Traditional Publishing

The Ingredients for a First-Rate (Crime) Novel

By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach – Wednesday December 6, 2023

I’ve been an instructor at Writer’s Online Workshops (from Writer’s Digest) since the start of this century, and a writer and writing instructor since well before that. I’ve taught hundreds of classes, which I can multiply by a modest average of seven students per class, so I’ve seen a lot of student writing, and much of it even credible. Most of the work could use some smoothing out, aka editing, however, and I’ve done a lot of that daily in dealing with the many class assignments students post, plus in editing chapters and whole novels privately. I can find certifiable flaws in almost every piece I look at. If I can’t find defects (rarely), my mouth drops open in astonishment.

In a mystery writing class I taught in August 2019 (my student reminds me), I discovered quite a bit in the assignments from writers that needed improvement—not an unusual situation. But what was different from what I see in most of the class material I work with was a story with elements that were outstanding. The author (Walter Sutton) and I began to work with his pieces of writing in class, and then I worked with him after and since, to this very day, in editing two of his novels (going into the third): Finders Keepers and Losers Weepers, both now in print and ebook at Amazon, and with Flash Finnegan Book 3 to come, working title, Knick Knack Patty Whack.

But because I acted as the editor of the two finished/in print books from a traditional publisher, I couldn’t write a review to post on Amazon—such is the rule of the site—even though I’ve admired Walt’s work from the first, and I still do.

So I decided to write an article about the books and explain what I respect in author Suttons’ crime fiction novels and use that as a sort of lesson for other crime fic and even general fiction writers.

[Read the full article]

3 writing tools to use and 3 to avoid: What I've learned writing 55,000 words of my fantasy novel – Sunday December 3, 2023

Writing is challenging, especially if you’re taking on a 110K-word fantasy novel like I am. If we were back in the pen and paper days, I would have given up years ago — my hand cramps just thinking about it. But we are in the modern era, and it’s time to let modern technology help us out (no, I’m not talking about AI, may the gods damn it to the nine hells).

Whether it’s a spellcheck, a planner, or the source of your manuscript, the tool you use needs to fit for the task at hand. I have used all three kinds of tools to elevate my writing, and I will continue to use it in order to hit my goal word count. But not every tool actually helped.

If you’re planning on putting the figurative pen to paper, here are 3 tools to use and 3 tools to avoid.

[Read the full article]

How to Write a Book: A 10-Step Guide – Thursday November 30, 2023

Writing a book is both an art and a science. It’s a journey that demands creativity, discipline, and strategic planning. I’ve written 4 New York Times bestselling books in 8 years, and I’ve used the same formula to make each happen. And now, I want to help more people get their stories out in ink, through books. I know the power of books, because becoming an author has changed my life! That’s why I’ve created The Book Academy, and why I’m teaching others how to get published!

Here’s a comprehensive 10-step guide to help you navigate from a budding idea to a published masterpiece.

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Do I Need a Literary Agent? – Thursday November 30, 2023

Literary agent Vanessa Grossett explains the reasons for needing a literary agent, and the ins and outs of finding one

“Do I need a literary agent?” or “I am looking for a Christian-based literary agent” are the common question and statement I have been receiving lately, especially from new authors. Here is some info about why you might need one and how to find one.

What does a literary agent do?
A literary agent, sometimes called a literary manager, sells manuscripts on behalf on their authors. They manage their authors by making sure manuscripts get delivered on time to their editor; reading through contracts; some negotiate deals, and help promote their clients’ books.

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The big idea: should we abolish literary genres? – Tuesday November 28, 2023

In her Reith lecture of 2017, recently published for the first time in a posthumous collection of nonfiction, A Memoir of My Former Self, Hilary Mantel recalled the beginnings of her career as a novelist. It was the 1970s. “In those days historical fiction wasn’t respectable or respected,” she recalled. “It meant historical romance. If you read a brilliant novel like I, Claudius, you didn’t taint it with the genre label, you just thought of it as literature. So, I was shy about naming what I was doing. All the same, I began. I wanted to find a novel I liked, about the French Revolution. I couldn’t, so I started making one.”

She made A Place of Greater Safety, an exceptional ensemble portrayal of the revolutionaries Danton, Robespierre and Desmoulins, but although the novel was completed in 1979, it wasn’t published until 1992 – widely rejected, as she later explained, because although she thought the French Revolution was the most interesting thing in the world, the reading public didn’t agree, or publishers had concluded they didn’t. She decided to write a contemporary novel – Every Day Is Mother’s Day – purely to get published; A Place of Greater Safety emerged only when she contributed to a Guardian piece about writers’ unpublished first novels.

