At this writing, I have twelve books to my credit. Nine have been published and three are under contract. Number thirteen is early awaited by my darling agent, Liz, who would be saying right now, "Joanna, finish that BEFORE you blog."
But I will temporarily ignore Liz because one of my fellow Crimespace pals asked a great question: How do you get published?
What I intend to do in this blog is share the various ways I've achieved publication, and perhaps if I'm ambitious enough, I'll even interview other authors about their route to success. Please, let me know if this has value to you, any of you, otherwise, I'll gladly return to my w.i.p. (work in progress).
I'll start at the beginning: I've always written. I was a voracious reader as a child. The public library was thirteen blocks away. I would walk there, check out books, read them as I walked home, then have nothing to read! My mom got pretty disgusted, marched me down to the library, and told the librarian I needed serious help. Said librarian introduced me to the adult section. And I read and read and read and read. (Are you getting the point here? If you don't read, you can't write. It's just that simple.)
I say this because recently I heard the first pages of eleven or twelve people's books. It was a reading at a local writers' group. A reading, I might add, of unpublished authors.
How do I say this without sounding critical?
Well, there's a reason they were unpublished. Not one of those books were publishable.
They didn't have enough tension. The characters weren't sharply drawn. There was no hook.
So here's the first step to publication: Go to a bookstore. Pull every book off the shelf in the new offerings area. (Bypass anything earmarked "literary." Those are notorious slow-starting and expected to be.) Read those first lines. Read those first pages.
Now compare those to what you've written. Be as honest and critical as you can.
How valid is my little test?
This summer I was at SleuthFest with Kathryn Lilley, J.A. Konrath, and our pal Linda Hengerer (the soon to be published Linda Hengerer, because I know she will be). We all went out to dinner. As we walked, Joe (that's J.A.'s real first name) asked if we could play a little game. It was, "Tell me the first sentence of your book."
Without exception, each one was a real grabber. Mine? "Two days before Thanksgiving, a man doesn't think about dying." And that's a cozy, folks, so that's comparatively warm and fuzzy.
Here's a first line from Lee Child: "I was arrested in Eno's diner."
Barry Eisler: "Once you get past the overall irony of the situation, you realize that killing a guy in the middle of his own health club has a lot to recommend it."
Randy Wayne White: "On the morning that the most disliked man on the barrier islands was found floating, dead, Ford was aboard his skiff, blanaced on the poling platform and looking for sea anemones."
Oh, you moan. (I hear it. Even as far away as we are, I hear it.) You're thinking, hey, if she'd only give me a few more sentences, I could pass the test. Okay, are your first three sentences as compelling as these by Miriam Auerbach, "I confess. I said it. When my husband raised his fists at me that last time, I said, "Go ahead, make my day!" (By the way, if you haven't read Dirty Harriet, go buy it. Now. That' s an order.)
So the first, the very, very first step along the route to publication is a dynamite first sentence.
Next week, I'll tell you what the next step is. (It might take me that long to figure it out myself.)
And if you're pouting, saying to yourself, "But come on. I want to know about agents and publishing houses and contracts," here's my response: Hello. You will blow your shot at an agent, a publishing house and a contract unless your book grabs them by the unmentionables from the git-go.
Trust me. I know. I blew a few great opportunities along the way myself.
Want to know more about the route to publication? On Sept. 8, the St. Louis Chapter of Sister in Crime is hosting WritersFest 2007: Concept to Contract: How to Write and Sell Your Book. For more information go to www.sincstl.org