Mary Ellis grew up close to the eastern Ohio Amish Community, Geauga County, where her parents often took her to farmers’ markets and woodworking fairs. She and her husband now live in Medina County, close to the largest population of Amish in the country. They often take weekend trips to purchase produce, meet Amish families, and enjoy a simple way of life.
Favorite Verse: Colossians 3:13 (NLT) : Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
Getting Published in a Highly Competitive World: by Mary Ellis
Everyone who reads the newspaper or watches the evening news is amazed by the financial wealth a certain British novelist has amassed by creating a fantasy young boy and his school chums. After writing her first book in a coffee shop since she couldn’t afford to heat her apartment, she has gone on to become the richest writer in history. Some may be inclined to ask: “If such prosperity can be made by writing, why shouldn’t I jump in, too?” More realistic people when asked about pursuing writing as a career will scowl and mutter under their breath, “Give it a try, but don’t give up your day-job.”
A would-be novelist yearns to know where the truth may lie. I am happy to say that somewhere…anywhere in between the two extremes is what a potential writer might expect. But financial reward isn’t and never should be motivation for becoming a novelist. If you realize at some point in your life that no other options exist for you, then your choice is clear. However, make sure you’re willing to dedicate plenty of energy and all your free time to pursue this dream. How to get started, you ask? I will start by telling my story of how I got published, and then offer nine helpful hints that I learned along the way.
About ten years ago, I began writing my first book—longhand! I researched the time period and pertinent details, prepared a rough outline, and filled up three notebooks of paper. I added sentences and scribbled in changes until the book became almost unreadable. Only then did I sign up for a class on computers, the Internet, word processing, etc. This process I do not recommend. Once I learned about the wonders of spell-check, page formatting, and the ability to move paragraphs around with the click of a mouse, there was no going back! I typed the manuscript from my longhand draft and when finished, I had a one-hundred-thousand-word Civil War romance, loaded with medical, nursing, and battlefield details. Proud of my accomplishment, I attended my first romance writers’ convention and quickly discovered no one was buying American historical novels other than the Wild West. At the time, novels set in Regency England or the Scottish Highlands were the rage. How disappointed I was! I might have saved myself heartbreak had I found this out a tad earlier. However, American history was my passion, and this was the book I was meant to write. Had I chosen another genre or locale, I probably never would have finished the manuscript.
To discover the type of book you should write, look at the books you love to read—cozy mysteries, inspirational romances, historicals set in Victorian England, or perhaps true-life stories based on people who rise above disabilities or exceptional circumstances. Read, read, and read some more the books by your favorite authors. Study their style and what makes them unique, not to copy them but to get a feel of how writers differ from each other. If by this time you’ve discovered the idea for your story, sit down in that chair at your table or desk and start writing.
Block out a period wherein you can work uninterrupted for at least several hours. Try to make time for your writing each and every day. Maybe you’ll decide to investigate what publishers are buying right now or maybe not, since that is always changing. Either way, get busy and let nothing or no one discourage you. Have faith in yourself and in God, and let the small details work themselves out.
Now that I have you writing, here are nine steps that may help you along.
#1 Finish the book. If you have something simmering on the back burner of your mind, get it down on paper, (or at least into your computer.) Stop talking about writing and do it. If you wait until everything is clear to you, until you know everything about your characters or your plot, you’ll never begin.
#2 Learn your market. Once you know you can write a book, investigate using the Internet what market exists for the specific type of book you have created (or wish to create.) If your masterpiece isn’t what publishers happen to be buying at the moment, find out what is. Set your “baby” aside—someone may be looking for just that kind of book in the future. Adjust your subject matter or your style for the second book. I’m not recommending that you jump into the popular genre if it isn’t your cup of tea. You will never succeed if you don’t write something from your “heart.” But be willing to try a different time period or a different style (first person versus third person, for instance.)
#3 Join a writers’ organization. Each type of fiction (Christian Inspirational, romance, mysteries, science fiction, young adult, etc.) has a network to help you connect with others pursuing the same goals. Join in and benefit from those walking the same path. Writers’ loops, blogs, workshops, online seminars, and professional conferences are available to help.
#4 Submit your work. Send sample chapters with a synopsis to potential publishers, agents, or various contests within your type of writing (genre). Follow their guidelines to the letter. Do not submit the whole manuscript unless specifically asked for. The feedback that you’ll receive can be invaluable for improving your work. Every writer faces rejection—get used to it—or find another career if you’re thin-skinned.
#5 Improve your writing. When we finish our first book, we want to think we’re “done.” It is a big accomplishment, but it’s only the first step in the process. Few books are publishable right from the starting gate. Be willing to edit your work based on feedback. Some fledgling writers use critique partners, or writing groups that meet to critique each other’s work. Attend workshops at writer’s conferences or sign up for a class at the local community college. You may decide that your first book cannot be “fixed”—that’s okay! Put it in your cedar chest and start something fresh with what you’ve learned.
#6 Get an agent. Look up the list of accredited agents online, and submit your work. An agent hears what publishing houses happen to be looking for and will steer you in the right direction. Also, submissions to a publisher from an agent tend to receive more immediate attention.
#7 Take your agent’s advice to heart. He/she has a vested interest in your career. Writers seldom (if ever) have an objective perspective on their own work. Listen to what your agent, potential publisher, or editor suggests for ways of improvement. To be successful you must check your ego at the door.
#8 Keep writing and re-writing. Read books on plot structure, character development, and good old-fashioned English grammar. Then keep writing and watch your work progress.
#9 Pray. Do not underestimate the power of prayer in accomplishing what seems like impossible dreams.
What are the advantages to a career as a writer?
--you go to work in your sweats or your favorite, well broken-in jeans.
--your dog, cat, and kids can remain close by.
--you can set your own hours. Some of us flourish writing first thing in the morning, while others prefer to burn the midnight oil, long after others are asleep and the house is quiet. Plus, these hours are flexible to accommodate school plays, dental appointments and drop-in guests from out-of-town. But you must set hours and stick to them if you want to get anything done. This is not the job for those not self-disciplined.
--no fighting rush hour traffic, blizzards, or road construction crews.
--no annoying co-workers, except for the fact you’ll often find yourself annoying.
--you can take great trips around town, the country, or even the world for research, and your expenses usually are tax-deductible. Save your receipts and find a good accountant.
What are the disadvantages to a career as a writer?
--since you’re usually paid with an “advance” against future royalties, your income is irregular. When, and if, royalties start to come, they’re paid only twice per year. A good budget is a must!
--since you’re self-employed, you’re responsible for paying income taxes, social security, and health insurance premiums on your own. Again, make friends with a good accountant.
--almost everyone in your life will have writing “advice” for you, or a story they would like told, so you’ll end up with many “supervisors” instead of the usual one or two.
--after a long day of writing, you will grow desperate for human contact. I’ve been known to chase the UPS truck down the driveway, hoping to catch him/her for a quick chat.
How do you know if you’ve got what it takes?
If stories just keep popping into your head after an ordinary lunch with girlfriends, or following a getaway weekend with your spouse, or if you overhear something in the grocery store line and can’t wait to get home to weave it into a mini-drama…then you know you’re a writer!
In closing, remember to keep your chin up and don’t get discouraged.
Beware of quitting too soon. According to Creators Syndicate, twenty-three publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book. The twenty-fourth publisher accepted it and it went on to sell six million copies.
May God bless you on your journey.
A Widow’s Hope
Never Far From Home (coming January 2010)