Go Long, Go Short
It’s a simple statement which tends to pop in my mind and (according to my wife) my mouth when I’m in the middle of a book project: books are long. I know it’s not very profound but when you need to write 80,000 words and only have about 5,000 words written, the road to completion looks daunting and almost unending.
When I am in the middle of such production, I clip along at a steady pace each day and write more words. I may set the goal of completing a particular chapter or number of words. I don’t have any set rules and it is different for each deadline and project. Maybe you’ve worked on one of these huge writing projects yet not landed a book contract for it. If you’ve written a novel, it makes sense. Yesterday in my car I was listening to another publishing executive on tape from a conference. He repeated something I’ve commonly told writers: if you are writing fiction and it’s your first novel for a particular publisher, then you need to complete the entire manuscript. It means spending a lot of time and energy at your keyboard to produce an excellent 80,000 to 100,000 word story. And you are working on “speculation” with the pure enjoyment of telling the story and the hope of seeing it in print some day.
As you write the longer work, I want to encourage you to also invest some energy toward working on shorter forms of writing. You will increase your satisfaction and keep motivated to continue writing with short magazine articles or short stories. As these articles are accepted for publication and appear in print, it will motivate you to continue writing your longer manuscript. In addition, when these magazine articles appear in print, you will be building a body of work—published work. Book editors are looking for writers who understand the publishing process and have written the shorter magazine articles. These writers understand what it takes to write on a deadline (and meet that deadline). These writers understand what it means to write for a target length (and meet that word length). In addition, these writers understand the necessity of pleasing the editor with their article. The magazine editor is constantly looking out for the needs of their reader. The editor may ask you for clarification on something in your magazine article or to rewrite it. This experience provides valuable training and lessons for the writer. You miss out on these values if you only concentrate on the longer manuscripts.
While I’m working on some longer projects, I break up my schedule with shorter ones. I’ve recently completed two magazine articles for Writer’s Digest. These articles will not appear in print for several months but they have been accepted for publication. For each article, I had to answer a couple of clarification questions and for one article rewrite with some guidance from the editor. Yes, if the editor asks, I rewrite because it’s part of the process of working with a particular publication.
In the short form of writing, I continue to work on marketing efforts for my own books. For example, this week I’ve created a simple bookmark to promote Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. In a previous post, I’ve mentioned my postcard campaign where I mailed over 600 postcards. Marketing for any book is an ongoing effort. I’m planning on using these bookmarks in different places like conferences where I’ll be speaking and bookstores to encourage the sales. The marketing efforts are a joint venture between myself and the publisher. I’m practicing the things I’ve written about in previous posts about the Writing Life.
As you are working on a longer book manuscript, make sure to include the shorter forms of writing.