Saturday, November 30, 2013

Between the Bindings with Jason Parent

Jason Parent is a great guy and an even greater writer.  His novel, What Hides Within, is by far one of my favorite books of this year.  He has a real knack for writing the anti-hero and for making his readers laugh while being completely creeped out.  He has also had two short stories of his published: Depths (with co-author Elizebeth Los) in Sanitarium #015 and Battling Waves in Of Words and Water - all three are ones you should definitely take the time to enjoy. 

When I asked him for advice for new authors, he started it right away.  When I received the email, I immediately opened it, excited to see what he had to offer on this subject - and started laughing from the very first paragraph.  Here's what he had to say:

What advice do I have for new authors?  Keep writing knock-off novels about vampire love triangles, zombie apocalypses, and however many shades of soft-core porn there are, and I'll handle the rest!

But seriously ... being a "new" author myself, I may not be the best qualified to give any advice.  For what it's worth, I have been through it all: the agent search, the publisher search, the editor search, the I-don't-know-what-else-to-search-but-I-should-be-searching-something search, the long weeks of waiting, the long months of waiting, the long years of waiting and those most vile moments when your computer starts randomly placing lines of Ys (the very question you ask yourself when it happens) and freezes just before you hit control S.  I've had an agent, I found a publisher, I've sold short stories and I've been rejected by some of the finest book producers on the market.  Okay, all of the finest book producers on the market.  Okay, every publisher out there.

So, perhaps that doesn't qualify me as a writer, but it certainly shows I am a glutton for punishment (fifty shades kind or otherwise).  And if there's one thing you need to survive as an author, it's perseverance.  That, and a job that actually pays the bills.

Writing a novel is like trying to put together a featureless, million-piece jigsaw puzzle.  It takes time, hard work and commitment.  After putting in all that effort to craft and transmit a story to page, why would anyone want to sell it with missing pieces and crappy wrappings?  That's not how products sell.  Would you buy a toothbrush that was missing bristles and came in a Chinese take-out box?

Maybe that wasn't the best analogy, but you probably get the point.  No matter how good your story is, no one is going to give it up if it looks like garbage.  Editing and marketing are equally as important as writing the book itself.

I'm old school, probably not too far off from Will Ferrell's character in Old School.  I start with outlines, then write my short stories and novels.  Typing it into the computer forces me to do an edit.  The story always changes dramatically.  So I print and edit again.  More dramatic changes.  Then it's editing, editing, eating a taco, drinking some coffee, editing, editing, spilling said coffee on edits, editing and more editing.  Writing is re-writing and editing.  If you're not doing it, you should be.

All writers, and particularly those of the self-published and eBook variety, are held to high grammatical standards.  Things like comma slices and fragments (e.g., five sentences ago) that you cared little about in school suddenly become important.  You may ask yourself, "What the f&#% is a gerund, and how can I use it to make my writing better?"  But form sometimes gives way to style, and writers can get away with things like starting a sentence with "but."  Some rules can be ignored.

As a new writer, ignoring the rules can be tricky.  Publishers may think you don't have a grasp  of the language.  Stephen King and J.K. Rowling can write anyway they choose because their styles are tried and proven, their legacies written.  You, the new author, have to start from scratch.  Publishers want strong voices and unique styles, so I don't suggest that you shouldn't take chances.

Before submitting to an agent or publisher, your work should be as polished as possible.  Writing is personal; it's sometimes hard to show our work in progress to others.  We naturally fear criticism, rejection.

To improve, you must learn to welcome it.  Get honest, critical opinions from those available to you.  Seek out writers' forums and websites to find others willing to offer their critiques.  Hire a reputable editor or three if you can afford them.

There is no such thing as too many edits.  Even after the last round of edits, your work will not be perfect.  But it should be as close as you feel it could ever be.  Only then should you consider trying to find a home for it.

Again, welcome rejection.  What does it mean?  That your work sucks?  Possibly.  If so, go back to the drawing board.  But keep this in mind: both big publishers and small presses receive countless submissions every month.  They are looking for great writing, certainly, but also for stories they can sell.  Your work may be brilliant, but whether or not it can be successfully marketed to a significant audience is an entirely different consideration.  Be realistic with your goals and find the publisher best-suited to sell books to your target audience.

And what of marketing?  If you're not prepared to market yourself, how can you expect a publisher to do so?  You need a website or blog, some means to interact with your readers.  You need a blurb, selling points and a great query letter that will knock an agent or publisher onto his or her well-read ass.

And should you self-publish, you must never stop writing, editing and marketing.  No one else is going to do it for you.  Hard work will guarantee your book a chance of success, though many factors beyond your control will also play a part.  But if you publish a brilliant idea that looks like it splattered from a sick moose's rectum, the consuming public will avoid it like the shit it appears to be.

Maybe you're saying to yourself, "I just want to write.  I don't want to do all that marketing stuff."  I've said those words before, but I learned fast that every author all the way to the top has to get involved in marketing.  I'll let those better qualified than me discuss the best ways to go about that.

So, in the end, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.  Writing is work, and submitting it to the public requires a thick skin.  But to have just one friend fall in love with the words you put to paper (or electronic file, I suppose), that makes it all worth it.  If writing is what you love, persevere, and you will be remembered for it.

GREAT advice, Jason!!  Thank you so much for your time! :)

Until next Saturday's advice from yet another really great author ...


Andrew Leon said...

Or, you know, get it the way you want it on your first draft and avoid all of the re-writing. Re-writing is blech.

Diego Martin said...

wow, this was a great interview my friend!!! I do love his advice, "Keep writing knock-off novels about vampire love triangle!" but seriously, great job!! love the way you kept me engaged.

Meghan H said...

I can only imagine just how blech it really is haha

Meghan H said...

Thanks, Diego. He's an amazing guy and really funny. You should totally check out his book :) Maybe I'll get it for you for Christmas.

Michelle Muckley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle Muckley said...

Sorry about the deleted comment - I'm still learning how to edit, apparently!

I really enjoyed reading this! I think all writers who persevered to the point of getting book one written, have also at some point hit the 'so, now what?' moment. I did for sure! I also think that we have all shovelled the shit you describe above into a first draft, and then learnt what editing is, sooner or later, before or after the first reviews!

Writing is all about sticking through the hard times and just keeping going, with the thickest skin you can possibly muster!

This was great advice.