Publishing FAQ

Many people ask me some many things about publishing, and though I hardly feel like I'm a pro as so many people seem to think, being self-published and all that, but I figured a few friendly words of advice to any of you fellow writers couldn't hurt, right?

So I made up a list of the most frequent questions I get and wrote down my answers - which is more than any of the people who ask me face-to-face have ever got because each answer is so ridiculously big.

1) How do you write a book?

Seems like a weird question, right? Hmm, not really. I know many people - and I do mean MANY - whose dream in life is to write a book; they even have awesome ideas. The problem starts when they're about three chapters into the novel. They seem to hit a wall, and no matter how much I insist that they don't stop, eventually they do, and give up on that book. And promptly move on to a next great plot, only to have the same thing happen...
Some people say that's due to the age - that your teens is far too young for most of the adolescents to have enough patience and committment to actually go through the infinite rounds and circles and talks within your own head with your own characters (no doubt the reason why authors have the fame of being a tad weird!) and then make that all into something worth reading. I'm the first one to admit that when I look at my novel Knowledge, I feel like stuffing my head in a sand bank and just hiding in there, because I find so many things I wish I'd changed in it. But I still finished it, didn't I? And I was 14 when I did it, so I'm a firm believer that age has nothing to do with these walls; so don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it because you're too young!
And if age has nothing to do with it...
The way I see things, there are two possible cases that could be happening here.
The first one, is that really writing is not your vocation and you should just give up. But that's not the most common one; believe me, writing isn't so hard - it's what comes after writing that is complicated.
The second possibility is that you have the so famous Writer's Block. You'll find enitre blog posts and FAQ pages from amazing authors like Richelle Mead and Meg Cabot, all confessing: they also have wirter's block. And they give tips on what you can do to help you overcome that. The bottom line is: don't give up.

2) Characters. I'm terrible with names. How do you choose your characters' names?

Me too! I frequently had entire plots in my head, all ready to be put on paper, then when I started writing it down, it became obvious my Main Character (MC) couldn't be called 'her'.
That was a problem.
Weirdly enough, I decided to get the names I ended up choosing for my characters, and threw them in one of those names websites, for mothers, and was surprised to find that the meaning behind the names fit pretty well, in most cases, with the personality of each character. So, I guess my suggestion is to know the character's personality inside out.
You know when you look at a kid and think 'they look like a *insert name here*'? It's the same principle. Bring up a mental image of your character, and think about what name you think suits them. I do recommend you choose a name you like, though, especially if you're dealing with your MCs, because those are the names you'll most use, so choosing a name you don't particularly like, or even hate, might turn out to be a problem in the long run.

3) Okay, I finished the manuscript. Now what?

Now, you revise.
And revise. Again, and again, and again, and...
You get the idea. By the time your book is published, you will have revised it so many times, you'll probably feel like shooting the thing. Revise it until you can find nothing else to correct or add.
Then, print off one hard copy (or not, but I prefer to be able to carry the manuscript around at this point). Your next nights, and every free time you have, will be spent making people think you are crazy: you are going to read the dialogue aloud. All of it.
Ignore the weird looks, and concentrate on what you're hearing. Does it sound like something you'd hear someone say, or does it sound forced or fake? Make sure it sounds good, and if it doesn't, correct it. After that, send it to beta readers. They don't have to be other writers - it can be a friend of yours, but make sure they won't be scared to critique it, because otherwise there's no point in sending it to them. They will (hopefully) tell you if the plot is good, and if they truly think the book should be published; who knows? They might tell you it sucks. If they do, make sure to ask why, and get to work on that aspect.
One of the best betas I've had was a friend of mine who read my entire manuscript, looked me dead in the eye and said "you've got a great idea, but the beginning is crap. You need to introduce the storyline much earlier". I could have cried, I was so happy to finally get some constructive criticism. And because of him, the opening of my (as of yet unpublished) novel looks ten times better than it did before he read it.

4) I have revised till I could stand the plot and characters no longer. What's the next step?

Well, now starts the nerve-wrecking part, and the point where most people seem to just give up and hide the manuscript in a drawer, never to be seen again. It's where even J. K. Rowling got countless rejections, so deep breaths.
To get past this, I recommend an Excel Table, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
While Knowledge was self-published, I plan on trying the traditional road with my next project, so I've been doing a lot of research. You'll need a stellar query letter. There are quite a few contests out there that help you get your query revised by either an agent or an author. Make sure you put your name down for all of those until you win one; those guys are the ones who are in the business, so they can help you the most.
Once you've got your query down to shiny perfection, open up your Excel Table, hop over to P&E Literary Agents and start your hunt. Make sure the agency you're querying represents your genre, and check what authors they represent. Make a list of the agencies on your Excel, and start sending out your queries.
Tip: don't query all the agencies in one fell swoop; not only will you be exhausted if you tried that since every agency asks for different requirements, but also, if one of the agencies answers you with a way to make the story better, or make your query even more amazing, it would not be good to have already queried everyone you wanted with that query/story that could've been better. Send out between 3-5 e-mails, and then wait for the answers before sending out more.
On your Excel, you write down the date you sent off your query, the amount of time requested by the agency for an answer, and then, once the answer comes, put that down too. That way, you won't keep sending the same agency your query many times, and if they don't answer within the timeframe they give, you can re-send your query. And don't panic if you get many rejections; like I said before, Rowling got them too. It's natural, and nothing to be worried about.

5) Why write a book?

a) because I love writing
b) for the money
c) I wanna be famous!
d) To see if I can
e) the glamour, of course.

This should be a pretty obvious thing, but you wouldn't believe the amount of times I got asked this question. I'm not sure what people expect me to say, but they always get a blank stare and a simple 'why not?'
Truth is, if you agreed with any alternative above other than a, then forget about it. No, seriously. Forget. About. It.
Getting money writing books isn't easy. So you see Rowling, Meyer... and think it's an easy way to lots of money? Think again. Those guys didn't just get to the NY Times Bestselling List - they got there, and they stayed there for a considerable amount of time. And that's not something easy.
Being famous ties in with the above. It's not easy.
To see if you can... I'll be blunt: anyone can write a book. Anyone. I just didn't say it'd be a good book. But I have no doubt - if motivated enough, anyone can put letters on a page and string together some kind of plot.
Galmour. Wait, glamour... writing? I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing. Ask any famous author if they think their job has any glam in it. Rowling will probably say yes, but other than her - and even for her, only during movie premieres and book releases - you can be sure they will say no. Writing isn't about looking pretty, being thin and having good hair. It's about sitting behind a computer and pouring your brain out. The end.

Lastly, the most likely thing to happen if you don't love writing and try it anyway, is you'll get stuck up on item #3. Because absolutely no one can go through that much reviewing without being passionate about it. Hell, sometimes even those who do love to write can't handle all the revisions. It's not easy to take all those jumbled words and make into something noteworthy.
So keep that in mind before starting, and good writing!