The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Five
Just like the Sun Rising in the East
Hey, I love excitement and surprises as much as the next guy, but I also love knowing that certain things are going to happen at certain times. I would probably be a bit concerned if the sun didn’t rise in the east each morning, you know what I’m saying? I like knowing that there are traffic laws that keep me from getting t-boned when I go through an intersection.
And I like knowing that there are people out there who enjoy this series, and that if I write it, they will come.
So here it is, the answer to your requests, and the answers to your questions.
In case you are new to this series, here’s how it works: you ask a writing question of the writing guru (otherwise known as billybuc) and I will include your question and an answer in the next installment. You can ask the question in the comment section below, or email me at email@example.com, or you can also leave it on my website comment section at www.williamdhollandauthor.com.
Now that the introduction is done, let’s get down to it.
STARTING A BLOG
This question comes from Iowa and my good friend Deb:
“Here is a question to ponder for an upcoming installment: I am working on getting my blog up and running but I am having a difficult time setting it up. (Even choosing a theme has me a bit flummoxed.) I have a bunch of content written and ready to go, if only I had more confidence when it comes to dealing with the technical aspects of blogging. What are some good resources for the non-tech savvy writer like me? Thanks.”
I can answer this in several different ways, Deb. I can tell you how I learned about blogging, and then I can tell you some of the correct ways to learn about blogging.
I learned using the bull-in-the-china-closet technique. In other words, I just walked into it and started breaking things.
Seriously, I asked friends. I have a dear friend by the name of Liz Davis in Florida who has held my hand through all of my tech questions. There is no way I trust myself with anything technical online, so she and I correspond quite often. I don’t know how she feels about that, but I am quite satisfied with our friendship.
Actually, to give myself some credit, my first couple blogs were done on WordPress, and I managed to navigate that site quite well using their online tutorials. Honestly, Deb, it was that easy. If it wasn’t there is no way I could have done it. I also watched YouTube videos, and I found some articles in The Writer’s Digest and The Writer that were helpful.
“How often should we use dialogue tags like “he said,” or “she said?” That question is from Bobbi in Utah, and thank you so much, Bobbi, for a question that is important for any novel or short story writer.
The quick answer is not very often.
If you are doing a good job of writing your dialogue and setting your scenes, it should be fairly obvious who is speaking. There are little tricks you can use that eliminate the need to write “he said.” For instance, you can begin a line by writing this: Eli walked across the room, stood in front of Tony, and shook his hand. “Tony, it’s good to see you again.” Using this method, there is no doubt that Eli was doing the talking, and thus you don’t have to beat your readers over the head by adding “he said.”
In other words, do the work and there is no reason for the mundane.
As a general rule, I try to limit “he said” to one or two times per chapter, and I am very conscious of that when I am writing dialogue.
WHEN FACT MEETS FICTION
“Can I use a real-life person as a character in my novel? Are there legal reasons why I would want to avoid doing this?”
What a great question from Kyle in Wales.
The quick answer is yes, you can use real people as characters in your novel. It has been done on many occasions in the past and done effectively. The only time you are risking legal action is when you defame a real person. Don’t go there. It really isn’t worth the headaches.
Having said that, I see where Scarlett Johansson recently won a defamation suit against some French author who used her as the basis of a character. She only won $4,000, but she did win. When in doubt, check with a lawyer.
“Run, Forest, Run!”
THAT DARNED QUERY LETTER
“Bill, I’m getting a lot of agent rejections and no bites. Do you think I need to change my query letter? And if I change the letter, can I re-query the same agents who rejected me?”
Thank you to Delores in California.
Without a doubt, if you are not getting even a nibble from agents or publishers, the problem is in your query letter. In many ways, the query letter is as important as your book. If you can’t write an interesting letter, what are the chances that your book will be interesting? That is the way agents and publishers think and really, who can blame them for thinking that way?
So yes, re-write that query letter and make it sparkle.
On to the second part of your question. If you have re-written your query letter, you really should wait six months to a year before sending query letters to agents who have already rejected you, and quite frankly you probably should change the title of your manuscript at the same time. True, agents and publishers read a lot of query letters, and the chances of them remembering yours six months down the road are slim, but you really don’t want to risk it.
MEMOIRS ARE HOW LONG?
“Bill, I’m writing a memoir, and I’ve heard they are considered in the same vein as a novel. How long should a memoir be?”
Thanks Sue from Dublin, and you are exactly correct, in the publishing business a memoir falls under the novel classification. As such they should be in the 70,000 to 100,000 word range.
WHAT’S ALL THIS TALK ABOUT PLATFORMS?
“Hi! I was wondering if you thought platforms are necessary in order for a writer to succeed?”
Great question from Trevor in Mississippi.
I was going to give a quick answer and say that the only thing necessary for success is talent, but that’s not true. I have seen some published works by writers who I would not hire to write my obituary.
I can, however, safely say that talent is much more important than a platform. History is littered with examples of unknown writers who have found success without building a platform, so it is entirely possible. Do you improve your chances with a platform? Most definitely, especially in this online world we live in. Having a blog or website, having a social network presence, having bylines in your resume, all of these help you to gain a foothold in this business.
Still…and I can’t stress this enough…the most important tool you have in your writer’s toolbox, is writing talent.
Until Next Week
I’ll just be sitting here waiting for the next batch of questions, so get busy writing them please.
Thanks to those who asked questions this week. I’m enjoying this series and in many cases I learn right along with you, so keep challenging me.
Have a productive week ahead, and remember to get up each morning with a smile on your face…. because….YOU ARE A WRITER!
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”