I had the good fortune to hear Boris Fishman (A Replacement Life) speak at Writers & Books in Rochester the other night. I always find published writers’ talks helpful in terms of learning about concrete steps I can take to improve my writing and to plan for future creative endeavors. Boris was a lively and informative speaker who didn’t pull any punches.
Here are a few things I learned from him about the writing process:
- Treat your writing like the job it is, not just something you do in your spare time. Create a work schedule where you read and write for a specific amount of hours each day.
- Eavesdrop shamelessly! This will help you immeasurably with perfecting different styles of dialogue.
- A high-concept title is crucial to the success of your novel.
- Sometimes it can take a really long time to write your novel. Boris wrote six drafts on his own and then several more with his agent’s help before he was finally published.
- Attend writing conferences that are in an intimate setting with a focus on craft, rather than large “writing-lite” symposiums.
Boris also talked to us about his journey down the path to publication. Some tips I found most helpful were:
- It helps if you can exhibit some familiarity with the publication, agent, or editor you’re submitting to. You can show this by saying something meaningful about them or their publication in your query or by showing how your idea dovetails with their mission or goals. It’s not the subject matter of your book that matters as much as having an “editorial affinity” or other professionals who care about the same things you do.
- Persistence often pays off. According to Boris, you should send a minimum of five queries to an editor before giving up and you need to become indifferent to rejection. (As a side note, I’ve frequently heard that men are often better at ignoring rejection than women who tend to give up submitting after only two tries).
- Establishing an online presence is a must! Boris recommends a website, creating an author page on Facebook, and joining the Twitterverse. He explains that readers love feeling live they’ve been part of the process with you and that most publishers are huge fans of Twitter. Boris also uses email blasts and makes it a point to write back to anyone who contacts him. He urges writers to “own” their successes and triumphs, by saying things like “Hey guys, I have great news” instead of using what he calls “humble brag” on all their social media sites.
- Most importantly, he says, detach your sense of self-worth from the commercial success of your book. Once you transition from “Please like me” to “I don’t care if you like me or not” you will become a better writer. Though it can be difficult, remember, you have the right to write your story the way you want to.