Writing a book may be the most ambitious enterprise you embark on in this life. I say writing, and not publishing, because the fact is I don’t believe publication is the only measure of a book’s success; indeed many excellent books never receive a publishing contract. Those of you who’ve completed a full book-length manuscript know how difficult it can be to simply make it from page one to page 300 (or more), let alone revise, perfect, submit, and finally get the book into print. This month, we celebrate two former students of mine who, following my novel writing class, successfully formed a critique group, completed their novels, and are now in the process of submitting.
Susan Yanguas hadn’t yet started writing her novel, Bluff, when she took my 2009 class; it began as a result of the assignments I gave. She says, “The class forced me to start writing this book—otherwise, I probably would have spent a lot of time revising my previous manuscript (which is currently in limbo). Following the end of class, seven of us got together as a critique group. Little by little people drifted away, but we also added an occasional outsider to the group. All the writers gave great feedback and kept pushing me forward to complete the draft, which took two years.”
Bluff is what Susan calls, “mystery/suspense lite” and is about a nearsighted massage therapist who is the only eyewitness in a murder investigation run by a rookie detective. She can't identify the killer, but he can identify her—forcing her to stay one step ahead of his hired goons until she and the detective can bring the killer to justice. Bluff combines a little mystery, a little romance, and a good bit of humor to make for an entertaining light read.
In trying to build a platform for Bluff, and in keeping with my advice, Susan published a couple of essays in Urbanite magazine. She’s also been busy entering writing contests, preparing to launch a website, and assembling an email list of interested readers who will receive updates as she searches for an agent, finds a publisher, and publishes her book.
Fellow critique group member and student Erinn Manack (http://somethingelsetodistractme.blogspot.com) has completed four novels and is working on her fifth. The book she’s currently querying is called No System At All: After Colin's dreams of attending Juilliard are shattered, he turns his attention to a more realistic goal: being a rock star. But his previous hobby of beating up bullies might come back to haunt him as his band becomes more popular.
Like Susan, Erinn hopes to get an agent and a traditional publishing contract. “Self-publishing is a lonely and difficult road. Far harder than most people expect,” she says. “I also figure if my writing quality isn't good enough for an agent, then I shouldn't unleash it onto the world.”
“Ally really helped me focus on the basics,” Erinn explains, “And I'm constantly thinking about way my characters can ‘rub against one another.’” So far, attention to those basics and a strong drive to create and perfect new stories is working out well for her. She’s had several agents request full manuscripts and a few asked her to resubmit after making suggested revisions. Like Susan, she credits her critique group with playing a big role in her ability to complete her novels. To help support her efforts, she’s also worked hard on her blog, which earned her a job for The Patch where she writes book and restaurant reviews—a good plank to add to her author platform.
Erin says she wishes she’d known how hard it is to write a good book before she started writing. “There are times when I want to give up, to scrap it all, but I push through and keep trying.” Her advice? “Find writer friends. People in your life for the sole purpose of reading your writing. Do not ask your family, friends, or grandma to read your work. It will put a strain on your friendship and they will not give you the feedback you really need to hear.”
Susan adds, “My advice for writers of mystery novels is to do a detailed outline before beginning to write. I had outlined Bluff vaguely in class, but if I had it to do over I would have spent more time planning every plot twist before diving into Chapter 1.”
I’m so honored to have been able to play a role in the success of these two committed and imaginative writers. Congratulations and best wishes for your continued success ladies!