The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Twenty-Seven
I hope this finds you well-rested after a busy holiday week filled with love and friendship. It’s that time again where you ask the questions and I fumble with the answers. We have a full mailbag this week, so let’s get to it. We’ll begin with a great question from my friend Brian.
The Second Draft
From Brian: “Have you already explained why the second draft is likely to be significantly longer than the first draft of a novel?”
I have explained it, Brian, but I’ll be happy to do it again.
Remember, these are just my thoughts, based on how I write a novel. Nothing more and nothing less.
When I write my first draft, I simply write the bare bones of the story. I don’t like to edit during this draft. I prefer free-flowing story-telling during this stage of the process. I usually end up with about ¾ of the novel written during this first draft.
The second draft, for me, is about detail. This is where I “flesh out” my characters and give them depth. This is where I paint my scenes and make them “real,” and this is where I tie up all loose ends that were left frayed and blowing in the wind earlier. When I’m all done, I usually have added another twenty or twenty-five thousand words.
Compromising Beliefs for Views
From John: “One question I have. Do you think writers should compromise their beliefs and opinions to please a majority of their readers and not alienate a certain percentage? For instance if you write about politics or religion, unless you can write from a totally independent viewpoint, you are sure to sacrifice or risk losing 50 percent of your readers. Also subjects like climate change. If you feel strongly one way or another it is difficult to write from a neutral position. Should you hold faithfully to your beliefs and just focus on attracting readers that agree with your point of view? Maybe it's best just to avoid controversial subjects completely. Happy festive season to you and Bev.”
This is such a great question, and I’m willing to bet it is an inner-battle most writers fight.
The question asks for my opinion, so that’s what you’ll get.
I don’t think a writer should ever compromise beliefs or opinions in order to gain more views and please the majority of readers. Yes, you risk the possibility of alienating readers, but at the end of the day, you’ll sleep better knowing you were true to yourself.
I’ll tell you a secret: no matter what you write about, and no matter what your viewpoint is, you will always alienate someone, so why worry about it?
The flip side of this question is this: if your goal is to increase online views, and thus make a passive income, then you probably can’t afford to alienate too many people with your viewpoints. Such is the nature of the online game, so you’ll have to choose whether to be true to your heart or sacrifice a little bit of self-esteem for a few more dollars each month.
I know which one I choose.
From Mary: “What would you say to the writer who is ready to give up? How does a person maintain a positive attitude after a solid year of no victories as a writer?”
What would I say to that person?
One year? Really? You thought you would find success in a year?
Listen…..I know this is a tough gig. I know how discouraging it can be, especially if you haven’t received any pats on the head lately. I’ve been at it for three years and still have not found what I consider to be success.
What would I say? Don’t give up! Improve your writing skills. Don’t give up! Increase your networking efforts. Don’t give up! Work harder and smarter.
I find great comfort in knowing that many of the greatest writers of all-time labored in obscurity for five or more years. I also find that many writers today have very unrealistic expectations when it comes to writing. Blame it on ebooks or online writing in general. Whatever the reason for it, there is an increasing number of writers who believe they can find fame quickly, and when they don’t find that fame they can’t understand what went wrong.
Pay your dues, put in the time, and don’t give up!
From Eric: “What is the best way to attract a publisher’s attention with a novella?”
Eric, I’m going to tell you what I’ve been told by agents and publishers, and that is that novellas are a tough sell. They are not cost-effect to publish and they are not long enough for serious readers who purchase books.
So the answer to your question is that there is no best way to attract an agent or publisher with your novella. Make it the best novella you can possibly write and then good luck, and I don’t mean that in a nasty way.
In order to have a realistic shot at getting a novella published, you either need to increase your word count and make it a novel, or you need to publish it as an ebook. I’m not saying it is impossible to interest an agent or publisher in a novella, but I am saying the odds are horrible.
From Candace: “I’m having trouble describing the physical attributes of my main characters. Do you have any suggestions on how to improve?”
Before I answer this question, let me just say that describing a character is not as easy as it may sound. We see people every single day, but rarely are we called upon to describe someone in-depth, and I think this is a talent that requires constant practice.
Grab a camera and go shoot some pics of people on the street. Get a nice sampling of ten or fifteen different specimens, and then come home and try to describe those people. Be as specific as possible and try to capture, in words, every nook and cranny, mound and straightaway. Don’t be satisfied in saying that the woman’s hair was brown. Find a way to describe that brown. Don’t say she was slightly overweight, or very skinny; instead, use this beautiful language to find new ways to describe her weight. Was her hair the color of dishwater, or did it shimmer in the sunlight. Was she as lithe as a Nutcracker dancer or as husky as the Nutcracker backstage crew?
Practice, practice, and then practice some more.
Inside the Brain of an Agent
From Julia: “I’m frustrated. I’ve sent out hundreds of query letters, and I keep getting rejected by form letters. I don’t know what agents want, and I don’t know how to find out what they want. Can you give me some help?
Well, Julia, I feel your pain. I really do.
I’m not sure there is a good answer to your question. Hitting the jackpot with a query letter is an exact science and it is a roll of the dice with a bunch of luck mixed in. Your letter has to be read by exactly the right person at the right time, with the stars all aligned perfectly.
I would suggest that you read as many articles as possible about how to write a good query letter. Once you’ve done that, I would suggest that you read some blogs written by agents to get a feel for how they think. There is one agent I follow religiously. Her name is Janet Reid, and I have found her to be brutally honest but also very helpful. You can find her by following this link.
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- William Holland | Helping Writers to Spread Their Wings and Fly
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That’s All for This Week
Keep those great questions coming and I’ll keep answering them. In the meantime, have a great week of writing, and Happy New Year to you all. Let’s make 2015 a stupendous year of writing.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”