The Page a Day Writers Group

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Representing the Page A Day Writers Group, I asked author Cara Lockwood to share some advice, insight and reality about writing and publishing your book. Lockwood has written nine novels in several different genres from chick lit and romance to fantasy and teen fiction. “I Do (But I Don’t)” was her first book to reach the USA Today bestseller list.

She grew up in Mesquite, Texas and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in English. After college, Lockwood spent four years as a newspaper reporter, working insane hours for next to no pay. “My overly excitable editor sent me running anytime the police scanner went off,” she recalls. After being sent to cover a grass fire on her 25th birthday, Lockwood realized journalism probably wasn’t for her.

Lockwood started working for marketing firm and took advantage of her evenings to write fiction. “That’s when I started writing ‘I Do (But I Don’t).’ A year later, I finished it, thanks to the help of my friend, Shannon, who wouldn’t let me slack off and kept asking me for chapters,” says Lockwood. And that’s how I became a writer. Except that it still feels weird to say, ‘I’m a writer.’ I keep expecting to wake up tomorrow and have to go cover another grass fire.”

Claire Yezbak Fadden

Why do you love writing fiction? Hate it?
I love writing fiction because I get to make everything up as I go along. This is also why I hate writing fiction, because I’m flying by the seat of my pants nearly all the time. I do write an outline when I start a project, but inevitably, I end up straying from it. It always seems like a good idea at the time and then a bad idea later when I’m trying to write my ending! 
 
What authors have influenced your writing style?
I have many authors I admire. But, in terms of the ones who have really influenced how I write, I’d have to say Jane Green,  Marian Keyes and Christopher Moore.  They write with humor and heart.
 
What’s an average writing day like for you?
I make myself write at least a page every day. Some days, I feel like I’m banging my head against the keyboard just to finish the one page. Other days, I can write fifteen or twenty pages easily. It really just depends on how inspired and how focused I’m feeling. It’s also depends on how close my deadline is. Deadlines are great motivators.

You credit your friend Shannon for not letting you slack off when you were writing your first novel. How are read-and-critique partners so important to ultimately getting published?
I call read-and-critique partners “writing cheerleaders” because in many ways they are. I think it’s essential to have a writing cheerleader to help you finish. Whether that’s a friend or a professional editor or a workshop teacher, it’s so important to have someone inspire you to keep going during those times when you lose confidence and are thinking about quitting . Writing is a solitary pursuit for the most part, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need some connections to help us keep going.
 
Please share the most valuable writing advice you’ve ever received.
I think William Faulkner was the one who said “Read everything.” I think the way you learn about writing is by reading. I truly believe that. You can learn something from every book you read – even if it’s a bad one. Even now, I find myself inspired by writers I read. Writing is a process and I am always learning new things about voice and character development and just turns of phrase. 

“The publishing industry runs on trends and what’s “hot” and sometimes your story might fall into this category and sometimes not. You just have to keep trying. You never know when luck will be on your side.”

 
What is the best way for an unpublished writer to find an agent?
Well, I found my agent back in the pre-Twitter/Facebook days.  I think dinosaurs were literally roaming the earth (and hardly any of them had cell phones). This was before the invention of the iPhone (or iPod, for that matter). In terms of finding an agent today, many of them are online.  It’s easier than ever to connect with them. Unfortunately, this also gives them new venues from which to ignore you. It used to be that you could just send a query letter and wait and wait to hear back. Now, you can send tweets and emails and letters and still not hear back!

But, I think the best thing to do is compile a list of agents you’d like to approach. You can find them online or in directories (once upon a time, they used to publish lists in big paper directories, but I believe you can that online these days) or at writing conferences. Find out how they accept queries. The vast majority do not want to see your whole manuscript unless they ask for it. Remember, agents are literally inundated with submissions of up to hundreds a day. That’s what we call the slush pile. Most agents want the “elevator pitch,” which is basically how you would tell someone during the course of an elevator ride the summary of your novel. If the agent likes the pitch, they might then ask to see the next few chapters or the whole thing.

When you go in search of an agent be prepared for rejection – both actual “no’s” and just silence. Do not take this personally. Sometimes, it’s a matter of luck. The publishing industry runs on trends and what’s “hot” and sometimes your story might fall into this category and sometimes not. You just have to keep trying. You never know when luck will be on your side.

How many queries did you send out before you landed your agent?
I sent out nearly a 100 queries before I found an agent to represent me.  Of all those query letters, I mostly received silence back. I had two interested in reading some sample chapters and three others who wanted to read the whole thing. Of the last three, two offered to represent me.

Many writers turn to books like Steven King’s “On Writing” for advice. What “how to write” books have you found valuable?
You know, I don’t read as much about writing as I do talk about it. I have a group of writer friends and we discuss writing regularly.  I also just read everything I can get my hands on, paying special attention to bestsellers. I’m always trying to analyze why a book has been successful. I think reading prose is the best way to learn about writing prose.

What’s the biggest mistake new writers make in preparing their manuscripts?
I think the biggest mistake new writers make is lack of editing and copy-proofing. Nothing turns off an agent or editor more than a messy manuscript with typos. These days, both agents and editors expected a perfectly polished, ready-to-publish novel to land on their desks. Most agents and editors simply don’t have the time to edit first-time novelists. They want something that’s literally press ready. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure your manuscript is in the best possible shape before you pitch it to anyone.
 
