfectly: We are all apprentices in a craft we will never master.
So…enter A is for Author. Basic, no-nonsense help to master a craft.
I’ve critiqued, coached, taught and mentored a lot of newbie writers and the process of learning how to write genre fiction is pretty much the same for everyone. Most new writers are hungry for feedback but don’t know how, or even what, to ask. It usually boils down to “How am I doing?”, or “Am I on the right track?”.
As most writers discover, trying to get simple answers to simple questions isn’t easy. A is for Author seeks to answer a lot – 333-plus – of questions on every subject I could think up or find during my research. While most of the entries cover basics, I think there’s enough to interest a mid-grade writer. From genre requirements and character development to sex and violence to branding and publishing, there’s truly something for almost every writer.
Here’s a fun factoid I discovered during my seven months of research. Look at the barcode on any book. See the ISBN? They all start with the same three digits: 978. This is the country code, as each country used to have its own code to denote the book’s origin. The digital age changed that. Now all books come from 978: Bookland. That’s the official name. I think that is very cool. We are all citizens of Bookland.
Your book, of course, will be available world-wide once you have released it. What I would most strongly suggest is that you do not publish your first novel. It’s your “training wheels” and contains so many errors and weaknesses it may not be of interest to an uninvested reader (like your mom).
Honestly, in the beginning, you don’t know enough to judge the worth of your first book. I have known fledgling authors who have succumbed to the ease and supposed prestige of being a published author, and the stress of trying to sell an unsellable novel is debilitating, frustrating, and at times humiliating. And those one-star ratings stay with you a long time. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean it’s the best step in establishing a solid writing career.
Time to hop off the soapbox. Seeing new writers learn their craft is very exciting for me. Helping a writer better understand word choice or villain development is fun. I love sharing, passing on, what I’ve learned.
A is for Author is as much a labor of love as a learning tool for the would-be writer. And it makes a great present, too. The trade paperback is available at Amazon.
by Shayla McBride
GENRE: help for early writers; non-fiction
Want to write a book of your own? A is for Author can jump-start you on the path to success. Friendly and candid, and a touch curmudgeonly, Shayla gives you the basics on 333-plus must-know subjects that many how-to-write books overlook. Industry jargon is clarified, technique explained, branding and promotion examined, and sex (sort of) illuminated. Easy to read, A is for Author is not only an essential for the new writer, but the perfect holiday gift.
It’s estimated that over ninety percent of Americans think they have a book in them. You may be one of those hopeful 290,000,000 citizens. Or maybe you live outside the U.S. Either way, welcome to the great rarely-discussed dream of writing your own original work of fiction.
It’ll be a piece of cake, right? After all, you use a lot of words every day. You’ve written reports, essays, shopping lists, holiday family updates, e-mails, tweets. You read, everything from check-out line trash to print and e-books. After you finished a recent work of fiction, you thought: I could do better than this. In fact, I think I will.
A dozen starts later, you realize it’s not quite that easy. You can see the story, but everything’s gauzy. You can’t find the words. It takes a lot of words to make a novel, the right words, in the right order. Your initial effort is disorganized, repetitive, and meandering. Why’s it such a mess? You’d never realized books had to be edited. Can yours be saved? Should it be saved?
When you begin writing, you don’t know what to look for. You don’t know the basics of construction, the techniques, the terminology or reader expectations. You simply do not realize what you don’t know.
So many questions, so few easily accessible answers. You’re not alone. Everyone who’s ever embarked on the journey of creating genre fiction from their own imagination follows the same basic path and has the same questions.
Genre fiction is commercial fiction: adventures, fantasies, Mysteries, paranormals, Romances, sci-fi, thrillers. That’s what we’re talking about here.
What you write, your style, will be unique to you. The process itself isn’t. Your questions about writing are neither stupid nor unusual. Every person who writes, including me, has had them. I’ve tried to answer a lot of them—333-plus, but who’s counting?—to make the mysterious world of fiction writing more explicable. My aim is to answer many of your questions in this book.
As with most writing advice, nothing in here is one hundred percent true for all situations or all writers. Almost nothing is absolute. This book is based on my experience in laboring to attain a publishable level of writing skill.
Through teaching classes, counseling writers, and being part of critique groups, I know newer writers pretty much do the same things, and most do the same things in the same order. All wonder how they’re doing without knowing how or where to find the answer.
Most of the subjects addressed are available in expanded form on-line, in other books on writing and through classes, both on-line and in person. Check the back matter for any authors mentioned, plus digital and hard copy sources.
This is a demanding gig with a long learning curve. It’s fair to state that you will never stop learning, no matter how much success you attain. Even New York Times best-selling authors have said they’re ready to take their craft “to the next level”. The information in here is mostly for beginners, although those of you working farther along the continuum may find items of interest.
My first suggestion: read this book in sips, not gulps. There’s nuggets in here that took me years to internalize and you’ll probably travel the same route (hopefully quicker). Because you don’t have to read in order, and I don’t know how you’ll consume this, there’s some unavoidable repetition. I’ve added blank pages; feel free to scribble.
As with ballroom dancing, gymnastics, or oil painting, there are baby steps to take. Any craft has basics to master before moving forward, and writing is one of the most demanding of crafts. As Ernest Hemingway once wrote,
“We are all apprentices in a craft we will never master.”
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Think of the worst photo you’ve ever had taken. End-of-binge candid, strawpile hair, baggy eyes even Photoshop couldn’t erase, an Autumn shirt and you’re absolutely a Spring. Multiply that by ten. That’s how much the camera likes Shayla. So...no photo.
I’m a native of New York. Now I live in Florida, on the edge of Irma’s path. We’re fine, thanks, although Princess CooCoo refused to come inside while canines were in emergency residence. Before Florida, I lived in Maryland and Morocco. Two years in southern Morocco, in a small town near the Atlantic coast where I was a Peace Corps volunteer, convinced me we can all get along, but we have to try a lot harder than we are now. The previous twenty years in Annapolis, MD convinced me that “Crabtown” is the best, prettiest, funnest state capitol in the US.
At the end of Peace Corps, the idea was I’d move to Paris and become an expat. It was all about the food, of course. And the wine. But my kids are in Florida...so here I am drinking French wine while hurricanes roar instead of drinking it while sitting in a café on the Champs Elysées.
But I wouldn’t be a writer if I’d gone to France, and A is for Author would never have been written. Think of all the new writers who would’ve suffered without that book! And don’t forget the ever-enduring hero Carl Tanner, Key West’s Jake Baron and Margo Hollander, and hilltown Italy’s Marco McCabe and Laura Walter (and all the others) who would never have seen the light of day. Or the black and white of your e-reader or paperback. So it’s all to the good. But...I sure do miss a decent baguette...
I write, on average, seven hours a weekday. Obviously I have no time for housework; fine by me. I do have time for gardening, cooking, painting (house and fabric), my kids and friends, the Florida Symphony, and my fave, travel. I love exploring third world countries, especially their food and music. Street food: yum! Any ancient ruin is on my to-do list, as is any colonial town regardless of age. One of my favorites? Trinidad, Cuba (founded 1514). I do have a photo of Trinidad, and of a delicious garbanzo-ham-chorizo dish I had there. Find it on my website.
Thanks for visiting...Shayla
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