[Read the full article]

On getting the details right – Tuesday November 21, 2023

Author and editor Aram Mrjoian discusses the process of selecting submitted work and developing an editor's eye.

Do you consider yourself a writer first or an editor first?

I found editing through writing. When I was an undergrad in college, I started writing fiction and some creative nonfiction. I was really bad, but continued after I graduated and then eventually got into an MFA program at Northwestern in my mid-twenties, where I started taking my writing more seriously. That’s when I thought maybe I had a shot at this.

In that program, I found editing the way a lot of graduate students do, which is through the university’s literary journal, TriQuarterly. That was my first gig in editing literary work. As a writer, I was a slow study. For years, I didn’t know how to improve my work. But when I went back to grad school, a lot of things clicked very quickly. All of a sudden I wanted to consume as much knowledge as I could to become a better writer. Editing allowed me to do that. When I started reading work that was being considered for publication, it dramatically influenced my own process and my own craft. From there, I fell in love with it. So I’ve been an editor at different literary magazines for the last seven or eight years, and have really enjoyed the community it brings about and what I’ve learned as part of that process.

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Nonfiction author Kim Cross breaks down how to sell a book proposal – Saturday November 18, 2023

A book project is no pursuit for impatient writers. Bringing a book from the page to stores requires a blend of timing, stamina and alchemy: a ripe idea, relevance in the zeitgeist, a confluence of favorable market conditions and editorial partners who have the determination — and means — to help sell it. Journalist Kim Cross waited nearly eight years for these factors to converge before “In Light of All Darkness” would live in the world.

Cross, who is based in Idaho, began nursing the idea of filling in reporting gaps of an infamous true crime case in 2015. She spent the next year or so tracking down archival material, interviewing subjects and mapping out the arc of a propulsive story about the kidnapping of Polly Klaas, a 12-year-old who lived in Petaluma, California, in 1993.

Cross initially pitched the book in 2015 — shortly after the publication of her first book, “What Stands in a Storm” — but didn’t land a deal. After a potential offer fell through, she shifted her attention to other projects. Then, in 2021, Cross found an editor and publisher who felt like a good fit and were committed to publishing the book “with muscle,” as she puts it.

Storyboard talked with Cross about what nonfiction writers need to know about the book publishing process, how a book proposal mirrors and diverges from a magazine pitch, and the roles that each editorial partner plays. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

[Read the full article]

Peek inside a successful book proposal – Friday November 17, 2023

Author Kim Cross annotates the lengthy proposal that landed a contract for the book that revisits the 1993 Polly Klaas kidnapping

This is one of two posts featuring Kim Cross on the successful pitch-and-proposal process that led to her new book, ‘In Light of All Darkness.’ In this post, Cross annotates the proposal that landed her a contract after previous pitches fell short. In a companion piece, Cross answers questions about agents, timing and money.

[Read the full article]

5 Pieces of Terrible Writing Advice You Should Totally Ignore – Thursday November 16, 2023

We've all heard some terrible writing advice in our lives. It might have been from so-called "experts," professors, or even in an unhelpful YouTube tutorial, but there are good writing lessons at the heart of every bad note. Let's look at a few together to see what you can glean.

Tell me if this rings a bell, you're attending a screenwriting seminar, listening to a lecture, or getting notes from someone, and they lean in and tell you they have a piece of advice. After hearing it, you shake your head. You feel a little worse off than you started, and you're not sure what to do next.

Terrible writing advice is all around us. Bad writing advice comes from many sources. We hear it in blogs, podcasts, and all over Social Media.

Today I want to go over the 5 biggest pieces of terrible screenwriting advice I've heard, debunk each of them, and give you the proper lessons to take away from each of them.

Ready? Let's go...

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My First Thriller: Joseph Finder – Thursday November 16, 2023

Joe Finder must have thought he knew the secrets to selling a book. His first, a work of nonfiction, Red Carpet: The Connection Between the Kremlin and America’s Most Powerful Businessmen, had a hardcover run of 10,000. 

It sold out.

Sounds like an early and smooth ride into the literary sunset. But there’s a catch. (There’s always something in book publishing.)

Finder, a Harvard graduate student in Russian Studies at the time, managed to anger one of the richest and most powerful men in America while writing Red Carpet. The man was so mad he approached Finder’s academic advisor with a proposal: kick Finder out of school and he’d write Harvard a check so big they’d have to use a wheelbarrow to deliver it. He also tempted the university with a trove of personal papers for its archives.

[Read the full article]

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