What are the benefits of hiring a professional editor to review their manuscript?
I think today it’s more important than ever. Agents and editors expect to see a polished product, and if they decide to take a pass on your story, then having an edited manuscript puts you in the perfect position to self-publish.
I also am a firm believer that every writer needs a good editor. In my career, every single one of my novels has been made better by a good editor. The fact is that every writer loses perspective when writing a novel. An editor helps you gain new insight and new perspective into your work and can really help you take it to the next level. The editing process isn’t always painless, but in the end, it helps make for a much stronger story.

What type of editing services do you offer at Edit My Novel?
I offer several editing packages from editing the first few chapters to intensive line-editing of an entire manuscript. With every edit, I will send an editorial letter outlining big-picture issues like character development, plot pacing and marketability. My services are about more than just copyediting. I offer a complete editing experience. For those writers who aren’t sure about how the editing process would work, I also offer a free sample edit. Your first page (or 500 words) are on me.  To find out more, head to http://www.edit-my-novel.com/Services.html.
 
 

Guest blog by Cara Lockwood

Every writer I know hopes their book lands on a bestseller list. Not only do you reap financial rewards for all your hard work, but you may also find you’ve gained new clout and respect among publishers. That “bestselling” title is a valuable consumer stamp of approval.

But how do you get there?

It’s a question I get quite a lot.

I was fortunate enough to land on the USA Today Bestseller list and was a top-three seller at Target retail stores. I know from experience that there’s no one way to get to a bestseller list. It’s a combination of hard work, perseverance and a little bit of luck.

But, after publishing nine novels, I do know there are many things you can do to help improve your chances of writing a bestseller.

Write what you want to read.

It’s always important to keep your audience in mind when you write. All writers hope to find a large audience for their work, but how do you write something that appeals to a great number of people?

I suggest starting with the story that you and your friends or relatives would buy and read. What story would you pick up off the shelf or download to your Kindle? Chances are if you would buy your book, someone else would, too.

Know the current publishing trends, but don’t be a slave to them.

The publishing world runs on trends. Editors are always looking for the next big thing. It’s a difficult game to try to predict what might be the next bestseller, especially since publishers buy novels well in advance of their release. Sometimes by the time you know a trend is happening (vampires or young adult post-apocalyptic fiction, for instance), the trend might already be over.

That said, it’s always a good idea to be aware of what’s selling. Keep an eye on the major bestseller lists, like those compiled by The New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon. Read a few bestsellers. Try to analyze why you think it resonated with so many people. What do you think made this book stand out?

Trend spotting is always difficult, but understanding and researching bestselling authors just means you’ve done your homework.

Finish what you start.

Before I wrote my first novel, I Do (But I Don’t), I’d started and stopped a half dozen manuscripts. I would start a novel, then I’d put it down for a while, and later when I picked it up again, I was usually so discouraged by what I’d written that I’d just give up on that project . When I got the idea for I Do (But I Don’t), a romantic comedy about a divorced wedding planner, I enlisted the help of one of my avid reader friends.

I asked her to be my “writing cheerleader” and help me stay on course. She was a great writing partner. She bugged me for new chapters and didn’t stop until she got them. It was just the inspiration I needed to keep going.

Remember, no one ever made a bestseller list with a half-finished manuscript. First, you’ve got to finish your manuscript.

Get feedback from an experienced editor.

Writing is a solitary pursuit and sometimes you can easily lose perspective on your own work. Enlisting am experienced editor can not only help you break through writer’s block, but it can also take your novel to the next level. I’ve been really blessed in having great editors in my career, and I really think they have made the difference for me with several novels I had thought couldn’t be saved.

It’s a big reason why I do freelance editing work. I’m hoping to help others as my editors have helped me.

Don’t give up and don’t be discouraged if other people tell you it won’t happen.

The only way to ensure you never hit a bestseller list is to give up on your book. Did you know The Help was rejected dozens of times by all the major publishers? But, Kathryn Stockett didn’t give up. This was the book she wanted to write, even though everyone in the publishing world was telling her that nobody wanted to read it. She really thought that a story that was so powerful for her would also resonate with other people. And she was right. She kept refining her work and making it better and eventually it became the bestselling novel that’s now a major motion picture.

I, too, have had my share of rejections. Before I found my agent, I sent out close to a hundred query letters. Most of the time, I never heard a single word back from any of them. I called it the silent rejection – and those were often far worse than the form letters I’d get every so often. But, I believed in my novel and I didn’t give up.

You have to be your own best advocate. If you give up on yourself, there’s nobody else who will step in to save the day.

Remember, there’s no magic formula.

Take a look at the bestseller lists and you’ll see traditional agent-represented books published by major publishing houses. Look closer and you’ll also find books that may have started out being self-published or for-digital-release-only. You’ll find fiction and nonfiction and books from all kinds of genres.

Write the story that speaks to you, that you feel passionate about, and with a little bit of luck, success will follow.

Questions? Comments? Editing questions? Email Cara at cara@caralockwood.com.

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Cara Lockwood is the USA Today bestselling author of nine novels, including I Do (But I Don’t), which was made into a Lifetime Original Movie starring Denise Richards and Dean Cain. Her books have been translated into several languages and are sold all around the world. She’s written in many genres and also created the Bard Academy series for young adults. Recently, she’s begun offering freelance editing through http://www.edit-my-novel.com. You can also read more about her work at http://www.caralockwood.com or http://www.bardacademy.com.


Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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